Entrepreneurial Leadership and Management . . . and Other Stuff

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Jun
26

Russia Rejects Maria Sharapova . . . Sorta

Maria Sharapova is an immensely talented tennis player who, at 21 years of age, has 19 career titles, has been ranked as a top-ten player since Wimbledon 2004 and, in 2006, was the highest paid female athlete in the world.  Today, she was dismantled 6-2, 6-4 at Wimbledon in the third round by another Russian player, Alla Kudryavtseva.  I cheered for the 154th-ranked David (Sharapova Goliath-killer) the entire match.

What pisses me off about Sharapova is that she has made the U.S. her residence for the last 14 years having moved here when she was 7 years old.  All the while making a big deal of the fact that she’s a Russian tennis player.  Yeah, yeah . . .  this is a great country and we make that your choice.  Just because we adopt you, doesn’t mean you have to adopt us.  I just don’t like it.

So, it appears that Maria the Great requested that she be the flag bearer for the Russian team at this year’s Olympic Games in China.  Apparently, the Russian coach said:

I don’t want her to spend three or four hours in hot weather waiting to march in the opening ceremony. We want her to be fresh, not tired, during her matches.”

It turns out her first match isn’t until two days after the opening ceremonies AND she has decided not to stay with the team and will be moved to a hotel so she can get her beauty rest.  My guess is that the coach feels the same way about Sharapova as I do.  She’s clearly a prima donna – more proof that she really is an American. 😉

 June 26th, 2008  
 Will  
 Sports  
   
 5 Comments
Jun
24

CAFE Standards Are Stupid

CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy), is the set of standards established by Congress in 1975 and subsequently managed by the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) to limit the number and types of vehicles that Americans can buy – really.  Of course, the Congressional regulations weren’t sold to the public that way.  Officially, the standards were established under the guise of “improving automotive efficiency.”   Like Mom and apple pie, who can’t get behind “efficiency.”

As a knee-jerk reaction to the Arab oil embargo and the associated quickly rising gas prices in the 70s (relatively speaking, of course), Congress decided that it would force manufacturers – all of those that sold cars in the US – to produce cars with better fuel efficiency by setting MPG bars that they all had to leap over at specified periods of time.  By doing this, Americans were supposed to get exactly the cars we wanted.  So, instead of letting the buying public shape the marketplace with our choice of which cars to buy, Congress did it for us.

Not being the type of people who like being told what to do though, most Americans ignored the standards and spent their hard-earned dollars buying vehicles with gas mileage well below the average specified by CAFE (the average specified by the standards is of the cars a manufacturer makes – there is no weighting for which cars are actually being purchased).  As it turns out, the cars that the US government chose for us, were not the cars we wanted to buy.  Shocking, I tell you.

Over the past three decades, Americans chose to buy big cars – huge sedans, then station wagons, then SUVs.  The more sheet metal, the better.  And trucks . . . Americans made trucks, large ones at that, the most popular vehicles roaming our paved countryside.  CAFE standards be damned.

The fundamental problem with CAFE standards should be clear to everyone by now.  It’s not the mandate to car manufacturers and the follow-on limit to what products are available that makes people drive any particular vehicle – fuel efficient or not, it’s the choice of the car buyer.  That choice, of course, is driven by many factors – none of those being what the government says is better for them.

Does anyone believe that the current huge number of Priuses on the road are a result of more restrictive CAFE standards?  The current hybrid craze is entirely driven by the price of gas and the buyers of all those cars choosing, themselves, to find more fuel efficient cars.

Here’s an example.  Honda sold a car called the Insight for a few years in this country.  It was the highest mileage car ever sold here and, as you’d expect from Honda, it was fairly reasonably priced.  Sales of the car were so low, though, that Honda had to discontinue the model.  This was before $4.00+/gallon fuel.  Now, as with the Prius, there would be a waiting list for the car.  Even though the Insight’s fuel economy was above the CAFE standard of the time, no one cared.  The car made too many other tradeoffs to higher mileage ratings and people weren’t ready to make those sacrifices.  At $4.00+/gallon, such trade-offs seem pretty minor to many.  That’s what drives what we buy.

