Principled Profit: The Good Business Blog

Musings on the world-wide movement for ethical business, frugal marketing, and how honesty, integrity, and quality combine with deep relationship building to create business success. By the originator of the Ethical Business Pledge campaign and award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and five other books

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

What Happened to Lani Garver

This has nothing to do with business culture, government, or most of the things I usually blog about--but it does have a lot to do with ethics, with the idea of acceptance of difference and with gender identity, angels, terminal illness, justice, conformity, and more.

I’ve just read a remarkable novel, What Happened to Lani Garver by Carol Plum-Ucci, published in 2002 by Harcourt. Written for older teens, it has a lot to say to anyone.
Told from the point of view of a teenage girl living an isolated and conventional life on an island off the New Jersey coast, the story involves this girl’s friendship with the gender-bending new kid in town, whom no one else likes, and how their brief friendship before his murder? disappearance? changes everything for her.

Amazon stocks the mass-market edition of this book. It may or may not be easy to track down the trade paper edition (ISBN is 0-15-216813-3)--but either edition will be worth the effort.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Why I Don't Send HTML Newsletters

You've got to wonder about marketers who send those horrible emails where everything is in 8-point type all jammed on the left side of the page and completely unreadable. I own a one-trick-pony software app called SmartWrap that is designed to strip out all the > characters and bad line breaks in multi-quoted e-mail--but it's also very useful for converting those scrunchy e-mails into something my 49-year-old eyes can handle. If only it supported the page-down key, I'd be all set.

As for my own newsletter prep: I do three monthly newsletters, all in plain text, none of them with pix. I could probably increase deliverability by posting the whole thing on a web page (we do archive them later, but only the main articles) and sending an email with a URL pointer--but I think the higher deliverability would be countered by the lower readership, especially as two of my newsletters target the frugality market and therefore can be expected to have higher-than-usual percentages on dialup.

When I was on dialup, pretty much the only outfit that got me to click to the web was; now that I'm on broadband, I'm considerably more willing. a recipient, I loathe HTML, find that in 98% of newsletters with graphics, the graphics are unnecessary--I keep them turned off, so for the most part, I don't even see the "pretty" pictures--and 3/4 of the time I do turn them on for a particular newsletter, I wonder why they bothered.

As for PDF as an attachment versus a webpage, I'd let it be the reader's choice. But I do remember that PDF downloads on the web were very annoying when I was on dialup--attachments were better, but only if they weren't too huge. If a lot of readers are on dialup, it's probably better to format a page in HTML and send a link. Or just post on a blog!

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Shel Horowitz is the award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and five other books, and the creator of the Business Ethics Pledge to make crooked business as unthinkable in the future as slavery is today.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

One More Way the GOP Stole the 04 Election

BBC/The Guardian Investigative reporter Greg Palast first broke the story about the disenfranchisement of over 90,000 heavily Democratic Florida residents of color prior to the 2000 election--without which Gore would have been the clear victor and thus become President.

Now, he tells us that the GOP around the country systematically sent do-not-forward letters to the home addresses of soldiers stationed overseas who lived in mostly black, mostly Democratic precincts, and then when they came back as undeliverable, challenged these soldiers' right to vote. Also targeted: residents of homeless shelters.

There's quite a bit more, but here's a little excerpt:

What about black soldiers? Here's what they did. They sent, we found out – here's now what we've just found out. They sent first-class letters to the homes of African-American soldiers shipped overseas. They wrote on the envelopes "Do not forward. Return to addressee." Well, of course, they're shipped overseas, so the letter can't be forwarded, to Baghdad or Germany, or wherever. Letters are sent back to the Republican National Committee, filtered back out to the state committees, and then elections officials are told, 'These people don't live at that address. We have evidence that they're falsely registered.'

Now, here's the trick. You send in your absentee ballot. That is a great act of faith, probably the greatest religious act of faith since Moses walked across the Red Sea, you know, hoping that he wouldn't get drowned. You just mail in that ballot, and soldiers – this is, remember the Republican Party made a big deal about Al Gore complaining about soldiers' illegal absentee voting. These people knew that these soldiers couldn't defend themselves, would not know that their ballot would not be counted, would be challenged. And there's no way, I mean you could – from Baghdad you can fight George's war, but you can't fight for your ballot – massive, massive, nationwide challenge.

In places like Wisconsin, by the way, we've just discovered – How did they even know how to challenge these people? They were using Blackberries loaded with the names. This is one expensive multimillion-dollar operation, and by the way, Amy, it's illegal, okay? One of the reasons why the Republican Party didn't 'fess up when we showed them the sheets and they said, 'Oh, it's donors,' is that if you target black people, or Jewish voters, as they did in a few districts, because that's a democratic demographic, if you challenge these people, that's against the law. That's against the voting rights act of 1965. It's a felony crime, you know.

