1. I'll Take My Coffee Back, Thank You
Further proof of the revolutionary productivity gains that the economy has enjoyed over the past decade: Even though everyone had Monday off, U.S. companies still managed to generate their weekly quota of Dumb Things.
Top of the list: The pride that we here at the Five Dumbest Things Research Lab take in improving the lives of downtrodden employees of
Perhaps you don't remember, but back in February the FDT lab broke the story that the struggling telco had pinched pennies by denying its employees the very lifeblood of American business: free coffee. Not exactly a morale-boosting move, we pointed out in an item that got picked up by every other business publication in the universe. Especially at a time when then-CEO Bernie Ebbers had endeared himself to the rank and file by borrowing a few hundred million from the company treasury.
Well, times have changed. Ebbers is out, replaced by John Sidgmore. And responding to the anguished cries of his people -- magnified, no doubt, by the media frenzy that the research lab kicked off -- Sidgmore has graciously decreed the return of free coffee. Bowing to popular demand, WorldCom is reinstating company-subsidized coffee service "effective immediately," Sidgmore wrote in an email late last week.
Now, we're a little miffed that Sidgmore failed to acknowledge our advocacy journalism in his brief note. But if you're a WorldCom employee who happens to be reading this column while settling in at your desk and sipping your suddenly gratis daily caffeine, we've got a great way for you to show your gratitude: Send money.
It's easy. All you have to do is take that coffee maker you've been hiding in your desk, auction it off on
, and PayPal us the proceeds.
Of course, it's not traditional -- maybe not even ethical -- for us to be begging for your quarters like this. But hey, we at the research lab are always breaking new grounds, so to speak.
2. Accenture the Positive
"Who are our best-known, highest-profile business intellectuals?" asks
in a recent press release trumpeting a forthcoming study of the circulation of new ideas in business.
Well, would you believe one of them is the Accenture partner who is leading the study?
Well, you ought to.
See, as part of a research project, the consulting firm's Institute for Strategic Change came up with a list of what it calls the top 50 business gurus. And right there at No. 24 -- below people like Tom "In Search of Excellence" Peters, Stephen "Seven Habits" Covey and Bill "I Own
" Gates -- is institute director Thomas H. Davenport, described in the release as "a prolific author, magazine writer and business school professor."
He beats out such lightweights as
ex-CEO Jack Welch (No. 33) and Nobel laureate and options-pricing patriarch Myron S. Scholes (No. 42).
"The list is sure to cause some discussion around the water coolers of the business world," said Davenport. "Yet it does give an objective, quantitative ranking of those individuals in the business arena whose ideas, writings and teachings are forefront in the public consciousness."
You're damn right about the water-cooler part. We wasted half a day at the research lab pondering the value and the meaning of this list, which sure looks objective and quantitative but also looks the teeniest bit self-serving, Davenport-wise.
As far as we can tell, the list -- which Accenture says it assembled along the guidelines of
author Richard A. Posner (sorry Richard, you didn't make it) -- measures more your ability to get in print than the value of anything you say. As far as we could tell from the press release (Davenport himself wasn't immediately available), the rankings are based on a formula that tallies up Web hits, mentions in the media over the past five years and scholarly citations.
Accenture's complete study won't be published until next year, so the exact point of all this isn't yet clear to us. For now, though, the whole thing strikes us as something like ranking authors by the number of keyboard keys they've hit in the course of their career. ("No. 1 with a bullet: Barbara Cartland!")
Maybe it's unfair to pick on Davenport, but at least there's an upside to all this for him. On the basis of this article alone, we hear he's jumping to No. 23.
3. He Wendt Thataway
Speaking of business leaders contributing to the intellectual discourse in America, get a load of that Gary Wendt, CEO of the ailing financial services firm
On Tuesday, Wendt went on the warpath against Moody's, complaining in a press release about Moody's two-notch downgrade of its old senior debt, from B2 to Caa1.
As far as we can tell, Wendt's biggest beef was with Moody's timing.
First of all, Wendt suggested, Moody's was too slow. "The basis cited for today's action was information that is between 4 and 6 weeks old," he said.
Oh. So if Moody's had done this a month ago, he'd have had no problem with it?
Simultaneously, Wendt thinks Moody's is early, implying it knows something about how Conseco is doing in the current quarter. "As our previously stated earnings guidance indicates, we expect operating performance to improve throughout the year," says Wendt. "It is true that the hint of improvement in the economy will need to bear fruit in order to meet those objectives, but we are increasingly optimistic about that prospect."
So it's OK for Conseco to be optimistic about the unknowable, but it's not OK for Moody's to be pessimistic?
With Big Thoughts like this, he'll soon knock Davenport back down to 24.
Here's one thing the Internet likely could use more of: death with dignity.
We've been reflecting on that since Wednesday, the day that the last remains of Excite@Home went on the block in a bankruptcy auction.
Here was a company whose employees were counted in the thousands, whose market cap was counted in the billions. But this week? It was little more than a bunch of servers, routers, switches and laptops.
Plus all the dot-com detritus -- a painful collection of bull market cliches. The vintage arcade games. The logo'd soapbox car, presumably built for the
Sand Hill Challenge. And last but not least, the foosball table.
Where did it all go? What did it all mean? What was it all worth?
Well, we can't answer those first two questions, but we can take a stab at the third. Thanks to auctioneer DoveBid, we've got an exclusive here at the research lab: the actual sale prices of the foosball table, the espresso machine and more: the dot-commiest of the dot-com memorabilia. See this table for details:
Now, we don't know who actually bought this stuff. But we suspect it's another Silicon Valley entrepreneur, just assembling all the necessary supplies in one convenient shopping trip.
5. Adelphia Freedom
You know, there were so many related-party transactions in
Securities and Exchange Commission
filing last week, it's hard to figure out which was the Dumbest.
It seems that when you're living in a small town in rural Pennsylvania -- an isolated, insular community far from the big city -- you do things pretty much your own way.
But among all the transactions, let's focus for the moment on the loans that Adelphia apparently made to now-deposed founder John Rigas and his daughter, Ellen Rigas Venetis, apparently to finance the 1999 independent film
. The loan hadn't been repaid by the end of 2001, according to the combination cable system operator/golf course developer/timber rights owner.
-- which we haven't been able to locate in any neighborhood video store -- is actually a nice little movie, according to people we know who've seen it.
We're totally fascinated by the plot summary we found on the
Internet Movie Database. Something about a woman who ventures into "the most isolated areas of the mountains," then finds herself enchanted by "the raw courage and endurance of the local people as they carve out meaningful lives against the harshest conditions."
Hmm. Beginning to sound like home movies to us.