United Air Lines – The Bad News Continues to Dribble Out

By Hank Boerner
April 12, 2017

United Air Lines, need we say, is in the midst of a serious brand and reputational crisis. Social media chatter is replete with those awful loops of passengers’ cell phone videos of “brutality” on a UAL aircraft — and are spreading the bad news worldwide, in a flash!

Broadcast and cable channels had a good run of the story with passenger videos as the highlights of the report on the goings-on in Chicago on Sunday night. Love those ubiquitous cell phone cameras.

How both alarming, and mesmerizing: Who could turn away from the video clips of ham-handed airport security staff dragging a 69 year old paying customer out of his window seat, slamming his head against the seat post, knocking off his glasses, bloodying his face, dragging him down the aisle in front of other passengers. No wonder it went viral – worldwide!

While he (Dr. David Dao) apparently tried to explain at the start of the incident that he was a doctor and needed to get to his patients in Kentucky, airline staff and airport security officers ignored him — and got on with the job.  And so we saw them in action.

Oh, those resulting headlines:

Facebook: (“Man Violently Dragged Off Plane After United Airlines Overbooks Flights!”)

Also reported with the passenger videos on The Huffington Post. “Dragged like a rag doll,” a witness posted on a Twitter account.

Facebook: (“United Airlines CEO Says Cops Will Never Remove a Booked Passenger Again…Will Use Common Sense.”)

A passenger watching the incident told the media: “He said, more of less, I’m being selected because I’m Chinese…”)

All of this is certainly not good news for the airline on the China mainland, where there is wide public outrage being expressed. The doctor clearly being brutally yanked from his window seat – which he paid for and thought he was entitled to — and was apparently of Chinese or Asian origin.

(The devil is in the details; have you ever read the fine print of the Airline Contract of Carriage, which sets out the rights, rules and procedures governing your relationship with an air carrier? Here’s United’s, in case you are considering a flight: https://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/contract.aspx )

United and its China Market

United has scheduled flights between the USA and China cities — Chicago/Beijing; Chicago/Shanghai; Denver/Zian; Houston/Hangzhou..,and more city-pairs. United has flights to five mainland China cities from various U.S. cities. In all, UAL has cities to 14 different Asia/Pacific destinations. Not a market to have branding issues in, especially this, with discrimination overtones.

What are the Asian customers of the airline thinking about today? There were almost 300 million immediate “hits’ on Chinese social media — and the story is still “new” and in the current news cycle. A boycott was part of the chatter.

And those passenger-provided cell phone videos continue to play in endless loops on television news media around the world.

As Fox Business reported, “Horrifying Video Threatens United Airlines’ Big Investment in China.”

Speaking from Experience

I’ve worked a good number of years during my career as an airline corporate citizenship manager, spokesman, issues and crisis manager, and marketing strategist. I can’t fathom what would move airline personnel to conduct themselves in such a manner when it comes to dealing with their customers. ( “The flying public,” as one would say,)

Yes,working with passengers, things can get tense. Perhaps the cabin crew was exasperated due to a series of incidents (the “now what”!); maybe the ground crew just wanted to get customers off/employees quickly to avoid criticism (what? you didn’t get the flight crews to Louisville on time?).

Of course, all manner of operational issues come up with an airline company having so many moving parts. Fleets of giant airliners moving through the skies, leaded with passengers; landing and taking off at various airports, large and small; the task of people-scheduling to make sure employees (including flight crew) are at their assigned post for “go on time”; fuel loading; baggage loading/unloading; dealing with changes in weather…and more.

Airlines train and train again to make certain their employees are prepared for “anything.”

And then in an instant it hits the fan and we find out if all that training paid off, are we really ready. Or not! United clearly was in the “not” column this weekend.

The Crisis Details Dribble Out

The details continue to dribble out (the worst scenario in a critical issues situation, of course). The Sunday evening Chicago-Louisville flight (3411) was ready to go and then came the announcement: the plane is over-booked and four passengers need to get off.

The airline’s explanation was that the flight being overbooked (again, not uncommon) meant that four people had to yield their seats. Money was offered (again, not uncommon — it’s the way carriers coax passengers out of their seats).

What happened next? The Washington Post played the story big in the nation’s capital. Where lawmakers, employees of regulatory agencies and other key players could take it all in.

This is an example of where the right or wrong language used is Important — especially in critical incidents.

The Post reported that the airline told the local newspaper in Louisville that the situation was “an involuntary denial of board process.” (Is that clear to you now?).

Apparently no one on the Sunday night flight home to Louisville quickly volunteered to leave their seats. (If you were headed home, would you have gotten up? Maybe – people do that when the price is right.) That’s when the airline “chose” passengers to leave the flight to accommodate four UAL personnel who “had to fly” to get to other aircraft to meet flight schedules.

So, the airline staff selected by some means four people to leave the aircraft.  Three people agreed to leave. When a fourth passenger would not leave his seat, the crew summoned Chicago Department of Aviation security and the man was violently dragged out of his seat and down the aisle and off the plane.

Somehow he got back on the plane, blood on his face, glasses back on, howling it was said, and then was dragged off again. He eventually left the terminal on a stretcher. (The flight will not leave until everyone is off, the cabin crew evidently barked to the passengers.)

When the four crew members came on to fill the vacated seats they were reported to have been booed. Aren’t you ashamed to work for this company, people shouted to them.

