Friday, January 3, 2014

Who Is Bill de Blasio

Bill de Blasio (Warren Wilhelm Jr.) was born in Manhattan, New York to Maria (née De Blasio) and Warren Wilhelm.  He was baptized Catholic, but is non-practicing.  He does speak Italian though!

De Blasio was raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  His mother graduated from Smith College and his father, from Yale.  He has two older brothers, Steven and Donald.

He had previously shared publicly that his father was an alcoholic who, in 1979, had committed suicide while suffering from incurable lung cancer.  His parents had separated in his youth, and he was raised by his mother's family, the de Blasios.

In 1983, he legally changed his name to Warren de Blasio-Wilhelm.  In April 2012 he said: "I started by putting the name into my diploma, and then I hyphenated it legally when I finished NYU, and then, more and more, I realized that was the right identity."

By the time he appeared on the public stage in 1990, he was using “Bill de Blasio.”   He explained that in his personal life, people called him "Bill" or "Billy."  But, he did not legally change over to this new name until 2002, when the discrepancy was noted during an election.

De Blasio received a B.A. from New York University, majoring in metropolitan studies.  The program included courses like “Politics of Minority Groups” and “The Working Class Experience.”  De Blasio was also awarded a Master of International Affairs, from Columbia.


His started his first job in 1984 as part of the Urban Fellows Program for the NY City Department of Juvenile Justice.  In 1987, he was hired to work as a political organizer by the Quixote Center in Maryland.

A year later, he traveled with the Quixote Center to Nicaragua for 10 days to help distribute food and medicine during the Nicaraguan Revolution.  He was an ardent supporter of the ruling Sandinista government, which was at that time opposed by the Reagan administration.

Upon his return from Nicaragua, he moved to New York City, where he started working for a non-profit focused on improving health care in Central America.  He also continued support for the Sandinistas in his spare time, joining a group called the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York. 

His introduction to City politics came during David Dinkins' 1989 mayoral campaign, for which he was a volunteer coordinator.  Following the campaign, he served as an aide in City Hall.  In 1997, he was appointed to serve as the Regional Director for the US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (‘HUD’) New York and New Jersey, under the Clinton administration.  As the highest ranking HUD official in the tri-state region, he led a small executive staff and took part in outreach to residents of substandard housing.

In 2000, he was appointed as campaign manager for Hillary Rodham Clinton's successful Senate bid.


The Washington Post reported:

“In his inaugural address, Mr. de Blasio, an unabashed ‘progressive’ who ran on a pledge to end the Big Apple’s glaring income inequality, did not trim his vows to raise income taxes on high-earners, expand preschool, require mandatory sick leave and require developers to build affordable housing. His goal, he said, is ‘that New Yorkers see our city not as the exclusive domain of the 1 percent but a place where everyday people can afford to live, work and raise a family.’”

“The roadblocks have been removed from Chambers Street, and the new occupants of Michael Bloomberg’s second-floor “bull pen,” whence he ran the city for twelve years, are faced with the same dilemma that confronts all progressive politicians these days: Rising inequality is easy to analyze and bemoan, but what do you do about it?”

Need more? offers 25 facts about New York City’s new Mayor, Bill de Blasio.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Porter's Five Forces

Prof. Michael Porter’s created his Five Forces analysis as a framework for industry analysis and business strategy development, in 1979. He developed it in response to the more popular and commonly used (at the time, and still today) SWOT analysis, which he considered as unrigorous and/or too ad-hoc.

Porter is a Professor at Harvard Business School.  He is regarded as a leading authority on company strategy and the competitiveness of nations and regions. His work is recognized by global governments, corporations and within academic circles. He also chairs Harvard Business School's program dedicated for newly appointed CEOs of very large corporations.

Porter has penned about 18 books. He is also a lifelong academic. His attempt at a for-profit venture - or foray into real business if you’d prefer - was his co-founding of The Monitor Group. However, it was sold to Deloitte Consulting in 2013 through a structured bankruptcy proceeding.

I explored Porter’s work 3 decades ago while completing undergraduate study, and again more recently during a stint at grad school, as part of an MBA Strategic Management curriculum.

This blog posting may appear a little academic, but I thought to use everyday examples to allow for a little fun and familiarity, in order to illustrate the Five Forces Analysis concept. Let’s explore a short summary of the Five Forces, as shown in the illustration above (image: Wikipedia).

Threat of new entrants
Example:  Apple displaced Blackberry as the smartphone or mobile device, of choice

Threat of substitute products or services
Example:  Apple’s market share - taken from Blackberry - was itself eroded by Android devices, led by Samsung. Furthermore, an iPhone 5 replaced an iPhone 4, leading to better Apple client retention and some new clients/users, via the launch of a substitute device.

