Archive for the ‘Manufacturing’ Category

Service and the Business Cycle

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

In today’s guest post, Frank Paine a retired international banker, regulatory official, and the author of “The Financing of Ship Acquisitions,” tackles a thorny issue. Do those who lead the institutions that serve us–corporate, philanthropic, and governmental or otherwise–properly prepare themselves to address the inevitability of downturns in the business cycle?

He predicts that, “There may even come a time when organization directors will be held personally responsible for the adequacy of the analysis underlying their decisions.”  And adds, “That wouldn’t be such a bad thing…”

Do you agree with his analysis, and if so, with his conclusion?

In one sense or another, every organization exists for the purpose of giving service.  Corporations exist to provide goods and services desired by the market place: auto companies to provide the cars that we all know and love; electric utilities to provide the “juice” for all the appliances that we can’t seem to do without; ships, trains and trucks to transport those goods; “head hunters” to help companies staff themselves;  insurance companies to help everybody manage their risks; non-profits to raise funds for good causes and support the arts, and industry associations to promote their industries and provide networking opportunities that would not otherwise be possible; and schools and universities to provide educational services for our next generations.

The beneficiaries of these services are always multiple. Business organizations service their customers, their shareholders and their employees. Non-profits benefit their members, their particular causes, and, yes, their employees.  Educational institutions benefit their students, their faculties, their administrations, and everybody depending on them to provide well-educated people to the market place, and conduct vital research.  I could go on…

I want to make a plea to anybody directly or indirectly involved in providing service (and that should be pretty much everybody) to think seriously about the impact of the business cycle of the sector they are involved with.  We are now going through the worst recession that many of us have ever seen, and so the evidence of failures to understand business cycles are all around us.  We may be close to seeing the death knell of American automobile production.  We are seeing our banking system being challenged as it never has been in our time.  And non-profits everywhere are seeing their fortunes suffer from whatever is affecting their largest sources of funds.  And so on…

I am getting very tired of hearing organizations acknowledge their failure to see it coming, usually with very self-serving explanations.  I remember having a major oil company acknowledge that throughout its history, it had failed to properly understand when it should order tankers.  Over 30 years ago, I myself correctly analyzed the forces that would cause General Motors to be on the brink of bankruptcy today.  I also correctly predicted the failure of a Brazilian bank two years in advance.  There were plenty of people that foresaw the current banking “crisis” several years in advance.  Etc., etc., etc.

Trust me, I am not a genius-I simply had my eyes open.

It is not true that business cycles cannot be analyzed and understood, but it does take patience and time.  And much of the expertise can be bought-there is an army of analysts, many of them very good that are begging for work.  And there is the body of research provided by universities.

The people who most need the benefit of this analysis and understanding of the business cycle are the Board of Directors/Trustees (or whatever), and the most senior management.  How many times have you found that investments, projects, etc. can only get board approval at the top of the cycle?  It’s so easy to say, “This is a hot market and we need to be in it,” without taking the time and trouble to determine when the investment will actually produce results.

And so, in order to preserve service capacity, boards of organizations should be “opening their eyes” further to fully understand their business cycles, and make decisions in accordance with that understanding.  Who knows? There may even come a time when organization directors will be held personally responsible for the adequacy of the analysis underlying their decisions.  That wouldn’t be such a bad thing…

Packaging that Serves to Annoy

Monday, April 27th, 2009

A colleague plunked a round pillbox on my desk last week and asked me if I was able to open it. It was white plastic and the opening instructions, “press the dot,” were also white, indented in a kind of intaglio.

The medication was for migraine headache.

I was feeling fine until I couldn’t locate the dot! Eventually I did, but by then I almost had a migraine myself. You don’t have to have suffered more than a mild headache to know what a nightmare it is to fool around with a bottle top to get at an Advil, Bayer or Bufferin. Imagine being blurry-eyed with pain looking for a white-on-white dot. There must be a better way.

It’s not always the fault of the package. Tricky medicine bottles are obviously designed to save children from swallowing dangerous medications but there are times when the easy-to-open variety is in order. When my sister slipped on ice and broke her wrist, the hospital staff asked her a slew of questions. One was, “do you live alone?” Her answer: “Yes.” When she got home and tried to open the painkillers they gave her with only one hand in operation, she discovered that the bottle had a childproof cap.

If you’re slightly uncoordinated, try pressing and twisting open certain mouthwash bottles.


A box of brown sugar is easy to open but the sugar turns into a brown brick once you open the plastic inside, no matter how carefully you re-close it with tape or rubber bands.

So that toothpaste can no longer be accused of breaking up marriages, i.e. “You never put the top back on the toothpaste tube!”–some manufacturers attach the top to the tube. In my experience, those tops usually don’t stay closed, making me want to divorce the manufacturer.

Do you have favorite packaging grumps?

Spot-On Thinking by Big Companies

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

It’s satisfying when giant corporations are responsive to life’s little annoyances in simple, practical ways.

3M manufactures green cleaning aids–not a drop of detergent or harsh chemicals needed. Remove brown stains created by hard water in sinks, toilets and tubs with Scotch-Brite’s Easy Erasing Pad and a little elbow grease. The white sponge-like product is feather-light. It’s hard to find in stores–I bought mine on the web.

Grimy eyeglasses or dusty computer screens? Wipe them–or dust furniture–with Scotch-Brite High Performance Cloth. Miraculous.

Until recently, I refused to buy square greeting cards. I’m obviously not the only one who gets aggravated that the square shape requires extra postage. Who remembers what the extra postage is and if you know, who, without benefit of a postage machine, has the right stamps to round off the extra required?

Hallmark came to the rescue. At one of the Hallmark stores, I saw standard shaped envelopes designed and promoted to accommodate square cards. Simple. Brilliant.

And what about packing tape? Thread the dispenser wrong and the tape doesn’t catch the serrated edge or it gets tangled. Scotch Tear-by-Hand packing tape from 3M saves time and nerves because it tears just where you want it–no dispenser or scissors required.

Keep stuffing those suggestion boxes with  great ideas!

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