If the government needed to tinker with what we drive and consume (reasonable in some circumstances), then it should have done it by artificially increasing the cost of owning or driving a car.  If each gallon of gas had $5.00 of tax associated with it, driving and buying behavior would change VERY quickly.  Wagging the dog from the tail – enforcing policy through the manufacturer, however is like spitting in the wind.  It’s just stupid.

The bottom line is that if I want to drive a land-bruising monster that drinks gas like Homer Simson drinks Duff beer, then that should be my choice.  And, if the economics of driving such a vehicle motivates me to acquire a fuel-sipping petrol miser, that’s also my choice.  For most, the financial requirements of filling a $100/tank every day and half will drive us to think about more fuel efficient cars.  This, of course, is happening now.  CAFE standards create a synthetic economy that fundamentally fails to achieve it’s goals.  The standards haven’t changed the market.  Buyer choice, driven by loads of factors, but mostly economic ones, has.  High gas prices are making that abundantly clear right now.

 June 24th, 2008  
 Will  
 Stuff with a Motor  
   
 21 Comments
Jun
23

Positive Spin for ALS Ride

Yesterday, I rode in the annual 50 mile Positive Spin for ALS ride in Massachusetts.  Like most charity rides, this one had a variety of cyclists participating.  Some strong and some, well . . . not so strong.  I generally fall somewhere in the middle.

As I’ve mentioned before, officially, charity rides are not “races.”  Most people riding in them participate to challenge themselves and raise money for a good cause.  While the latter reason is certainly a big part of why I do them, I also like the fact that a reasonable percentage of the people who show up are doing it to test themselves against other riders.  In this sense, they are races.  Needless to say, though, really good riders don’t show up for such amateur events.   Nevertheless, my goal was to finish among the top riders who did show up, which I succeeded in doing.

I was riding alone so I didn’t have a wind-breaking partner to draft.  Luckily, I was able to jump out with the lead group at the beginning of the ride and leech off of two strong riders who didn’t mind pulling me (aerodynamically)for long distances.  I lost my two protectors at mile 35, though, and had to cut my own path through the wind for the final 15.

I ended up averaging 18.2 mph which, while not my personal best for a 50 miler, is pretty good for me.  I also did it without any stops.  The best news is that while I certainly didn’t feel I could have done another 50 at that pace after the ride, I was able to go out with friends doing my usual over consumption of food and alcohol thing last night.  I guess the training is paying off.

 June 23rd, 2008  
 Will  
 Cycling  
   
 1 Comment
Jun
23

George Carlin Dies at 71

I just read that George Carlin died from heart failure yesterday.  Carlin’s comedy and social commentary had a huge impact on my life.  Other than watching Monty Python during my adolescence, Carlin’s humor and views made me laugh more than anything.  I don’t think I go through a day without relating something going on in my life to a George Carlin comedy routine.  So young, too.  Very sad.

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 June 23rd, 2008  
 Will  
 Misc Thoughts  
   
 Comments Off on George Carlin Dies at 71
Jun
18

Boston Beats the Crap Out of L.A. to Take the NBA Championship

If you hadn’t yet heard, last night, the Boston Celtics beat the L.A. Lakers 131-92 in the sixth and final game of the 2008 NBA Championship.  A 39 point victory in the regular season is almost unheard of.  In the playoffs, it’s an embarrassment.  The Celtics not only won the championship, but made sure the world knew that they were the best team in the NBA, period.

In sports, defense wins games, and the Celtics had loads of it.  In the first half of last night’s game, the Lakers had exactly zero (0, none, nada, nessuno, the null set, 4-3-1) offensive rebounds.  Wow.  Kobe Bryant, arguably the NBA’s best shooter, was locked out of the paint for most of the night, forced to shoot from beyond three-point range . . . with at least one Celtic in his face all night and pesky Rajon Rondo steeling the ball from him more times than I could count.

