What Microsoft’s Layoffs Mean for You

Although Microsoft no longer gets the gushing, media-fawning attention that Google, Facebook and some younger, more ‘hip’ tech companies do, it is still a gigantic, hugely profitable industry giant.  Microsoft employs more than 130,000 people and has annual revenue of nearly $100 billion, profit margins of about 20% and their stock is up more than 21% since they named a new CEO in January.  And yet, they’re laying off 18,000 people.

What’s up?

I think the leadership at Microsoft sees trouble on the horizon.  They’re looking back at the last five years and all the money the Federal reserve has pumped into the economy, much of which has gone not to Main Street, but WallStreet, where it has been lent out to big companies (like Microsoft), who’ve used it to go on a mergers and acquisitions spending spree.  Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia is one such example.

In fact, there has been more than $700 billion dollars of mergers and acquisitions in the United States so far this year.  That’s the most since the high-flying days before the 2008 Great Recession, and likely to set an all-time record by year’s end.  Insiders will even admit that they’re taking advantage of inflated stock prices and virtually ‘free’ money to buy up weaker competitors.

So what’s the problem?

Microsoft’s massive layoffs, (despite great margins, fantastic sales growth and a soaring stock market), suggest management is worried about the future.  They have good cause to worry, because the Fed has already hinted they are … Read the rest

Although Microsoft no longer gets the gushing, media-fawning attention that Google, Facebook and some younger, more ‘hip’ tech companies do, it is still a gigantic, hugely profitable industry giant.  Microsoft employs more than 130,000 people and has annual revenue of nearly $100 billion, profit margins of about 20% and their stock is up more than 21% since they named a new CEO in January.  And yet, they’re laying off 18,000 people.

What’s up?

I think the leadership at Microsoft sees trouble on the horizon.  They’re looking back at the last five years and all the money the Federal reserve has pumped into the economy, much of which has gone not to Main Street, but WallStreet, where it has been lent out to big companies (like Microsoft), who’ve used it to go on a mergers and acquisitions spending spree.  Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia is one such example.

In fact, there has been more than $700 billion dollars of mergers and acquisitions in the United States so far this year.  That’s the most since the high-flying days before the 2008 Great Recession, and likely to set an all-time record by year’s end.  Insiders will even admit that they’re taking advantage of inflated stock prices and virtually ‘free’ money to buy up weaker competitors.

So what’s the problem?

Microsoft’s massive layoffs, (despite great margins, fantastic sales growth and a soaring stock market), suggest management is worried about the future.  They have good cause to worry, because the Fed has already hinted they are … Read the rest

Failure to Communicate

My children’s teachers send notes home with the textbooks asking for my estimation of their books in several categories. The Wife was visibly relieved when I quickly volunteered to review, comment and sign on the 53 different forms brought home by the seven enrolled there. Now I suspect she intercepts the children before they bring the books to me. Here’s why:

I know that what the teachers want is my assessment of the physical condition of the book so that when my kid drops it in the kitty litter, runs over it with his bike, spills Ramen on it, leaves it at soccer practice when it starts raining, uses a corndog as a bookmark, or allows #11 to use it to write the one word he knows in 37 different crayon colors and then seal his work with his unique “day old chocolate milk” mark, that I’ll be on the hook for it’s degradation from “fair with binding that appears to have propped open the garage door in three different families” to “are you kidding me?”.

However, I use the forms to send my feedback on the curriculum itself. I comment on science books that teach modernist theories contrary to the Catholic faith, math books that fail to explain the theory of “zero” or “infinity”, or history books that regurgitate Yankee propaganda about the War of Northern Aggression. My expectations are not unreasonable; it’s not like I expect them to explain to 8th graders the travesty of the 17th Amendment, … Read the rest

My children’s teachers send notes home with the textbooks asking for my estimation of their books in several categories. The Wife was visibly relieved when I quickly volunteered to review, comment and sign on the 53 different forms brought home by the seven enrolled there. Now I suspect she intercepts the children before they bring the books to me. Here’s why:

I know that what the teachers want is my assessment of the physical condition of the book so that when my kid drops it in the kitty litter, runs over it with his bike, spills Ramen on it, leaves it at soccer practice when it starts raining, uses a corndog as a bookmark, or allows #11 to use it to write the one word he knows in 37 different crayon colors and then seal his work with his unique “day old chocolate milk” mark, that I’ll be on the hook for it’s degradation from “fair with binding that appears to have propped open the garage door in three different families” to “are you kidding me?”.

However, I use the forms to send my feedback on the curriculum itself. I comment on science books that teach modernist theories contrary to the Catholic faith, math books that fail to explain the theory of “zero” or “infinity”, or history books that regurgitate Yankee propaganda about the War of Northern Aggression. My expectations are not unreasonable; it’s not like I expect them to explain to 8th graders the travesty of the 17th Amendment, … Read the rest

How to Kill Your Brand Cheaply and Quickly

In the study of God there is something known as “negative theology”, by which people learn about the divine through a definition of what God is not.  It sounds strange, but is illustrative.  Similarly, I think we can learn a great deal about business by learning what NOT to do.

I recently flew United Airlines and had a terrible experience. While my first flight from Nashville to Chicago left on time and was pleasant, at least as much as it can be on a puddle jumper with a Duck Dynasty wannabe in the row behind me who spoke loud enough to demonstrate his arrogance and ignorance to everyone from row 21 to 10, my connecting flight was delayed five times-for a total of 4 1/2 hours.

