June 27, 2016

Random Acts… Brexit and the “Free State of Jones”

Posted in Business, Diversity, Employment, Entertainment, Movies, Politics at 8:06 pm by dinaheng

Life can sometimes seem like a never-ending cycle of unresolved conflicts.

Great Britain surprised the world last week by voting to leave the European Union. The campaigns of the presumptive GOP and Democratic nominees in the U.S. Presidential election mirror the conflicting sides of the Brexit debate. A new movie about the Civil War – STX Entertainment’s “Free State of Jones” — reflects the intractable partisan politics of today’s Democrats and Republicans.

It all comes back to the power of fear versus the power of love.Dinah Eng

Fear of losing cheap labor (in the form of slaves) tore this country apart in the early 1860s. Fear of losing jobs to immigrants is a cornerstone of Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign and Brexit’s “leave” campaign today.

What we need is more Newton Knights in the world. Knight (played by Matthew McConaughey) in “Free State of Jones,” was a little-known figure in Civil War history whose contribution to this country proves that every action we take ripples through time.

Knight, a Mississippi farmer, led an unlikely band of poor white farmers and runaway slaves in breaking away from the Confederacy to form the region’s first mixed-race community. Refusing to fight a “rich man’s war,” Knight became a Confederate deserter, hiding in the swamps of rural Mississippi and inspiring a ragtag army to fight injustice and prejudice.

After the Civil War ended, Knight advocated for the right of freed slaves to vote in Jones County, Miss. and fought the Klu Klux Klan. He fathered five children in a common-law marriage to Rachel, a former slave, and while they could not legally marry, he deeded his 160-acre farm to her, making her one of the few African-American women to own land in the South.

Knight also fathered children by his first wife, Serena, who left him during the Civil War. After the war, Serena returned to the Knight farm, where both wives and their families lived.

Eighty five years later, Knight’s great-grandson Davis Knight, who looks Caucasian, was indicted for violating Mississippi law by marrying Junie Lee Spradley, a white woman. While Davis Knight was convicted of miscegenation in 1948, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the verdict.

Prejudice and economic inequality seem to go hand in hand in humanity’s history. No one knows what will happen when Britain formally leaves the EU. Since last week’s referendum, Scotland is considering the possibility of leaving Great Britain to stay in the EU.

Republicans who can’t stand Trump’s rhetoric will no doubt look for ways to oust him at the GOP convention, or break away to form a new party of their own.

Politically, we can always move from one party to another, or leave a block of countries to stand independently. What people seem to forget is that no matter where we go, if fear is the driving force, we will just end up under another label, afraid of something else.

Brexit’s “leave” faction won the referendum because the positive reasons for remaining in the EU got lost amid the shouts of fear against other cultures, a view held mostly by an older generation that feels left out and left behind in a global society. The same dynamic has driven Trump’s rise in the United States.

Today’s Republicans and Democrats have an opportunity to defeat the prejudice that divides us. We must realize, though, that the only way to end any partisan divide is to face our fears, build bridges, and let the power of love heal our wounds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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September 24, 2015

Random Acts… Customer service shouldn’t be a bonus

Posted in Business at 2:37 am by dinaheng

“At your service” is a phrase often used, and rarely fulfilled these days.

Whether it’s buying a dress at a department store, traveling on an airplane, or staying at a hotel, customer service all too often depends on whether the employee serving you is having a good day.

During a recent hotel stay in Las Vegas, I think every employee I spoke with was in a bad mood. While I’m not a gambler, my family loves to try their luck at slot machines, so I’ve tagged along with them, sampling many of the major Las Vegas hotels on the Strip.Dinah Eng

Last month, my sister Linda and I decided to stay at Bally’s Las Vegas, which touts a great location across the street from the fabulous fountain and light show outside Bellagio’s, and shares a parking garage with sister hotel Paris Las Vegas. Sadly, Bally’s clearly has gone downhill over the years.

The site, which first opened as the Three Coins Motel in 1963, has changed hands numerous times. Its current owner is Caesars Entertainment Corp., whose main operating unit was placed in Chapter 11 in January.

Unfortunately, our non-smoking room reeked of smoke and the walls were paper-thin. After checking in and leaving our bags, we went out for dinner. When we returned, someone had clearly been in the room, leaving hair in the bathroom sink and tub. When I sat down on a chair by the desk, it was soaking wet.

