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Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Original Story: detroitnews.com

General Motors Co. is preparing to double-down on the renovation of its Warren Tech Center campus, and all I can hear is the echo of skeptics.

Too much auto in southeast Michigan. Too many localities like Warren and Dearborn and Auburn Hills and Detroit whose leaders and tax bases depend on the continuing flow of automotive cash. A Detroit automotive lawyer is following this story closely.

The state, the argument goes, is too heavily tied to the vicissitudes of an industry that was, is and will be cyclical because its health depends on the macro-economy and its effect on consumer sentiment.

Diversify! Wean the state, its people and its politicians from companies and an auto industry blamed for too much economic misery and ... er, wait: Aren't these the same companies that powered the Michigan comeback Gov. Rick Snyder had nothing to do with?

Aren't GM, Ford Motor Co. and FCA US's Chrysler unit the companies that reinvested in their Michigan plants, expanded their investments in engineering and technical development, lowered their break-even points, and rebuilt their balance sheets in ways this town hasn't seen in a very long time?

Yup. Wasn't Michigan's effort to build its own film industry with the largesse of taxpayers exposed for building not much of an industry at all once the tap was shut and film crews bolted in search of the next big handout?

Yup. Using government policy to pick economic winners and losers in Michigan produced decidedly mixed results (see film incentives, or the programs to woo life sciences, homeland security and advanced manufacturing), all of it exacerbated by uncompetitive business taxes and regulations. A Detroit automotive lawyer represents clients in restructuring, acquisitions and divestitures, and in general commercial transactions.

The cry to diversify is fine, in context. But it risks looking at the auto industry through 25-year-old lenses, when the technological chops of the Detroit-based industry were far less robust than they are today, its financial models a mess and its blue-collar manufacturing footprint much larger and less productive.

Only in Detroit would a push to de-emphasize its bellwether auto industry gain any rhetorical traction. Can you imagine New Yorkers urging Wall Street and the financial industry to hit the Hudson River, even after the global financial meltdown?

Silicon Valley wouldn't spurn its tech sector, no matter how insanely expensive its real estate gets. Nor would Los Angeles heave Hollywood, or Texas dump oil, or Nashville abandon country music.

Those are strengths to build on, in good times and bad. Each is the defining DNA of those towns, the cultural touchstones and social glue that bind a region — and that other regions would do whatever it took to get them.

Enter Warren, expected to get a roughly $900 million GM investment that could create as many as 2,100 jobs. The deal, still to be approved by ranking GM executives, would be part of a sweeping renovation of the Tech Center and signal the growing technological sophistication needed to engineer and build today's cars and trucks.

Mayor Jim Fouts is characteristically circumspect about identifying the company, though his giddiness at Thursday's State-of-the-City address pretty much confirms what The Detroit News first reported.

Who could blame him? Mayors and governors across the country might be tempted to cede their next election in exchange for landing nearly a billion-dollar investment and thousands of jobs for their patch — jobs, by the way, that are not the caricatured assembly line types of the past. A Chicago investment lawyer is following this story closely.

These would be engineers and IT professionals; they would be white-collar techy types with degrees, solidly middle-class salaries and the tax revenue that comes with them; many of them would be new jobs, not transfers from other parts of the GM empire.

If you want an example of why more taxpayers trump higher tax rates, this is it. More, these jobs represent the kind of investment in intellectual capital that can make southeast Michigan more competitive, not less.

It's a tricky balance. This region, its communities and its people have paid a price for the failure of the industry and its major union to reckon with their lack of competitiveness and managerial incompetence.

They witnessed — and in many cases, experienced — the pain of restructuring, the fears of near-collapse, the embarrassment of bailouts and the ignominy of bankruptcy. No sane person would relish reliving any of it.

Diversify? Absolutely, by creating an environment that invites it. But also build on what you have. Be competitive. Watch (and hope) that the cornerstones of your economy learned well the mistakes of the past.

It matters — to everyone.

Monday, April 13, 2015


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Several hundred times over the past decade, intruders have hopped fences, slipped past guardhouses, crashed their cars through gates or otherwise breached perimeter security at the nation's busiest airports — sometimes even managing to climb aboard jets.

The security fences and perimeter gates at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus have been breached four times in the past two years. At Chicago O'Hare, a man tossed his bike over a fence and pedaled across a runway, stopping to knock on a terminal door. A business surveillance system provides surveillance technology and communications to secure buildings, property, equipment, and assets.

Another at Philadelphia International rammed a sports-utility vehicle through a security gate and sped down a runway as a plane was about to land. At Los Angeles International, a mentally ill man hopped the fence eight times in less than a year — twice reaching stairs that led to jets.

An Associated Press investigation found 268 perimeter breaches since 2004 at airports that together handle three-quarters of U.S. commercial passenger traffic. And that's an undercount, because two airports among the 31 AP surveyed didn't have data for all years. Boston's Logan and the New York City area's three main airports refused to release any information, citing security concerns.

Until now, few of the incidents have been publicly reported. Most involved intruders who wanted to take a shortcut, were lost, disoriented, drunk or mentally unstable but seemingly harmless. A few had knives, and another was caught with a loaded handgun. A custom virtual security guard provides additional surveillance tailored to meet your corporations needs.

None of the incidents involved a terrorist plot, according to airport officials.

Incidents at Detroit Metro:

— On April 5, 2013, a man drove through a checkpoint after the gate arm was raised to let a service vehicle out. He parked at a hangar and ran inside. Delta Air Lines employees pinned him down. Arresting officers described him as "extremely incoherent and confused."

— On Oct. 27, 2013, a 20-year-old woman walked through an exit gate after a car drove out. She dropped a purple backpack and ran away. Police caught her and found three knives and six road flares in her backpack.

