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Friday, March 20, 2015


Original Story: freep.com

A publicly traded specialty foods maker has acquired a Saline-based manufacturer of a popular line of wraps and flatbreads for $92 million.

Columbus, Ohio-based Lancaster Colony Corp.'s subsidiary T. Marzetti Co. purchased Flatout Holdings Inc., which is based about 10 minutes south of Ann Arbor. A Detroit business lawyer assists clients in business acquisitions and business transactions.

Mike and Stacey Marsh, husband-and-wife entrepreneurs who founded and grew Flatout, are expected to continue running the flatbread maker's bustling operation in Saline.

Mike Marsh told the Free Press that T. Marzetti Co. is expected to maintain and expand Flatout's current operations.

"We found a home with a very good strategic company that's been in the food business since the 1990s," Marsh said. "They wouldn't have made the investment if they didn't think they could continue to grow it. I think the growth will just continue on."

Flatout reported $42 million in net sales in 2014. The company has about 150 employees at its factory in a Saline industrial park.

The company, one of Washtenaw County's most successful food start-ups, was partially sold in 2010 to private equity firm North Castle Partners and Glencoe Capital. An Ohio business lawyer provides professional legal counsel in many aspects of business law.

North Castle, which specializes in consumer health products, as well as Glencoe Capital and other private shareholders have sold the entire company for cash to Lancaster.

Mike and Stacey Marsh retained a 35% stake in Flatout following the 2010 transaction. They sold their stake in the new deal with Lancaster, Mike said.

"We are very excited to add Flatout flatbreads to our specialty foods business as a better-for-you branded retail product with extraordinary taste, nutritional advantages and convenient versatility for most every eating occasion," said Bruce Rosa, president of T. Marzetti Co., in a statement.

Flatout traces its beginnings to an Ann Arbor sandwich shop the Marshes founded in the 1990s. They developed their signature flatbread product at that shop, which they eventually sold, and later secured deals to sell their product to Wendy's, McDonald's in Canada and Northwest Airlines.

Positioned along freight rail lines, the company hauls in flour by the trainload and operates around the clock.

Mike Marsh said the company plans to add a gluten-free line of products and a new line of products with higher protein.

Lancaster's brands include Marzetti salad dressings and dips, New York frozen breads and Sister Schubert's homemade rolls.

Monday, March 16, 2015


Original Story: usatoday.com

Gannett, the media company that owns USA TODAY, Cars.com and local TV stations and newspapers, said Thursday the planned split of its main business units into two separate companies will result in higher dividends and more shares bought by the post-split entities.

Last year, the McLean, Va.-based company said it plans to continue to operate its broadcasting and digital businesses and change the name after the split, an effort to shield the growing units from the decline in print advertising. The newspaper division, which consists of USA TODAY and 81 other daily newspapers, will be spun off as a separate, publicly traded company and will retain the name Gannett. Current Gannett shareholders will receive shares of both companies, based on the final distribution ratio.

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission Thursday, Gannett said the publishing company expects to pay a regular cash dividend of 32 cents per share annually, subject to adjustment based on the final share distribution ratio. It also plans to buy up to $150 million of its shares, expected to be completed in a three-year period.

The broadcasting/digital company, which owns Cars.com, CareerBuilder.com and operates or provides services to 46 stations, is expected to pay a regular cash dividend of 56 cents per share annually.

When combined, the dividends planned by both companies represent a 10% increase over Gannett's current dividend, the company said.

The broadcasting/digital company plans to replace Gannett's current share buyback program with a new $750 million program that will be used over the three-year period after the separation. When the share buyback plans of both companies are combined, they represent "more than a doubling of the current Gannett share repurchase program," the company said.

"Under the current plan, both companies will have leverage levels well below peer companies and will maintain the flexibility to adjust repurchases based on business conditions, new opportunities, and other factors," Gannett said in a statement.

The planned separation, which will be handled through a tax-free dividend of shares in the publishing company to current Gannett shareholders, "is on track to be completed in mid-2015," the company said.

"The filing of the registration statement for the publishing business is a key step forward in completing our separation," said Gannett CEO Gracia Martore, who will remain as CEO of the post-split broadcasting/digital company. "Each company will have a robust capital allocation plan reflective of its strong positioning, and together their expected dividend and share repurchase programs will be larger than Gannett's today."


