Death of Fox & Obel

photo (63)I’ve written many “Death of” articles – death of Blackberry, death of the penny, death of the Encyclopedia Britannica. But this one really hurts…

Before Mariano’s Fresh Market, Whole Foods, Wild Oats, and Trader Joe’s (I’m still mad at them for not giving me an opportunity to interview after I submitted an application at a different point in my life out West, but that’s a story for another time), there was Fox & Obel, the Chicago-based, River East mainstay for over a decade. With rumored celebrity investors like Scottie Pippen, 5 dollar per ounce olive oil, truffle tasting stations, in-house wet and dry aged meats (initially the only grocer that carried Tall Grass Beef from Red Buffalo Ranch, owned by Bill Curtis), top-notch wine and apéritif lists, hard-to-find regional and international accoutrements, and a Zagat-rated cafe attached, people had flocked to what is arguably the first high-end grocery store in Chicagoland. And this was despite its sky-high prices (trust me, much worse than Whole Paycheck, I meant Whole Foods).

Manning the bakery was Phyllis, a lovely woman and native of South Africa who never hesitated to scold rude customers, who took it. There was Martha, the ever-smiling assistant manager greeting patrons as they walked in and out. And Juanita, café manager and a single mother (her son’s a star athlete at a local Catholic school). Juanita knew exactly how you liked your coffee. Fox & Obel managed the unlikely balance of Chicago Gold Coast uppity-up-ness with a neighborhood feel. My business partner (of Spend Matters fame) Jason Busch Ioved the bakery so much that its muffins, pastries and bread made it into our formal LLC operating agreement for our Spend Matters advisory business (i.e., written into the agreement was that one partner had to “stop at the Fox and Obel” bakery before business meetings – I kid you not, and yes we did honor the agreement!) Unfortunately, it’s now time to amend it.

For a while we’d heard rumors of additional investors, new stores in the downtown area, North American expansion. Then bam: the bottom fell out.

My wife Jenna and I walked around the closing sales event with heavy hearts. To Jenna and me, this was not just a grocery store – Tsige cooked for us, Sue babysat our kids, and on Friday afternoons I used to bring my RJSL and Spend Matters colleagues treats from the Fox & Obel bakery. So what happened? I can certainly make a few hypotheses.

  • Decreasing passion and sense of mission – After initial success, the original founders cashed out to private equity investors. And I could sense a gradual decline in quality over the past few years. Does that mean every buyout spells doom for those acquired? No, but it does mean that if cash flow buyers (as opposed to strategic acquirers) focus too much on the short-term bottom line, it will erode the X-factor that made the establishment special.
  • Hiccups in execution – It could be as minor as less crust on what used to be their signature almond croissant (Jenna noticed it after a new pastry chef came on board; the long-time head quit when his paycheck bounced), as major as multiple health code violations (fruit flies in food preparation stations is what I’ve heard), and everything in between, such as failure to pay electricity bills on time.
  • Poor inventory – Along with declining quality, I noticed that shelves were becoming emptier. No longer was Fox & Obel the go-to place for hard-to-find items, and even its staple trappings were sometimes missing, a cardinal sin for a grocery store. I am not a grocery industry expert by any stretch of the imagination, but even I could see tension between Fox & Obel and its suppliers.
  • Erosion of the foundation – No disrespect to technology and process (many economists claim these are the only two factors that could push the famed EFPC – efficient frontier production curve – outward), but people make up every business’s foundation, regardless of the segment. Again, towards the end, I heard grumblings from Fox & Obel’s employees. Perhaps they trusted me since I was a regular, but nonetheless, I never heard any complaints over the first few years.

I could go on and on, but it won’t bring Fox & Obel back. Furthermore, I think these causes of their failure are a good lesson for just about any business. And in case you were wondering what Jenna and I bought at the final closing sale, we stocked up on Fox & Obel water glasses and Mexican Coca Cola, made with real sugar. Coincidently, the sourcing of Mexican coke is a great personal procurement lesson – which involves having to pay significantly more for a far superior product (which also requires seeking out) albeit with the same corporate brand.

I promise to tackle more cheerful topics for the rest of 2014. Happy New Year, everyone.