— On April 20, 2014, a woman smashed through a security fence, rolling her Dodge Durango several times. Uninjured, she got a ride home, where police later arrested her. The fence was open for about 45 minutes before officials responded.

— On Sept. 21, a passenger in a construction truck was allowed onto the airfield without a visitor badge.

The lapses nationwide highlight gaps in airport security in a post-9/11 world where passengers inside terminals face rigorous screening and even unsuccessful plots — such as the would-be shoe bomber — have prompted new procedures.

"This might be the next vulnerable area for terrorists as it becomes harder to get the bomb on the plane through the checkpoint," airport security expert Jeff Price said.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to upgrade perimeter fencing, cameras and detection technology. Many airports have dozens of miles of fencing, but not all of that is frequently patrolled or always in view of security cameras. Custom remote video surveillance provides additional security for your business or corporation.

Airport officials insist perimeters are secure, and that an intruder being caught is proof their systems work. They declined to outline specific measures, other than to say they have layers that include fences, cameras and patrols. Employees are required to ask for proof of security clearance if a badge is not obvious.

Authorities said it is neither financially nor physically feasible to keep all intruders out. A Detroit Metro spokesman said airport officials constantly update security.

"The airport authority is continually reviewing safety and security practices, infrastructure and procedures in concert with TSA and the other federal agencies with the objective of improving the overall safety and security of the airports — our #1 priority, "said spokesman Mike Conway. "A good example is the modifications we made to vehicle checkpoint #1. The incident on April 5, 2013 would not be possible today with the new configuration. All airport employees are trained to be aware of potential threats and act in accordance with established procedures if a possible threat is observed."

But LAX Police Chief Patrick Gannon, noted that even the White House has struggled with fence jumpers. "There's nothing that can't be penetrated, " he said.

Among the AP's findings:

— At least 44 times, intruders made it to runways, taxiways or to the gate area where planes park to refuel or load passengers. In seven cases they got onto jets.

— Seven international airports in four states accounted for more than half the breaches, although not all provided data for all years examined. San Francisco had the most, with 37. The others were in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Jose, Miami and Tampa, Florida.

— Few airports revealed how long it took to apprehend suspects, saying this detail could show security vulnerabilities. Available information showed most arrests happened within 10 minutes. Several people went undetected for hours or never were caught.

At a news conference called Thursday in response to AP's findings, the San Francisco airport spokesman said his facility had the most breaches because it disclosed everything, whether the breach was intentional or accidental. Spokesman Doug Yakel said the airport has beefed up security and that while its airfield is safe, "The goal is always zero" breaches.

Security firms sold $650 million worth of fences, gates, sensors and cameras to airports in the decade after the 9/11 attacks, according to industry analyst John Hernandez, though he projects spending will drop.

Officials insist no technology solution is foolproof. Outfit cameras with software designed to help identify intruders, and there may not be enough staff to monitor images. Airports have to weigh the potential threat of harm against the hefty cost of building elaborate defenses, experts said.

"It's one of those issues that I think until something really bad happens, not much is going to change," Price said.

Friday, April 10, 2015


Original Story: freep.com

Peter Karmanos Jr., the feisty cofounder and former CEO of Compuware, must be feeling pleased – even vindicated – that a $16.5-million arbitrator's award in his favor against Compuware has now been made public.

But Karmanos doesn't have the money yet, as Compuware's new owners continue to press forward with an appeal, dragging out this sad, contentious chapter late in the 72-year-old's career as technology entrepreneur, hockey team owner and Detroit philanthropist.

Can't we just stop the brawling, guys, and let everybody skate off into the sunset?

Not quite yet, apparently, but let's hope that a Wayne County judge can end this madness at a May 11 hearing – or even better, that the combatants call it quits before then. A Memphis business litigator assists clients in business disputes by developing a plan to resolve the dispute, either through negotiation, mediation, or a lawsuit.

Without slogging through all the sordid details, what we have here is a self-made entrepreneur, Karmanos, who hung on as CEO of Compuware until age 68. He still enjoyed a nice office and consulting gig until 2013, when activist shareholders rattled the Compuware board into aborting plans for big farewell soirees when Karmanos left the board in March.

When the mercurial Karmanos went public with criticism of Compuware management that September, including some salty language, he got stripped of the office and consulting gig. And then he sued, saying he got stiffed on some stock options, too.

Last year, the two sides agreed to binding arbitration of the dispute, with respected arbitrator Gene Esshaki appointed to decide the case. A Tulsa business lawyer represents clients in complex business disputes.

But when Esshaki ruled decisively in Karmanos' favor, Compuware – instead of coughing up the $16.5 million, a number that would have officially stayed secret under the confidentiality seal of arbitration – decided to file a lawsuit contesting Esshaki's decision.

Now it's all public, and Karmanos and the company he created will slosh around in the mud some more, as their sniping at one another gets aired anew.

I don't pretend to know how the litigation will play out if the appeals continue.

Did Karmanos err in lashing out publicly at Compuware management in the midst of a tense fight for control of the company? Sure he did.

But why did Compuware's new owners agree to take the dispute to binding arbitration, only to renege now when they don't like the arbitrator's ruling?

I don't blame Karmanos for being discouraged by the fact that the company he spent a lifetime building has been broken up barely a year after he left, with lots of jobs lost.

