Archive for the ‘Trust’ Category

Service of the Custom of Traveling with the Goods

Monday, November 5th, 2018

Photo: travelpulse.com

I was 15 the first time I traveled alone internationally and my parents warned me to never accept a package or letter from a stranger who’d ask me to pop the missive in the mail when I got to my destination. Fast forward and airline agents for years now ask whether you packed your suitcase and if anyone has given you anything to take with you.

Photo: dissolve.com

This custom has changed dramatically with the advent of Grabr, an online company that introduces travelers to shoppers in foreign countries who count on them to carry purchases. Customs charges are the responsibility of the traveler who is supposed to ask enough of the shopper to cover them. They negotiate the amount before the trip.

Wrote Andrea Fuller in The Wall Street Journal, “Grabr works like this: A shopper posts on Grabr’s platform that they’d like to buy an item, such as a new smartphone. A traveler who plans on visiting the shopper’s country then agrees to transport the phone for a delivery fee negotiated with the shopper. The traveler then buys the phone, packs it, and gives it to the shopper, who pays them back via Grabr’s system. The company earns a commission on each transaction.”

Bangkok Airport. Photo: youtube.com

Some travelers pay for their trips. Grabr pays for others “in lieu of per-item rewards.” They “transport suitcases full of goods assembled by Grabr staff.” [The company says it is phasing out this part of the business.]

Duty free limits range from $300 in Argentina to $500, in Brazil, for example. “Travelers to those countries should owe customs 50% of the portion of the value of items over the duty-free limit,” wrote Fuller.

Kevin Hartz, whose company invested $250,000 in Grabr–it attracted $14 million in all–who had also invested in Airbnb which, in its infancy, faced doubts about the legality of home sharing, said about the concept: “This is just a matter of sentiment change.”

Grabr’s co-founders Artem Fedyaev and Darla Rebenok say the company’s terms of service require users to comply with customs.

In my experience, customs officers are smart. They know that a Gucci handbag costs many multiples of $450, should a traveler try to get away with the smaller amount on a customs document, and that people don’t travel with three smartphones and four laptops for personal use. If they don’t already know about Grabr, they soon will so there won’t be any savings at the customs counter for travelers-with-the-goods. I wouldn’t be surprised if customs duties in certain countries increase.

If you’re planning a trip to a country where electronics and other items are pricey, would you be interested to give Grabr a whirl? Do you believe a stranger will pay for the items you give them? Can you predict the success of the business model? Has customs ever stopped you—and have you had to pay up–in this or another country?

Photo: aisino.com

Service of Too Big to Question

Monday, October 12th, 2015

 

Due diligence

In the news last week were at least two examples of people who should have known better. They conducted zero due diligence on activities of an individual or about a company for which they were about to pay dearly either because of the stellar background of the former or the size of the deal in the latter instance–or maybe because they were gullible [unlikely] or lazy. In all cases people were not doing their jobs.

Anupreeta Das and Jean Eaglesham’s Wall Street Journal story, “Harvard, Goldman, VC…Fugitive,” is about Iftikar Ahmed, known as “Ifty” to his friends. [Shifty is more appropriate.] They report that he “allegedly stole $65 million” from his partners at Oak Investment Partners. He “exploited the trust-based culture of the venture capital firm,” they wrote. According to the reporters, “Mr. Ahmed’s former colleagues at Norwalk, Conn.-based Oak found that he used doctored deal documents, phony exchange rates and fake invoices to siphon off millions of dollars into secret bank accounts, according to prosecutors and regulators. Oak made the discoveries only after Mr. Ahmed was arrested on insider-trading charges unrelated to his work at the firm.” Nobody knows where Ifty is these days–India they think.

The article describes the fascinating details and is worth a read. What got me was a trustsideline detail. Ifty’s wife was able to buy a Manhattan apartment for $8.5 million cash weeks after he was arrested! The intrusive financial raking that small fries must go through to buy a co-op is insulting, so clearly, this purchase must have taken place at a condo whose board members wear blinders. They aren’t the only board so equipped. Please read on.