The airline began to communicate, sending conflicting messages to the employees and media. (The flight was overbooked; or, the passengers had to make way for United employees. The passenger was belligerent end unruly. The removal was established procedure. The man ran back onto the aircraft in defiance of both our crew and security officials. )

EVERYONE was taken off the plane and after a while re-boarded as the man left on a stretcher. Some did not re-board (they were high school students and their chaperone, the Post said).  The CEO issued an apology to the passengers who were re-accommodated!

Fall Out – Death by a Thousand Cuts

As The Washington Post put it: “It’s a story that has shaken a global air carrier worth billions of dollars – and one that people around the world can find nothing right in at all.”

Investors reacted on Monday, sending the UAL stock downward at once. (CNN: “How to make a PR crisis a total disaster.”)

At the daily news briefing the White House press secretary was asked if a federal investigation was warranted. The U.S. Department of Transportation was looking into the situation, we learned. The late night comedians had new content to add to their stand up routines.

Finally the CEO apologized to the passenger who was “forcibly removed” and to all customers on board the fight. “No one should ever be mistreated this way.”

Another oops moment the media had fun with: Oscar Munoz, the CEO, was named “Communicator of the Year” by PR Week for “transforming the fortunes of the beleaguered airline, galvanized the staff, and set the airline on a smoother course…” (This after a year-and-a-half on the job.)

Systemic Failure?

Over my four decades of crisis management, one of the things learned early on is that it usually is not a single “thing” that goes wrong. Whatever issues bubbling just beneath the surface can suddenly erupt to complicate the response to the (initial) single incident.

The information from the local scene (usually distant from the where the leaders who have  to respond is ) can be scant; the news reports can be conflicting; the standard comments prepared in advance can sound hollow and uncaring as the details of the incident become more widely known. (“This is standard operating procedure?”   Really?)

Unhappy employees can react to situation irrationally and even violently; local managers can make very “wrong” decisions and then try to correct, making things worse at times.

This was a Sunday evening; management was not likely to be at the office and equipped to move quickly to address the situation and begin communications (not in either the HQs or the airport).

Lessons Learned?

What are the lessons learned? We hope for the Chicago Department of Aviation, it’s don’t go dragging and injuring passengers off a plane because a long-time hometown airline asked you to. The aviation authority had moved quickly to put the security officers involved on administrative leave.

For the airline leadership: Best to always think up and down the value chain about actions taken and communications needed with key constituencies.

Employees (we hope they are viewed as team members and not just numbers in an organization as it grows larger).
Customers (especially those in physical proximity, at the curb, at the counter, boarding the plane, in their seats, during the fight, as they leave the cabin, getting their luggage).
Potential customers (what are they thinking today about their intention to fly United).
The public-at-large (who as they continue to fly in greater numbers and frequency have come to think of airlines as un-caring, faceless bureaucracies that take advantage of the public with planes that are cattle cars in the skies).

Regulators (yes, airlines are still regulated entities).

As for not flying United, we must remember that they have 50% or more market share at some key cities (Newark, New Jersey) and considerable share of market at Orlando, Boston, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Denver, Houston. (In 2010 United and Continental merged, creating one of America’s largest airlines.)

Perhaps then we should re-examine the structure of the American airline industry: have the dominant carriers become too big to manage?

Should we explore public policies that would begin to return us to the days of robust competition within the U.S.A. industry to try to ensure greater competition and more “customer-friendly” service?

More accountability by large carriers? Should we devise consumer protection measures that would help to reduce the perception that airlines don’t give a damn about their customers?

These and other questions will likely be raised by public policy experts in the days ahead, as the United situation calms down…and another airline crisis erupts. United meantime is the poster child for everything Americans hate about the airline industry.

# # #

Author Post Script:  July 6, 2017 – ABC News Report

Well, it happens again — United Air Lines accused of abusing a customer today.  A mother traveling with a 27-month old son, en route to Boston from Hawaii, had to hold the boy on her lap for hours of the final leg of the flight.  She bought a ticket for the son — two tickets for the flight, money in the United till.  So what!  Hey, we are overbooked – so hold the kind on your lap. (As unsafe as that is – note, please, federal safety regulators.)  A standby passenger took the boy’s seat.

Later United evidently learned that the boy’s ticket was not properly  scanned.

The woman did explain the situation to the crew.  We wonder what is missing in common sense, good judgment, customer-first (should be) thinking at the carrier.  Oh, and the woman appears to be of Asian background.  United is counting on the Asia market – on China flights — to assure its future.   A small note to think about as you Stay Tuned top United’s passenger treatment.

 

Jan 2017 – As We Await the Arrival of the New President…

by Hank Boerner

As we await the arrival of our new president and vice president, cabinet members, and  welcome the new members of House and Senate in the 115th Congress …

All eyes will on this nation’s capital on Friday, January 20th as a new President of the United States is sworn into office in the peaceful transfer of power that marks one of remarkable and unique qualities of this great nation. #46 in the long line of Chief Executives and Commander-in-Chiefs will be Donald J. Trump of New York.

We’ll say our (temporary) goodbye’s to President Barack H. Obama and depending on our point-of-view, this will be in the spirit of “thank you and well done” with tears in our eyes — or something quite different!

There was great excitement and expectation when Barack Obama was sworn in on January 20, 2009. His was expected to be a transformative presidency for many reasons. The nation was reeling from a series of interconnected critical issues that seriously impact many, many of our citizens. Some of those issues remain to be addressed and resolved (if at all possible).

