Archive for December, 2009

English As A Second Language in Corporate America

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

First off, I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year, and that 2010 is everything 2009 was and 500% better!  I am looking toward the new year and new decade as a new beginning where abundance will be filling my lifestyle rather than a semi-cloudy day.  I am a firm believer in what Tony Robbins said in one of his programs, “Every day above ground is a great day!”

Tony Robbins in Shallow Hal

Tony Robbins in Shallow Hal

Now onto today’s subject.  My day job is working for a Silicon Valley technology company, and because of the potential rewards, we attract the world’s best and brightest.  That said, this was the out-of-office notice for someone I deal with:

Dear Sender ,
I will be out off corporate office on this afternoon.  Pleae feel free call my cell phone at +1 408-xxx-xxxx  or send me email.  For immediatly assistant, please contact Yijen at X 6323 or James at +1 408 ……..  I will return to office on…
Thanks for your email & You have a nice day!

Now, this person is originally from Taiwan, but was educated here and works for an American company.  I don’t think I am being overly harsh by thinking twice if I want to do business with a company that presents itself without spell-checked email and in broken English.  Not everyone speaks perfect English, obviously, so please tell me if I am off-base here in wondering if their email messages are this sloppy, maybe something else is not as clean either?

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High School Student Suspended for Dressing as Santa Claus

Friday, December 25th, 2009

Let me begin by wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, and now for the Scrooge and Grinch of the Season award.

A kid, Michael Hance at Strath Haven High School in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia, told his principal that he was going to wear a Santa suit to school and hand out candy.  She said no, but he did it anyway.  They grabbed him and suspended him for defying her.

Strath Haven High School Prinipal MaryJo Yannacone Contact Information

The Strath Haven High School principal’s name is MaryJo Yannacone and her email is

Outside of this being ridiculous, absurd and downright dumb, let me know if you are in agreement that we should drop MaryJo Yannacone a note and let her know just how we feel, and if you happen to have one of those 11 year-old fruitcakes from Aunt Louise, here is her address:

Strath Haven High School

MaryJo Yannacone

205 S. Providence Road

Wallingford, PA 19086.

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Ford Selling Volvo to Chinese Company Geely

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Volvo was the car that was safe, boring and something that your friend’s parents drove.  That was when safe meant dull, boring and I hope nobody sees me in this car.

Then they started to get a bit sporty when they paid top-dollar to have their new Volvo C70 coupe featured in the Val Kilmer movie, The Saint.  Sales weren’t great, as they were competing against the Nissan Z, the Toyota Supra and Mazda RX, but they did have the cool-factor.

Volvo C70 in The Saint with Val Kilmer

Volvo C70 in The Saint with Val Kilmer

The SUV craze hit and Volvo was there once again – not as a market leader but a company with a presence and a company that still pushed their safety records.  Volvo was moderately cool, less dull and just as safe as our parents’ Volvo.

Owned by Ford, Volvo has been a money-loser and Ford has been seeking a buyer, and since neither General Motors or Chrysler are in the market for another under-performing car line, it was clear that either an overseas buyer would have to step up, or the brand would cease to exist similar to Saturn’s demise earlier this year.  Volvo’s price tag is in the $2 billion range.

Volvo Will Now Be A Chinese Company

It was announced today that the apparent new owner of the Volvo brand name will be a Chinese company named Geely Group.  Swedish car made in China.  Something is really wrong with this picture.

I have no issue with Chinese-made goods, in fact I am sure I am wearing something made in China at this very moment, I have a computer monitor made in China, and use cookware made in China on most nights.  I don’t place my family in any of these Chinese-made items and travel at 65 mph down the highway, that’s the difference.

Let’s be real here, China has no semblance of laws when it comes to copyright laws – they are the global leaders in counterfeit goods, they have little or no litigation, and they have very little quality control.  I am not China-bashing here, just pointing out reality: Chinese goods are generally cheaper than other goods for a reason – cheap unchecked labor and no laws governing consumer protection.

I would buy a Korean-made car before I buy a Chinese-made car, and I won’t buy a Korean car. Socks, televisions, staplers, telephones, basic electronics, fine.  A Volvo from China?  Sorry, Charlie.

