The Green Thumb Behind Garden.com
When Clifford Sharples and two partners created Garden.com in 1995, few people were talking about business-to- consumer electronic commerce. Sharples and his co-founders, all recent business school graduates, chose the gardening industry because it was large, highly fragmented, and information was the key to the consumer’s experience. They not only had to create an interactive web site but also a national distribution network to move plants from the fields to customers’ doorsteps. Sharples, now one of the successful “senior” executives of e-commerce, discussed the strategy behind Garden.com during a recent board meeting of Wharton’s SEI Center for Advanced Studies in Management, whose theme was “The Challenge of Leadership in the Global Information Age.”
“Be Yourself. Be Your Own Brand.”
Since taking the steering wheel at Ford nine months ago, CEO Jacques Nasser has launched a revolution at the 96-year-old auto giant. Ford is now the world’s most profitable car company with $5.9 billion in net income, and some observers believe it could overtake General Motors as the world’s No. 1 car company by 2001. Enormous changes in the auto industry have been fueled by the emergence of the Internet. “Cyber business is going to become part of everything we touch,” says Nasser, who recently spoke before a group of Wharton students. During times of such wrenching change, companies need insightful leadership. According to Nasser, the key to cultivating leadership lies in recognizing leadership and using them to make a difference. “Be yourself,” says Nasser. “Be your own brand.”
MCI WorldCom Sprint: Good Connection or Static on the Line?
If approved by federal regulators, the proposed $115-billion acquisition of Sprint by MCI WorldCom would be the biggest corporate combination in history. It would give the new company, to be called WorldCom, a market value of some $200 billion, which is larger than that of AT&T. It would also significantly alter the hotly competitive telecommunications landscape. To assess the potential impact of the proposed acquisition, Knowledge@Wharton spoke with two telecom experts: Gerald Faulhaber, professor of public policy and management at Wharton and a former manager at Bell Labs and AT&T, and G. Anandalingam, professor of operations and information management at Wharton and National Center Professor of Systems Engineering at Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.
3 Pieces of Advice for Women Seeking Venture Capital: Network, Network, Network
The economy is booming, you’ve got a great idea for a new high-tech company, and you know that venture money is falling off the trees like autumn leaves. How do you get it? If the ‘you’ is a ‘she’, does that hurt your chances for success? A panel of five women – three entrepreneurs and two venture capitalists – shared experiences and advice at the 1999 Wharton Women in Business Conference. To summarize: crank up those credit cards, network like crazy and yes, women tend to be smaller than men, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make a big splash.
A Blueprint to Save Cities
Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell is widely credited with rescuing his home town from the brink of bankruptcy and reminding people just how vibrant a downtown area can be. The Philadelphia experience offers lessons to cities around the world that confront the challenge of renewal and development. But even Rendell is quick to note the huge problems that still exist in Philadelphia and other metropolitan areas, from the large number of low-income residents excluded from economic prosperity to the need for creative ways to keep businesses from relocating to the suburbs. Call it Le Bec Fin vs. McDonald’s.
Leveraging Differences in an Increasingly Borderless World
As the world continues to shrink and the global marketplace grows, corporations increasingly look beyond their home countries for best practices. Executives are less concerned about where the ideas for improvements originate than they are about how to adapt a particular best practice to their unique corporate culture. Given the dominance American firms have had in the marketplace over the past decade (indeed, over the past half century), one might think that companies throughout the world would be eager to adopt the American model of corporate governance as unquestionably the best practice paradigm. Mauro F. Guillen, assistant professor of management at the Wharton School has found, however, that this is not the case. In fact, the opposite seems to be true, as he reports in a recent paper, “Corporate Governance and Globalization: Arguments and Evidence Against Convergence.”
India: Going for Growth
On the eve of the new millennium, India appears to be poised for phenomenal growth. A strong education system, policy reforms and well-defined governmental checks and balances make the world’s most populous democracy a promising place for overseas investors. Nonetheless, to date India has not been the darling of the foreign investment world. Several speakers and panelists at the annual Wharton India Economic Forum held in Philadelphia on December 3, discussed the current situation and addressed both challenges and potential opportunities.
“Perception is a large part of it,” said Joseph Sutton, vice chairman of Enron, opening the conference as the morning keynote speaker. Enron, a leading electricity, natural gas and communications company, has invested nearly $3 billion in India, most notably in the Dabhol Power Project. Dabhol brings power and gas to an area on the west coast of India and is the largest infrastructure financing project ever done in the country. Phase One is now in commercial operation, and Phase Two financially closed this past year and is scheduled for operation by the end of 2002.
Sutton was bullish on India’s prospects, but urged the country’s government to continue the process of reform.
Risk Management: Adding Information to Intuition
Remember the S&L (savings & loan) crisis that necessitated a multi-billion-dollar taxpayer bailout? How about the near-meltdown of the Long Term Capital Management hedge fund? Or Caldor, Bradlees, and other retailers that filed for bankruptcy? The financial, retail and other markets are littered with the carcasses of failed firms, large and not-so-large companies that took big risks in search of big returns and flopped. But did they have to go under?
“There is always a tradeoff between risk levels and expected rewards,” says John Hershey, professor of operations and information management at Wharton. “Today we are seeing more firms moving beyond risk assessment, into risk management. But in a high stakes, fast-moving environment, simple calculations are no longer possible. Instead, sophisticated analyses are needed to quantify risk before it can be mitigated.”
In November, Hershey and two colleagues – deputy vice dean of Wharton’s MBA Program Anjani Jain, and Ziv Katalan, assistant professor of operations and information management – gave a three-day executive education program on Decision Models for Management.
Doing Well By Doing Good
The role of the business corporation in society has always been controversial. Some would argue that corporations exist solely to enhance the wealth of the shareholders and that they should not engage in any activity that does not directly add to the firm’s bottom line. Others argue that corporations have a far larger role and can put resources to work to solve persistent problems far more effectively than government or nonprofit organizations. Among those who favor the second approach are Thomas W. Dunfee, who teaches business ethics at the Wharton School, and David Hess, a Ph.D. student at Wharton. The two researchers argue in a new paper that exemplary companies can and should go further by utilizing their core competencies to make humanitarian investments directly in needy regions.