I expect we'll hear more from Karmanos after a judge finally puts an end to all this, and that's fine. But the end can't come soon enough.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


Original Story: bloomberg.com

I’m in a meeting with 14 people, in mid-sentence, when I feel a tap-tap-tap on my wrist. I stop talking, tilt my head, and whip my arm aggressively into view to see the source of the agitation. A second later, the small screen on my new Apple Watch beams to life with a very important message for me: Twitter has suggestions for people I should follow. A version of this happens dozens of times throughout the day—for messages, e-mails, activity achievements, tweets, and so much more. Wait a second. Isn’t the promise of the Apple Watch to help me stay in the moment, focused on the people around me and undisturbed by the mesmerizing void of my iPhone? So why do I suddenly feel so distracted?

Let’s back up. Any way you figure, the Apple Watch is an epic product release. It’s the company’s first new product category since the iPad and the first new product since the death of Steve Jobs. It was created almost entirely under the guidance of Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook, and it’s the first device from Apple that was designed—hardware and software—by Jony Ive. Apple has also sunk money into new retail experiences (led by left-field hire Angela Ahrendts, the former CEO of Burberry), and positioned the device as both the latest must-have gadget and a bona fide luxury item. The watch starts at $349 and climbs above $10,000. To say it’s a major moment for the company would be an understatement. A home automation system combines technology into one easy to use system and allows you to control indoor and outdoor home functions with a touch of a button.

No one is questioning Apple’s ability to mint money with its gadgets and services (see: $178 billion in the company’s cash reserves), but the ambitions of the watch speak to Apple’s broader ambitions. With a possible entry into the auto market on the horizon, Apple’s success at getting into—and winning—a whole new category of product is kind of a big deal. Although analysts’ predictions for 2015 Apple Watch sales range from 8 million to 41 million, putting them in roughly Year One iPad range, no one even knows whether the thing is a good product.

Apple faces two huge challenges with the watch. It has to make a beautiful gadget, one that hews to the company’s history of groundbreaking design and technological innovation. For Apple, these are table stakes. But there’s more: Because it’s a brand-new product category, the company has to make a case for the very existence of not just its watch, but any watch. It has to persuade people that they need technology on their wrists. So far, the biggest question about wearables—there are already plenty of products on the market—is really: Who needs one?

Ready, set, go

The Apple Watch experience begins before you get one. It starts at an Apple Store, where you can opt to have a Apple salesperson give you a personal demonstration and set up your device. Because they aren’t at retail shops yet, I got an approximation of the experience: A company rep gave me a guided tour of the watch’s functions, set it up, and removed links from the stainless steel bracelet I chose. (Sadly, Apple didn’t make the 18-karat gold version available to reviewers.) Later, I picked up a leather loop, which I found more comfortable.

After a brief preview of the health functions during a walk through Central Park, I was off on my own, desperately hoping no one noticed the furious glances at my wrist and all the initial flicking, swiping, and scrolling that goes along with a first-time watch experience. Once alone, I could finally admire the device.

The hardware of the watch is beautiful in a surgical way. The little cube of metal and glass wouldn’t seem out of place in a futuristic lab or sci-fi movie. It is very much an Apple product: clean, sleek, remarkably solid. But as a piece of jewelry, it’s similar to other digital watches—including Casio’s iconic calculator watch, as several people pointed out to me. It also looks like other smartwatches on the market, such as Asus’s ZenWatch and Samsung’s Gear Live, in particular. (Both run Google’s Android Wear.) Like most things we adorn ourselves with, you have to love the way this looks on you. Apple’s design doesn’t compete with Rolex, Omega, or Breitling for sheer style, but the more I wore the inconspicuous thing, the more I liked it on my wrist.

The looks are just the beginning. It’s loaded with cutting-edge technology. The tiny Retina display has a new form of pressure sensitivity Apple calls Force Touch, which responds not only to where you touch the screen, but how hard you press. The watch notifies you with extremely nuanced vibrations via its Taptic Engine, which can produce strikingly realistic sensations, almost like a bell tapping on your wrist. Perhaps most important, the watch’s “digital crown” helps you navigate long menus, set options, and zoom in and out of maps and photos. And all the speedy software and motion tracking is controlled by the company’s new S1 processor, which packs in multiple components on a single chip. It’s an impressive package. After using it, I had no question that the Apple Watch is the most advanced piece of wearable technology you can buy today. You can combine smart technologies with a Control4 home automation system to help you manage energy consumption while providing entertainment.

The Apple Watch as a watch

For starters, the Apple Watch does function as a watch, one which has literally millions of different dial combinations. The timekeeping that Apple is using is so precise, it’s within 50 milliseconds of the global time standard known as Coordinated Universal Time. Apple has had some fun with this: Because every Apple Watch is perfectly in sync with the others, if you’re in a room full of Mickey Mouse faces, Mickey will tap his foot in perfect sync on every watch. It’s incredibly cool.

Apple allows you to customize the face of the watch, not only with tapping Mickey and other unique designs, but with little widgets it’s calling “Complications” (in a nod to classic horological terms). These items that dot the edges of the display can tell the temperature outside, signal your next calendar appointment, show the phases of the moon, and so on. In spite of the name, these Complications are one of the most useful parts of the watch, offering the kind of information that really does elevate the device beyond a simple timepiece.

(Actually, seeing these highly useful bits of information on the tiny screen of the watch made me realize we should have had them on the iPhone for a long time. I asked Steve Jobs in 2010 why the company hadn’t included more “glanceable” information on the iPhone and iPad, such as the widgets Apple had pioneered for the desktop. He told me they were just getting started and that “anything” was possible. Is this watch the thing I was waiting for?)