Original Story: usatoday.com

AUSTIN — A transgender CEO explaining how artificial intelligence will one day bring back the dead. The latest medtech inventions. Movie stars mingling with dot-com execs. A robot petting zoo.

The 2015 SXSW music/film/interactive festival, which kicks off Friday, promises the usual blend of high-tech gadgetry, Austin weirdness, marquee glamour and, of course, hard-to-get-into parties showcasing big-ticket acts. Actors Russell Brand (who will unveil a documentary based on his life, BRAND: A Second Coming), Will Ferrell and Ryan Gosling are expected to make appearances. Snoop Dogg will keynote, and Jimmy Kimmel returns his show to Austin during the festival for the second year in a row. Trade show exhibit consultants assist clients on how to make the most of their trade show experience.

But this year's 10-day festival will also feature an undercurrent of change, as city officials and event organizers try to rein in the ever-growing event and cut down on the crushing crowds it spawns. Earlier this year, Austin officials announced they were reducing by about one-fourth the number of approved special-event permits during SXSW, effectively cutting down on the spontaneous street parties and open-air concerts that sprout around town.

The new rules were announced in the wake of the tragedy during last year's festival, when a driver fleeing police smashed through a barricade and into a crowd of concertgoers in downtown Austin, killing four and injuring nearly two dozen. The driver, Rashad Charjuan Owens, remains in jail on murder charges.

Some major brands, including Doritos and Subway, have announced they won't be returning this year. Doritos last year put on some of the biggest shows, including Lady Gaga and Ludacris. But event organizers have struggled with how to balance the sprawling number of unofficial parties — and the crowds they draw — with safety concerns and the event's core objectives of showcasing the best in tech, music and film. Use Exhibit Solutions at corporate events, seminars, conferences and special events to showcase your business.


"It's a very fine balancing act," said Hugh Forrest, head of the festival's interactive segment. "Our top priority is having a safe and user-friendly event for all our registrants."

The festival will still brandish some of the leading tech innovations, with an apparent focus this year on artificial intelligence. Martine Rothblatt, the transgender pharma tycoon and Sirius founder, will give a talk about her unique vision of the future and the robot version of her wife, while MIT's Hugh Herr will discuss how bionics are being used to replace limbs lost in war. Also, the event's first interactive robot "petting zoo" will allow viewers to interact and play with the latest in robot technology, such as the Bujold, programmed to search for survivors at destruction sites.

The opening of the 1,012-room JW Marriott Hotel downtown has allowed event organizers to nearly double the number of scheduled events at its Startup Village — from 112 last year to 213 this year. That's good news for the hordes of start-up entrepreneurs who descend upon Austin each year in hopes of being discovered, much the way Twitter announced itself at the 2007 SXSW and exploded into the tech world. E&E Exhibit Solutions can create efficient pop-up displays and large custom exhibits for your next trade show or event.

The founders of Keen Home, which creates tech devices that enhance home functions, such as heating and cooling, unveiled their concept at SXSW last year. Two months later, they closed on $1.52 million in seed money. They're headed back this year.

"It's a good amalgamation of all the leaders of the tech industry," co-founder Nayeem Hussain said. "You have all the right people listening."

Now in its 29th year, SXSW has become a huge benefactor not just to techies but to the city itself, last year pouring $315 million into the Austin economy and drawing more than 85,000 enthusiasts to the city. The festival also delivers a dose of culture to the city, showcasing local filmmakers and drawing movie moguls and recording artists. It's a far cry from the 700 attendees who showed up the inaugural year in 1987 to hear local music acts (interactive and film were added seven years later).

Filmmaker and longtime Austin resident Richard Linklater remembers the handful of attendees who wandered into the lobby of the Dobie Theater on the University of Texas campus two decades ago to watch the festival's first film awards ceremony. Today, SXSW has become a key destination for filmmakers, jostling with Sundance as the premiere U.S. film festival, he said.

"A lot of films were 'Sundance or bust' but that's not the case anymore," said Linklater, whose Oscar-nominated film, Boyhood, screened at SXSW last year. "There's something beautiful about 'SXSW or bust.' " He added: "It's grown up. It's fun to see it become a major festival."

