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The Roundup June 20 & 21

Weekend At Bernie's

Steve Jobs is ready to return to work next week.

“Weekend At Steve’s” continues with yet another plot twist.

Steve Jobs, who has been on medical leave from Apple Inc. since January to treat an undisclosed medical condition, received a liver transplant in Tennessee about two months ago. The chief executive has been recovering well and is expected to return to work on schedule later this month, though he may work part-time initially.

(“Jobs Had Liver Transplant ,” Wall Street Journal, June 20) Here’s the Steve Jobs Syndrome: he spent all his time and much of his company’s resources trying to turn himself into the star of the show, more than the company he ran. So, when death’s winged chariot drew near, he became bilious all over that he was the story. And now, with the liver transplant story strategically leaked (c’mon, Apple is setting us up for their announcement at the end of June that Steve Jobs will not actually be coming back to work as scheduled), suddenly the new iPhone rollout is cast from every newspaper.

Any studio executive dumb enough to bet on an Eddie Murphy film should be shot, not fired.

Hollywood studio Paramount Pictures, which suffered the first big bomb of the summer last weekend with an Eddie Murphy comedy, has fired its top production executive after barely 18 months in the job.

The Viacom Inc-owned studio said on Friday it would replace Paramount Film Group president John Lesher with former DreamWorks production chief Adam Goodman. Also out is production president Brad Weston.

(“Hollywood studio Paramount axes top executives,” Reuters, June 20) For many of our readers in the creative disciplines, this is an object lesson. Lesher is responsible for two of the biggest money-makers this season, Star Trek and the upcoming Transformers sequel (is the Pope a big fan of Michael Bay, too?) But there have also been some duds from the in-house group — and it’s the losers that define your success as an executive in any creative or entertainment discipline. Unless, of course, you’re Eddie Murphy. Since they need him for cartoon voices, he’ll always get the chance to headline one more money-losing picture.

Is it just me, or are competitors starting to take a serious run at Internet Explorer?

Some 20 years after creation of the World Wide Web and more than 10 years after Microsoft crushed Netscape, the browser market has become increasingly dynamic. Not only are a range of competitors vying for the turf that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer once had almost to itself, but they also are spurring an increasingly rapid cycle of innovation.

(“Web browser enters a golden age,” San Jose Mercury News, June 19) Most of the innovation centers around browser speed, with all the major players promising “faster” page loads and streamilined searches. But only Opera is rethinking how and what a browser is with its new Opera Unite, but it sounds to me like a security nightmare on steroids. But there’s one innovation that no-one is pursuing: disappearing the browser entirely. If cloud computing and the core idea behind Unite is the future, then the best browser simply runs from the desktop.

Earth to Starbucks: when you play defense, you’re losing.

Starbucks Corp. plans to start grinding and brewing coffee more frequently in U.S. stores to ensure fresh batches are always available.

Baristas will refresh each container of coffee about every 24 minutes, said Sanja Gould, a spokeswoman for Seattle-based Starbucks. As stores typically have three batches going at once, a new pot could be ready as often as every eight minutes, she said.

(“Starbucks to grind and brew coffee more frequently,” Los Angeles Times, June 21) Spoken like a true operations wonk. Now, some may wonder why I’m even mentioning this trivia of trivias news stories. It’s because the story provides a great lesson in how to fail at business. You know that someone at Starbucks sat down and ran a series of operational experiments, all the while writing down numbers and dollar figures and feeding the whole soup into some statistics-crunching software. A few beeps and clicks and the optimal quality relative to the cost came out as . . . hold the phone . . . 24 minutes as opposed to 30 minutes. So now all the numbers geeks can say, “Statistically, McDonald’s sucks relative to the price and Starbuck’s is great relative to tis price.” Compelling, isn’t it? Forget about the fact that the number one complaint people have about Starbucks is the abysmal customer service. The wrong orders. The long waits. Being abandoned at the cash register. The best offense against a competitor is always knock-your-socks-off customer service. McDonald’s is so far behind the ball on customer service, that they could never catch up. They simply don’t have staff with the personality or quality to deliver even adequate customer service and it’s not in their corporate culture (have you ever seen anybody behind the counter at McDonalds actually smile or say hello? They are so bad at customer service, they don’t even know the word “hello.”) Starbucks has great employees for the most part. If they decided to wildly ramp up the customer service end of things, they’d find they had the human resources to make it happen (McDonald’s does not). And, yes, people will be willing to pay more. Of course, they have to do some number-crunching and figure out how to move their lines and make product faster than they do. That’s what they should be devoting the whole statistical operations wonkiness to. Oh, and by the way, they haven’t noticed that their new 24 minute, fresh ground policy will make the lines longer and slower, which is one of their biggest problems.

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