We’ll also let you know what new Chicago bakery (La Fournette is highest on our current list) that Jason and I decided to amend and include in our operating agreement so that the entire Spend Matters and MetalMiner office continue to remain well-fed and sugared-up.

Surfacing: Can Microsoft Get Above Water in the Tablet Storm?

Surface Pro preview: Triple-play UI is its best innovation

Takeaway: As a hybrid tablet/laptop, Microsoft Surface Pro makes a bold pitch to reinvent the portable PC, but a few big caveats get in the way. Read TechRepublic’s product preview.

Photo credit: Microsoft

Over the past six months I’ve asked a lot of IT professionals, business folks, and technophiles what they think about Microsoft Surface. I asked them whether it could be the kind of work tablet they’d want to use, and whether they expect it to be more friendly to business and IT than the Apple iPad and Android tablets. The responses have been surprisingly optimistic. Very few people have been dismissive of Surface, even though it’s fighting from behind in the tablet race.

As I dug deeper with the people who were excited about the Surface, I quickly realized that most of them had very little interest in Surface RT — the less expensive, ARM-based version of Surface that can’t run traditional Windows apps. By far, the most interest — especially from IT pros and techies — was focused on Surface Pro, the Microsoft tablet running a full version of Windows 8 on an Intel processor.

As a result, I’ve been looking forward to taking one for a spin and reporting to the TechRepublic crowd on how it performs. With Surface Pro officially launching on Friday, I can report that I’ve been trying out a Surface Pro and I can share some of my early observations and conclusions.

As a frame of reference, I’ve also been using the Surface RT since its launch in October and I’ve been regularly using the Nexus 7, iPad, and iPad Mini in recent months. In the past I’ve been pretty skeptical about the usefulness of tablets for general computing. I think tablets have their place for specific tasks and functions and as companion devices, but I think most knowledge workers find that using a tablet as their primary system involves too many compromises.

Of course, Microsoft set out to change that with the Surface. Just in case you get distracted and don’t finish reading this post then I’ll give you my two quick takeaways on the Surface Pro: It feels like a much more complete version of Surface RT and I can say without hesitation that Surface Pro is capable of doing more than other tablet on the market.

Does that mean I’m ready to make Surface Pro my next laptop, or that I would recommend it as a viable PC alternative for business professionals? Not quite yet.

How’s the overall user experience?

I’m not going to get into all of the specs for the Surface Pro or compare its details to the Surface RT or the latest iPad. We’ll do all of that in the full review on ZDNet next week. Suffice it to say, the Surface Pro is far more powerful than its RT brother, and the iPad, and virtually all Android tablets. But, the tradeoff is an $899 base price and battery life that is much more like a laptop than a tablet. For now, let’s veer away from the numbers and feature lists and focus on user experience and how well this thing really works as a product.

The first thing I noticed as soon as I unboxed the Surface Pro is how thick and heavy it is (even thicker and heavier than the Surface RT). We’ve gotten pretty spoiled in this regard, especially by Apple and Samsung and what they’ve pulled off in slimming down their products. The weight and thickness of the Surface Pro is much closer to the 11-inch MacBook Air and most 11-inch Ultrabooks than to iPad and Android tablets. Otherwise, it looks and feels very sturdy and has the premium finish of a high-end product.

Both the Touch Cover and the Type Cover that I already had for the Surface RT snapped right into place and started working just as well on the Pro as they do on the RT. With the Surface Pro, I also tested Microsoft’sWedge Touch Mouse (right) since the Pro is a full-blown Windows 8 machine. I was glad I did. It’s a handy little mouse (I especially liked the one-finger touch scrolling) and like most Windows operating systems Windows 8 works best when you have quick access to a right-click button.

Once I logged into the Surface Pro with a Windows Live ID, I immediately got many of the settings, accounts, and files that I had already set up on Surface RT. The SkyDrive integration is the highlight of the services experience. It’s nearly as simple as Dropbox and has a lot more options.

