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Ed Reingold: Toyota’s wrong turn | Print |  Email
Guest Blog
Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Who among us — at least those of us who are “of an age” — has not sat before our computer and watched in bewilderment as it performed, unbidden, some bizarre function we couldn’t understand, couldn’t use and couldn’t correct?

It gave us pause to hear Toyota executives say with certitude that there is nothing wrong with the electronic throttle system of the cars that have experienced unintended acceleration. They said they know because there is no evidence. Despite testimony of an automotive sciences professor that he was able to induce a similar malfunction in the system, the head of sales in the U.S. insisted that this was not a “real world” situation, it wasn’t one that could occur during normal driving activity, and therefore it didn’t amount to evidence. Toyota was sticking to the tangible evidence surrounding the accelerator pedal assembly.

It is possible that we will never know for certain why the often tragic and always terrifying runaway engine incidents happened. In the 1980’s the Audi 5000 was plagued with a spate of runaway accelerations that resulted in injury and death. Audi’s initial and unwise response was to blame the drivers, suggesting that some drivers mistook the accelerator pedal for the brake pedal; the harder they tried to brake the car, the faster it went. The actual cause of the incidents, if they were not driver-initiated, was never found. No evidence. And it is possible the folks at Toyota are right. They are a technically pragmatic lot. The eventual Audi “fix” was to require the driver to press on the brake pedal before the car could be shifted into gear. But public confidence in the brand was lost and Audi sales dropped for a decade before the company regained its place in the high end of the market in the U.S.

 
Editor's Notes: The 2010 100 Best Companies | Print |  Email
Robin Doussard
Friday, March 05, 2010

Who are the 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon? The 2010 list was revealed last night at a grand party of 700 at the Oregon Convention Center. The envelope, please:

For months we’ve been surveying, crunching, preparing for this moment and the class of 2010 is an amazing group of dedicated employers. We’ve devoted the March issue of Oregon Business to celebrating those great workplaces in our 17th annual edition of the 100 Best Companies. Nearly 20,00 employees from 303 companies participated in the free, anonymous workplace satisfaction survey. This is not a beauty pageant. The satisfaction scores from those surveys are calculated by independent research firm Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall to come up with the 100 Best rankings.

The event last night was frosting on the cake for these 100 companies, who out of sight of the spotlight have spent enormous energy to make their business a place that strives every day to treat their employees with respect, openness and trust. They found large and small ways to tell their workers that they care.

 
On The Scene: A survey that counts | Print |  Email
On the Scene
Wednesday, March 03, 2010

As the 2010 Census rolls around, the U.S. Census Bureau is hitting the road to get citizens to participate. It’s an event that only comes around every 10 years, but it has huge implications for the nation and business, and with more than $400 billion in federal funds on the table for state and local governments, the Census Bureau is hoping people will take the count seriously.

Thirteen vehicles make up the fleet of the 2010 Census Portrait of America Road Tour, the largest of which made a stop in downtown Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square yesterday. Drawing in curious passersby with its 46-foot trailer and entertaining the crowd with live music (despite the misty weather), the event was aimed at helping Portlanders understand every aspect of the census process – how to fill out the 10-question census form, what the information is used for and the benefits of its findings.

People were even invited to share messages with other tour participants across the country in an interactive project explaining why the census is important to their communities. With the vehicles stopping at over 800 events collectively in 1,547 days, the tour is a major outreach effort, and this census also has an advantage that the previous count didn’t have: social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, blogs), which the Census Bureau is using substantially to spread awareness about the tour and its mission.

 
Editor's Notes: Come join our Oscars | Print |  Email
Robin Doussard
Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I know the upcoming Academy Awards hog the spotlight when it comes to a star-studded event oozing with excitement and suspense over who will get the coveted Oscar. But maybe that’s because you haven’t heard about our 100 Best Companies awards.

This year the 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon will be revealed on March 4 at the Oregon Convention Center. For 17 years, Oregon Business has honored those Oregon companies that go the extra mile to create a great place to work for their employees. Rumors are that George Clooney will host.

OK, the Clooney thing's a lie, but it is a fun party with lots of local heroes from the business community being honored.

 
On The Scene: Ideas flow for the CRC | Print |  Email
On the Scene
Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The $3.6 billion Columbia River Crossing project has much more at stake than improving transportation between Portland and Vancouver. Environmental concerns, economic implications and – of course – costs are pitting state governors against city leaders as they debate the scope and timeline of the historic project. Meanwhile, some local creative minds have ideas of their own.

The Pacific Northwest College of Art is currently hosting “Crossing the Columbia: What Does It Mean?” – a public forum created by the Architecture Foundation of Oregon and PDXplore, and running during select weeks in February and March. As an independent design collective made up of five local designers and architects, PDXplore has worked to examine some of Portland’s more pressing urban design issues over the past few years. Its collaboration with AFO is a forum consisting of discussions, presentations and an ongoing exhibit at the PNCA featuring proposals from the PDXplore members. The exhibit’s purpose: to help the public understand the significance of the proposed CRC and its effects.