Next, I was glued to The New York Times article, “A Deal That Still Haunts Hewlett-Packard” which you should also read. The allegations illustrate inconceivable neglect by a CEO and board of a publicly owned company. To describe their vetting process as “scrutiny light” is an exaggeration in the $11 billion purchase of a British company called Autonomy, covered by reporter James B. Stewart. Most people would do more research before purchasing a vacuum cleaner than HP’s chairman Léo Apotheker and the HP board did before buying a foreign software company.

wearing blindersAccording to Stewart, “Some consider the Autonomy acquisition to be the worst corporate deal ever. Just how bad is confirmed by the latest revelations from a shareholders’ suit over the deal: Mr. Apotheker didn’t even read the due diligence report on Autonomy that H.P. commissioned from KPMG, the giant accounting firm. Nor did Raymond J. Lane, the board chairman, or any other member of the board, according to a report prepared by the law firm Proskauer Rose, which was hired to represent H.P.’s independent directors.”

Stewart notes that the executive summary contained “numerous warnings.” But they didn’t read the executive summary either. [Stewart did–as well as the full report.] He wrote: “The executive summary stresses repeatedly that Autonomy stonewalled KPMG accountants, who were granted ‘access to very limited proprietary financial and tax information.'” The summary questioned the “claimed stellar revenue growth” and Autonomy’s “revenue recognition practices,” crucial backup information to justify such an expensive acquisition. 

In the first instance, does a “trust-based culture” have a place in today’s world? Were the Oak venture capital partners asleep at the switch, busy doing similar fiddles or simply blindsided?

Regarding the second example, I Googled “most expensive vacuum cleaners,” and saw one that cost $5,599.99. Would you pay that much based on a brochure claim that it was worth the money with no other information? Stewart wrote, “I’d say that for $11 billion, HP should have been able to see whatever it wanted.” Do you agree?

warning

 

 

Service of Debt Collection

Monday, September 14th, 2015

where's my money

I read this on a Facebook posting on September 10: If you write for _______, please beware. I filed my invoice on June 1 and still have not been paid. The editor gave me the wrong info on who to send my invoice to–twice! I’ve sent numerous emails and it’s been so time consuming trying to collect my money.

“I got a few emails from their accounts payable dept. saying all my info was in and I should be getting a check soon. Today, I checked on it and was told that they do not have all of my paperwork. I finally heard back from the editor and she said, ‘I really hope you won’t tell people not to write for us because of $300.’ I’m not telling you not to write for them. I just–at this point–really dislike them. I just want you to beware.

Social mediaWriting about this kind of exploitation infuriates me as do people who either play games, working the float on small fry suppliers making them wait for months or worse—ordering work they know they can’t/won’t/don’t plan to pay for.

I’ve written before about a writer friend who was stiffed a fee in the middle five figures by people she knew in an industry in which she was well known, causing such havoc on her finances that she had to move precipitately to another/less expensive city where she didn’t know a soul. The company was going bankrupt and the owners took advantage of her. This was years ago and I still want to take a shower when I think of them.

I knew a flim-flamer who told a graphic designer he worked with for years, “You designed those logos on spec,” when nothing of the kind had been said. Contracts don’t protect you: They cost too much in time and/or lawyer’s fees to defend in court. I’ve not been immune nor have other honorable, hardworking colleagues in PR who provided topnotch counsel, creativity and results.

The typical victim is not too big to fail so who cares?

I used to see typed or handwritten names of people on bits of paper taped to grocery store cash registers representing customers whose checks the cashier was forbidden to accept. Because the honor system doesn’t work so well, instituting a similar online virtual list, by industry, of individuals and companies who have swindled others wouldn’t be viable. People who disliked or were jealous of someone could add a name that shouldn’t belong and anyway, nobody is guilty here without a trial.

taking candy from a babyWhat’s the difference between these perpetrators and youngsters who mug the elderly or adults who abuse children?