Surface also attempts to do some social integration with Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and a few other services, but the experience is a mixed bag. There are some things that are nicely streamlined, like replying to Facebook comments and Twitter mentions from within the People Hub, but other things like the ways it mixes up social network streams and notifications is a bit awkward. I kept wanting to just see my raw Facebook and Twitter feeds (displayed in Windows 8’s minimalist text style), but couldn’t find an easy way to do that and so I gave up.

Once you dig in to do some work, that’s where Surface Pro really shines. There are native Windows 8 Metro apps for Evernote and Dropbox — two of the most popular consumer apps that business professionals love — and you have the whole library of standard Windows apps to draw from and install in Desktop Mode.

Metro apps are very visual and highly usable and I wish there were a lot more of them. If there were, I think it would make the Surface a much more attractive option for average workers. The ability to work with the large catalog of traditional Windows software helps soften the blow, but hardly any of that stuff works well in a multitouch interface. For that reason, I found myself relying pretty heavily on the Type Cover keyboard and the Wedge Touch Mouse for most of the time that I was using the Surface Pro.

That said, one of the most pleasant surprises was how effective it felt to move between the Type Cover/Wedge Mouse and the multitouch screen. There are some things that are faster and more effective with touch — like scrolling to a specific part of a page or flipping through images — and there are some things that are more efficient with keyboard and mouse — like long typing and right-clicking for options — and the Surface Pro was the first device that gave me the feeling that the future of business productivity will likely include both.

The digital pen for the Surface Pro also works beautifully. It’s the most accurate and precise digital pen that I’ve used. It can draw really thin lines and it draws on the screen precisely where it’s supposed to. I’ve never been a huge fan of pen computing, but this one gave me a sense that I could use this to annotate some stuff and do virtual whiteboarding that could actually be useful as part of my daily work.

That was my biggest lightbulb moment with the Surface — seeing how it combines a traditional mouse and keyboard experience with multitouch and pen computing in a way that works naturally and integrates the value of all three.

I have other thoughts and observations but I’ll sum up them up into a list of the kudos, caveats, and needs. Then, I’ll sum up my initial analysis about the Surface Pro.

Photo credit: Microsoft

Kudos

  • Threads the needle between touch, keyboard/mouse, and pen computing
  • Metro interface enhances usability and Metro apps continue to multiply
  • Desktop Mode offers full Windows 8 and its traditional app ecosystem
  • Type Cover, Wedge Touch Mouse, and the included digital pen are excellent accessories

Caveats

  • It’s a hybrid that doesn’t stand out as a tablet or laptop
  • Battery life is half of most tablets
  • Won’t sit in a lap
  • Not very useful in portrait mode
  • Microsoft Office is installed, but costs extra

Needs

  • A tiltable screen that can sit in multiple positions
  • A desktop and laptop docking solution
  • Digital pen should store in the casing
  • Integrated wireless broadband should be an option
Photo credit: Microsoft

Analysis

Surface Pro flirts with greatness, but its caveats could become show-stoppers for a lot of users.

The product brilliantly weaves mouse and keyboard with multitouch and pen computing in ways that feel very effective and useful. When you compare it to other tablets, there’s simply a lot more you can do with Surface Pro because of its triple-play interface and its ability to run the full version of Windows 8 in desktop mode.

The problem with Surface Pro is that it’s trying to bridge the gap between two products, a laptop and tablet, and it doesn’t quite stand out enough at either function. It’s lacking a little bit as a tablet and it’s lacking a little bit as laptop, so you have to make too many compromises on both sides.

What makes tablets like the iPad and its top competitors useful is their ease-of-use, portability, battery life, and big catalog of third party tablet apps. Surface Pro fails most of those criteria. Its dual personalities of Metro and Desktop Mode are powerful but complicated. It’s nearly as heavy as three iPads. Its 4-5 hour battery life means it won’t ever make it through a full day without a charge. And, while Surface Pro has all of the native Windows apps, it doesn’t have many touch-friendly tablet apps. Even if the Windows 8 tablet platform becomes a developer favorite, it will likely take a couple years to get a critical mass of productive tablet apps.