WHY do we still let these thugs and crooks stay in office?

Aside: Isn't it ironic that Palast, an American, works for two of the most well-respected British journalism outlets. Why won't any major US media hire him? His website and books are accessible to us, though.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Latest Trend in Business Scandal: Backdated Stock Options

You must have heard this one by now. Company after company is involved in schemes to make their executives rich by issuing stock options after the stock price jumps, but backdating them to appear that they were issued before the rise.

Option timing abuse first came to light earlier this year after a number of media reports questioned why executives had exceptionally good luck in obtaining stock option grants just before large increases in the related stock price. Erik Lie, a University of Iowa finance professor issued a study that claimed as many as ten percent of all option grants appear to have been backdated. A similar Merrill Lynch study found that 40 companies in the S&P 500 likely backdated their options.

Hey, people--if you already know that insider trading--buying or selling based on information you have that will affect the stock price but isn't yet public--is enough to go to jail, surely it should occur to you that this sort of thing is essentially insider trading coupled with outright fraud.

UK Writer: Creating a Positive Ethics Culture

A UK trade weekly for lawyers, Legal Week, has a wonderful article encouraging businesses to base their policies not merely on compliance with ethics laws such as Sarbanes-Oxley and its non-US equivalents, but on creating a culture of ethics that far exceeds the legal minimum.

When we focus on compliance alone, we are setting the bar too low. Adherence to the regulations becomes an acceptable standard to work to and we make it difficult for employees to deal with issues not covered by the rules. Something more holistic is increasingly required.

If we move the focus towards ethics and the need to change behaviour, we are inevitably required to humanise the subject matter and begin to introduce a context to the content. Properly built and implemented ethics education becomes about being part of a better business, about improvement and moving towards something.

Oddly enough, the author, Chris Campbell, cites a tobacco company as a positive example. To my mind, there's nothing ethical at all about selling tobacco--but certainly the principle holds.

He proposes three questions to evaluate any action:

. are my actions potentially open to misinterpretation?

. are my actions likely to negatively impact others? and

. what will I be required to do as a result of my actions?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Deeply Disturbing: Utah Election Official Forced Out for Questioning Voting Machine Accuracy

Bruce Funk was just trying to do his job! The County Clerk of Emery County, Utah for 23 years, Funk was locked out of his office and forced to resign. Why? Because he had the temerity to question whether the Diebold voting machines his county had purchased were accurate, and brought in an outside expert who in fact verified that the machines were highly manipulable and had insufficient backup.

The initial thing that led me to getting a hold of Black Box Voting was that when I re-examined the machine, I found a number of them with insufficient backup memory, some as little as four megabytes, whereas a normal machine had anywhere from 27 to 29 megabytes...

Something was worked out that if they could terminate me as the election official of Emery County, then they would recertify the machines. And so they changed my locks, effective April 1, and locked me out of my office.

This is an outrage! There have been so many election irregularities in both the 2000 and the 2004 elections that there has been a cloud of illegitimacy over the GWB administration from the beginning (a cloud made darker by the consistent misbehavior of this administration once it got into office: a sordid history of vindictive reprisals, lavish favors to friends and special interests, not just a reluctance to hear criticism but constant attacks on those who criticize, and so forth.

And yet when an a election official who has very good reason to be concerned--who knows that the backup memory is inadequate if, for instance, the plug gets knocked out of the wall socket--asks an expert to investigate, he loses his job.

Is this the America that claims to be a beacon of democracy around the world?


Saturday, June 10, 2006

NYT: Don't Call Our Column "Rubbish"

This is too weird: The New York Times went back and forth with senior General Motors executives about a letter to the editor from a GM vice president, attempting to rebut a highly critical article by Thomas Friedman. The letter said accusations in the column were "rubbish"; the Times refused to allow that word in the letter.

Writes the PR guy, Brian Akre,

Now, you’d think it would be relatively easy to get a letter from a GM vice president published in the Times after GM’s reputation was so unfairly questioned. Just a matter of simple journalistic fairness, right?

You’d also think that the newspaper’s editing of letters would be minimal -- to fix grammar, remove any profane language, that sort of thing. Not so.

Will Bush Pardon Lay?

Speculation about this on the SF Chronicle blog--from a commentator who thinks the Bush administration has done a good job on corporate crime (a premise with which I strongly disagree)--but his lawyer friends who actively cover the trial think it's a real possibility.

It wouldn't shock me--I don't think he's been that concerned about his legacy, as the rampant cronyism that's been all over his administration demonstrates.

