A Little Bit Obsessed

I am a little bit obsessed. Which is exactly what Elizabeth Cutler, Julie Rice, Denise Mari and Holly Thaggard want me to be.

These four women are founders of three great companies whose terrific products make my life a little bit better, easier, happier and healthier. And they do it with flare, smarts and style--which, naturally, I love. It keeps me--and many others--coming back for more. Cutler and Rice co-founded New York-based spinning studios, SoulCycle, Mari founded raw, organic, vegan food purveyor, Organic Avenue, and Thaggard created sensitive skin-, workout-friendly sunscreen Supergoop!.

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Five Books Every CEO Should Read

This is a list to embolden.

Earlier this summer, I dipped my toe into the waters of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in an article entitled Love is the Single Bottom Line. As I wrote then, I've been following the evolution of the conversation about CSR for a number of years. Over time I have come to conclude that the CEOs who take a truly responsible approach to their work simply get down to business, doing the right thing because it's what they believe in, commit to. In their companies goodness is not a department, it is naturally embedded into every fiber of the organization.

These five books have influenced and bolstered my views. All are firmly rooted within the framework of capitalism, profit-making, girded by a passionate belief that companies run well are powerful forces for good in society. Three are written by CEO-founders of large, global enterprises. Two by investors (there's overlap--Vanguard Group founder John Bogle is both).

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Getting Down to Business

Over the past few months more than one observer has pointed to the cash-rich balance sheets of America's large companies and asked why some of that money isn't being put to use putting people back to work. The inevitable--and not entirely unreasonable--reply is that the tax, regulatory and trade environment in Washington is so muddled that business is paralyzed, unwilling or unable to make long-term commitments in the face of fluctuating and often escalating government-imposed cost overlays.

Earlier this month former Medtronic CEO Bill George published a clear, constructive eight-point list of pragmatic steps for Washington to take in order to get business hiring again. But without keepers of accountability, even straightforward initiatives like George's drown in Washington's political wrangling. Solution: apply positive outside pressure.

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London is Calling

Last week, London, Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester burned. This week, as the UK cleans up and takes stock, a list of companies, organizations and individuals who should or could be tapped as partners to address the underlying issues and discontent that sparked the flames.

This is a mix-and-match set of resources. In the spirit of BMW Guggenheim Lab and Intel and Vice Magazine's Creators Project, companies at the top of the list can team with individuals and organizations further down to create innovative, community-building, problem-solving events and venues in affected areas. Other models to leverage: pop-up stores and Panera Cares. Importantly: for big thinkers, there's the potential to create programs that travel, using London as a launch pad, moving on from there to work with youth in cities around the globe.

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Taking it to the Streets

Today the Guggenheim Museum kicks off a six year commitment to catalyzing conversations on 21st century urban environments: BMW Guggenheim Lab.

Over the course of the Lab's life, three commissioned structures will travel to nine cities around the globe. Teams of programmatic curators in each will draw together artists, scientists, economists, architects, political leaders, environmentalists, musicians, educators and others to lead discussions on local development and growth issues.

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Get Out and Play

 

Stuart Brown champions play. Doctor, psychiatrist, founder of the National Institute for Play, I first learned about his work when he appeared in conversation with Krista Tippett and Paul Holdengräber several years ago at the New York Public Library.

Since then he's been a featured speaker at a TED-sponsored conference on play, published a book--Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, and regularly co-teaches a Fast-Company-featured class--From Play to Innovation--with IDEO's Brendan Boyle at Stanford's d. school. At the same time, in the spirit of that d. school class, play has become something of a trending topic for companies seeking to catalyze creativity and original thinking in their employees and workplaces, and it continues, as always, to be a subject of passionate consideration in parenting.

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The Challenge of China

China is a hot potato. In March I addressed the anxiety, complexity and--ultimately--benefits surrounding economic ties with China, specifically investment by Chinese companies in the United States.

Since then, the 2012 US Presidential campaign has officially launched, and public rhetoric surrounding relations with China has heated up. The dialogue was punctuated last week by comments from candidate Mitt Romney in New Hampshire, hinting at the need to reconsider terms on which the US conducts trade with China--partly in response to the very real, ongoing intellectual property issues that factor into trade and exchange with Chinese companies.

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Hacking the City

Michael Bloomberg gets hacking. In a 1995 profile of Bloomberg, the company, Fast Company wrote:

His theory is simple: shove lots of well-paid young upstarts (2,200 employees, average age 31) together in a small space for long hours, give them the best equipment possible, and you'll get magic.

It's fitting, then, that in his role as Mayor of New York he pushed early to engage developers to address the city's, its citizens' and its visitors' needs. Under his leadership, over the last two years New York has opened up its databases and run two contests--Big Apps--challenging developers to use the data to create apps--desktop or mobile--to make the city more usable, livable, lively.

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Love is the Single Bottom Line

Over the past several years I've followed the evolution of the conversation about Corporate Social Responsibility with great interest. The notion first hit my radar screen when I was an investment banker working with retail companies and apparel manufacturers and Nike was challenged to address working conditions at its factories in Asia.

On a trip to Vietnam in 2003 I had the opportunity to visit several of Nike's plants outside of Ho Chi Minh City.  The company's routine jobs--mostly for women--carried education, health care and meal benefits. When measured against the alternatives I saw in the rest of my travels throughout the country--back-breaking work under hot sun, knee deep in water-filled rice patties--it was hard for me to conclude that Nike was being anything other than socially responsible in its day-to-day operations, creating steady income and positive opportunities for its employees and their families.