But that growth has led to growing pains, mostly centered on the unofficial parties sponsored by huge brands such as Facebook, Comcast and Samsung. Those companies spend millions of dollars on top-tier acts — Jay Z teamed with Kanye West last year for a free Samsung-sponsored concert — but also cause crowd concerns.


This year's rule changes are making some corporations rethink their SXSW involvement. Jennifer Sinski, co-founder of RSVPster, a service that sends RSVPs to scores of unofficial parties around town for a fee, said she's noticed a change in the party landscape this year. Last year, her company counted about 600 unofficial parties around Austin during SXSW. This year, many of those parties are being toned down.

"More events are going into venues that are full-standing venues year round instead of trying to throw a party in a parking lot," she said. "That's a good thing. The quality of events have really improved."

Danielle Thomas, owner of Big Green House, an Austin-based marketing and events production firm that works with large brands during SXSW, said she's lost four "major clients" this year who have been event regulars for years and knows of six others also not returning. Some of those pulled out even before the city's rule changes were announced, pointing to a possible natural decline of the SXSW after-party scene.

More alarming are the number of venues that don't require a permit, such as the Austin Music Hall, which remained vacant less than a week out from SXSW, she said. Those spots typically are booked months in advance. Though striking, the trend toward fewer parties and smaller crowds is something many around Austin, including Thomas, have lobbied and hoped for for years — even though it'll mean less money for her business, she said.

"Things got bigger and bigger and bigger, and the city felt like it needed to step in," she said. "There's a good balance that can be struck. And maybe it has. Maybe that's exactly what's happening this year."


Original Story: usatoday.com

There they were, the Republican presidential aspirants, touting their conservative bona fides and lining up behind an important principle. One by one, they vowed to support Big Government as it imposed its will on small businesses, debased free enterprise, and burdened working Americans with hidden taxes.

The scene was the Iowa Ag Summit earlier this week, where, thanks to the state's first-in-the nation caucuses, the field of presumptive candidates came to declare fealty to the so-called Renewable Fuel Standard. The RFS is a mandate that Americans put billions of gallons of corn-based ethanol into their gas tanks each year even though they don't want it and it makes no practical sense.

Apart from Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, they all supported the mandate, including Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, the latest conservative darling, who arrived at his pro-ethanol position thanks to a 180 degree reverse back flip that would have impressed a platform diver. A San Antonio Oil and Gas Lawyer assists clients with fracking laws, oil, gas, and petroleum production, and challenges that arise with mineral rights.

The parade of supplicants suggests that ending the mandate, which dates to a 2005 law, will not happen any time soon.

Nevertheless, there is some reason for modest optimism. Several bills to phase out ethanol have significant support. The original rationale for the mandate, energy independence, is less of an issue now. And a number of recent events — the surge in domestic energy production, the fall in oil prices and the advent of more efficient cars — have conspired to make the mandate's demands laughable. An Austin oil and gas lawyer is following this story closely.

The RFS, which requires retailers to sell a 10% ethanol blend or pay into a convoluted subsidy system, imposes major burdens on consumers. A gallon of ethanol is more expensive than a gallon of gasoline ($2.43 vs. $1.73 wholesale) and gets only about two-thirds the mileage.

This forces motorists to pay $10 billion a year more at the pump, according to Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute. That's more than a quarter of the $38 billion raised by the federal gasoline tax. Then consumers get hit a second time at the supermarket, where rising corn prices drive up the cost of everything from beef to cereal.

Meanwhile, the argument that energy security demands a home-grown, "renewable" fuel is no longer viable thanks to new oil and gas drilling techniques and advances in wind and solar. In fact, the ethanol makers who once wrapped themselves in the flag are now shipping their product overseas.

Another rational — ethanol's status as a "clean" fuel — was always a farce. While a gallon of ethanol emits fewer greenhouse gases than a gallon of gasoline, it is far dirtier after accounting for the energy used to till and fertilize the land used to produce it. A Houston oil and gas lawyer represents clients in state and federal regulatory matters.

If these weren't enough reasons to revisit the mandate, consider this: Fuel use has been dropping thanks to more efficient cars and other factors. That has made it hard to unload mandated ethanol quotas without going above a 10% blend, something Detroit says its cars can't handle.