And so back in November 2008, soon after the election results were clear and we could think about what was ahead under the new administration, and a new (Democrat-controlled) U.S. Congress, I thought about the promise of an earlier age, with a new president at the helm, and the progressive movement that was coming into full flower. At that time, a Republican was in the White House.

With discussions about our country being left/right, liberal/conservative, a 50/50 divide in America and so on, it’s worth looking again here in January 2017 at the past for lessons for the future — looking again at the Progressive Movement and the many benefits that we all derived from that era.

Here (below) is my original commentary back in 2008 just after that November election and the results were known: A “transformational” chief executive officer was coming to the White House in January 2009.

Ah, I’m thinking today, and so here we are again, with another tumultuous presidential election behind us and another transformational head-of-state coming in January 2017.

What kind of chief executive officer will President-elect Donald J. Trump be? What kind of transformation might he bring about? What can we expect from the 115th Congress, now convened and announcing bold moves? Will we move left or right — progressive or regressive? Backward, forward, in progress terms?

What lessons should we take forward from the past, in the Progressive Era for application in this 21st Century — if not to be taking literally, then as wonderful inspiration for doing the right thing for all Americans!

* * * * * * * *

WHO WERE THE PROGRESSIVES – WHAT CAUSES DID THEY ADVOCATE? AND, ABOUT THEIR ENDURING, POSITIVE IMPACT ON THE AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE…
originally posted November 14, 2008 by Hank Boerner

During the 2008 primary campaign season at one point U.S. Senator Hillary Clintonwas asked about her political leanings — wasn’t she a true liberal as charged by the Right?. Her reply resonated with a number of people: I am a Modern Progressive, she told the interviewer.

That got me thinking – so what’s wrong with being a progressive…isn’t it the fundamental drive of the American Dream to make “progress” and be all that we can be, to borrow from the great US Army marketing slogan…as a society…and as individuals?

As we consider how (liberal) or (left-leaning) or (middle-of the road) the incoming [Obama Administration] and factions of the new (114th) Congress might be, I’d like to put the question in the context of my belief that we are likely at the moment of dramatic societal change.

This is shaping up to be one of the fundamental, once-in-a-generation shift of American politics and culture – from the dominance of right-leaning (more conservative) politics of the 1980s (and things cultural) to the center-left … and maybe even more left than that.

The perilous state of the economy has a lot to with this – consider the several millions of manufacturing and related industrial jobs lost in the US in recent years; the ongoing chaos in the capital markets.

The seizing up of banking and business, government and commercial credit markets; the consequences of our military affairs (wars in Iraq and Afghanistan going on longer than the years this nation fought in all of WW II).

The erosion of all-white dominance of institutions; the increase in the nation’s non-white populations; the foreclosures that are mounting month-over-month in too many neighborhoods (10,000 US homes-per-day are now being foreclosed!).

The growing wealth and income gaps as the middle and lower economic rungs become ever more slippery for American families …as the wealthy get wealthier-still…and more issues than that to address!

Where does Modern Progressivism fit into these issues?

The era’s “Robber Barons” — wealthy interests and strong men who monopolized and controlled the railroads, Wall Street institutions, banking, large corporate enterprises, and numerous monopolies, a/k/a the “Trusts” — were under fire for their practices and ways of doing business.

At many levels of society there was growing displeasure about business monopolies, price-fixing and other practices of the big businesses of the era.
Common factory workplace conditions for many Americans were about the same as [those] social investors today criticize certain US companies for condoning far off in their overseas supply chain.

When one of the era’s Robber Barons’ companies took a strike in Homestead, Pennsylvania, owner Andrew Carnegie took a trip to the British Isles while his hired strikebreakers, the Pinkertons — who with the looking away of local and state officials, savagely attacked the workers, injuring many and killing nine.

Union leaders were charged with murder and treason. The company broke the back of the movement workers to organize and the early concept of collective bargaining. Such was the state of labor-management (or “owner”) relations as the new Progressive Movement began.

This was the ending of the “Gilded Age” (described by author Mark Twain in his book of that name), delightful times for the elites and the wealthy and super-wealthy. (And as he penned this, Mark Twain was living an era full of business and political corruption. For many in big business firms, working conditions were more like those in Charles Dickens’ novels, such as Ebenezer Scrooge (the owner) and Bob Cratchit (his employee), in the scene from that Christmas Eve in “A Christmas Carol.”

TR: Enter the President as Chief Crusader

As the progressive thinkers in the American society reacted to conditions that they believed had to be changed for the nation to fulfill its promise of social and economic equality, in the White House, an [seemingly] unlikely champion took center stage to dramatically change the way things were: Ambitious, young, action-oriented, and very bright, Teddy Roosevelt had been governor of New York, and was elected William McKinley’s VP in 1900, mostly to get him out of the way of the Republican big bosses.

He had too many radical thoughts about upsetting the system that benefit the wealthy ownership class. Upon the assassination of President McKinley, “TR” became President of the United States (September 14, 1901). Throughout most of his presidency he was a dogged, committed crusader — especially against corruption in both the public sector and the private sector.

In the era of giant corporate enterprises rapidly (and rapaciously) consolidating power and influence on a scale never seen before, President Roosevelt and the Progressive Movement provided a very effective counterbalance.

Seeing threats to the American Democracy and the unique capitalistic system of the USA if things weren’t changed, TR took action and the progressive movement grew to support the concepts advanced.