It wasn’t only the players that made the difference in this game, season and championship.  Doc Rivers, the Celtics’ head coach, did a fantastic job all season and continued his brilliance in the playoffs.  At the beginning of the season, I really questioned whether he was the guy.  I was wrong.  Not only was he able to manage three huge talents and their egos (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen – the Big Three) and get them to play as a tight team with a very young point guard and center, but the guy is the definition of a class act.  Virtually every move he made during the playoffs, even the ones that seemed whacked, were all great in the end.  A smart coach and a great leader.  Congrats, Doc.

So, in the last year, Boston teams have taken the World Series and the NBA Championship; have been in the Super Bowl (man, it would have been cool to have won all three), the MLS Cup and the NHL Playoffs (OK, every team gets into the NHL playoffs).  If you’re a sports fan, the Northeast corner of the country is a pretty cool place to be.

 June 18th, 2008  
 Will  
 Celtics, Sports  
   
 1 Comment
Jun
07

The Perfect Storm – Can Our Car-Based Culture Survive?

This is clearly going to date me, but as I was getting my driver’s license, gas prices were jumping from about $0.40/gallon (that’s right – only a zero before the decimal point) to an astronomical $0.75.  At the time, many thought that the high prices would destroy America’s open road driving experience, ripping apart the very fabric of America’s car-based culture.

As we know, this didn’t happen.  We adapted, we changed, we downsized (somewhat).  We did everything in our power to refuse to give up the very definition of our modern cowboy mentality – our trusted multi-cylinder steeds, carrying us individually to wherever the hell we wanted to go whenever we wanted to.  Cars in the US are far more than vehicles, they are extensions of us as individuals.  They are our fortress of solitude, our embodiment of ego, our reliable companion and, in a pinch, a place to reenact Meatloaf’s Paradise by the Dashboard Light.  Ok, Ok, I’ll love you forever . . .

Well, if the increase in gas price from $0.40 to $0.75 weren’t enough to change our relationship with our cars, maybe $4.00+/gallon is.  But wait.  We’re American’s and we’re not going to give up our cars, damn it! 

We may not have a choice.  The current situation is beginning to look like the perfect storm, and trying to keep our love affair with the car alive may end up requiring a Herculean effort, if it’s even possible.  Not only are oil prices going straight through the roof, but it’s happening in an era where are cars are gaining weight rapidly.  Even compact cars are putting on enough weight to generate their own gravitational field.  Crash protection, pedestrian safety, airbags, redundant braking, navigation systems, sound deadening, leather-clad seats – all add loads of weight, and expense to a vehicle.  It’s why even little cars are having a hard time getting past the 30mpg barrier consistently.

OK, so that’s the one-two punch – gas prices combined with increased mass.  But here’s the kicker enabling the perfect storm.  The price of steel has nearly doubled since January.  The price of oil is a big factor (after all, it is steel and it’s heavy stuff to ship and creating it takes a lot of energy), but China and India are buying up steel like it was crack.  Something I remember from freshman economics . . . supply and demand . . . or something like that.  The bottom line is that the cost of steel required for an average car these days has gone up by about $500.  Yes, that’s the increase per car.  If that weren’t bad enough, the high price of steel also affects the prices of other metals used in cars.  Aluminum is also going up in price.

So there you have it.  Cars are not only way more expensive to fuel these days, they’re also a lot more expensive to build.  My guess is that the trends on both counts are not looking good, either.  Somethin’s gotta give here and it may be our car-based culture.  Can we still afford to maintain our relationship with our vehicles?  Do we have to find another friend?  The back seat of a bus is just not as romantic as the back seat of a Chevy Bel Air.

Shit.