The solution is obvious: Just end the mandate — notwithstanding the kowtowing of politicians traipsing through Iowa.


Original Story: dailymail.co.uk

The founder and leader of a controversial Atlanta-based megachurch has taken down his online appeal for 200,000 people to each donate '$300 or more' so that he can buy a $65 million private jet amid a media backlash.

Reverend Creflo Dollar, 53, is the head of the World Changers Church International, a Christian ministry centered around the prosperity gospel, which preaches that God wants to bless the faithful with earthly riches.

The televangelist, who is one of the most prominent African-American preachers in the United States, last week put a five-minute video up on his website asking for donations for a Gulfstream G650 - which claims to be the fastest plane ever built in civilian aviation - so that 'World Changers Church International can continue to blanket the globe with the Gospel of grace'. CSI Aviation provides private charter jet flights and aviation services to individuals and businesses.

News of the plea broke soon after it was posted, with snarky headlines aplenty, including You Better Fly Commercial, Creflo Dollar, Jesus Wants Me to Have This Jet and Creflo Dollar Needs a Fancy Private Jet.

The webpage, as of Sunday afternoon, had been shuttered, WXIA first reported. However, the faithful may still donate to the cause via the World Changers donation site, which remains open.

Dollar - who is known to own two Rolls Royce's and multi-million dollar homes in Atlanta and New Jersey - last hit headlines in 2012, after being arrested for allegedly attacking his 15-year-old daughter.

Among the billionaires who own a Gulfstream G650 are Steve Jobs' wife Lauren Powell Jobs, Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn add Nike co-founder Phil Knight. Private Jet Services are available for rental on a momen'ts notice anywhere in the world.

There is a long waiting list for the aircraft, with the next round of planes not due until 2017.

According to the Creflo Dollar Ministry's website: 'The ministry's current airplane, was built in 1984, purchased by the ministry in 1999 and has since logged four million miles.

'Recently on an overseas trip to a global conference, one of the engines failed.

'By the grace of God, the expert pilot, who's flown with Creflo for almost 20 years, landed the plane safely without injury or harm to any passengers.'

The Christian Post first reported that Dollar insisted that he needs the jet to continue sharing the word of Jesus.

He preaches all over the world, but primarily works out of a 8,500-seat amphitheater in Atlanta called the 'World Dome', sending the sermons to churches all over the country via satellite.

The website pledge continued: 'Believe it or not, there are still millions of people on this planet who have never heard of Jesus Christ and know nothing of His greatness.'

'Our hearts desire to see precious lives changed and snatched out of darkness and thrust into His marvelous light!

'We need your help to continue reaching a lost and dying world for the Lord Jesus Christ," the appeal continued before asking supporters of the ministry to sow a $300 seed into the airplane fund, billed Project G650.'  CSI Aviation specializes in providing private charter jets that are unrivaled in the industry.

According to Financial Juneteenth, a Report of the Senate Finance Committee, Minority Staff Review of WCCI, found that Dollar's current jet had also been used for a variety of vacation flights, including stops in Las Vegas, Nevada, Miami, Florida and Hawaii, citing Federal Aviation Administration figures.

Dollar has refused over the years to disclose his salary, but has an estimated net worth of $27 million.

He has five children to his wife, Taffi, who he married in 1985.

In June 2012, his 15-year-old daughter called 911, saying her father repeatedly punched and choked her at their Atlanta home.

The teenager also said it wasn't the first time something like that had happened and that she felt threatened living in the house.

Dollar was arrested and charged with family brutality and juvenile cruelty.

The charges were later dropped, but he was required to complete a three-month anger management program.

At his next sermon, two days following the arrest, Dollar spent several minutes addressing the incident, starting with: 'I will say this emphatically: I should have never been arrested.'

Dollar has strenuously denied the accusations, saying it was a family argument with 'heightened emotions'.

Dollar's wife Taffi has been known to introduce her husband at his sermons.

During her address, she claims Dollar comes 'face to face with God, like Moses'.

She also includes an admonition saying that 'every tongue that rises up against' (Dollar) 'will be struck down', Financial Juneteenth reported.

The World Changers Church International (WCCI) has about 30,000 constituents.