So, what about thinking of the Surface Pro as more of a laptop replacement? After all, under-the-hood it’s more like a MacBook Air or an Ultrabook than a tablet. That’s how I spent most of my time with the Surface Pro thinking about it. However, from that perspective, it’s a laptop that won’t sit in your lap properly (the kickstand tips over). The trackpad on the Type Cover is nice for a tablet but doesn’t match the spacious trackpads on the MacBook Air or the best Ultrabooks. And, even some Ultrabooks now offer mobile broadband and much longer battery life than the 4-5 hours you get with Surface Pro.

I can’t help thinking that if you want most of the benefits of the triple-play UI and full Windows 8 in Surface Pro then you’d be better off with a product like the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2, which has 10 hours of battery life, mobile broadband, an integrated pen, and laptop and desktop docks. The hardware isn’t quite as polished, the screen isn’t quite as impressive, and the accessories aren’t quite as slick, but it starts at $679 and overcomes several of the Surface Pro’s shortcomings.

The Surface Pro is one of the most ambitious products I’ve reviewed. It’s trying to do a lot — ultimately, a little bit too much. But, even if it doesn’t sell well, I expect that Surface Pro is going to be remembered as the product that showed us how keyboard/mouse, multitouch, and pen computing can work together in smart and useful ways. And, either Microsoft will fill the gaps in version 2.0 or other products will run with the triple-play UI.

Get IT Tips, news, and reviews delivered directly to your inbox by subscribing to TechRepublic’s free newsletters.

About Jason Hiner

Jason Hiner is the Editor in Chief of TechRepublic. He writes about the products, people, and ideas that are revolutionizing business with technology.

Double Your Twitter, Double Your Customer Satisfaction

“Sorry, I was sending a tweet”Photo - Ted

One of the funniest scenes in the recent Seth McFarlane movie Ted is when the titular ursine character crashes his car and then offers this feeble apology to his victim.  This incident reflects the ubiquity of Twitter everywhere from business, to politics, to running.

My SMB Matters colleague Richard Lee recently mused about the US Postal Service’s poor customer relationship management practices.  In contrast, I’d like to share an episode that illustrates exemplary customer service, enabled in large part through Twitter.

Take the Good, Take the Bad
I’ve mused before about the consulting profession, wherein the unparalleled intellectual opportunities, exposure to diverse organizations, and network building co-exist with the challenges of a peripatetic lifestyle.  As I’d noted at Built in Chicago, there are a host of products to help manage these issues, but at the end of the day they can still be taxing.

Photo - DoubletreeIt goes with saying that the hotel stay is a central element of the consulting lifestyle.  On the recommendations of a few colleagues, I recently stayed at a DoubleTree.  The burnt cod and limp, flavorless asparagus I had for dinner at the hotel restaurant one evening left much to be desired.  My dissatisfaction was compounded by two other factors that greatly reduced my productivity:

  1. Dysfunctional wireless service that made the days of dial-up seem like science fiction
  2. Disinterested waiters whose turnaround time would frustrate even Rip Van Winkle

Inspired by Dave Carroll’s now-classic video diatribe against United Airlines, I took to social media to voice my discontent, firing off this angry tweet:

Barking up the Right Tree
While I’d previously used Twitter for a variety of purposes, customer service hadn’t been on the menu.  DoubleTree definitely changed my viewpoint that evening.  They quickly responded to my tweet, sent me an email, called me, and made every effort to rectify the situation.  The pièce de resistance was an assortment of wine and cheese waiting for me that evening in my hotel room, along with a handwritten letter of apology.  A cursory glance at their Twitter feed reveals that it is standard operating procedure for DoubleTree to keep close tabs on all customer feedback (positive and negative) and respond quickly.

Obviously, for a hotel with so many locations, (along with the fact that there are many travelers with axes to grind and Twitter accounts), there is a high degree of automation to the process.  Nonetheless, the human followup was excellent, and a nice contrast to the disinterested “yeah, not our problem” responses I’d previously received from the front desk.

Not a Game Changer, But…
Between the two hotels I’d recently stayed at, I definitely preferred the Marriott to the DoubleTree – mainly because of the high number of Marriott Rewards points I’ve socked away over the years.  However, the highly responsive, proactive behavior of the DoubleTree increased my satisfaction with the chain.  As such, I made sure to sing their praises the next day via Twitter.