He was an unlikely leader of reform of the system because Teddy was born into the wealthy class and easily could have been an elitist leader. He used what he called “the Bully Pulpit” of his presidency to rally support for change. (“Bully” in those days was a cheering call — bully for you!)

Through the pressure building – especially from the population below, and broadening media coverage – eventually blew the lid off the American Society, and the reforms flowed forth over two decades:

Consumer Protection – advocates drove adoption of the landmark Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 (resulting in today’s FDA protections; many of today’s food supply protections; regulation of medicines, and more).

Protection of Workers – workers got the right to organize; the 8-hour workday became the norm; there was protection of worker health (such as in the coal industry where many suffered from black lung disease); unsafe factory conditions began to be eliminated.

Child Labor was controlled – eliminating tiny children working alongside adults in industrial facilities.

Urban Residents began to be protected – reforms of the day began eliminating crowded tenement housing, which often led to sickness, including widespread tuberculosis; water supplies were regulated and protected, probably the greatest single factor in health advances in the early 20th Century.

Education – Progressives encouraged wider access to education for children, especially in the cities, to eliminate crime and the cycle of poverty, and to begin to build a larger, more educated middle class. Citizens were to be broadly educated in public school systems.

Political Corruption Battles – included direct election of member of the US Senate; encouraging closed (secret) ballot elections; addressing the power of political bosses in the big cities; addressing voter fraud.

Progressives addressed the root causes of poverty – especially urban poverty, with millions of immigrants flowing to port cities, and then crowding in to work in the steadily expanding universe of factories. The plight of immigrants were top-of-mind for progressives, including encouraging immigrants to move out of over-crowded cities, and address their health, job, education, and other social needs.

The Progressives’ work protected your parents, grandparents, even great-grandparents!

Protecting the Nation’s Natural Resources – President Teddy Roosevelt was in the lead here, setting aside about 100,000 acres a day for the future generations throughout his two terms! He created sanctuaries and reserves of various kinds by executive order. (The National Park System would come about a few years after he left office, in one of the Progressive Movement’s finest moments.)

Treatment of the Nation’s Veterans – encouraging health care for veterans, and pensions for military retirees

Encouraging Fair TaxationSpreading the Burden – the adoption of a progressive / fair tax system (the personal income tax came during the Progressive Era; before that, the primary means of support the federal government included tariffs on goods.)

Encouraging Social and Economic Justice – addressing the situations of Native Americans, and tens of millions of immigrants pouring into the USA – your ancestors and mine!

Regulating Industry – curbing the runaway power of large corporations; curbing large business monopolies in key sectors; first President Roosevelt and then successor William Howard Taft led the battle to break up large industrial trusts, such as the Sugar Trust, Steel Trust, Beef Trust, and the Oil Trust (the Rockefellers’ sprawling Standard Oil Empire was broken into individual operating companies — today’s Exxon, Mobil etc..)

Progressivism – A Broad Societal Movement

Note that what we’re describing here was in ways a political movement, yes, but the progressives were not necessarily organized only as a political party movement (such as “the Democratic Platform”).

This was a society-wide, mostly national social movement at many levels of the culture working to make America a better place…a kinder and more caring society…and more inclusive society…yes, a society which encouraged the spreading of wealth beyond the handful of powerful elites who commanded the apportioning of capital, the means of industrial production, and the transport and distribution systems necessary for truly national commerce.

* * * * * * * *

A combination of forces brought progressivism to the center of American life: as author A.J. Scopino, Jr. writes:
“…Historians agree that in the first two decades of the 20th Century [reformers] employed a scientific approach when addressing social problems, No longer content to accept and explain the miseries of life through fatalism or sheer luck, progressives were eager to utilize new tools, strategies, methods, and discoveries of new academic disciplines (especially sociology), to correct social maladjustment.

“Examining workers’ wages, living expenses, housing conditions, family size, working conditions, diets, and other data, progressive reformers studied, analyzed, and then offered measures to correct inequity and insure social justice…

“As firm believers in the American democratic process and in American institutions, reformers called on the government to legislate against political, social and economic wrong doing…”

* * * * * * * *
And the Progressives wielded mighty clubs – the era’s hot new media such as mass circulation magazines, as well as daily newspapers (New York City had a half dozen or more dailies) were their communication outlets.

This was the time of the muckrakers – whose words were eagerly awaited as the uncovered corruption in business and government. Today’s “60 Minutes” on the CBS Network  continues the tradition begun a century ago by Ida Tarbell (nemesis of Standard Oil), Upton Sinclair (whose novel about big oil was recently made into the movie, “There Will Be Blood,” starring Daniel Day Lewis), writer Lincoln Steffens, and others.

The progressives brought about a better country with their reforms. Their work was instrumental, I believe, in creating the conditions that led to the rise of the middle class – the engine of our GDP (2/3 of the US economy). Millions of Americans were the beneficiaries of the progressive thinking of 100 years ago.

* * * * * * * *

Of course, conditions are different in 2008 and 2009, aren’t they? OK, let’s admit we’ve made tremendous progress as a society since the early 1900s. Thank the progressives for that.

The problems and challenges and issues of our age will be addressed in different ways, it appears, after January 20, 2009.

The early 20th Century progressives were united by a number of forces. Based on what I have been seeing in recent months – one example was the Barack Obama campaign fervor – this Millennium Generation, approaching positions of influence and power – may revive the spirit of the early Progressive Movement, especially if they unite to bring about important changes.