But what about the watch as a timepiece? I’ve found the experience somewhat inferior to that with a conventional wristwatch, due to one small issue. The Apple Watch activates its screen only when it thinks you’re looking at it. Sometimes a subtle twist of your wrist will do, but sometimes it takes … more. Many times while using the watch, I had to swing my wrist in an exaggerated upward motion to bring the display to life. Think about the way people normally look at their watches, then make it twice as aggressive. As a normal watch-wearer, the idea that I might look down at my wrist and not see the time was annoying.

Sometimes, even if you do the arm-swing motion, the screen doesn’t turn on. Sometimes it turns on, then off. Sometimes you tap it and nothing happens.

For all the noise Apple has made about what a remarkable time-telling device its watch is, I found it lacking for this reason alone. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t keep excellent time—it just doesn’t offer the consistency of a traditional timepiece.

In usePerhaps one of the most difficult things to wrap your head around is the way the watch extends—and often replicates—the functions of your phone. You can receive and send text messages on the device, for instance, but doing so on the small screen with your hand cocked in the appropriate position isn’t ideal if you’re working on something longer than a one-line reply. And although it connects deeply with the phone, the watch also has a completely new way of doing things. Because navigation is split between swipes of your finger, scrolling with the crown, and taps of varying pressure, it takes a while to get oriented. One of the crucial pain points I experienced was this constant, subtle battle with myself over whether to engage a notification on my watch or handle it on my phone.

The notification scheme is a little maddening at first. Apple sends a push notification every time you get a corporate e-mail, personal e-mail, direct message on Twitter, message on Facebook, and for interactions in countless other services. Each of these notifications pings the watch. For every message, there is a sound, a vibration, or both. (You can mute them.) If you’re a busy person who communicates constantly on your phone, this gets overwhelming fast. I found myself turning off notifications from entire apps, which seems to defeat the purpose of the watch in the first place. Mercifully, Apple has included a way to clear all those notifications: Just Force Touch on the list.

Eventually, I figured out that getting the watch to really work for you requires work. I pruned a list of VIP contacts in my mail app to make e-mail notifications more tolerable, I killed several app notifications that I found to be consistently interruptive, and I streamlined my list of applications to those that seemed truly vital to my day.

What’s odd is that in many ways, the watch functions a lot like a small iPhone. Though there are new ways of getting to your apps and interacting with them, much of the phone's model interface has carried over. So you end up in a lot of situations where you not only have to take action, you have to decide where to take action.

Still, as the days wore on, I did find some balance between the two devices. Checking text messages and e-mails by quickly glancing at the watch saved me some time, and it was certainly helpful when I was deeply engaged in an important activity. My 14-month-old daughter, who is completely obsessed with the iPhones in our house, didn’t seem to notice that I was getting an update on my wrist. Score!

As I mentioned, the watch also has a few fresh tricks. Within Apple’s new suite of functions, I found both hits and misses.

On the plus side is Apple’s new Activity app, which presents you with three basic sets of achievements to hit every day—and makes hitting those goals almost frictionless. One metric it watches is how many calories you’re burning every day by moving, a number that can be changed, depending on your skill level. A second is exercise, which is any period in which you’re engaged in strenuous activity that keeps your heart rate up. The third is a notification for standing, to make sure you get up on your feet at least once every hour.

Setup for the health features was completely painless, and I immediately started seeing the results of being made so aware of my activity levels. I wanted to walk more, was excited when I got a brisk jog through a train station, and yes, I felt better because I was standing up during the day on a regular basis. I have no idea if this will have any lasting impact on my health, but I think Apple’s beautiful and frictionless approach to teaching people about exercise habits is a leap in the right direction.

There are rough spots, too. Apple is hoping to reinvent how we communicate with friends and family by adding three new methods of messaging, not all of which work. The first allows you to essentially “sample” your heartbeat and send it off. This seems to have limited use; once you’ve gotten your first heartbeat, the novelty wears off pretty quickly. Also, I don’t know who, besides my wife, I would use this for. It’s weirdly intimate. The second is called Sketch, which allows you to draw or tap some symbols on your watch and send them to another Apple Watch user. This seems like a great idea until you realize how little space you have to work with. I sent a lot of weird-looking faces with no deeper meaning during my testing period. I did find hyper-discreet ways of using Digital Touch, however, such as a lone question mark when there was an unanswered question between me and the sender. Was it better than a texted question mark? Well, it wiggled more.

The third new message concept is 3D, animated emojis. At first glance, that sounds pretty great, until you realize that the emojis are really more like neutered, animated GIFs from the late '90s internet. What really struck me here was deep deja vu over an earlier Apple attempt to change the way we communicate with people: Ping. Ping was a “social network for music” that the company imagined would be the way that people wanted to share what they were listening to. In fact, people wanted to use other services, in thousands of different ways, to do that—ways that were much more natural and personal than the sterile option Apple provided. That’s how I feel about these animated icons you can send. We already have emojis, and Snapchat, and Instagram, and Periscope, and GroupMe, and Twitter, and Facebook, and WeChat, and on and on. There’s something forced and inauthentic about Apple in this space; it feels like a throwaway, a “Hey, we do that, too” move.

I’m split on one feature Apple includes on the watch, something called Glances. Glances act like little cards hiding underneath your watch that can give you a glimpse of information from first- and third-party apps. Twitter will display the latest tweet in your timeline, there’s a controller for your music app, or you can see a detailed description of your next calendar appointment. In theory, these screens should be wildly useful for quick access to information. In practice, I found them to be clunky and overwhelmingly useless. What hinders many of the experiences is that the watch must pull information from the phone, leaving you with a spinning wheel that indicates data loading, rather than a quick hit of info.