Having witnessed the perils of TWD (Tweeting While Driving) that befell Ted, I also made sure to put my car in “Park” first.

Central Bank Pursuing an Active Role to Address Democracy’s Shortcomings?

Jeff Madrick

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow; author, ‘Age of Greed’

Central Banks are Saving Democracy From Itself

The Federal Reserve‘s recent announcement of aggressive new policies is more than a little welcome. It involved a new round of quantitative easing focused on mortgage-backed securities, but more importantly, a statement that the Fed would keep rates low for a long time, even if the unemployment rate begins to fall markedly. In other words, the Fed will be more tolerant of rising inflation. A couple of points are clear and have been widely discussed:

First, more inflation is what this economy needs. It will reduce “real” interest rates down the road. It will also reduce the level of debt, which will now be paid off in somewhat inflated dollars. Lenders will pay the price; borrowers will benefit.

Second, the Fed is at last accepting its dual mandate, which is not only to keep inflation in check but also to keep unemployment in check as well. Inflation got almost all the focus since Paul Volcker‘s reign in the early 1980s.

Third, inflation targeting as almost the sole purpose of any government policy is now either not applicable to current circumstances or never really was the answer to our prayers. The main claimant on the uses of either hard or soft inflation targeting was none other than Ben Bernanke himself. He was the champion of the Great Moderation, which held that less GDP volatility and low inflation were admirable ends in themselves — proof of a nearly perfectly managed economy.

Never mind that growth in the late 1990s was supported by high-tech speculation in the stock market, or that growth in the early 2000s was supported by a housing bubble and crazy, risky practices on Wall Street. And forget that job growth was the worst of the postwar period under George W. Bush, even before the 2008 recession, and wages had been performing poorly for 30 years. It was all really great, said Bernanke, and only a few mainstream economists disagreed.

But there is another point that needs emphasis and is being passed over. This one is about democracy. Bernanke is acting aggressively because the American Congress and president are locked in an austerity embrace. Fiscal stimulus is now turning into de-stimulus. Even the president’s budget calls for fiscal restraint. The deficit bugaboo is strangling the world.

Those who want to make the Fed more subject to democratic control — and to a degree, I am sympathetic — should heed a lesson here. Democracy — that is, a democratically elected Congress and president — is choosing a damaging course of austerity. In Europe, it is far worse.

Needed policies are coming from America’s central bank, which was deliberately created as an independent entity. Note that it is Romney who is saying he wants Bernanke out of there and crying wolf about inflation. Bernanke, not subject to the whims of democracy, has had the courage to change his own thinking. He knows the consequences of tight policy now.

So what do we do? We should be a little modest about the universal benefits of democracy. For example, I think democracy may yet work to end the severest levels of austerity in Europe. People are mad. Governments are changing for the better. Democracy in America is the only answer to an ever-richer and more powerful oligarchic class in the U.S., which wants to lower taxes, limit regulations, and cut government into ever smaller pieces.

But we must also deal with the disturbing fact that one of the least democratic of our institutions, the Fed, is the only one saving the day now. The same is true in Europe, where the European Central Bank is now acting intelligently, in contrast to the fiscal hawks dominated by the German policymakers and apparently supported by a majority of the German people. This issue is not simple.

Cross-posted from Rediscovering Government.

America’s Latest Export: The Shadow Banking System

The Unknown Risks of China’s Trusts, published by Also Sprach Analyst

China Insurance Building (中国保险大厦), Shanghai
China Insurance Building (中国保险大厦), Shanghai (Photo credit: thewamphyri)

 Over the past many months, we have been talking (on and off) about the growing size and risks of the shadow banking in China. The market started to become aware of the risks of the unknown shadow banking system last year when some companies’ bosses started running away from the creditors, particularly in Wenzhou. While the focus has been shifted away from all these underground lending, the problem is not going away.

