Unexpectedly Intriguing!
March 23, 2005

The single most valuable resource in business news is not a single resource. Instead, the best place any business junkie can go to score the most recent information about trends, developments and the general state of an industry is the trade publication that supports it, and ideally, its online edition.

Here are a couple of cases in point. First, take a look at this March 21, 2005 article from Network World Fusion, which reviews how Canadian giant Nortel Networks is addressing its recent leadership lapses and accounting problems with its sales channel partners:

Clent Richardson, the executive in charge of rebuilding Nortel's once powerful brand, last month stood in front of roughly 200 sales channel partners and openly acknowledged the sins of the past. Not a quick, "mistakes were made" statement followed by 30 PowerPoint slides on a new strategy, but a lengthy, deep and even heartfelt discussion about past leadership, integrity, transparency and a lost focus on the customer.

The trade publication also captured the reaction of Nortel's sales partners, who were surprised by Richardson's forthright approach to repairing the company's relationships:

"I thought we were going to hear a lot more excuses," said one value-added reseller. "But that speech got my attention. Maybe they're really serious this time."

Time will tell if Clent Richardson's approach to rebuilding the Canadian giant's brand will ultimately succeed, but this kind of information provided by Network World could very well be used to provide critical decision-making ability today by the company's other business partners, vendors, customers and investors as to what degree they will continue to place trust in the company.

Now, look at this March 7, 2005 article (free, but registration required) from Nation's Restaurant News. The article focuses on how McDonald's Corporation is revamping its employee benefits programs to better attract and retain its workers and managers and spotlights the company's following initiatives:

  • Partnering with 60 other major corporations to buy group medical coverage.
  • Revamping its annual bonus program to a quarterly one, based on feedback with front-line employees.
  • Encouraging more employees to save for retirement through an enhanced 401(k) program, which is available to hourly workers and managers.
  • Improving its corporate training and employee development programs and enrolling substantially more franchisees and general managers in the company's headquarters-based Hamburger University training center.

Each of the items listed above will have a significant impact on McDonald's industry, and will impact how the company's competitors will seek to compete with the fast-food giant. Beyond the food service industry however, each of these initiatives may also affect public policy, including health care, education, retirement and other areas of public debate. The sad part is that it's an open question whether you would actually find out about any of the changes inside McDonald's from a more traditional news outlet, despite the company's nearly universal presence in communities throughout the U.S.

Regardless of the actual developments at both Nortel and McDonald's, if you had waited for government statistics to be published or for the item to be mentioned in a mainstream news outlet, you could have missed timely and critical information that you could have used - whether as an investor, job applicant, business partner, analyst or as a citizen. While the question is one of whether or not that's an opportunity cost you could afford, it might make for an interesting academic exercise to see just how far behind the information curve one could be and still be able to make effective business decisions.

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