Every 45 minutes the status was updated, as if the airline just couldn’t figure out what was going on (“Do we have airplanes? Do we have people who can fly them?”), and while the delay was a minor inconvenience, the manner in which United treats passengers is a textbook lesson in how NOT to interact with the public (and a great learning experience for marketers or PR personnel who want to know how to excel in business).

First, there was no communication from the airline; the passengers in the know (like me), got updates from the booking agency via text or email, long before gate attendants (had they been present) had information.

Secondly, the airline made no attempt (even half-hearted) at apology.  A simple … Read the rest

In the study of God there is something known as “negative theology”, by which people learn about the divine through a definition of what God is not.  It sounds strange, but is illustrative.  Similarly, I think we can learn a great deal about business by learning what NOT to do.

I recently flew United Airlines and had a terrible experience. While my first flight from Nashville to Chicago left on time and was pleasant, at least as much as it can be on a puddle jumper with a Duck Dynasty wannabe in the row behind me who spoke loud enough to demonstrate his arrogance and ignorance to everyone from row 21 to 10, my connecting flight was delayed five times-for a total of 4 1/2 hours.

Every 45 minutes the status was updated, as if the airline just couldn’t figure out what was going on (“Do we have airplanes? Do we have people who can fly them?”), and while the delay was a minor inconvenience, the manner in which United treats passengers is a textbook lesson in how NOT to interact with the public (and a great learning experience for marketers or PR personnel who want to know how to excel in business).

First, there was no communication from the airline; the passengers in the know (like me), got updates from the booking agency via text or email, long before gate attendants (had they been present) had information.

Secondly, the airline made no attempt (even half-hearted) at apology.  A simple … Read the rest

Life in Autismland

My ninth son, Jude Christopher, is three years old and mildly  autistic.  He says only one word and he says it repeatedly and very well; “No”.  He likes to spend most of the time alone, he gets angry often and for no easily discernible cause, and his fits of rage are as unpredictable as they are uncontrollable.  He needs very little sleep.  It is a challenge for any parent and no easier if you’ve raised 10 other “normal” children.

His Mother does not like that I tell people he is autistic.  She likes to say that he is ‘on the spectrum’.  I find this is the way moms and professionals dull the diagnosis.  It is true that not all autistic kids are the same, and at three years of age, he doesn’t suffer from some of the same burdens others do.  She prays for a miracle but takes him to therapy twice a week and hopes to have him in a tailored program soon.  I pray for a miracle but am prepared for a different life for and with him.

IMG_20140728_194822 (1)

Neither Doctors nor parents really understand autism.  It is particularly difficult to understand because those who suffer from it usually have great difficulty communicating.  Many do not communicate at all.  They cannot explain what they do understand and don’t, what is hurting them or bothering them, what they need or want.  Human touch is often bothersome.  Ordinary acts of kindness or intimacy might be irritating.  Vocal or physical outbursts may … Read the rest

Worse Than Rape or Murder

Winston was 68 years old, 5’6”, slightly hunched, with pale skin and a rapid fire manner of delivery.  I first met him when he was transferred to Marion from Butner Medical Center after having surprised (and disappointed) many people in the Bureau of Prisons by surviving his third round of cancer.

He was not the type of person to suffer fools, and would respond to any inquiry about him or his past by asking a series of questions designed to determine, in his mind, whether the subject of his interrogation was worth spending time with.  As he would later explain to me, after 20 years in federal prison, he didn’t think he had time to waste on inmates who placed no value on time simply because it was in such supply.

Winston was the founder and CEO of a hugely successful property and casualty insurance company in Illinois.  He built his madoff100614_2_560company by specializing in hard to insure properties and businesses and collecting what was then an enormous amount of data about his clients so he could both better design policies and help them to reduce losses.  The combination of his insuring higher-risk (and thus, higher premium paying), clients and diligent underwriting made him wealthy by the time he was 40.  

As often happens to successful men, he grew bored and decided to tackle new challenges.  Some state laws at the time prohibited companies like his from competing across multiple jurisdictions.  There were also other laws in the state of Read the rest

Winston was 68 years old, 5’6”, slightly hunched, with pale skin and a rapid fire manner of delivery.  I first met him when he was transferred to Marion from Butner Medical Center after having surprised (and disappointed) many people in the Bureau of Prisons by surviving his third round of cancer.

He was not the type of person to suffer fools, and would respond to any inquiry about him or his past by asking a series of questions designed to determine, in his mind, whether the subject of his interrogation was worth spending time with.  As he would later explain to me, after 20 years in federal prison, he didn’t think he had time to waste on inmates who placed no value on time simply because it was in such supply.

Winston was the founder and CEO of a hugely successful property and casualty insurance company in Illinois.  He built his madoff100614_2_560company by specializing in hard to insure properties and businesses and collecting what was then an enormous amount of data about his clients so he could both better design policies and help them to reduce losses.  The combination of his insuring higher-risk (and thus, higher premium paying), clients and diligent underwriting made him wealthy by the time he was 40.  

As often happens to successful men, he grew bored and decided to tackle new challenges.  Some state laws at the time prohibited companies like his from competing across multiple jurisdictions.  There were also other laws in the state of Read the rest