The so-called “trust” in China is yet another component in the Chinese shadow banking system. The size of the trust industry in terms of assets has reached RMB5 trillion and counting. In the past few years, one of the major sources of funding for trusts has been banks’ depositors. These trusts products offered higher returns than bank deposits (e.g. 10%), thus they appeared to be very attractive, especially when bank deposits have been hugely negative in real term thanks to high inflation, making these trust products a popular destination for bank depositors who want better returns than bank deposits (this has allegedly been one of the causes of the deposit flights, but we would leave the problem for now). Trust companies then take the money raised from banks and invest in stuff that they think can offer high return. The problem is where to invest to generate high return. In a certain sense, this is not very far off from securitisation.

As many real estate companies last year were pushed into desperate situations when the government tightened monetary and credit policy, the real estate industry turned out to be a popular destination for trust companies’ investment as demand for funding from real estate companies meant that these companies were willing to accept high costs of funding. According to this report, real estate accounts for 14.83% of total trust industry’s investment. Both equity and debt investments are common. Of course, these investments can only be fine as long as the real estate market is growing with prices and sales going up, which is not happening.

Moneyweek (via Sina) has a story on one of the major trust companies: China Credit Trust, a trust company with some RMB200 billion of assets. Earlier, this trust company has already been questioned on the investments in real estate sector. As early as 2010, this trust company has invested in a real estate company which ended up being unable to repay the debt. But the real estate market is not the only source of risks for trusts, of course. As in other trust companies, banks helped to distribute the products, thus depositors would invest in the trust products. In the case of this particular trust product by China Credit Trust, it took money from banks’ depositors with interest rates at 9.5-11%. ICBC is the custodian bank.

One of the products raised a total of roughly RMB3 billion, and the money raised is then invested in the equity capital of an energy company in Shanxi, which is a family business. The investment will reach maturity on 31 Jan 2014. However, despite the fact that this was an energy company which produces coal, it turns out that the company was then involved in shadow banking lending itself. In this case, they appeared to have become a loan shark themselves. But they are themselves deeply indebted, and perhaps they have borrowed quite a lot of money from the shadow banking channel as well. Thus in last year, creditors came to demand repayment. Now the bosses of the companies are said to be “under control” by the police, while the debt outstanding amount to RMB5 billion. The company in question might well be insolvent. In any case, this investment is gone.

For those depositors who have bought into this sort of products, the risks are obvious. As the economy slows, the probability that those money cannot be repaid would increase, not to mention that investors in these products have no idea if the one who got funding from their investments are of good credit, or whether these companies are performing fraudulent practices, etc. As far as we understand, banks do not offer guarantee to depositors for these products (although those who bought into these schemes seem to have been led to believe that there is guarantee), thus it will be interesting to see what will happen if more and more problems emerge from the trust sector of the shadow banking system.

And importantly, banks themselves are partnering with trusts to provide lending to companies without being reported in their books as lending. Few months ago the 21st Century Business Herald reported that banks have been using the partnership with trust companies to provide lending to companies. On banks’ books, as a result, they are not described as loans, but probably as equity interest in trusts. As a result of such trickery, these loans are not subject to the same regulation and scrutiny as other loans. The report put the size of such scheme at RMB100 billion, and that’s the figure for the year of 2012 till March.

With the slowing economy being worse than most have expected, and given how China banks decide who to lend to, it should come as no surprise that quite a portion of the outstanding debts through this channel will go bad, while the equity investments through this channel will be wiped off. The size of the industry in terms of assets is roughly at 10% of China’s annual GDP in 2011. Incidentally, the size of subprime mortgage market was estimated at US$1.3 trillion on March 2007, which is, incidentally, more or less at 10% of US annual GDP in 2006. That is not to say that this is subprime for China. Rather, the point is that even though “10% of GDP” does not look large, that could present significant systemic risks thanks to the interconnectedness within the financial system that we may not fully understand yet. So beware of a potential ticking time bomb here that may or may not explode.

For more news and analysis, visit Also sprach Analyst.  Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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Fees Exposed – 401K Disclosure Coming to You and Your Employees 3rd Quarter

With 72 million participants in the US and a total of $3 trillion in assets, you would think there would be a bonanza of information about the average 401K available.  That has not been the case but it will be so as of July 1, 2012.

Until now, you as the plan provider (plan “sponsor” and possibly contributor in the form of matching contributions to the plan) have only been required to ascertain that the expenses levied for services and investments are reasonable.  On July 1st all service providers must provide additional information about the compensation they receive to plan sponsors – and by August 30 the plan sponsor (you) must make these disclosures to plan participants.