The project is in the middle of a tug-of-war between government officials. On one side, the mayors of Portland and Vancouver, Metro President David Bragdon and Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Stuart have all criticized the plan’s “unacceptable” effects on the metro area. The four leaders called for a more thorough review of the plan, but Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire recently signed a letter saying the project should push forward with no further delays. “The citizens of this region have watched our two states discuss and plan for a new bridge for over 20 years and they expect us to proceed,” the governors said. State highway planners, they said, are already taking into consideration pollution, sprawl and other concerns. Meanwhile, the ports of Portland and Vancouver have also spoken out in support of pushing the project forward.

 
Steve Novick: Suck it up and work together | Print |  Email
Guest Blog
Tuesday, February 23, 2010

In a recent blog, Robin Doussard, using a West Side Story analogy, described me and Pat McCormick, the primary spokespeople for, respectively, “yes” and “no” on Measures 66 and 67, as the “Bernardo” and “Riff” of that battle. At the close of the blog, she expressed hope that Bernardo and Riff could, at some future date, join together in a “rumble against Kicker Boy.”

Is Doussard dreaming an impossible dream? Let’s think about it.

In the year 2000, I had the honor of working for a business-labor coalition that defeated a massive Bill Sizemore tax cut for high-income Oregonians that would have gutted the state budget. Although organized labor contributed the lion’s share of the money, the business contributions were significant, with Phil Knight personally putting $50,000 toward the effort, despite the fact that Sizemore’s measure would have given him a huge tax cut.

 
Editor's Notes: Et tu, Vancouver? | Print |  Email
Robin Doussard
Thursday, February 18, 2010

The headline on a recent ad in a Portland newspaper was as subtle as a Glenn Beck symposium on global warming: FED UP WITH TAXES? Come grow your organization in Vancouver. I can understand big, bad Chicago trying to poach, but now our friendly little neighbor across the river?

When the tax measures passed in late January, there were predictions that the new taxes would push businesses out of the state. A few rapid examples pointed to the reality of that fear. Two weeks after the vote a story in the Portland Business Journal cited several companies laying off workers or planning to move (and some had had relocation offers from other Washington cities!). Another story in the Mail Tribune reported that Medford-based ComNet was “among more than two dozen companies that have notified the Oregon Legislature of their intent to leave the state.”

Apparently not one to leave potential business on the table, the EastRidge Business Park in Vancouver placed the ad for a month in the business journal, according to Adam Roselli, a broker for Eric Fuller & Associates and EastRidge. After all, Washington only has a sales tax and Oregon’s new taxes raise rates on corporations and high-earning individuals.

 
On The Scene: Li-Ning jumps stateside | Print |  Email
On the Scene
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Li-Ning is already a phenomenal sportswear presence overseas, with almost $1 billion in annual revenue and more than 7,000 stores in China. The Beijing-based retailer has grown a great deal since it was founded 20 years ago, and now Li-Ning is ready to expand its presence and step onto the North American court. Its home city of choice? Portland, naturally.

Li-Ning USA unveiled its first American showroom this week with a grand opening ceremony at its Pearl District location. With sports apparel and equipment – everything from badminton racquets to tennis shirts – lining the shelves, the two-story showroom was officially open for business. Waiters catered to the packed house with champagne and hors d'oeuvres, a DJ kept the energy level high and I even stumbled upon Portland Mayor Sam Adams putting up a rather good fight in a game of ping-pong. Needless to say, it was an extravagant party, and celebration was certainly in order.

The company was founded by – and named after – Olympic gymnast Li-Ning, who won three gold medals in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Since its launch in 1990, the company has become one of China’s leading sportswear brands, moving beyond its local retail success to sponsor NBA athletes including Shaquille O’Neal and Baron Davis. Li-Ning’s business relationship with Davis eventually evolved to the development of his own basketball shoe brand, following in the footsteps of some of his NBA peers. The showroom’s grand opening this week served as the kickoff of the shoe – dubbed the BD Doom – and Davis himself was in attendance to oversee its launch. “Right now I’m pretty overwhelmed,” Davis said. “I just thank Li-Ning for having the wherewithal and the guts to come to the United States and know that there is room for more [brands], there is room for improvement.”

 
On The Scene: Prescription for savings | Print |  Email
On the Scene
Thursday, February 11, 2010

Going to Walgreens to pick up a generic prescription drug may only cost about $8. But while that’s the price at the transaction, the cost to you as an employer could actually be $16. Why the mark-up? Pharmacy benefits managers often use a practice called spread pricing as a revenue source, costing companies much more for their prescription benefits than they should be paying.

Terry Killilea of Wells Fargo Insurance Services held a breakfast seminar on the topic yesterday morning at the KOIN Center in downtown Portland. Having worked with PBMs in his previous careers, Killilea discussed ways employers can cut down on their prescription benefit costs simply by knowing how to negotiate a contract with the PBM – a move that can save a company at least $10 per employee per month. “It’s unfortunate that virtually every customer of a PBM is running at such a fiscally inefficient fashion,” Killilea said. “The fact is that they’re spending a large amount of money, more than they need to, on prescription benefits.”

Part of the problem lies in poorly negotiated contracts, which often allow spread pricing to take place. Spread pricing is an agreement that allows PBMs to charge employers a higher price for prescriptions than what is actually paid at the point of sale, with the PBM pocketing the difference. While PBMs historically earned revenue through administrative fees and mail-service margins, it wasn’t until the use of generic prescriptions rose in the late 2000s (and the need for manufacturer rebates diminished) that PBMs began gathering the majority of their earnings from spread pricing.

 
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