Stay Tuned to the shift taking place in public opinion, the shift from right-to-center or even center-left, and the drive for a better quality of life in this great nation. We may be on the verge of something really exciting – with expanding (not contracting) opportunity for most Americans! The best that our nation can be…may be just ahead of us.

Your thoughts?

(for more details on the Progressive Movement, read “The Progressive Movement, 1900-1917,” by A.J. Scopino, Jr; 1996m Discovery Enterprises Ltd.)

Photo: Crowded cities: The original Progressive Movement came together more than a century ago.  Under conditions that include several sounding a bit familiar in 2008.  Immigrants were flooding into the US (the late-1800’s waves came from Italy, Eastern Europe, Russia, and other lands) and many of the recent arrivals were living in terrible conditions as they landed and remained in the crowding cities.

The 21st Century Company — What Can We Expect?

by Hank Boerner

When my partner Lou Coppola and I were discussing concepts for a conference with Chris Skroupa and the Skytop Strategies team last year, we talked about the fascination that we all seem to “have with decades and centuries.” And even “Millennia” — we are now in the Third as the calendar changed from “1900s” to “2000s.” . And of course we talked our fascination with “looking ahead” to divine the future.

The musings led to the wonderful event that we had in May 2016 at Baruch College / CUNY, our gracious hosts for the “21st Century Company” conference. I’d like to share my opening comments for that conference with you.

In “decades” we talk about the Roaring 20’s, the 1960’s social and cultural revolution, In centuries we think about traditions of the Victorian Age — taking up most of the 1800s.

Time magazine publisher Henry Luce dubbed the 20th, “The American Century.” And it was, in so many dimensions: economic, cultural, militarily, industrially, financially, and so on.

Remember the discussion about when exactly the 21st Century would begin – in year 2000 or 2001? And how the world’s IT network was about to melt down because we had only two digits for dates in old software? An estimated $100 Billion dollars were invested in “Y2K” programs by business 1995-2001

Y2K was a good example of progress made in the new century based on technology and scientific advances in the prior century. We saw that throughout the 20th Century — tinkerers building on 19th and 18th and even 17th Century advances.

“Tinkerers” create by leveraging the old for the new — and that’s how we advance in our society — how we create value – create new industries — create new wealth for the many. (And, of course, for the fortunate few, the 1%, as well.)

In the 1760s – the 18th Century – Scotsman James Watt tinkered with steam power.
He experimented with stethoscope tubing and tin cans — building on advances earlier in the century.

Watt’s tinkering led to harnessing the power of steam In the 19th Century, tinkerers put the steam engine on a wagon, and pulled carriages behind. The vehicles were “in train,” so they called it “a train” pulled by the steam-powered locomotive. Many of us got here this morning “by train.”

Soon railroads were everywhere, carrying people and freight. The great American prairies of the Midwest and Southwest stretches of flat land (like Oklahoma and Texas) were settled and a mighty agriculture empire arose mid-continent.

The farmland output — the harvested crops — would concentrate in factories and the nation would have packaged foods – think of cereals – as well as abundant pork, beef, buffalo and other meat products.

A tinkerer in the 19th Century – Samuel Morse – put electric stimulation through wires to convey messages. He gave us the telegraph. Recently some observers called the telegraph the “Victorian Internet.” At this point in my presentation at Baruch I held up glass standoff — it’s silicon in nature. The standoff should be familiar to you — you will see it atop the crossbar along railroad tracks; it insulated the telegraphy and later telephone wires.

Silicon was fundamental to 20th Century electronic technology. In the last century there would be a valley named for Silicon because of the importance of the simple “sand” element. Silicon is found in radios, cameras, phones, computers.

The telegraph concept’s success led us on to telephony, radio broadcasts, television, and the global Internet with its wondrous World Wide Web (www.”whatever” you like).  Tinkerer Tim Berners-Lee created the Web – and made it available to all of us with no strings attached.

At the end of the 19th and into the 20th Century, tinkerer Thomas Edison brought forth amazing devices – spawning giant industries! Think of the electric utilities – built on the genius of Edison.

He experimented with 6,000 plant materials to find a light bulb filament that worked and would last for the consumer. Carbonized bamboo was one solution. If you drive around the City of Fort Myers, Florida, you’ll see bamboo plants here and there. And the Edison and (Henry] Ford Winter Estates features family gardens and a research lab. When Thomas Edison bought his property he found bamboo growing there and experimented with that plant for his light bulb filaments. Henry Ford played around with plants to grow a domestic source of rubber (latex) for his auto’s tires. Such in the fascination with the wonders of nature for tinkerers!

Edison’s great insight was that a central generating system — the dynamo — with wires running to homes and business would create a new category of business services.

At the time of his death in 1931 the still expanding electric utility business was a $75 billion business in current dollars!

His tinkering gave us moving pictures (“movies”), the phonograph and other machines that would change our business and personal lives.

Remember James Watt of Scotland and the primitive steam engine? Steam power was soon everywhere — powering railroads, providing power for factories and globe-roaming steam ships, telegraph, electric power to change night-to-day – all marvelous inventions in the 19th Century.

So: How to build on that in the 20th?

Enter tinkerer Henry Ford. He worked in an Edison electric plant in Detroit. He tinkered and developed practical “automobiles” and put Americans on the road and changed our way of life.

Ford built on the legacy and foundation of the prior centuries. On earlier advances in metals, rubber, instrumentation, wiring, steel making.