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Shel Horowitz is the award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and five other books, and the creator of the Business Ethics Pledge to make crooked business as unthinkable in the future as slavery is today.

Coming Soon to an Internet Near You: China-Style Censorship in

The US House of Representatives struck a major blow against our Internet freedom the other day, voting for the so-called Communications, Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006.

This disastrous bill, if also passed by the Senate, would take away the principle of "Net Neutrality"--that every website gets to load as fast as the server can manage and be found as easily as it shows up in the search engines. A vast coalition of 752 groups on both the left and right joined forces to block this bill, but the House passed it 321-101, including 92 Democrats.

Contact your Senators NOW and speak out against this bill--or face a world in which not the government but big telecommunications corporations effectively decide which websites you will see, and promote the sites that pay them the most. The Internet has been the backbone of the independent press, one of the last bastions of people unafraid to tell the real news. We must protect our rights to view these sites, read these blogs, watch these videos--and if content providers have to pay for the privilege of having their sites accessed, that channel will dry up mighty fast. Our browsers will be sold to the highest bidder, and that will not be the alternative voices.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Why I Blog

Responding to a post by Ed Smith on the Self-Publishing Yahoogroup about whether blogs are worth it:

Hi I am considering putting a blog on my website with the objective of
increasing visitors to my site. I am aware of the costs to set it up,
but I am concerned about the amount of work involved in keeping it
spam free and on target. It sounds like it is a lot of work that has
to be done on a daily basis. Could those of you who run blogs on
their websites, give me your opinion as to it being worth the time you
are putting into the blog. Any thoughts about do's and don'ts
regarding setting up a blog are welcome as well. Thanks for your help.

I spend one to two hours a week on my blog, which I host on my own site in WordPress and also keep a mirror hosted on Blogger--probably average three posts per week. Some of these posts I also copy to my AmazonConnect blog, but very few. I spend far more time posting here and other lists. Been doing it for a year and a half, and what scared me off for so long was the idea that I needed to post every day. Of course, you'll get better results the more often you post.

Some advantages:
* It's really true that blog posts seem to get into search engines faster
* A post of mine got referenced by and I saw a nice traffic spike
* Some of the posts only take five or ten minutes--a paragraph or two, and a link
* One of my long-time goals is to be a syndicated columnist. Last year, I took about six of the longer and best thought out pieces and repackaged them as sample columns. I sent to four syndicates. All said no, but at least I wasn't creating the articles from scratch!
* I have a small but dedicated following, a few of whom (including at least one listmate) have signed up for e-mail notifications
* Sometimes I can repurpose content--this post, for instance, will make a nice blog entry
* Of course, it's more links inbound to my site (from the Goggle-owned mirror on Blogger and from anyone referencing my post)
* It seems to add to my credibility when I tell, for instance, reporters that I've been blogging on business ethics for over a year

Definitely offer the option of e-mail feeds and XML feeds, and definitely use to tell the world when you update.

As for comment spam, yes, I've experienced it. I turned on word Verification on Blogger, and turned on pre-approval on WordPress. No spam gets through, and when someone tried to hammer me on WordPress, I just bulk-deleted all their attempts.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Scandals Around the World

Just after Enron's Skilling and Lay are found guilty, a paper in Alberta, Canada, accuses the company of using Alberta as a testing ground for the shenanigans that created havoc in California's energy market.

It’s been shown that Enron grossly inflated power prices in our province. Apparently this ploy was given the code name, Project Stanley, derived from the name of our top hockey trophy.
Although a probe into Enron by Canada’s Competition Bureau in 2000 found no fault with the corporation, new evidence has reportedly surfaced, showing that there was bragging within its walls about how it had artificially driven up electricity costs in Alberta.

Meanwhile, The Economist reports,

A court in Seoul sentenced Kim Woo-choong, the former boss of Daewoo Group, to ten years in prison and ordered him to forfeit 21 trillion won ($22 billion) for his part in South Korea's biggest corporate scandal. Mr Kim, who founded the chaebol in 1967, was found guilty of fraud and embezzlement. Daewoo collapsed in 1999 with debts of $80 billion.

Daewoo was once the most prominent of Korea's industrial giants.

Meanwhile, a Hong Kong newspaper offers a general challenge to the long-held culture of family controlled business in Hong Kong and China:

Overdone patronage begets corruption, begets poor business culture, economic waste, social dysfunction. Getting rid of the patronage system has clear benefits for all and managerialism can in some cases undermine the worst aspects of the family-run model. But, like all coins, this one can be flipped. On the other side are the lessons learnt from the US shareholder model which provide specific warnings.