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 June 7th, 2008  
 Will  
 Stuff with a Motor  
   
 19 Comments
Jun
05

One Day University

This past weekend, my wife and I attended One Day University, a day at a local college with sessions taught by a variety popular professors from top universities.  These one day events are offered throughout the year at several locations with a different “curriculum” taught at each one.  As they say, there are no tests, no final exams and no diplomas.  What they offer, though, is a terrifically stimulating day of learning new stuff or, at least, new perspectives on stuff.

I love learning.  Nothing else gives me the rush I get from absorbing new facts and ideas.  Especially ones that I don’t think I would have picked up during my routine, everyday life.  Of course, the set of things I don’t know is, apparently, limitless so wrapping my head around today’s lunch menu is even somewhat invigorating.  As such, One Day University is a blast for me.  Cool information supplied in reasonably small and focused chunks and communicated by great teachers.

Interestingly, the qualifications for those that present at ODU are not the number of Nobel or Pulitzer prizes they’ve received but, rather, the number of teaching awards they’ve been awarded by their students at their respective universities. 

Here are the four sessions from our day at ODU:

  • Political Science: The 2008 Presidential Election – Why It’s the Most Important Election in Decades – Wendy Schiller, Brown University
  • Positive Psychology: The Science of Human Potential – Shawn Achor, Harvard University
  • Communications: IS THE First Amendment Under Attack?  9/11 and Freedom of the Press – David Rubin, Syracuse University
  • History: Where Do We Come From? From Creation Myths to the Big Bang – Marcelo Gleiser, Dartmouth College

All of them were great.  Good speakers and good information.  My wife and I have already signed up for three more sessions.  Highly recommended.

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 June 5th, 2008  
 Will  
 Misc Thoughts  
   
 5 Comments
Jun
05

Beat LA

While the dynasty that once was the mighty Boston Celtics waned in the ’90s and ’00s (the last NBA championship won by the Green was in 1986 – it was the team’s 16th) the memory of their legendary battles against the LA Lakers remains firmly in the heads of most Celtics fans – even younger ones.  The refrain, “beat LA,” being chanted by the Boston Garden fans and, for that matter, everyone in or around Boston proper, might be the strongest memory of all.

Having grown up in Philadelphia, I always hated the Celtics.  76ers fans thought of the Celtics as our nemesis and that the Philly-Boston rivalry was the center of the basketball universe.  Battles between LA and Boston happened far more frequently, though, and when Milwaukee was thrown into the mix . . . well . . . the Sixers were good, but they just never were the Celtics nor even a perpetual rival to them like LA was.

As a Boston-area resident, I eventually broke my allegiance to the sports franchises of the town I grew up in and adopted their Boston competitors as my teams.  The process took me about a decade.  It might have taken longer, but in the Celtics case, at least, the fact that they so consistently won championships made it easy for me to side with a winner.  I’d be a crappy Cubs fan . . .

I think that most Bostonians are a little hesitant to reconnect entirely with the Celtics at this point.  There have been so many hard years as a fan, especially when the Celtics are so closely identified as NBA champions (the team’s 16 NBA victories are the most in the league and include an entire decade – 1960-1969 – in which they only lost one championship).  While the town is abuzz with the concept of going for number 17 (their 17th championship), the team’s status is still only discussed after the previous night’s Red Sox scores and the latest news from Patriots mini-camp.

A new championship and a promise of a few more years of success should quickly change that, though.  While it’s unlikely that they’ll ever get billed ahead of the Sox, they ought to be able to easily take over the number 2 slot from the Pats.

In the mean time, the chanting of “beat LA” seems to be growing in volume every day.  A victory tonight, in the first game of the NBA championship series – held in Boston – might raise the volume somewhat.  A victory in the series might result in a roar announcing the Celts’ reemergence as a charter member of Title Town (yeah, that’s Boston).

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 June 5th, 2008  
 Will  
 Celtics, Sports  
   
 Comments Off on Beat LA