Yes, all these new functions, notifications, and tapping do make the Apple Watch very distracting. In some ways, it can be more distracting than your iPhone, and checking it can feel more offensive to people around you than pulling out your phone. The watch wants and needs you now, as its insistent taps make painfully clear. And to see what the Apple Watch wants and needs, you must physically move it into view. If while you’re talking to someone, you check your regular watch, it can feel as if you’re sending a not-so-subtle “let’s wrap this up” message. With the Apple Watch, factoring in the animated wrist-whip and the length of some of the notifications you receive, it’s downright rude.

Eventually I realized that this problem wasn’t about fixing the iPhone or fixing the watch. It’s not about making notifications more subtle or less frequent, or located in a place that doesn’t require a shift in your gaze. The thing that needs fixing is our sense of when—and when not—to move ourselves out of a moment so we can look at our devices. Strangely, it comes down to common courtesy and patience, more than a magical piece of jewelry from Jony Ive and Co.

The Apple Watch can certainly make you a worse dinner guest. But it can also make you a slightly better one. The difference is whether or not you’re willing to think about what really matters vs. what seems to matter.

The watch is not life-changing. It is, however, excellent. Apple will sell millions of these devices, and many people will love and obsess over them. It is a wonderful component of a big ecosystem that the company has carefully built over many years. It is more seamless and simple than any of its counterparts in the marketplace. It is, without question, the best smartwatch in the world.

So Apple has succeeded in its first big task with its watch. It made something that lives up to the company’s reputation as an innovator and raised the bar for a whole new class of devices. Its second task—making me feel that I need this thing on my wrist every day—well, I’m not quite sure it’s there yet. It’s still another screen, another distraction, another way to disconnect, as much as it is the opposite. The Apple Watch is cool, it’s beautiful, it’s powerful, and it’s easy to use. But it’s not essential. Not yet.

Monday, April 6, 2015


Original Story: latimes.com

She was a junior partner at one of Silicon Valley's most powerful venture capital firms. But was Ellen Pao a greedy underperformer? Or was she a victim of a sexist corporate culture?

That's the choice confronting a jury in a trial that has riveted an industry struggling to attract and keep talented women in the workforce.

Ellen Pao vs. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers wrapped up Wednesday after weeks of testimony exposed salacious details of workplace trysts, all-male outings, porn talk and alleged routine harassment. Jurors must decide whether the firm discriminated against Pao, 45, because she is a woman, and then fired her in retaliation after she sued in 2012. A Boston employment lawyer represents clients facing gender discrimination in the workplace.

"Even before there's a verdict in this case, and regardless of what the verdict is, people in Silicon Valley are now talking," said Kelly Dermody, managing partner at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, who chairs the San Francisco law firm's employment practice group.

"People are second-guessing and questioning whether there are exclusionary practices [and] everyday subtle acts of exclusion that collectively limit women's ability to succeed or even to compete for the best opportunities. And that's an incredibly positive impact."

Women in tech have long complained about an uneven playing field — lower pay for equal work, being passed over for promotions and a hostile "brogrammer" culture — and have waited for a catalyst to finally overhaul the status quo.

This trial — pitting a disgruntled, multimillionaire former junior partner against a powerful Menlo Park, Calif., venture capital firm — was far from the open-and-shut case that many women had hoped for. And Pao, portrayed as an uncooperative and conflict-ridden worker "with sharp elbows," makes a less-than-ideal test case for gender bias in Silicon Valley. A Memphis employment discrimination lawyer is following this story closely.

"She's not the most likable person in the world, but the kinds of evidence she's alleged does track some of these long-documented patterns of both subtle stereotyping and blatant boys club activity," said Joan C. Williams, a professor at UC Hastings College of the Law.

More gender discrimination suits against big tech firms are expected to follow; some already have, including lawsuits against Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc.

The monthlong trial in San Francisco County Superior Court uncovered the inner workings of the highly successful venture capital firm, which has invested in companies including Google Inc., Snapchat Inc., Twitter, Spotify and Uber. It also revealed sordid tidbits about alleged behind-the-scenes antics.

Pao claimed that after inquiring about why women weren't invited to a dinner with Al Gore, she was told that they "kill the buzz." She testified that she had received a book that contained sexual poetry from a married male partner and had been subjected to colleagues' discussion of pornography on a private plane.

Another female former partner testified that a male colleague had touched her with his leg under a table and appeared at her hotel room one night in a bathrobe and slippers.

The jury is now deliberating over four claims: that Kleiner Perkins willfully discriminated against Pao because of gender; that it retaliated against her by failing to promote her when she spoke up; that it failed to take reasonable steps to prevent gender discrimination against her; and that it retaliated by terminating her employment.

Pao is seeking $16 million in lost wages and bonuses, and punitive damages that could raise her total award to as much as $160 million. The jury will decide how much, if any, compensatory damages to award. If punitive damages are awarded, that amount will "be an issue decided later," according to Judge Harold Kahn's jury instructions.

In closing arguments, Pao's attorney Alan Exelrod alleged that Kleiner Perkins cultivated a misogynistic culture that fast-tracked men at the expense of more-deserving women.

"Men were judged by one standard and women by another," Exelrod said to the jury. "The leaders of Kleiner Perkins are the ones responsible for this double standard."

When it was her turn, Lynne Hermle, Kleiner Perkins' attorney, slammed Pao as greedy and unqualified. Pao is now interim chief executive of Reddit Inc.

"Neither her gender nor any complaints was the driver in any of the events at issue here. Like so many other misplaced accusations … these claims are simply a continuation of Ellen Pao's attempts to blame others for her own failings," Hermle said. "The complaints of Ellen Pao were made for only one purpose: a huge payout for Team Ellen." A Memphis employee rights lawyer represents clients involved in employee rights cases.