Monday, March 9, 2015


Original Story: pnc.com

All companies struggle with pricing — how much is too much? It can be especially difficult for small and midsize businesses to balance what they charge with what the customer will bear.

However, there comes a time when it just makes sense to raise prices, and with the health of the economy improving, this could be a prime time to reassess your pricing strategy and make some upward adjustments. A Memphis small business lawyer assists small business clients with business operations, state and federal business laws, and with business taxation issues.

With that said, any kind of price increase should be considered thoughtfully and implemented carefully. In this post we provide a few ideas to help you evaluate your market, establish new pricing, and ease your existing customers into paying a bit more for what they already know and love.

Evaluate Your Market

Before raising prices, it's important to get a clear picture of what your industry and competition is charging. If you’re a hyperlocal business, evaluate other businesses in your area that serve your industry. If you have a larger reach (national or international), conduct a wider-ranging evaluation of going rates for similar products and services.

You may also find that a pricing increase is warranted based on your overall reputation, demand for your products and services, and your business volume based on referrals. When people love what you do and how you do it, incremental price increases can increase profits while still keeping your most critical business asset (your customers) happy.

Establish New Pricing

When implementing new pricing on existing products and services, you need to determine an acceptable threshold. A Boca Raton business lawyer is following this story closely. Here are some questions to help you put prices in context:

  • Do my current margins allow me to earn an acceptable return on this product or service?
  • How much do I need to increase pricing to make offering this product or service worth my company’s while?
  • Are there additional features being added to existing products and services that will help justify the increase?
  • Can I offer client testimonials to help support my pricing increase?

Ease Customers into New Pricing

There’s always the fear that raising prices could alienate your existing customer base. When you’re ready to roll out your revised pricing, here are a few strategies that can help ease the transition:

  • Offer grandfathered pricing for existing customers: Acknowledge customers who have been with the company by letting them pay the old pricing for a set time period (say, six or 12 months).
  • Gradual escalation: If you’re a service-based company, it may be helpful to offer a scheduled increase in costs — for example, an increase of X percent up front, with additional X percent increases at three and six months.

When it comes to pricing, you're the only one who's going to keep your company's pricing inline with both the value you offer and the standards for your industry. A Dearborn business lawyer assists clients with business law matters. Pricing isn't just about how much you charge. It's about keeping your company profitable — in every economy.

Friday, March 6, 2015


Original Story: bluemaumau.org

Ouster Followed Battle With Board Over His Conduct With Workers

Starwood Hotels & Resorts' CEO, Steven Heyer, unexpectedly resigned last week following a letter from an employee. That letter triggered a company investigation.

According to the Wall Street Journal ($$):

After investigating claims made in the anonymous letter, sent to directors about two months ago, the board pressed Mr. Heyer to explain the large number of emails and text messages to and from female employees on a variety of topics outside normal working hours.

USA Today adds:

They also questioned Heyer about his hiring and promotion practices and suggestive e-mails between him and an unmarried female employee, the report said. A Memphis sexual harassment lawyer is following this story closely.

The now ex-CEO had helped boost Starwood's worth and profits significantly over the last few years.

In an interview with the WSJ ($$), the 54-year old Steve Heyer, married, "characterized the situation as the ugly fallout from extensive strategic and structural changes he made while "transforming [Starwood] from a real-estate hotel company to a branding company."

He says he doesn't know who wrote or sent the letter, but believes it could have been someone passed over for a promotion.

Heyer resigned April 2 and announced he would forfeit his severance, worth some $35 million. When asked why he left such a lucrative package, the ex-CEO commented to the Journal,
"life is too short" to mount a contested defense against the allegations. "I'm burned out," he added. "I wanted to walk away from this job with my head held high."

Bruce Duncan is the interim-CEO.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


Original Story: nytimes.com

Dafna Sarnoff worked her way up to vice president at American Express and what she remembers as “a desirable office.” Later she was hired by a financial services company — bigger salary, bigger office. Then, in 2012, she was recruited by Yodle, a smaller, newer company that sells online marketing tools for small businesses.

“I had heard about these tech start-ups that had these open office environments,” Ms. Sarnoff said. “I wondered if I was going to get an office.”

