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Michelle Obama: The Business Case for Healthier Food Options; In recent years, they have generated more than 70% of the growth in sales for packaged-goods companies

February 27, 2013, 7:29 p.m. ET

Michelle Obama: The Business Case for Healthier Food Options

In recent years, they have generated more than 70% of the growth in sales for packaged-goods companies.

By MICHELLE OBAMA

For years, America’s childhood obesity crisis was viewed as an insurmountable problem, one that was too complicated and too entrenched to ever really solve. According to the conventional wisdom, healthy food simply didn’t sell—the demand wasn’t there and higher profits were found elsewhere—so it just wasn’t worth the investment.

But thanks to businesses across the country, today we are proving the conventional wisdom wrong. Every day, great American companies are achieving greater and greater success by creating and selling healthy products. In doing so, they are showing that what’s good for kids and good for family budgets can also be good for business.

Take the example of Wal-Mart WMT -0.30% . In just the past two years, the company reports that it has cut the costs to its consumers of fruits and vegetables by $2.3 billion and reduced the amount of sugar in its products by 10%. Wal-Mart has also opened 86 new stores in underserved communities and launched a labeling program that helps customers spot healthy items on the shelf. And today, the company is not only seeing increased sales of fresh produce, but also building better relationships with its customers and stronger connections to the communities it serves. Read more of this post

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Signatures Of Famous CEOs, And The Secrets They Reveal

Would be great if the signature analysis can be extended to outstanding CEOs and leaders who are not commonly featured in a high-profile way since preconceived notions and pre-“knowledge” about their “character” can be gathered..  KB

Signatures Of Famous CEOs, And The Secrets They Reveal

Jay Yarow | Feb. 27, 2013, 9:00 PM | 43,613 | 3

We asked a handwriting analyst to look at the signatures of some big-name technology executives and tell us what they say about their personalities.

Sheila Lowe, president of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation, provided a blurb for us on Jeff BezosSteve Ballmer, and many more.

In researching this story, another handwriting analyst said Lowe is “great” at analysis. Lowe’s group, the AHAF, is trying to get cursive back in school curricula.

Lowe cautioned that it’s difficult to truly read a person’s character based just on their signature. You need some handwriting samples.

“A signature by itself gives only a limited amount of information (it’s like looking at a photo of someone’s nose and trying to describe their whole face),” Lowe told us over email. “The signature is like the cover on a book, and doesn’t always jibe with what’s inside. It’s what the person wants you to know about them.”

Since these people are in tech, we’re guessing it’s been years since any of them hand-wrote notes. As a result we have to use signatures we’ve found through various online sources.

With Bill Gates, Microsoft’s chairman, what you see is what you get

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Lowe: “Bill Gates takes the time to write a clear, clean, unpretentious signature that says, ‘What you see is what you get.’ There are signs of quick thinking, but the round dot over the ‘i’ says he’s patient with details. He’s willing to take the time to listen.”

Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter and CEO of Square’s, “@” signature is about saying “who I am is what I do”

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Jack Dorsey has two signatures we’ve seen online. This one plays on his Twitter founding.

Lowe’s take on this: “Jack Dorsey’s extremely simplified signature drops his last name and with the @ symbol, identifies him with what he does (‘who I am is what I do’). The k ends with a downward trail. If that’s how he normally signs, it may signify a desire to continually look back at the past and figure out how to benefit from his experiences, or to figure out how he got where he is now.”

Jack Dorsey’s more formal signature shows he’s a bottom line kind of guy

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Here’s another Dorsey signature we found that’s more formal. Says Lowe, “This is more his public persona. This one is a logo-type signature, which happens to be easy to forge in its lack of complexity. It’s another case of illegibility that allows the writer to hide anything he doesn’t want the world to see. He’s a bottom line kind of guy, impatient and with that strong ending stroke, aggressive.”