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Tipping – When Should We Tip And Whom Should We Tip

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

‘Tis the season to be jolly, the song goes, so we often reach a bit deeper into our pockets and drop some coins or bills into the Salvation Army red bucket outside the post office, or other worthy causes this time of year.  Some of us also may slip an extra buck or two to the waiter or waitress for great service or going out of their way for us. It’s the Christmas Spirit.

This brings up the question of when to tip, how much should we tip, and who deserves a tip.  I was in New York City this past week on business, and while not as bad as Chicago service workers for always having their hand out, service people in Manhattan seem to expect something for doing very little.

Cab drivers help you calculate the tip when the ride is over with a screen that shows how much 15%, 20% and 25% would amount to, on top of the fare.  Dinner for four at the Roxy Deli on Broadway and 47th totaled $95.00, and the restaurant was considerate enough to add 18% on the bill as a tip regardless of how shoddy the service was.  I had no choice in the matter.

The Roxy Delicatessen on Broadway in New York

The Roxy Delicatessen on Broadway in New York

Saturday morning when I was checking out of my hotel, a nice boutique hotel right off 49th and Broadway in the Theater District called The Time, the doorman who I had seen for the last few days opened the door for me and asked if I needed a cab.  This doorman, other than greeting me when I walked in and out, really didn’t serve a purpose other than offering a presence at the front door, but I knew he expected a tip and I ran out of small bills.  I immediately apologized, telling him, “hey, I’m really sorry…I ran out of cash…”  He smiled and said it wasn’t a problem.

The Time Hotel Doorman Shakes Down The New York Taxi Driver

As we walked out into the morning cold I looked down the block at a line of taxis that were waiting for people like me who were headed to the airport, as he tried to sell me on the Lincoln Towne Car for $65.00.  I told him that due to a previous experience, I prefer a yellow cab – a real taxi, and he proceeded to flag down one for me.

As the car pulled up and I put my bags into the trunk and settled into the back seat, the previously friendly doorman began shaking down the cab driver.  It went something like this:

Doorman: Hey, you gonna take care of me?

Cabby: Huh, what do you mean?

Doorman: You know what I mean, you gotta take care of me if you sit in front of my hotel.  That’s how it works.

Cabby: That’s not right…

Doorman: C’mon…(as he rubs his fingers together)

Cabby: (handing over a couple of dollars and quickly pulling away) That’s wrong…

I wound up covering the few dollars the doorman extorted from the cab driver, and I am not sure if he did this to cover for the $2 he didn’t get from me, or if he does this to every taxi driver, but it doesn’t leave a very good taste in the mouth of the hotel guest as he or she heads back home.  I would stay at the hotel again, I just won’t trust the hotel’s staff.

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Exporting American Products and Intellectual Property

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Whenever there is a loss of jobs, particularly in the manufacturing sector, the cries begin from union leaders and pro-union politicians that we need to protect “our” jobs.  What they really mean is we Americans need to keep the status-quo, not deal with the progress of technology, the global economy, and reality.

Cars are made by robots and machines with an assist from humans, automated attendants help callers navigate through phone systems at companies large and small, but there are still jobs here at home – just maybe not the same job your grandfather held decades ago.  It is called progress.

Because of the perceived loss of jobs, the word “import” has negative connotations in some areas, but we have to realize it is a balance and that American-made exports are nothing to sneeze at.

Exporting American Intellectual Property

Hollywood movies are played around the world to audiences in hundreds of countries, and Justin Timberlake doesn’t just sell CDs and iTunes downloads in Ohio.  Yes, many software development and tennis shoe manufacturing jobs are now in Sri Lanka and Vietnam, but Boeing still builds jets in Washington, not in Bulgaria.  In fact, Boeing’s revenue in 2008 included $23.8 billion from outside the United States.

But looking closer to home, Toyota has built trucks in Texas since 2006, Mercedes builds SUVs in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Hyundai’s factory is in Montgomery, Alabama.

Hyundai Factory in Montgomery, Alabama

Hyundai Factory in Montgomery, Alabama

Nebraska Exported $5 Billion of Products in 2008

Soybeans are exported around the world to the tune of 15 million metric tons, and the state of Nebraska – yes Nebraska, exported over $5 billion in goods in 2008.

Workers become more specialized as technology advances, and this is the reason why horses are no longer used to plow fields, and why toll takers on bridges are being replaced with electronic devices such as FasTrak which sticks to your windshield and is read by a scanning device.