What do you think about resorting to social media to accelerate/stimulate/embarrass a company to pay? Before hiring someone, even for a project, smart employers check a person or company’s Facebook, Twitter and other social media pages where they’d see such postings. The writer in the intro was angry and rightly so, but would a reputation of blabbing to the world about a grievance frighten away future clients?

Exploitation

Service of Trust II or I Wish It Were True

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Tax relief

I would like to know how you gauge which commercials to trust, especially those involving health-related products, identity theft protection, tax relief advice, weight loss, gardening aids, deer and mouse repellants.

identify theft protectionI was inspired to cover the topic [again] after listening to a segment of “Health Matters,” on NPR sponsored by Sharon Hospital in Conn. The doctor, Jared Zelman, shared sage if obvious advice: Don’t believe quick fix solutions regarding weight loss remedies or those described by people who claim to have been cured of their chronic diseases simply by taking X. The hospital and/or doctor must come across plenty who fall for useless tonics or they wouldn’t select the topic–there are so many other potential ones.

Deer eating plantsRadio personalities tout [and say they swear by] miracle anti-wrinkle creams, weight loss tonics that take off 30-40 lbs. in a month, easy back tax relief for those who owe $10K or more, foolproof rodent repellants, effective organic garden pest deterrents and protection from identity theft. The latter makes me chuckle: If Sony, Target, TJ Maxx and Home Depot can’t fend off hackers while allegedly spending $billions, how are Mr. and Mrs. Middle America supposed to protect themselves by tossing monthly dollars at some company?

If I’d saved what I’ve spent on useless mouse and deer repellants alone I’d be on easy street. I continue to fall for what I so desperately wish would work. Do you? And as I asked in the lead, how do you know what is really effective? Are you ever tempted to give something new a chance?

garden pest

Service of Trust

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

trust2

This blog doesn’t usually pinion a brand by name, but when it is number five in a list of most trusted, and when its executives have done something dastardly and incomprehensible, I make an exception to my blog’s policy.

I read in David Reich’s post, “Who do we trust,” on his “my 2 cents blog,” about a Harris poll of 19,000 people at random who felt that Amazon was the most trusted brand and the rest were, in order, Apple, Disney, Google, Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola, Whole Foods, Sony, Procter & Gamble and Costco.

caneI am shocked as much by the deed as by the cavalier attitude by management about something that takes so long to gain and a second to lose: Trust. I am appalled by yet another heartless business decision made by people who obviously have zero empathy about the pain and suffering they cause others.

Here’s the story:

“The note sent by a doctor to several executives at Johnson & Johnson was blunt: an artificial hip sold by the company was so poorly designed that the company should slow its marketing until it understood why patients were getting hurt,” Barry Meier wrote in a February News Analysis piece The New York Times. This was a follow-up to his January front page Business Day story, “Maker Hid Data About Design Flaw in Hip Implant, Records Show.”

Continued Meier in the analysis, “The doctor, who also worked as a consultant to Johnson & Johnson, wrote the note nearly two years before the company recalled the device in 2010. And it was far from the only early warning those executives got from doctors who were paid consultants. Still, the company’s DePuy orthopedic unit plowed ahead, and those consultants never sounded a public alarm to other doctors, who kept implanting the device.”

I recommend that you read the analysis for the reasons/excuses he posits that more doctors didn’t make a fuss as well as his earlier piece where I first read about this nightmare.

hip-replacementI take such a decision personally and feel enraged by it. An operation is scary for most and things can go wrong such as infections or heart failure or unforeseen reactions to the anesthesia.  And now and again there might be a kink in a device–mistakes happen. But a manufacturer that lets doctors use something its executives know doesn’t have a chance of working boils my blood.

Draconian as it sounds, I think that in future executives who know about  flaws in the devices they manufacture should have one of them implanted in their body or if they sell lousy medicine be forced to take it. It may be the only way to stop such conduct. Fining is useless.

How have we allowed companies to succeed without being expected to exhibit an iota of social responsibility? How do we protect ourselves from such a device being implanted in a friend, family member or ourselves?

old-hands

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