Henry Ford’s Model T was everywhere. He also revolutionized the workplace, bringing the work to the worker on the assembly line.

His workers had the opportunity to earn $5 per day – two times what other industrial workers earned. This was an important 20th Century economic insight – that way they could buy the cars they made!

Sometimes progress comes slowly.

Here’s a fascinating story: Car and Driver magazine staged “The Race of the Century, Ford Model T vs. Tesla Model S” last year. This was a contest pitting a 1915 “T” Ford against a 2013 Tesla. Guess who won? The route was Detroit to Shoreham, Long Island, just under 700 miles.

The restored Model T had to take all non-expressway roads while the Tesla zoomed along at 68 mph on the interstates. But down time for re charging meant the actual speed over the route was in the 30s for the Tesla.

That was less than the 100-year old Model T — it hit 40’s regularly and even 68 MPH doing down hills. The Ford had numerous pit stops and its battery actually blew up from overuse. The drivers had the windshield down – imagine driving all that distance with wind in your face and no cover (roof) or surrounding windows as you zipped along.

Battery charging stations had to be set up with volunteers along the route for the Tesla Access to 100-AMP service was needed for the Tesla – thank you, Thomas Edison for electric power everywhere!

The Tesla won by a very slim margin.

The final destination was the Tesla memorial, honoring Nikola Tesla, the competitor to Thomas Edison, who built a giant electrical testing tower in Shoreham, New York. (Organizers are trying to create a museum there to honor Tesla and his experiments.)

We can look to 21xt Century “tinkerer” advances in battery power and rapid recharging stations — that will address these immediate challenges.

Tinkerer Henry Ford, meet tinkerer-extraordinaire  Elon Musk!

Tinkerers innovate – new products, new services, new technologies, new approaches – on the foundations of prior advances.

The move from tinkerer’s garage to giant publicly-traded enterprise can be rapid – look at Apple, in relatively quick time attaining the largest market cap in history.

There are challenges: As the innovative product or service grows, how is the venture to be managed? Financed? What will the relationship of company and society be? Relationship of investor and board and management?

For a time, owners – tinkerer owners-cum-capitalists John Rockefeller,  Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford — were virtual rulers. The growth of the capital markets shifted power to the provider of capital.

“Management,” a 20th Century term, over time became more important than “owner.”

Here we are in second decade of the 21st Century – typically, the large corporation is globalized, automated, complex, a dominant force in our society.

The tinker=-owners are replaced by professional managers and the enterprise owned by “atomized” owners — their holdings are 1% or less of the total (and hence, “like atoms” in the words of authors Adolf Berle and Gardiner Means in the 1930s in their work, “The Modern Corporation and Private Property“).

What will be the defining characteristics of the 21st Century company in terms of Company and society relations? Organizations will be flatter — less layers of management, more dispersed responsibility, less command-and-control in the 20th Century sense. There’ll be more automation, more technology replacing people. (More robots / less human hands on control knobs, levers or control sticks of machinery.) More machine-talking-to-machine. that’s happening in industrial settings now, with numerous devices sending data to central databases for analysis and sharing to lead to better best practices at dispersed industrial locations.

In this 21st Century we are in an era of great expectations – stockholders (the atomized owner interests) and stakeholders (the new keys to success for the large enterprise) expect the 21st Century company management to be more sustainable, socially responsible, “good citizens,” Open and transparent. Accountable to stakeholders.

Companies today are in so many ways are viewed to be “citizens” of the nation and world – what does that mean? What are “good corporate citizens?” How will we be defining “corporate citizenship?{ Stay Tuned!

We explored all of that and more in our Skytop-Governance & Accountability Institute co-presented conference at Baruch College.

There’s more information at: . https://skytopstrategies.com/21st-century-company/

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Just The Facts, Ma’am, Said Detective Joe Friday. The Dragnet Cop Should Be Around Today…

by Hank Boerner – August 11, 2016

The brilliant presidential advisors and later, U.S. Senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, said it best: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.”

As I watch the current presidential campaign, the good Senator’s comments come to mind. So do the comments of Detective Sergeant Joe Friday on Dragnet (radio and TV) about “facts.” (“Just the facts, ma’am,” he would say.)

Too often, it seems, facts and fiction became intertwined and inseparable in the running commentary of the 2016 presidential election.

Let’s look at some economic facts in the hope that he American voting public can be better informed when watching the television news reports or attending a political rally.

Let’s start with these exciting facts for investors: Today as I write this (August 11) the three major stock market indexes all reached all-time highs, simultaneously. The last time that happened was 1999 – 17 years ago.

Today the most followed market stock market indexes stand at:

  • Dow Jones Industrial: 18,613
    S&P 500: 2,185
    NASDAQ: 5,228

Where were we on January 20, 2009, as the new president was being sworn in? (Recall that was the time of the financial markets meltdown and investment portfolios were heading to 40% losses.)

  • Dow Jones Industrial: 7,949
    S&P 500: 805
    NASDAQ: 1,140

This week’s market news is pretty encouraging for 401-k and IRA owners, eh?

Let’s look briefly at national unemployment rates:

  • July 2016: 4.9 per cent
    January 2009: 7.8% (would rise to 9.9% by December)

The web platform Politifact (published by the Tampa Bay Times in Florida) provided a scoreboard of the economy under President Barack Obama in June 2012 as he neared the end of his first term.