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is not as outgoing as he would have us believe

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Lowe: “Jeff Bezos’ first name leans left before moving rightward with his last name, which is not completely legible and ends in a dynamic movement upward. Despite the fact that he might have a lot to say (notice the open “o” in his last name), he’s not as outgoing as he would like us to think he is, but we would need to see more handwriting to figure out why. That final stroke is somewhat aggressive and acts as a wall to keep others out.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook’s sloppy signature says he doesn’t want us to know much about him

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Tim Cook also has two signatures online. This one is his sloppier signature. Says Lowe of this one, “Tim Cook has a signature that resembles some sort of alien hieroglyphic. Since a signature is written for the purpose of communicating who you are, we can assume that Tim doesn’t want us to know much about him. What we can see, however, is that his mind is moving faster than he can write. He gets to the bottom line at warp speed and isn’t interested in hearing all the mundane details. If you come to him with a plan, make sure you’ve done your homework.”

Tim Cook also has a cleaner signature, which indicates family pride

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We also found this Cook signature, which was on a check for developers. Says Lowe of this one, “He probably felt the need to be clearer, knowing his signature would be seen on this rather large check, so took more time with it. We don’t know which is his “normal” signature—probably the other one. This one has a very large ‘C’ in the last name—his father’s name—so there’s respect or regard for his family of origin.”

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer sets his own standards and doesn’t care what others think

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Lowe: “Steve Ballmer’s signature is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, he crosses the ‘t’ in Stephen far to the right, indicating forward-looking enthusiasm. Second, the ll in Ballmer has a rather strange shape that reaches into the stratosphere and make me wonder if he’s a pilot. We see this type of formation in people who have a great deal of pride in their accomplishments. He wants to be seen as an intellectual, which may lead him to make things sound a lot more complicated than they really are. He sets his own standards and has less interest in what others think.”

Google co-founder Sergey Brin’s signature suggests he wants to be known as Sergey, not Mr. Brin

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Lowe: “Sergey Brin’s somewhat sloppy signature is at least readable. He wrote it quickly, not paying much attention to the details—there’s no dot over his i. He has a sociable, casual approach, and with the capital S being taller than the capital B, he would rather be seen as ‘Sergey,’ than ‘Mr. Brin.'”

Google CEO Larry Page is a good listener

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Lowe: “Larry Page just throws his clear signature down on the paper and doesn’t care what others think. The vowel letters are wide open, which suggests he is a good listener. However, the wide space between first and last name indicates the need for a wide berth of personal space. Don’t stand too close when you speak to him.”

Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg is pretty secretive

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Lowe: “Mark Zuckerberg apparently doesn’t feel the need to share more than just his initials. True, it’s a long name to write, but anyone not knowing what the name says, would find it impossible to guess. He is definitely the man behind the curtain, pulling the strings in the background.”

Once Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs started going, there was no stopping him

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Lowe: “Steve Jobs wrote with a thick marker pen (like his black turtlenecks) and didn’t capitalize his signature. This points to humility, at least in the way he felt about himself, if not his work. The low upper loop indicate someone down to earth, whose focus was on the here and now. The t cross stays mostly to the left of the downstroke, and apart from the capitals, there are no breaks between the letters. He might have needed a second cup of coffee to really get going, but once he did, he was a steamroller who never stopped until he had finished what he started.”