Bargaining power of customers (buyers)
Example: Resellers like Best Buy, Verizon, etc. often wield great power in determining the ultimate sales success (and/or failure) of new products. This often results in product companies (e.g. Apple and others) to consider opening their own, dedicated product retail stores. Today, aggressive marketing and readily available product information allow retail customers to make informed shopping decisions based on features, price, etc. by themselves, in advance of possible purchase.

Bargaining power of suppliers
Example: The more a corporation buys from one single supplier, the more beholden the corporation may become to the bargaining power of the supplier. This may impact quality control, manufacturing lead times, etc. Vertical integration strategies become more desirable (where a corporation starts to ‘own’ the entire supply chain), i.e. from manufacturing all the way through to retail in these examples.

Intensity of competitive rivalry
Example: We - as potential consumers - are able to witness (and benefit from) vendors’ competitive rivalry, daily. The intensity of their competitive offerings allows us to be able to consider ever better products, featuring enhanced user features and/or usability, often at continuously lower (real) retail prices. As in, the devices get ‘better’, but prices keep declining!

Back to Prof. Porter:  Upon review, would one consider the Five Forces to be groundbreaking academic discovery and/or innovation? 

I report, you decide.

One of the benefits of a Harvard pulpit, complemented by a captive audience (students) as consumers of one’s work, allows for the privilege of publishing thought-leadership of this nature. Concepts like Five Forces are then regurgitated without much further thought, to business leaders and graduate school students all over the world. Consumers who lap up the academic knowledge shared with insatiable appetites, while trying to outsmart the next guy in business.

As for me, I thrive on counter-opinion. For this reason only, I automatically default to questioning everything that may be presented as The Five Forces, The Ten Commandments, The Ten Best Movies, Ten Worst Dressed People, etc.  Questioning, usually in this order: (1) according to whom? (2) really? and (3) maybe there's more to it than just this?!  Meaning... these are BesterInvestor's Three Steps To Questioning Anything!

In my personal business experience (including an occasional taste of success), somebody’s Ten Steps To Achieving Success may often have seen me starting somewhere in the middle, or at number 10 and working my way back to begin... or enjoying success achieved while being completely oblivious to the existence of ten steps that should have been followed! This may also be the reason why there are so many self-help books at the bookstore?

In business, as within life in general... it remains far better to question... than to simply believe!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Closing Down

Every small business has growth aspirations.  In a capitalist business environment, no small businesses exist purely for the purposes of supporting its owners, the government (via taxes withheld) or its ‘immediate family’ (workers and their dependents).

Every business owner or senior manager I have ever spoken with, or worked closely with, had varying aspirations for business growth.

We’ve probably all heard the cliché, “No businesses plan to fail… they just fail to plan.”  So, while you’re planning your next move, consider the following:

1. Create a management team that is able to run the company in your absence. Empower your employees (or at least ‘a few chosen ones’) to make some important decisions that you will support.

Your employees already know that you are in charge.  Allow managers to direct meetings, and also their personal areas of responsibility with limited interference.  If you feel you can’t trust them to make good decisions, replace them!

2. Create an exit strategy, because you’re not going to live forever.  If you are a proverbial one-man business - despite having employees - there will be very little sustainable value in your business, without you!

3. Spend time away from the business in bite-sized chunks. That will allow you to assess how your managers, and the business, are able to function without you (or not).

Great entrepreneurs - like Sam Walton or Andy Grove - spent most of their available time ensuring that they knew their competitors.  In Walton’s case, he had spent most of his working hours (especially earlier in his career) in competitors’ retail shops, studying sales methodologies, client behavior, etc.  Grove, on the other hand, spent half his time visiting with his customers.

If you don’t know what your competitors are doing, your business will fail.  To date, the only entrepreneur that I’m aware of, who had successfully decided that he would tell clients what products they needed… was Steve Jobs.  At the risk of sounding overly facetious I’ll add: “I knew Steve Jobs, and you’re no Steve Jobs.”

And while I’m at it… your company is not called Apple Inc.!

4. Pay your best employees a few points above market rates. This will help mitigate retention risk, and deliver more loyal, motivated employees.  If you pay your best employees at market - or above - they’ll be less likely to shop their services around to companies likely to bid higher for their services.

5. Most importantly, know your ‘financials.’  Review your financial statements regularly to ensure you know your where you stand, financially speaking. If you’re financially ‘illiterate,’ hire a bright accountant to help you to interpret and understand financial ratios, and your general, financial business foundation.

One could probably add many more good management suggestions to the short list above.

I did not intend for this prescription to be exhaustive, but rather to provide a ‘highlights reel’ to encourage entrepreneurs to think longer term, and to create some strategic vision beyond the ‘here and now.’

Best of success in managing your business growth… free market enterprise needs champions like you to help secure the people’s wealth, well-being, and future financial sustainability.

Now, get back to work!