But the paper warns that the Enron verdict proves the corporate model favored in America...

can be just as arrogant and irresponsible as the most parochial family business. The bottom line is that the shareholder model as practiced in the United States is no bulwark to an elitist, irresponsible and corrupted cabal of managers ascending to a position of omnipotence and over-riding due process, ignoring the law, and marginalizing the standards of ethical business practice.

Meanwhile, an Australian blogger reports on a telecommunications stock so shaky after corporate scandals that shareholders tried to unload their stock on eBay!

As scandal after corporate scandal was revealed, all leading straight to the CEO's large, but mostly unused desk, calls for his head were answered with his sacking. Used to years of bad results the shareholders - by now nearly 70% of all Australians - welcomed the news, but when he was awarded a $50 million payout, it was the final straw.

And one final meanwhile, here at home, wrangling continues over whether the FBI had the right to raid the office of a sitting Congressman accused in a bribery investigation. Frist says the FBI was justified; Hastert and DeLay say they overstepped. And just to show that the GOP doesn't have a lock on ethical failure, the representative in question is William Jefferson, Democrat of Louisiana.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Results of the Enron Verdict Press Release

I promised on May 24 I'd post the results of my press release offering to comment on the Enron verdict. And being a man of honor who writes about ethics, I'm keeping that promise.

Results were less than stellar. An email drop to some 700 outlets resulted in *one* radio interview--admittedly, nationally syndicated and for a full hour. PR Web claims 36,997 people saw the press release (which means they saw at least the headline) and 398 media outlets picked it up but none used it. This is about half the number of page views of my previous two releases posted there, but both of those have been up quite a bit longer.

But here's the really astonishing thing: not only did my carefully crafted press release (vetted with a PR expert before it went out) fall flat, it seems that almost no one was looking for comments on this big, big story.

Watching Google-flagged alerts for business ethics and related topics in the days following the verdict, I found only one case of a reporter turning to expert sources to comment on the case: the South Bend, Indiana paper, interviewing two professors from Notre Dame and another local university.

There were quite a number of reporters who made their own comments, all of them roundly critical of Lay and Skilling. But nobody was talking to experts.


Friday, June 02, 2006

Finally--a Bush Appointment I Can Support

After six years of Bush appointees who either had no qualifications or who strongly backed various immoral and heartless positions, it's nice to see an environmentalist and someone who seems to pay attention to ethics nominated for Secretary of the Treasury: Henry "Hank" Paulson. There's a nice profile of him in the UK paper, The Telegraph--one of several I've read that all seem to agree--at least on casual glance, he appears to be a good guy.

Lord knows, we need a few of those!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Meanwhile, at the Supreme Court--a Blow Against Whistleblowers

A sad day: The Supreme Court overturned its previous rulings and decided that managers can "discipline" and even terminate government whistleblowers. Whistleblowers in both government and business play a key role in keeping folks honest.

But this court seems set on a path of helping both the government and corporate sectors hide their misdeeds and mistakes.

These People Have No Shame! Bush Senior Staffer Alters Previously Published Article

How small-minded and unethical they get! Editor & Publisher reports that Bush's freshly appointed domestic policy advisor, Karl Zinsmeister, not only posted a profile of himself from a Syracuse, NY newspaper on his American Enterprise Institute magazine's website, but freely admitted to changing the article to make himself look better!

So we have not only copyright infringement but blatant fraud.

The [Washington] Post carried an editorial today suggesting that the White House probably wished it could revise plenty of newspaper articles it did not like. It also coined a word for such actions: "Zinsmeistered."

I went back to the Washington Post, which offers several articles on the incident, and found these examples:

"People in Washington are morally repugnant, cheating, shifty human beings." is softened to "I learned in Washington that there is an 'overclass' in this country stocked with cheating, shifty human beings that's just as morally repugnant as our 'underclass.' "

Leaving aside for a moment the question about whether you want your president's domestic policy advisor to think that the poor are morally repugnant--he altered this quote while leaving the name of the New Times reporter on the article!

Helen Thomas was all over White House press secretary Tony Snow about the content of this quote and what kind of man Zinsmeister must be--but it wasn't reported that she addressed the issue of changing the remarks.

On Iraq...

"To say nothing of whether it was executed well or not, but it's brave and admirable." The altered copy deleted any hint of presidential criticism, saying only, "It's a brave and admirable attempt to improve the world."

Zinsmeister says he did it to increase the accuracy of the quotes and protect the reporter, Justin Park, from embarrassment. But given the very happy thank-you note he sent to Park immediately after the piece ran, this is highly dubious.

I begin to wonder if there is anyone in the high levels of the Bush administration who actually understands ethics. Note to the administration: chutzpah is not a substitute for ethics.