Why Innovation By Brainstorming Doesn’t Work

Why Innovation By Brainstorming Doesn’t Work

BY DEBRA KAYE

FEBRUARY 28, 2013

Anything–even doing laundry–will help you dream up new ideas better than sitting in a meeting, says Debra Kaye, author of “Red Thread Thinking.” A case study of the history of the single-use detergent pod. Eleven men and women file into a conference room and take their places around a large table. Coffee cups and pastries are assembled in front of them. George, the leader, steps up to a large whiteboard and scrawls across the top “SOAP STORM SESSION 9/18/12.” “Okay, let’s begin,” he tells the group. “Let’s just start free-associating. What do we think of when we think clean laundry?” he asks. “To get the ball rolling, I’ll write a few words down,” he says and dashes off chore, piles, whites and brights, and fresh on the board. “What else?” he asks. Several people add a few more words: time-consuming, fold, bright, uncontaminated, pretty, nice, old-fashioned, and pleasant. The meeting continues for about an hour, with more words and thoughts added. The plan was for the team to come up with a new idea for laundry detergent. When the meeting is over, the team members file back to their cubicles, word lists in hand, to ponder the outcome–but none of them ever produced any new insights into doing laundry that would lead to a new product. That’s because the group made the fatal error of trying to innovate by brainstorming around the idea of the central attribute of laundry–cleanliness. So while they came up with a pretty long list of words, none of the few concepts that came out of the meeting–“cleans in a shorter time,” “cleans without presoaking,” “brightens without fading”–was out-of-the-box spectacular. This scenario takes place every day in office suites around the world. That’s an important point to remember, because companies everywhere are brainstorming the same things about clean laundry as my imaginary team. Everything about clean laundry likely has been thought of before. It turns out that a brainstorming session is a great place to load up on baked goods and caffeine, but it’s not so great for generating ideas. In fact, the team in my imaginary example would have come up with more original associations and innovative thoughts had they stayed home and sorted a sock drawer, taken a hike, relaxed in a bathtub, or done just about anything else autonomously–including a load of laundry.

The conventional wisdom that innovation can be institutionalized or done in a formal group is simply wrong. Part of what we know about the brain makes it clear why the best new ideas don’t emerge from formal brainstorming. First, the brain doesn’t make connections in a rigid atmosphere. There is too much pressure and too much influence from others in the group. The “free association” done in brainstorming sessions is often shackled by peer pressure and as a result generates obvious responses. In fact, psychologists have documented the predictability of free association. Read more of this post

The World’s Most Admired Companies: Built for brilliance; Seven of those top 10 companies are one-man phenomena: Apple, Google, Amazon, Starbucks, Southwest Airlines, Berkshire Hathaway, FedEx

The World’s Most Admired Companies: Built for brilliance

By Geoff Colvin, senior editor-at-large @FortuneMagazine February 28, 2013: 7:55 AM ET

The most important trend in the World’s Most Admired Companies ranking isn’t the concentration of tech firms at the top, striking though that is. The list holds an even larger and more powerful pattern: Seven of those top 10 companies are one-man phenomena. Apple, Google, Amazon, Starbucks, Southwest Airlines, Berkshire Hathaway, FedEx — each is the reflection of a single individual (or two, at Google) who is still around, with the notable exception of Apple’s Steve Jobs, gone less than 18 months.

To see how unusual that is and what large questions it raises for any company’s future in today’s economy, one must consider the very first Most Admired list, which appeared 30 years ago, in 1983. Only one among the top 10 was a one-man phenomenon: Digital Equipment, run by founder Ken Olsen. The others were all long-established institutions, corporate aristocracy: IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Johnson & Johnson, Eastman Kodak, Merck, AT&T, General Electric, General Mills.

Why this massive shift? In an information-based economy, a company can rocket to industry dominance and a towering valuation in the space of a founder’s career, much faster than in an industrial economy. It can also fall right back down, as Yahoo, AOL, and MySpace prove. Read more of this post

Many women were appalled at the Yahoo news, noting that Mayer, with her penthouse atop the San Francisco Four Seasons, her Oscar de la Rentas and her $117 million five-year contract, seems oblivious to the fact that for many of her less-privileged sisters with young children, telecommuting is a lifeline to a manageable life.

February 26, 2013

Get Off of Your Cloud

By MAUREEN DOWD

When Marissa Mayer became queen of the Yahoos last summer, she was hailed as a role model for women. The 37-year-old supergeek with the supermodel looks was the youngest Fortune 500 chief executive. And she was in the third trimester of her first pregnancy. Many women were thrilled at the thought that biases against hiring women who were expecting, or planning to be, might be melting.