That strategy — to attack Pao's character and to make her experience at the firm a one-off situation of her own making — could hurt her claim that a history of widespread discrimination existed at the firm, said Amy Oppenheimer, a workplace investigator who works with clients in Silicon Valley.

"Whether it's correct or not, the defense has been able to focus on her shortcomings," Oppenheimer said. "So it's been much more about this individual than about the pattern of bias."

Pao's legal team has accused Kleiner Perkins of leading a smear campaign to discredit Pao and distract jurors. During closing arguments, attorney Therese Lawless sought to dispel criticism of her personality Wednesday.

"For the men, it didn't hurt them getting promoted. But it hurt her," Lawless said.

The case has spurred heated debate within Silicon Valley among male and female tech workers.

"Whether she wins or loses, the impact of the case has already been felt," said Wayne Sutton, a tech entrepreneur and general partner at San Francisco accelerator BuildUp. "People know the problems are bigger than this."

For some women, tales of alleged harassment at Kleiner Perkins reminded them of their own struggles in the tech world.

Divya Manian, a product manager at a Silicon Valley software firm, said she empathized with Pao.

"Ellen Pao's conflict around the way her co-workers treated her — that's something we've heard many times before," the 31-year-old said. "It's something I've experienced at conferences and it was something I didn't speak up about."

Manian noted that a lot of positive changes have been taking place in the valley as women have become more outspoken about unequal treatment: Diversity is "taking center stage" in recruitment conversations and more women have been hired as a result, she said.

So win or lose, many expect Pao's trial will force further change.

"It's going to open the floodgates for women who have gone through worse," Manian said.


Original Story: cnbc.com

Brazil, an emerging-market darling just a couple years ago, is crumbling amid economic stagnation and political turmoil. But there's a far brighter story—one most investors are missing—elsewhere in Latin America.

Four countries—Mexico, Peru, Colombia and Chile—three years ago formed a free-trade bloc called the Pacific Alliance. Tiny Costa Rica joined the club in 2013. Together, they're a bigger economy than Brazil, and they're expected to grow three or four times faster than their huge neighbor over the next few years.

Brazil's $1.7 trillion economy contracted by 0.1 percent in 2014, according to Brazilian central bank data released Thursday, and it's seen shrinking by 0.5 percent 2015. A corruption scandal at state-controlled Petrobras, the state-controlled petroleum giant, is expected to further hobble the country's economy.

Pacific LatAm rising

CountryPopulationGDP past 5 yearsPredicted 2014/2015
Mexico115 Million1.90%2.4%/3.5%
Colombia47 Million4.20%4.8%/4.5%
Peru30 Million5.50%3.6%/5.1%
Chile17 Million4%2.0%/3.3%
Costa Rica5 Million3.10%3.6%/3.6%
In contrast, the five Pacific Alliance members, with a collective GDP of $2.2 trillion, are expected to grow 3.3 percent in 2014, and 4 percent in 2015. Economic reforms within individual member states can take some of the credit. A Costa Rica foreign investment lawyer is following this story closely.

"The countries that have continued the gradual process of reform are the ones that continue to capture foreign investment," said John Price, managing director of Miami-based consultancy Americas Market Intelligence.

But the Pacific Alliance itself is expected to spur its members' growth further. All of the countries have free trade agreements with the United States, but the Alliance takes down barriers between the countries themselves. For instance, the agreement eliminates visa requirements among the five states' citizens, said Barbara Kotschwar, a research fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Peterson Institute for International Economics.

One of the knocks that economists make against Brazil is that it didn't seize the opportunity to push through economic reforms while commodities prices were at record highs over the past decade. Latin America has long benefited from its natural resources—40 percent of the world's arable land and 35 percent of the planet's mining investment are on the continent, according to Price—but Latin American countries have diverged in the way they handled the boom, said Price. Brazil and some others taxed commodities and resisted economic reforms.

Countries in Pacific Alliance are seen as having a history of relative stability—though currency volatility remains a problem—and a stronger commitment to free trade and rule of law.

"The Chileans and Peruvians had already gone through a strong reform process in the '90s, and they have done well by it," Price said. The IMF cited domestic consumption, record-low unemployment and wage growth in Colombia, Peru and Chile when it made recent GDP predictions.

Mexico, meanwhile, is the largest economy in the group and is positioning itself as a competitor to China for manufacturing. Labor costs in Mexico were lower than in China or the United States in 2012, according to data from AlixPartners, a business advisory firm. A Mexico City investment lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Pacific Alliance countries have grabbed an increasing share of the U.S. foreign direct investment that flows to Latin America, garnering 62 percent of the $27.4 billion total in 2013, up from 55 percent of the $31 billion total from 2010, according to Kotschwar at the Peterson Institute.

Pacific Alliance for individual investors

General Electric, for instance, has 17 plants in Mexico, employing 10,500 people. "Mexico is the gateway to the world's most important market," said a spokesman for the company, whose Center for Advanced Engineering employs 1,800 Mexican engineers.

Stock investors have yet to really pick up on the growth story in the countries. Year-to-date outflows from four country-specific Blackrock ETFs for the four big countries in the Alliance have totaled $932.6 million. Assets in the four funds total $8.3 billion. That comes against a backdrop of outflows from all emerging markets funds, including both broad and country-specific ETFs, of $9.3 billion. Falling prices for precious metals are affecting investors' views, said Todd Shriber, web editor for Irvine, California-based ETF Trends. And the fall of Brent crude since last year hasn't helped either.

"The problem with ... LatAm single-country ETFs largely boils down to commodities," Shriber said by email. "It's hard to get excited about GXG and EPU while gold and silver prices are falling because those countries are big miners of those metals. Colombia is also a growing oil producer, not something to brag about these days."