She did not, and on her first day on the job, she all but panicked. “I remember being led to my new desk and thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is going to take some getting used to.’ ”

Soon she will have even less space. Yodle is scheduled to move in the next few weeks and is cutting the amount of space allotted to each employee to 122 square feet, from 137 in its current quarters.

With rents surging as the Manhattan office market rebounds, many companies are looking to cut costs, and one way to do that is by trimming personal space. The shrinking is happening beyond New York. The average amount of space per office worker in North America dropped to 176 square feet in 2012, from 225 in 2010, according to CoreNet Global, a commercial real estate association. Though more recent figures are not available, real estate experts say there is no doubt that workers are being shoehorned into even less space. An Albany commercial real estate lawyer provides professional legal counsel and extensive experience in many aspects of commercial real estate law.

This means that everyone will get to hear those loud calls about how long your mother-in-law will be staying or why the $1,500 medical bill the collection agency insists you owe should really be covered by insurance.

Bryan Langlands knows all about this. He works for NBBJ, an architecture firm that designs open offices — and has one. Consider the conversation in which he told the assistant to a partner, who sits directly behind him, that he was postponing their later-in-the-week lunch.

He explained why, too: He was having a colonoscopy.

“About six people around me know — they heard,” Mr. Langlands, a principal at the firm, said. “They hear all the phone calls. They know if I’m upset with a client on the phone. Or, if you come back from a bad meeting and you don’t want to show your bad side but you’re decompressing and venting, everybody hears you venting. It’s very intimate in that sense.”

Some real estate brokers make the pitch that companies can avoid a rent increase by moving to new quarters that are 20 or 25 percent smaller than what they had, even if it means increasing workplace density and jamming people into less space.

“Every client we talk to, they’re using less space per person,” said Kenneth McCarthy, the chief economist for Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate broker. He said that 50,000 more people work in “office-using industries” in New York now than before the recession. But with the vacancy rate at 9.5 percent in Manhattan at the end of 2014, he said, “more people are taking up less space.”

Bosses — and the designers and architects they hire — are betting that most employees will not notice the difference. “The balance between individual spaces and community spaces has changed drastically,” said David Bright, a senior vice president of Knoll, the office furnishing manufacturer, “with shared and community spaces taking up a greater proportion of space than they once did.” A Binghamton business lawyer is following this story closely.

The result, nationally as well as in Manhattan, is offices with less space for desks and more square footage for conference rooms or other activity space areas, as some designers call them. Also popular with architects and designers are “refuge rooms” to which employees can retreat when the buzz around them proves distracting — the open-office equivalent of the low-decibel “quiet car” on many trains.

The argument for more communal space is that open offices foster communication and accidental creativity — that serendipity is a plus, if serendipity is defined as bumping into co-workers and chatting about projects they may not necessarily be assigned to.

The comic strip “Dilbert,” which has long lampooned office culture, anticipated the personal space squeeze in 2013. The character identified as the Boss was trying to justify declines in productivity to the chief executive. He explained that the engineers had first moved from private offices to cubicles. Then they had been assigned to an open-plan area.

The chief executive asked, “Have we tried putting all of them in one clown car?”

The Boss replied, “No, but I don’t see why that wouldn’t work.”

Scott Adams, the cartoonist who created “Dilbert,” said it was no surprise that individual breathing room in the workplace was being reduced. “But computers have gotten smaller and the need for storage of paper has disappeared,” Mr. Adams said. “If you’ve got a place to hang a coat and a place to sit with a laptop, you’ve got everything you need.”

While space is getting tight in many places, there is every indication that offices are even tighter in the New York area. Justin Mardex, a member of CoreNet’s New York City chapter, surveyed 10 recent projects and found that the average came to 120 square feet per employee. The most generous amount set aside was 178 square feet per person. The smallest was 93 square feet per worker.

It is not just underlings who are losing the office space race. “There’s a unilateral flattening,” said Tom Krizmanic, a principal of Studios, an architecture and design firm. “Even the C.E.O., the C.F.O. used to have more.”

But Louis D’Avanzo, the chairman of CoreNet’s New York City chapter and a vice chairman of Cushman & Wakefield, cautioned that if individual space dwindled to less than 100 square feet per person, “it can be a very dense environment.”