One sector shrinks and another expands – always has and always will.

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Did An Illegal Alien Steal My Car Registration Tags?

Monday, December 7th, 2009

I noticed yesterday that someone stole the registration tags off the license plates of one of our cars.  The car is 8 years old and had stickers dating back to the early 2000’s with the latest being 2010.

I went to open the trunk of the car and looked down to see someone has scraped off the stack of stickers to get the latest.  These stickers are nearly impossible to get off quickly when there is just one on a plate, but after they pile up over the years, I would imagine a screw driver or butter knife could be used to pry them off.

Outside of the inconvenience of having to report the theft to cover my own butt in case I get pulled over, I need to report the theft to the DMV, and oh how the Department of Motor Vehicles is a joy to deal with.  I am hoping to avoid waiting in line and see if the process can be handled with a phone call.

Let’s jump ahead and think about who would steal a registration tag?  Two types of people fall into this category:

1)      Someone who for whatever reason cannot afford to register their car and to avoid being pulled over for expired tags, steals a legitimate set and places it on their own car.

2)      An illegal alien, illegal immigrant, a criminal alien, an undocumented person – I am covering all grounds here to categorize a border jumper who drives a car without holding a driver’s license, possessing insurance and knowledge of basic traffic laws.  Since this person cannot legally own or drive a car, they cannot register a car they may have purchased so they steal a legitimate registration tag to place on their plates so they don’t draw attention.

I spoke with a police officer I ran into at the Starbucks parking lot near my home, and he told me that they do not track registration tags – meaning that even if this person is caught, next to nothing can happen to them.

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Hiring Workers With Disabilities

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

In a perfect world there would be no discrimination in society, the work environment, within companies, or in the actual hiring process.  We have laws in place to protect such instances from occurring, as federal law prohibits any form of discrimination against workers for race, color, religion or disability – but do they really protect?

A number of years ago I recall interviewing a candidate for a management position at our San Francisco Financial District location.  His resume warranted a call and a phone interview, which he passed.

Accepting the invitation for an in-person interview, he arrived in a wheelchair.  It wasn’t the type of wheelchair one uses when you’ve broken or lost a leg; it was an all-in-one motorized job and the man sitting in the seat was rather tiny and truly handicapped, likely from various birth defects.  He was legally protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, at least in a perfect world.

This put me in an awkward position knowing that the job consisted of not only navigating around an office and showroom floor, it also included demonstrating computer hardware and some lifting.  I had to be very careful in what I said and how it was said, and to be honest, from a technical standpoint, he was qualified for the job.  The company, which no longer exists, failed to fully detail the job requirements to include lifting and moving boxes containing computers and related products and taking physical inventory of these products.

This gets to the study that some MIT economists conducted that show the employment numbers for disabled Americans is declining because, in part, companies appear to be wary of potential lawsuits. How much does a company need to alter its workspace and environment for a person with a disability? What if that person cannot complete all the tasks?  Does the company release the individual and risk a lawsuit, or simply live with the mistake and hope he or she finds another job?

In my case I was fortunate to have a large pool of qualified applicants from which to choose. Unfortunately, this brings up a huge issue – does a company do the right thing and hire the best qualified individual regardless of physical attributes, or do they play it safe?

Companies I’ve worked for have been victims of frivolous lawsuits from a woman who was fired because she was consistently late to work and got into regular shouting matches with her soon-to-be ex-husband over the phone on company time in the office.  She sued for sexual harassment.  Her lawyer eventually dropped her due to lack of any evidence.

Another suit was filed by a salesman who was habitually late due to a self-diagnosed sleeping disorder.  He sued claiming racial discrimination.  He was Chinese-American and the company was Taiwanese-owned, so that didn’t work out too well for him.

A Human Resource professional, who is also a friend, told me the way to weed out potential headaches is done in the resume review process.  They look for anything that may go against the culture of their company: the mention of any religious, ethnic or racial fraternities or clubs in school are a red flag, as are listed political or environmental affiliations.  Some companies, from what I understand, also go so far as to eliminate “older” people from consideration because they may not fit the company’s youthful culture, may be unwilling or unable to work long hours, or put a burden on the healthcare plan.  Too many lines on a resume and dates on college degrees are dead giveaways in getting a rough estimate as to an applicant’s age, as youth equals less expensive in many cases.

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