Morningstar lists nine broad Latin American funds, but many of their weightings reflect the market's long affinity for Brazil. For instance, the JPMorgan Latin America Fund, JLTSX, has holdings that are 57.5 percent weighted toward Brazil. The fund has five stars from Morningstar.

While public equities investors have been yanking money out, private equity investors have been steadily marching in. Arif Naqvi, CEO of the Abraaj Group, a $7.5 billion PE firm that invests almost exclusively in emerging markets, pointed to the Pacific Alliance countries as a prime investing opportunity in an interview late last year.

Abraaj isn't the only one looking at the Pacific Alliance.

"There's been a shift in focus, first and foremost, to Colombia over the past year," said Jeff Bunder, global private equity leader at Ernst & Young. For instance, Advent International, a private equity firm with $33 billion of assets, has done two buyout deals in the region in the past 15 months, one of a Costa Rican firm called GTM that is a distributor of chemical raw materials to Latin America, and one of a Colombian asset manager called Alianza Fiduciara. A Columbia investment lawyer represents clients involved in foreign investments.

"Funds are also looking at Chile and Peru, and the most significant movement in terms of private equity is toward Mexico," Bunder said.

"Private equity investors have bought into the concept (of the Pacific Alliance)," he said. "It's an ambitious plan, but if they can move it forward, it's definitely interesting."


Original Story: cnbc.com

It's going from worse to worst each week in California.

Suffering in its third year of drought, more than 58 percent of the state is currently in "exceptional drought" stage, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor map. That marks a huge jump from just seven days ago, when about 36 percent of the state was categorized that way.

Exceptional drought, the most extreme category, indicates widespread crop and pasture losses and shortages of water in reservoirs, streams and wells.

If the state continues on this path, there may have to be thoughts about moving people out, said Lynn Wilson, academic chair at Kaplan University and who serves on the climate change delegation in the United Nations. An Atlanta natural resources lawyer is following this story closely.

"Civilizations in the past have had to migrate out of areas of drought," Wilson said. "We may have to migrate people out of California."

Wilson added that before that would happen, every option such as importing water to the state would likely occur— but "migration can't be taken off the table."

The drought has nearly depleted the state's surface water—which is seen being reduced by about one-third this year. Farmers in California have turned to groundwater to keep crops irrigated.

That has led to fears of depleted groundwater in the years ahead if that continues, according to a report released earlier this month.

"So far, groundwater has helped get crops to market and keep food prices in line," said Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis, which released the report. A Tulsa natural resources lawyer has experience representing clients in natural resource preservation cases.

But the study said the drought in California will cost the state $2.2 billion and put some 17,000 agricultural workers out of a job this year.

Key findings form the report include:

  • Direct costs to agriculture total $1.5 billion (revenue losses of $1 billion and $0.5 billion in additional pumping costs). This net revenue loss is about 3 percent of the state's total agricultural value.
  • The total statewide economic cost of the 2014 drought is $2.2 billion.
  • The loss of 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs related to agriculture represents 3.8 percent of farm unemployment.
  • 428,000 acres, or 5 percent, of irrigated cropland is going out of production in the Central Valley, Central Coast and Southern California because of the drought.
  • The Central Valley is hardest hit, particularly the Tulare Basin, with projected losses of $810 million, or 2.3 percent, in crop revenue; $203 million in dairy and livestock value; and $453 million in additional well-pumping costs.
  • Agriculture on the central coast and in Southern California will be less affected by this year's drought, with about 19,150 acres fallowed, $10 million in lost crop revenue and $6.3 million in additional pumping costs.
  • Overdraft of groundwater is expected to cause additional wells in the Tulare Basin to run dry if the drought continues.

To try and curtail the drought's effects, California started implementing fines statewide this week of up to $500 for watering lawns and washing cars. But experts aren't sure more conservation will work.

Wastershed's Lund said that agriculture is by far the state's greatest water user, accounting for 75 percent of consumption—while cities and suburbs use about 20 percent of the state's water.

He added that California is always desperate for water and "hard to drought-proof."

But the situation could get worse before it gets better. Predictions for the drought have it lasting through 2015.


Original Story: cnbc.com

The world will run out of fresh water long before it runs out of oil, with the potential for major deficits by 2030, the chairman of bottled water giant Nestle said.

"We have a major water management crisis," Peter Brabeck-Letmathe told CNBC on the sidelines of the Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference on Tuesday. "We are destroying 20 percent more water for human consumption than there is available."

Around 1.2 billion people, or almost one-fifth of the world's population, live in areas of physical scarcity, and 500 million people are approaching this situation, according to data from the United Nations. Another 1.6 billion people, or almost one quarter of the world's population, face economic water shortage. An Atlanta natural resources lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

In addition to reducing the company's water consumption by more than 60 percent over the past few years even as it increased production, Nestle has been working with governments to find better ways to use water sustainably, he said.

A risk

It's not an entirely altruistic step for the company, which had an around 12 percent share of the bottled water market globally in 2013, according to data on its website.

"For a food company like Nestle, this is a direct and an indirect risk. The entire value chain is exposed to it, from the farmers which have been producing our raw materials up to the consumers," Brabeck-Letmathe said in a presentation at the conference. "This is the reason we got involved in the water issue." A Memphis business lawyer assists clients with safeguarding the continuity of their business.

Within the company, Nestle has created a "shadow price" for water for its operations locally, to ensure it's given a value to make it psychologically more difficult to waste, said Brabeck-Letmathe.

Political concern

Charging for water can be a lightning rod for political criticism amid concerns that the poor will lose access to a necessity.