And, some cubicle-dwellers add, too noisy for sustained concentration. Suzanne Carlson, a partner at Mr. Langlands’s firm, recalled a recent conversation in which she found herself saying that the private office needed to make a comeback, but with one important qualification. “It does not need to be owned,” she said — meaning that no one person’s name is on the door. “This is about the existence of a private space you can go to for refuge,” she said. “If you don’t have that refuge, it’s horrible.”

Yodle’s move to West 34th Street near Ninth Avenue is being overseen by Arnold F. Madisson, who was deputy executive director of facilities, construction management and operations for the last two years of Michael R. Bloomberg’s time as mayor. “The idea was to go around to the last of the offices and tear them down,” Mr. Madisson said. “One million square feet. I believe in openness.”

Yodle’s chief executive, Court Cunningham, so values being close to other employees that he does not want a private office. He even dictated that the desks in Yodle’s new quarters be relatively small: No more than 5 feet wide and 2 1/2 feet deep.

“We believe a lot of individuals don’t need their own space,” Mr. Madisson said, adding, “We talked about what if we eliminated desks.” Long tables would have given each person even less space, he said — about 2 feet wide by 1 ½ feet deep.

Ms. Sarnoff, Yodle’s head of consumer marketing, spent that first night agonizing. “I remember telling my husband about it,” she recalled. “He said, ‘Would you not take the job if you didn’t have an office?’ He actually said that to me, and I said, ‘Would that be a bad reason not to take this job?’ ”

She became a convert. “It’s fun,” she said. “That’s the reason I wouldn’t want an office. It’s fun — if you like the people you work with.”

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Original Story: usatoday.com

LOS ANGELES — As someone who grew up around the hum and clatter of the waterfront, driving into the Port of Los Angeles on recent weekends has been an eerie sight.

Giant insect-like cranes that revolutionized the ocean-freight business hover over ships, but aren't moving a single container. Trucks that normally choke streets hauling containers from dock to railhead are largely out of sight. Offshore, more than two dozen ships lie at anchor, a growing fleet that would look more like an an image from the coast of Normandy on D-Day than the bucolic California coast.

Harbor traffic has ground to a snail's pace from Tacoma, Wash., to San Diego due to an ongoing labor dispute between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the shipping companies and port terminal operators who negotiate as the Pacific Maritime Association. A Memphis employment lawyer represent clients involved in labor disputes. The slowdown has periodically halted operations at 29 West Coast ports, as it did over Presidents Day weekend. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez has joined the talks in San Francisco because of the dispute's outsize potential to wreak havoc on the U.S. economy.

The standoff puts a spotlight on the insular world of the waterfront, a place caught between the old and the new. The harbor remains studded with colorful characters and old haunts that recall the romantic age of Steinbeck, tramp steamers and wharf rats. Yet the docks also showcase the best of American innovation, a prime example of how industry can transform itself in a way that benefits workers and management alike. Unloading a single freighter could take a week and involve more than a hundred workers. Now vastly larger ships — and they're getting even bigger — are unloaded by a handful of workers in a matter of hours.

That efficiency was largely made possible by the union. Around the harbor communities of San Pedro, Calif., and Wilmington, Calif., ILWU members are simply known as the Longshoremen. (No heed is paid to the gender reference). They are generally held in high esteem in the hierarchy of the waterfront because of their high wages and large sway over port operations. At a time when unions are under siege in the U.S., losing members and making concessions, the Longshoremen have held firm. In negotiations, they have brilliantly traded gains in efficiency for big pay. A Memphis labor lawyer represents clients in overtime and wage and hour legal disputes.

The association says the average Longshoreman earns $147,000 a year. They have no co-pays for health insurance. They earn an annual holiday to recognize Harry Bridges, a Marxist whose farsighted leadership led to the power that the union commands today. Yet in the port towns there seems to be more admiration than resentment for the pay, a sense that even blue-collar workers can occasionally get ahead in an economy that increasingly leaves them behind.

Local institutions like Utro's Cafe, a burger joint next to San Pedro's main shipping channel, sport signs in their windows supporting the Longshoremen. ILWU members' buying power has long made them the port towns' best customers, not just for burgers and fries, but for fancy houses, cars and other goods.