A couple months later, it gave her female fans pause when the Yahoo C.E.O. took a mere two-week maternity pause. She built a nursery next to her office at her own expense, to make working almost straight through easier. The fear that this might set an impossible standard for other women — especially women who had consigned “having it all” to unicorn status — reverberated. Even the German family minister, Kristina Schröder, chimed in: “I regard it with major concern when prominent women give the public impression that maternity leave is something that is not important.” Almost two months after her son, Macallister, was born, Mayer irritated some women again when she bubbled at a Fortune event that “the baby’s been way easier than everyone made it out to be.” “Putting ‘baby’ and ‘easy’ in the same sentence turns you into one of those mothers we don’t like very much,” Lisa Belkin chided in The Huffington Post. Now Mayer has caused another fem-quake with a decision that has a special significance to working mothers. She has banned Yahoos, as her employees are known, from working at home (which some of us call “working” at home). It flies in the face of tech companies’ success in creating a cloud office rather than a conventional one. Mayer’s friend Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook wrote in her new feminist manifesto, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” that technology could revolutionize women’s lives by “changing the emphasis on strict office hours since so much work can be conducted online.” She added that “the traditional practice of judging employees by face time rather than results unfortunately persists” when it would be more efficient to focus on results.

Many women were appalled at the Yahoo news, noting that Mayer, with her penthouse atop the San Francisco Four Seasons, her Oscar de la Rentas and her $117 million five-year contract, seems oblivious to the fact that for many of her less-privileged sisters with young children, telecommuting is a lifeline to a manageable life.

The dictatorial decree to work “side by side” had some dubbing Mayer not “the Steinem of Silicon Valley” but “the Stalin of Silicon Valley.”

Mayer and Sandberg are in an elite cocoon and in USA Today, Joanne Bamberger fretted that they are “setting back the cause of working mothers.” She wrote that Sandberg’s exhortation for “women to pull themselves up by the Louboutin straps” is damaging, as is “Mayer’s office-only work proclamation that sends us back to the pre-Internet era of power suits with floppy bow ties.”

Men accustomed to telecommuting were miffed, too. Richard Branson tweeted: “Give people the freedom of where to work & they will excel.” Read more of this post

Buffett once said that shunning dividends in his early years running Berkshire Hathaway allowed him to refocus the company on better businesses, much as a person would overcome “a misspent youth.”

Buffett Outlining Dividend Plan May Ease Successor’s Path

Warren Buffett once said that shunning dividends in his early years running Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/A) allowed him to refocus the company on better businesses, much as a person would overcome “a misspent youth.”

The 82-year-old billionaire is now focused on his legacy as he prepares the company he’s overseen for almost five decades for new management. Using his annual letter tomorrow to outline a dividend strategy could help explain to shareholders how the company’s next leaders should approach the challenge of allocating profits.

“It may ease the burden on the successors” if they are able to initiate a dividend, said Richard Cook, co-manager of the Cook & Bynum Fund (COBYX), which counts Berkshire among its largest holdings. Berkshire and its units “generate a lot of cash.”

Buffett has sought to teach shareholders about business, investing and corporate governance through the annual letters and meetings held in Omaha, Nebraska, where Berkshire is based. As the company grew with investment gains and acquisitions, so did its cash pile, which reached $47.8 billion at the end of September. That’s made the task of allocating the funds more difficult, because it’s hard to find worthwhile, large investments, Buffett has said. Read more of this post

God a Click Away as Web Courses Fuel Falwell’s College

God a Click Away as Web Courses Fuel Falwell’s College

Three times a week almost 13,000 students at Liberty University assemble for an hour of singing and speeches, evoking the spirit of a revival meeting that also attracts Republican politicians and Christian celebrities such as New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow. The collegians make up just 14 percent of the student body. The Lynchburg, Virginia-based school founded by Baptist minister Jerry Falwell in 1971 has an additional 82,500 online students, more than twice as many as three years ago, making Liberty the largest, private nonprofit university in the U.S. “When I look at those numbers it still boggles my mind,” said Jerry Falwell Jr., a soft-spoken lawyer who took over the institution after his father died in 2007.

Nonprofit private and state schools alike are discovering what for-profit colleges such as Apollo Group Inc. (APOL)’s University of Phoenix and Washington Post Co. (WPO)’s Kaplan University figured out more than a decade ago. Faced with a swelling number of overleveraged student borrowers, cuts in public subsidies and paltry endowment investment returns, they are embracing the Internet as a viable alternative to educating students. Read more of this post

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