What to Listen for on Quarterly Conference Calls

When legendary St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson was in college, he reportedly told his catchers to make whatever hand-signals they wanted before the pitch. If you held down one finger, he’d throw a fastball. If you down two fingers, he’d throw a fastball. If you held down three fingers, he’d throw a fastball. If you made the batman symbol with your hands, you’re getting a fastball.

Reflecting on his baseball career later in life, Gibson said that he enjoyed a competitive advantage by being able to cultivate his fastball strength. Other pitchers, lacking the quality of Gibson’s fastball and fixating on the idea that they needed a curveball and slider as well, used up their focus on improving their weaker pitches.

During business conference calls, I pay close attention to whether the corporate team seems more focused on strengthening the fastball or improving the curveball because everyone says their … Read the rest of this article!

Why Japanese Carmakers Prospered in America

An old business saying is that: “Be careful what you incentivize. What you incentivize, you get more of.”

I have begun studying the importance of the Japanese concept of “jidoka”, which loosely translates into “automatic subject to the eye of man”, and was implemented at Toyota in the 1950s to grant any employee the authority to halt production if he spotted an issue that would diminish the quality of the cars.

Meanwhile, Alfred Sloan at General Motors was becoming the first executive at a Fortune 100 company to engage in planned obsolescence, or the deliberate shortening of the product’s lifecycle so that consumers will have to make repeat purchases more quickly (also, Sloan was one of the first participants in gimmicky political correctness, as he only used the term ‘dynamic obsolescence’. He is the reason car companies come out with a new model every year–he believed that if there was … Read the rest of this article!

The Case Against Former General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt’s Second Jet

This foundational principle bears repeating: Legality is not the same morality. It is perfectly illegal to jaywalk across an intersection during a moment when there is no traffic, but it is not an act of immorality to do so. Likewise, it may be perfectly legal to curse at your grandmother, but absent an extraordinary context, it would be immoral to do so.

This distinction—that some immoral acts may be legal—has become relevant again upon encountering the Wall Street Journal news item that former General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt frequently obtained a second jet plane to follow him as he met with government officials and other business leaders to secure GE contracts and evade anti-trust punishments during mergers. The latest development in this storyline is that Immelt did not seek the approval nor provide notice of the arrangement to the GE Board of Directors.

Some GE shareholders, and media analysts, have … Read the rest of this article!

Getting A College Application Fee Waiver

High-school seniors experience one of their first encounters with the “fee economy” during the college application procession. Frequently, the costs of applying to certain schools can require expenditures of $60-$110 each that can leave applicants with a $1,000+ bill as the cost of getting their applications in front of admissions committees across the country. That is unnecessarily high, and with a little bit of preparation and initiative, the average high-school student can drastically lower the costs of applying to school (even if they come from a middle-class or upper-class household.)

An underutilized technique for minimizing the costs of applying to college is making requests to the school to waive their fee. Not all say yes, but the recent decline in the overall applicant pool (which peaked in 2012) has left many colleges looking for ways to increase the number of applicants that apply to their school because it can improve Read the rest of this article!

California Lemon Law Overview

I wish every state legislator received a training course in “Regulation Best Practices” that taught them how to balance the equities when contemplating their vote on a given piece of legislation. By that, I mean approaching regulation in the spirit of “If we demand too much, we will create mandatory compliance costs that will exceed the prevention of the harm we seek to avoid.” This must be weighed against regulating an industry too little, in which the potential harms to be avoided are great and the agency costs that would be required to avoid the bad outcome are minimal.

One of my favorite examples of sound regulation comes out of the State of California (and I don’t get to say that too often). In California’s Song-Beverly Consumer Act, which is often called the California (CA) Lemon Law Act, new motor vehicles sold to consumers contain implied warranties of merchantability Read the rest of this article!