Monday Mornings with Madison

Monthly Archives:
June 2015

Nepotism, Part 1

It was recently announced that 84-year-old media mogul Rupert Murdoch will be handing the leadership reigns of the 21st Century Fox / News Corp. media conglomerate to his son, James Murdoch. As part of the reorganization, Fox COO Chase Carey will step down from his role. James Murdoch got the appointment despite the 2011 revelation that News Corp’s News of the World reporters were hacking phones to get the scoop on stories. At that time, News of the World, a U.K.-based newspaper, was managed by James Murdoch, who was called before British Parliament to answer questions about the matter. News of the World closed shortly after the scandal. The debacle did not affect James Murdoch’s selection to take over leadership of the media conglomerate from his father.

For as long as businesses have existed, so has nepotism. Nepotism is the practice among those with power or influence to favor relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs. It stems from the Latin word for nephew, which kind of goes to the heart of the practice. The most familiar forms of nepotism have been passing down the leadership of a family business from father to son and giving key positions in a family business to children, grandchildren, nieces, and of course, nephews. It’s a practice that has been around — and accepted — since ancient times. With small family businesses in olden times, it was only natural that a son apprenticed with his father, learned the family business, and eventually took over when the father passed or was too old to work. Back before there were colleges, technical programs and other paths to learn a trade, an apprenticeship in the family-business was the primary way to pass skills from generation to generation. It was not only a good thing, but also a necessary one. It was also natural for a parent to want his family to continue to benefit from a business he built from scratch. But nepotism hasn’t been restricted to just mom-n-pop shops. Like Century 21 Fox / News Corp., conglomerates have been handed down from parent to child. Indeed, sons have even inherited kingdoms from their fathers since time immemorial.

The world has changed a lot since ancient times. Almost everything about how businesses operate has changed, evolving to accommodate new technology, systems for teaching trades and occupations, and methods for recruiting and managing staff. There is no longer a need for nepotism. Yet, nepotism still exists; alive and well in the 21st century in organizations large and small. What has changed is how nepotism is viewed by many. Not only do some complain about the unfairness of nepotism, but business pundits question if nepotism is bad for business. That begs the question: is nepotism a good thing or a bad thing? Is it an invaluable pipeline of highly-qualified talent that business owners and leaders can tap inexpensively to fill key vacancies? Or is it a human resources scourge that, when allowed to spread unchecked, contaminates and kills businesses?
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The Search for the “Right Fit”

Adding 280,000 jobs in May, 2015, the U.S. unemployment rate now stands at 5.5% and we are seeing more people return to the workforce. That’s below the average U.S. unemployment rate between 1948 until 2015 of 5.83%, and it’s about half of the all time highest national unemployment rate of 10.8% recorded in November 1982. In fact, U.S. companies have hired over 200,000 employees every month in all but one of the last 15 consecutive months, and over four million new positions were filled since the start of 2014. That’s a lot of hiring!

For most businesses, hiring is serious business. Perhaps more than ever before, it is imperative for a company to find the “right” person for the job. Hiring the wrong person can cost a company anywhere from 35% to 65% of the position’s salary plus a lot of time and aggravation to recruit, hire and train another person if the first hire doesn’t work. That is why managers carefully search for the candidate who is going to best “fit” with the work and staff. But what exactly does “fit” mean? Should the leadership look for the individual who has the best skills, training and experience: someone who is the right fit for the job? Or should they search for the candidate who best matches the organization’s style: someone who is the right fit for the company’s culture? Or should the hiring manager seek the candidate who will get along best with the person in charge: someone who is the right fit for the boss? When looking to hire, what or who should the candidate “fit” in order to generate the greatest productivity and results for the company?
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Equal, Fair and Equitable – Part 2

The world is not always a fair place. Some people are born into money while others are born into poverty. Some people are born healthy and others are born sickly. Some people are just prettier or more charismatic or intelligent than others. None of that seems fair. But it is human nature to want to impose a sense of justice in the world.

Indeed, fairness is a fundamental concept that everyone understands. We all carry a sense of justice and know what it feels like to be wronged. Issues having to do with equal treatment and fairness are often emotional and controversial. It is especially sensitive when comes to the topic of equal pay for equal work. In such situations, business leaders and managers need to consider all the evidence to determine what is equal, fair and equitable in order to do what’s right for both the company and its employees.
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Equal, Fair and Equitable – Part 1

Currently, women outnumber men in U.S. college classrooms. Women also outpace men in college completion in the U.S. In fact, women now account for 60% of all Bachelor degree holders in the U.S. Women also continue to increase their participation in the labor force. This is great for businesses and even better for the nation’s economy. However, while the Equal Pay Act of 1963 requires that men and women in the U.S. be given equal pay for equal work in the same establishment, it seems that neither the educational level nor quantity of women in the workforce has resulted in ‘equal’ pay and opportunities for women. The most common statistic cited is that women earn .78 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is certainly not equal. This disparity is pervasive from entry level positions all the way to the top. According to CNN Money, 14.2% of the top five leadership positions at S&P Fortune 500 companies are held by women. Of those 500 companies, just 24 have female CEOs (less than 5%). And of the top 200 best paid CEOs in America in 2014, 13 were women (6.5%). There weren’t any females among the top 10 best-paid CEOs, and only two women (Marissa Mayer at Yahoo and Martine Rothblatt at United Therapeutics) were among the top 50 best-paid CEOs. Of those that did make it to the top spot, the average pay for the top female CEOs in the U.S. in 2014 was $20 million, 11.5% less than the $22.6 million for the overall average.

Based on those numbers, it appears that opportunities and compensation for women at every level is still not “equal” to men. But is it fair or equitable? Equal, fair and equitable do not mean the same thing. Sometimes, something that is not equal might be fair and equitable. Other times, something that is fair and equitable is not necessarily equal. What is the difference between equal, fair and equitable? The question of equal versus fair or equitable comes up often as businesses deal with issues of race, gender, age and other factors related to hiring, compensating and managing staff. What should forward-thinking companies shoot for when weighing who to hire, how much to pay, and what rules should govern the culture of a company in its treatment of employees of both genders at every level? Is equal the goal or is fairness the goal? If equitable is the bulls-eye, then who is the arbiter of what is or isn’t fair and impartial?
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Intellectual Property: Are Your Brands, Products and Services Protected? – Part 3

A hiccup treatment device. A snake walking system. Carry-out food containers. Tiny umbrella for your drink. A fireplace waterfall. A wind-harnessing bicycle. What do these things have in common? These are all odd but real solutions to specific problems. More importantly, besides being a little strange, they are also among the millions of inventions that have been patented since the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) first started issuing patents in 1790. A patent protects an invention the way a trademark protects a brand and a copyright protects intellectual property. However, unlike trademarks and copyrights, which don’t need to be registered to be in effect, patents do require an application and approval to get patent protection.

That makes patents less attractive to the average small or mid-sized business. That’s because taking an idea from conception to patent is a long, rigorous, and expensive process. An idea that isn’t fully developed might result in patent protection that is too narrow in scope. And patenting an idea that never gets to market is a waste of good money. It can cost from $25,000 to $50,000 to get an idea patented. Yet the vast majority of patents are never commercialized. So when does it make sense to patent a product or process? And what protection does a patent provide?
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