Fact: Overall inflation was 4.3% in 2008 / “Zero” was at in 2009

In the months leading up to the start of the Obama Presidency in January 2009, layoffs were peaking and the number of jobs lost — according to the U.S. Department of Labor — exceeded an estimated 7 million jobs…going, going gone as the Great Recession took the national economy into the abyss.

In December 2008 the U.S. Department of Labor described the situation this way: “…unemployment rose to 7.2% (from 6.8% the prior month); employment [fell that month] by 524,000; 1.9 million jobs were lost in the last four months of 2008; job losses were large and widespread across major industry sectors.”

There were 2.6 million jobs lost just in the year 2008 alone (fact source is CNN Money). The job losses in the U.S.A. were astronomical as the stock market cratered in 2008 and into 2009.

Consider: In September 2008: some 400,000-plus jobs were gone. In November 2008: 800,000 jobs lost. Layoffs continued into 2009, into the early months of the new administration in Washington (April 2009: almost 700,000 jobs disappeared).

Think of the ripple effect — if one industrial job was lost, economists’ rule of thumb was that three or four or more other jobs were disappearing, too.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported on August 10, 2016: Employers have added nearly 200,000 jobs each month since early 2010. (Remember: early in 2009 Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.)

After going deep into non-growth GDP territory in 2008, 2009 and toward 2010, we moved back into positive growth in 2010 and pretty much stayed there until today.

Check out the interesting charts at: http://www.cbpp.org/research/economy/chart-book-the-legacy-of-the-great-recession.

Last month — July 2016 — the country added 255,000 jobs.

Whether you believe the White House records or not, in March 2016 that was the source for this set of data:  The private sector had added 14.4 million jobs over 73 straight months of job growth.

There was not all good news of course, and you can check out the full report with its data and charts here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2016/04/01/employment-situation-march

Look at the job gains as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor this year (2016) alone:

January:168,000
February: 233,00
March: 186,000
April: 144,000
May: 234,000
June almost 300,000
July: 255,000

And let’s not remove from our memory the preservation of an important industry employing hundreds of thousands of men and women in this country: vehicle manufacturing and marketing. Politifact noted (September 2012) that employment for car makers and their suppliers was up 250,000 jobs from 2009, with sales rising for Ford (13%), Chrysler (14%) and General Motors (10%) in 2011.

That’s a long way from 2008: GM out of cash to pay bills, Chrysler reeling as well; Ford in better shape financially having mortgaged literally all of its assets just before the financial meltdown on Wall Street. (The New York Times, November 27, 2006 — USD$19 billion as factories, equipment, offices, patents, trademarks, ownership in Volvo and other businesses were mortgaged.)

The rescue of the auto industry began under the presidency of George W. Bush, using TARP funds in his last months in office (fact), and continued under the presidency of Barack Obama. The heart of U.S. industrial power, the auto & truck manufacturing industry, was rescued by the Federal government with U.S. taxpayer money — which has been paid back for the most part. And jobs were protected.

“Make America Great Again,” the apparently trademarked slogan for the 2016 campaign (should we put a “TM” or “patent pending” or “R” here?), does have a certain resonance. In economic reality terms, however, it does not reflect the true condition of the economy after eight years of the current occupant of the White House. (He-whose-name-may-not-be-mentioned-in-certain-circles. OK, it’s Barack Obama.)

We as voters are entitled to the facts – -not fear mongering, not the offering up of misleading “facts” or the rhetoric of provocateurs. Having facts we can make better informed decisions as part of our civic responsibility — that is, when we enter the voting booth.

This probably comes across as a partisan commentary, favoring one side or the other. My intention is to present facts — the word descending down to our time from the ancient Latin, meaning “…the thing that is done, the thing known to be true…” vs. factitious, descending as well from Latin “…imagined, made up, artificial, not real or genuine…”

As fictional detective Joe Friday used to say on the popular television series “Dragnet”: “…just the facts, ma’am, just the facts…”

Or in the expression of this era…just sayin’.

Thanksgiving Day 2015 – The National Holiday to Pause and Acknowledge

by Hank Boerner

Thanksgiving Day in America, 2015  – we have many blessing to acknowledge and give thanks for…on this 152 year old national holiday…

At the White House, Washington, D.C. – October 3, 1863. This was a very troubling time in the life of the nation. Three months earlier, on a battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the armies of the divided nation, north and south, clashed in a bloody and grim battle, with the loss of more than 50,000 men (dead, wounded, missing).

Soon after, in just two-minutes time, our 16th CEO — President Abraham Lincoln — would deliver his famous “Gettysburg Address,” summing up the past, present and future promise of the United States of America…all that in just 272 words. Now, on that October 3rd some 152 years ago, a longer worded proclamation would be issued: the Proclamation of Thanksgiving.

A news magazine editor, Sarah Josepha Hale, wrote to Mr. Lincoln in September 1863 urging him to “have a day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union festival.” The future course of the Union was not assured in Fall 1863, as seven states of the south in 1861 had declared their intention to leave the Union of [then] 33 states and to create their own government– the Confederacy. The bloody Civil War between the Union and the Confederation was on — and 600,000 Americans would lose their lives over the course of the four year war.

As a message of hope in dark days, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving. The year, he wrote, “…has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. In the midst of a civil war, of unequaled magnitude and severity, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of war…”

The President implored the “interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it…the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union. “ He ordered the nation to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise…”

And so for the American nation, the tradition began, of a proclaimed day of pause, for giving thanks for all of the blessings that we as Americans enjoy (and often take for granted).  The holiday persists as an important “custom and tradition” in the words of the editor who wrote to Mr. Lincoln.