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Monday's Miscellany

 

Fab.com is a daily deal site à la Gilt, targeting design aficionados. Launched less than two weeks ago, it truly is fab. Beautifully executed--naturally--it features a great mix of small items and serious investment pieces by household name and emerging designers, as well as small, regional artisans. Upcoming sales include mod furniture from Objeti, hand crafted New Moon rugs from Nepal and super-glam chandeliers from Avenue Lighting.

The other reason that the company is fab is that CEO and founder, Jason Goldberg, is an active practitioner of transparent management, and his blog posts, both pre- and post-launch, are a terrific companion guide to the site. They provide insight into the behind the scenes ins and outs of launching a start-up from a CEO who is clearly interested not only in building a great product but also a great company--and, so far, is hitting the ball out of the park.

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Considering Alexander McQueen

Yesterday I went to the Met to see the Alexander McQueen retrospective Savage Beauty. I thought I might beat the crowds by going first thing on a Tuesday morning. No such luck. One of the guards on duty told me that it's never not packed, every day from open to close. The exhibit has broken Met attendance records, been extended by a week and surely could go even longer than its currently scheduled run through August 7th. Suffice it to say--there's a reason it's drawing crowds. Just go.

Curated by Andrew Bolton of the Met's Costume Institute and designed in conjunction with long-time McQueen collaborators Joseph Bennett, Sam Gainsbury and John Gosling, the exhibit is exquisite, not just because it offers the opportunity to view McQueen's stunning pieces at a pace, but also because it does so with the same level of craft, care and love that he devoted to his work. It must have cost a bomb to produce--each of the eight rooms is a separately produced high-end showcase, beautifully lit and soundtracked, helping to compensate--as much as humanly possible--for the cheek-to-jowl crowds.

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DIY with Kaiser Chiefs

Clever, smart, attention-grabbing. So goes last Friday's unexpected release of the new album from Brit indie pop group Kaiser Chiefs.

Taking a page from the likes of NikeiD, Converse and Timbuk2, The Future is Medieval was issued on the Kaiser Chiefs' own web site, and it's customizable--there are 20 songs to choose from, select your 10 favorites in an order of your making, create your own cover art, download for £7.50. After you download, a page is created for your album, and you can share it. If others buy it, you get to keep £1.00. They're calling it a bespoke album.

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Global Witness's New Ground

Last week Global Witness--an NGO devoted to ferreting out corrupt use of natural resources in developing countries—got its hands on a management report from the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) and released it to the press. The LIA is the fund through which the Libyan government invested its oil profits—a Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF).

With just north of $50 billion in assets the LIA qualifies as a top-20 fund in size. For reference--the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, the world’s largest SWF, has over $600 billion in assets. To make it into the top-10, an SWF has to be larger than $100 billion—other countries with funds in the top-10 include Norway, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and China.

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Take the Money and Run

 

Screwed.

Scammed.

Such delicious, outrage-inducing, front-page-of-the-NY Post-worthy words. Unexpected that they’d be used in defense of a company—LinkedIn, in this case, following its much anticipated, eye-popping public market debut on the New York Stock Exchange last week. And rather than emanating from the NY Post, the headlines came from former Wall Street analyst, Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget and New York Times Op-Ed columnist Joe Nocera.

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Phil Jackson's Spiritual Mashup

This photo makes me laugh--especially Dennis Rodman, second from left. What a handful. It was taken in 1997 after the Chicago Bulls had won five out of the six NBA championships they would take under Phil Jackson, before he moved on to coach the LA Lakers.

This past weekend I had a conversation with a friend that prompted me to pull Jackson's book Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior off the shelf. He wrote it in 1995, when he was in the middle of his run with the Bulls. It was re-released in 2006, and I read it after that, several years ago.

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Meet Mobius One

Meet Mobius One. I'm a little bit in love with this sassy little car. Never mind the fact that it happens to be the prototype for a feel-good durable, functional, affordable car for the African middle class consumer. It's just feisty.

Mobius One may be tiny, but manufacturer Mobius Motors' ambitions are anything but. It estimates that the African transport market is $60 billion. It wants to play a role in transforming and refining that market--and, in the process of doing so to generate $2 billion in revenues by 2020.

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Patron of the New

Patron of the New is über sexy.

A friend tipped me to the just-opened TriBeCa store last week, so I stopped in last weekend. Oh. My. God. Located on Franklin Street in a stunning, prototypical TriBeCa space--soaring ceilings, concrete floors, columns down the middle, beams across the top--Patron of the New. is an elegant celebration of all that is fabulous in smart, super high-end fashion.

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IPO Innovation

I’ve spent many of my spare moments over the last few weeks absorbed by speculation about the current state of the environment for and future of IPOs in the United States, especially IPOs of small, high-growth companies, broadly, and, more narrowly, companies for whom business is about more than just profits.

I’ve taken the opportunity to speak with a number of thought leaders in the space, as well with public market investors who day-in, day-out are active, trading in the market, seeing what’s working and what’s not for these companies in the markets today. And as I’ve researched, talked and considered, the US IPO market has continued its march back—in April more companies filed to go public than in any month since August 2007.

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