"Water is a human right. I fully agree with that," Brabeck-Letmathe said, noting that the around 30 liters a day needed for basic living should be provided without charge to those who can't afford it. But that amount only accounts for around 1.5 percent of the fresh water destroyed daily, he said.

He's more concerned about the other 98.5 percent. "I don't think it's a human right to fill up a swimming pool. I don't think it's a human right to wash cars. I don't think it's a human right to water a golf course," he said.

Growing investment gap

In addition to general concerns about wasteful use, Brabeck-Letmathe noted that water infrastructure has a growing investment gap, estimating the global minimum needed is around $770 billion a year, with the annual deficit running at around $250 billion.

"Infrastructure is falling apart," he said, adding it's not just an emerging market problem, with around 35 percent of water in London lost due to poor infrastructure.


To be sure, despite the advocacy on the issue, Nestle has faced criticism for its use of water.

In California, which is suffering through an around three-year-long drought of historic proportions, the company has continued to produce bottled water.

About 1.39 liters of water is needed to make one liter of bottled water, according to the industry trade group, the International Bottled Water Association. A Tulsa natural resources lawyer is following this story closely.

While the state has introduced some harsh restrictions, including fines of up to $500 for overwatering lawns, Nestle has largely sidestepped them by purchasing its water from a spring in Millard Canyon, California, some 80 miles east of Los Angeles, located on the Morongo Indian Reservation. Because the reservation is considered a sovereign nation, it's not under any obligation to comply with state laws concerning the drought. Critics have also pointed to concerns over Nestle shipping the bottled water out of the parched state.

"We regularly engage with Tribal water officials on the current drought situation and water resource management at Cabazon to ensure the long-term sustainability of this water supply," Nestle told CNBC via email. It said the bottling facility's water use is around 0.2 percent of total water demand in the neighboring Coachella Valley.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


Original Story: mercurynews.com

MOUNTAIN VIEW -- One of Wall Street's most powerful women will become one of Silicon Valley's most powerful women when Ruth Porat joins Google this spring as its chief financial officer.

The Internet search giant on Tuesday announced the hiring of the 57-year-old Porat, a longtime Morgan Stanley banker who became its chief financial officer in 2010. She will become Google's highest-ranking female executive when she starts her new job on May 26.

Porat described the post as a kind of Silicon Valley homecoming. She grew up in Palo Alto, studied economics at Stanford University and was later a top banker dealing with technology firms.

"I'm delighted to be returning to my California roots and joining Google," she said in a statement.

Porat has been the public face of Morgan Stanley and been referred to in reports as the most senior woman -- or most powerful -- on Wall Street. Key positions she has held at the firm include vice chairman of investment banking and co-head of technology investment banking. She was the lead banker on financing rounds for tech companies including Amazon, eBay, Netscape and Priceline. An employment lawyer regularly negotiates employment agreements and severance packages for high level managers and executives.

"We're tremendously fortunate to have found such a creative, experienced and operationally strong executive," said Google CEO Larry Page in a written statement. "I look forward to learning from Ruth as we continue to innovate in our core -- from search and ads, to Android, Chrome and YouTube -- as well as invest in a thoughtful, disciplined way in our next generation of big bets."

Porat will be the only woman among Google's five top executives, though the company also has three women in senior leadership roles: Susan Wojcicki, who heads YouTube; Lorraine Twohill, the marketing chief; and Rachel Whetstone, senior vice president of communications and policy. Other women who were part of Google's senior leadership team have gone on to high-profile executive positions elsewhere, such as Marissa Mayer, now Yahoo's CEO; and Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook.

Google announced just two weeks ago in a regulatory filing that its current CFO, Patrick Pichette would be retiring. Pichette, who joined Google in 2008, wrote a widely shared post on Google+ explaining his decision to step down to spend more time with his family.

Google shareholders are likely to welcome Porat's experience in "dealing with complex global operating environments and regulatory challenges," said Peter Stabler, an analyst at Wells Fargo Securities, in a written note Tuesday, but whether she signals any big changes in Google's philosophy remains unclear. An employment lawyer is following this story closely.

Pichette had arrived seven years ago during a recession and became known for trimming costs, from unsuccessful business ventures to the hours at the campus cafeterias. In more recent boom years, however, he's been a staunch defender of the company's cutting-edge risks on a wide assortment of research that reflect Google's experimental approach but can make investors nervous.

Other tech companies have lured executives from Wall Street, including Twitter, which appointed Anthony Noto as its CFO last year. Noto hails from Goldman Sachs.

Porat declined interviews Tuesday but her rise through the Wall Street ranks was profiled in a 2010 book, "How Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life," written by authors Joanna Barsh, Susie Cranston and Geoffrey Lewis, who work for management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

The book described her working parents as an inspiration.

Her father, Dan Porat, 93, was an electronic engineer at Stanford's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory from 1962 to 1988. Her mother, Frieda Porat, was a psychologist and teacher who wrote books about organizational management. She died in 2012.

Ruth Porat describes herself on her Twitter profile as a breast cancer survivor and proud Stanford alumnus.

She is also vice chairwoman of the Board of Trustees at Stanford. She has advanced degrees from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the London School of Economics.

After studying economics at Stanford, she took a job at the U.S. Department of Justice in the early 1980s. But she was also fascinated with mergers and acquisitions, which drew her to Morgan Stanley in 1987, according to the book.

Revealing her challenges, and successes, as a woman on Wall Street, Porat told the authors that "biases are deep" and it's important to find the right boss.

"One of the biggest problems women have is they work really hard and put their heads down and assume hard work gets noticed," she said. "And hard work for the wrong boss does not get noticed. Hard work for the wrong boss results in one thing -- that boss looks terrific and you get stuck."