President Lincoln’s words should strike a familiar chord today for many of us. These are troubled times around the world. There is civil strife in many parts of the world, and wars of “great severity” being waged, with disastrous results for combatants and affected civilians. There is great “dis-harmony” in American politics, in our public sector, in the popular culture, in our news & commentary in media, and there is a serious inability in many spheres of the American society to “get along.”

President Lincoln sounded positive notes in issuing the Proclamation, enumerating many reasons for being thankful — including for “our continuing freedoms and the great abundance of the American nation.” The Proclamation looks forward to the day of a re-united United States of America. He called on “Americans to have a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwellith in the Heavens…and commend to His tender care all widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife…”

The President ended with: “…[we] fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union.”
And so the order to set aside the last Thursday of November for the national holiday of Thanksgiving.

We were then a nation of 34 million; today we are ten times that population (320 million), the sweeping spaces of our continent from sea-to-shining-sea filled with immigrants, refugees and their many descendants. The spirit of Thanksgiving endures, embraced enthusiastically by generation of strangers coming to our shores.

But Thanksgiving, alas, is not appropriately honored  everywhere in he American nation. And that for me is troubling.

We are inundated with ads on TV and in newspapers this week beckoning us to come to retail stores — or even car dealerships! — in the early hours on Thanksgiving morning. (Or at any time during that holiday that was intended to be set aside for pause and celebration.) I think we should ask ourselves — do we really need to shop ’till we drop on this important national holiday?

I believe that Thanksgiving is day of celebration with important origins — a holiday created in a time when the future of the nation was in doubt…when there were great sacrifices made to preserve this very unique Union. Dark days, indeed — and the Thanksgiving holiday gave the American People hope for the future and pause to think about the unique nature of the Union created just two generations earlier.

The Union held of course, and in the years after the end of battles on American soil, tens of millions of immigrants would flee troubled lands and seek security, safety, freedom and opportunity in the abundance of the U.S.A. They and their descendants enthusiastically embraced the concept of Thanksgiving in America — and gave thanks for being “free” in this nation.

As I thought about this, my attention was called to very different ads with a more sensible approach (I think).  Where we live, here in suburban Long Island, New York, there are two family businesses that over the years have achieved local, regional and even national prominence for their quality of goods offered, the efficiency of operations, for the care and friendliness of their associates, and for the responsibility demonstrated for the communities they serve. I call them out here for their position on the Thanksgiving holiday.  Consider this:

King Kullen Supermarkets — one of the very first of the self-service supermarkets of the modern era in the USA, continuing to be operated today by the Cullen and Kennedy families. Their advertisement in Newsday this week stated the following:

“Giving Thanks — Giving Back is a Family Tradition at King Kullen.” The ad goes on to describe the tradition of giving back that began in the depths of the Great Depression, when the first store opened in Jamaica, NY. The chain’s stores are operating in limited hours for necessities on Thanksgiving Day so that employees can celebrate with their families.

P.C. Richard & Son – a very successful appliance and electronics store founded in 1909 and still operated today by the Richard family (into the third, fourth and fifth generation now). PC Richard’s advertising message is for sure, blunt and to the point:

“Save Thanksgiving. Honor Thanksgiving Day…a True American Holiday.”

Management explains: “Our 2,735 Employees Wish You a Very Healthy, Happy Thanksgiving…a Day for the Celebration of Families, Friends and Loved Ones.”

And this: “It is our opinion that retailers who choose to open on Thanksgiving show no respect to their employees and families, and are in total disrespect of family values in the United States of America. Keep Family First!”

And I think…on this Thanksgiving Day, the men and women in the Armed Forces of the USA are again on the battlefield, as they were in 1863. The nation is again divided, not in armed conflict, thankfully, but in divided in ideology, on social issues, politically, and on important cultural issues. As we were 152 years ago. Some of the same issues prevail, unresolved, ever-debated.

The P.C. Richard message rings true for me — as you see, I am disappointed by the distortions in the national Thanksgiving holiday created major retail chains that stay open and deny their employees the opportunity to be with family around the table of Thanksgiving. (It doesn’t help that financial market players talk on CNBC this week about the importance of staying open on Thanksgiving to help the retailers’ top and bottom lines. That is a variation on “Wall Street vs. Main Street” rhetoric.)

But there is good news to report: on this Thanksgiving Eve  A growing number of America’s major retailers are pledging to close on Thanksgiving so that their employees can be with family.

The names include Nordstrom, Costco, Bed Bath & Beyond, BJs, Burlington, TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Home Goods, Raymour & Flanigan, Staples, Pier I Imports, Petco, Petsmart, Sam’s Club, Barnes & Noble…and more. Kudos to them!

The actions of the managements of these companies bring to mind President Lincoln’s words: “…I do invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, those at sea and those sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise…”

Remember – there is always Black Friday to shop – when everyone is open.

To all my family, friends, colleagues – I wish you a most Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. We have much to be thankful for this year, despite the issues that swirl around us. It’s a great time to be alive in this great Union…preserved with the blood and treasure of so many young men and women in too many wars since 1865 and the end of the tragic Civil War.

The complete list of stores pledging to close on Thanksgiving Day is at: http://www.theblackfriday.com/stores-closed-on-thanksgiving-day.php

The Lincoln Thanksgiving Proclamation is at: http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/thanks.htm

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