Until now, it was OK to simply assess the reasonableness of investment fees and expenses – going forward you must assess the reasonableness of what the service providers get – even if it’s not from the plan itself.  And this information must be displayed in written reports to participants, quarterly going forward and annually for any investment related fees.

What this addresses is the fact that participants, most of them anyway, don’t believe that these plans cost much if anything. A survey published February 2011 by AARP, for example, found that 71 percent of those polled believed that they did not pay fees on their 401Ks. Six percent said they did not know whether fees were levied.  This means that more that 75% of plan participants are not aware of the costs of their plans!

A more shocking finding is that not only don’t participants know about fees, neither do some 30% of plan sponsors!

As a plan sponsor, you have a duty to pick a good plan and a good provider for your employees, and now you must display the costs to participants.  If this thought of disclosure causes you pain, maybe it’s time to find a new provider.  Some good options for small companies are cited here.

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The Student Becomes the Master???

SMB Matters Blog:

google motorola mobility merger approved

Google has announced the closing of its acquisition of Motorola Mobility, after a number of global regulators and authorities approved the transaction. As a leading global technology and engineering firm, Motorola built a reputation for quality and innovation, but pressures in its core markets and businesses had long threatened to make this global leader and manufacture into an also-ran in the modern digital economy. Google has earned a strategic coup in tapping the vast and underutilized technological and human resources of [part of] the Motorola family, and is now positioned to make the leap beyond the intangible space it has led into the tangible space Motorola once dominated. We’ll see how well they pull that pivot off. Our Chicago-based tech geeks and business types all hope that this is a promising development for the remains of the old Motorola we knew and loved, and hope that the student-teacher dynamic of this new combination can lead to even more “dynamics” in the marketplace.

Despite the promising nature of this transaction, a number of us find it ironic that the final hurdles and conditions came from China regulators who extracted some concessions from Google on keeping Android open, ostensibly to maintain competition.

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Originally posted on TechCrunch:

As we reported would happen yesterday, Google has today announced that it has closed its acquisition of Motorola Mobility, buying the Illinois-based device maker for $40 per share in cash for a total of $12.5 billion.

As widely expected, Sanjay Jha is stepping down as CEO and Dennis Woodside, Google’s former Americas head, will take the helm at Motorola Mobility, which will be operated as a standalone company. The company says the acquisition will help Google “supercharge” the Android ecosystem: while Motorola will be making devices using the platform, it will also remain open.

Page, interestingly, uses his blog post announcing the deal to focus mainly on the mobile aspects of the acquisition — Motorola also has a substantial business as a media hardware vendor, making things like set-top boxes and other equipment and technology to deliver digital video services.

“The phones in our pockets have become supercomputers that…

View original 177 more words

Tidbits #12 – This isn’t your old bank’s free toaster.

mercedes amg gullwing brilliant silver

Get a Mercedes Benz when you open a [qualifying] new CD account!

On the surface, this seemed to be one of the best gimmicks “promotions” to attract new customers I’ve come across in a long time…   A Florida community bank called C1 Bank with ~1BN in assets is offering 2012 Mercedes roadster to new customers with FL residence who deposit 1MM or more in a 5-year CD, in lieu of $61K in interest they would have earned with the CD.  No, it’s not the AMG Gullwing pictured above, rather a new MB roadster worth ~60K.  But before you jump at it, here are the details of the deal and caveats to consider –

  • While better than 5-year treasury rate of .82%, the equivalent annual yield rate of 1.2% is not much better
  • Current CD yield rates are near their all-time lows, and many predict that it could only go up
  • FDIC only covers up to 250K in case the bank itself goes south
  • Lastly, for some reason if you need to re-neg on the 5-year contract, you will pay 3K in penalty plus the entire price of the car when it was new

It certainly begs the question – are you better off taking advantage of 0% financing deal offered by some luxury makers and putting your 1MM away in higher-yielding but just as safe debt instruments?  One thing for sure, even for deal that seem to be no brainer, it always pays to do some due diligence.  You decide…

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