When I told the maid about it, she just laughed. I had to badger a manager into moving us to another room. Needless to say, we’ll never stay at Bally’s again.

Since good customer service starts at the top, it can’t be easy working for companies whose CEOs don’t understand that the bottom line is inevitably tied to the level of customer service provided.

When the news broke that Jeff Smisek, the bean counter CEO who engineered the problem-plagued merger of Continental and United Airlines, had resigned amid a corruption probe by federal investigators, no one was probably happier than United’s employees and frequent flyers.

It’s hard to understand why the airline, which is rated last in customer satisfaction among big carriers by J.D. Power, still reported second-quarter net income of $1.3 billion in July, a record quarterly profit for the company.

I wonder how cramped seats have to get before people actually refuse to pay any more of the nickel and dime charges airlines now routinely ask for. With fuel prices at such low levels, why are passengers not demanding lower airfares?

Everywhere you turn, industries are inventing “add-on” fees for services that used to be part of a normal sales transaction.

Take mattress specialty stores. My sister Linda, who lives in Houston, recently went shopping for a new queen bed, a process that’s akin to buying a car. You have to bargain for what you want, and settle for what you get, because salespeople usually won’t return complaint calls after the sale has been completed.

The mattress store websites may refer to “free delivery,” but once you’re in the store, you’re told the normal delivery charge is $79. However, if you buy the bed today, that charge will be reduced to $29. Same principle goes for buying the bedframe. Though if you want to take advantage of their financing options, the bed price may go down a little more. (Never mind that over time, the cost will be more.)

After looking through several stores, Linda was able to work with Gail, a friendly saleswoman at a Mattress One store, who just asked how much she wanted to spend. The saleswoman then massaged the numbers to seal the deal, without endless bargaining over each item.

Unfortunately, the difference between a low box spring and a high one was not discussed, so when the bed was delivered with a high box spring, Linda called to ask for the low one. The district manager, who said she should have asked for it at the point of sale, refused to send out a lower box spring unless Linda was willing to pay a $54-plus change delivery fee.

Linda decided against paying the extra charge, and was left with a sour taste after the sale. While Gail’s customer service would have resulted in referrals, the district manager’s decision ensured that Mattress One will not receive any from our family now.

Someone should tell that manager that it’s a lot easier to make a profit from repeat customers than continually trying to shortchange new customers.

March 20, 2015

Random Acts… You are a blessing

Posted in Business, Relationships, Spirituality, Women at 4:59 pm by dinaheng

My friend Christine is an angel. No matter what happens in life, she invariably thinks of the feelings of others.

One day, she thought about an old Reader’s Digest article that talked about a teacher who had a somewhat unruly class. To change people’s attitudes, the teacher had everyone write the names of all the students in the class on separate pieces of paper.Dinah Eng

Underneath each name, the assignment was to write down something you liked about that person. Each person then got the slips of paper with their names on it. Imagine how good each student felt to read all that positive feedback. And yes, doing that exercise changed the entire class’s demeanor – toward each other and, no doubt, toward themselves.

Christine decided to do something similar to brighten the lives of the people she meets.

She printed up some business-size cards with the message, “Thank you! I appreciate you and the way you have helped me today. Life is full of blessings, and you are one of them. Christine.”

“I give them out to waiters, people who hold the elevator open for me, anyone who’s done a good deed,” says Christine, a former space biologist for NASA who lives outside Nashville, Tenn. “I carry them in my wallet, and try to spread them out as much as possible. I just thought it might help people who are having a bad day.”You are a blessing card

The responses she’s gotten are more than gratifying.

“I gave one to the receptionist at a doctor’s office, and she clutched it to her chest with tears in her eyes,” Christine says. “She must have been having a really bad day, and needed it.”

Christine’s act of kindness is a reminder of how much we all need to be valued and appreciated, whether it’s through a smile, a kind word, or the gift of a blessing card.

We all have the power to affect the attitudes and behavior of those around us. We can set a tone of respect around ourselves that ripples out into the world.

Imagine, as Christine does, a business environment where managers and employees take the time to verbally appreciate and thank each other for the things they do every day. How would that change people’s attitudes about their colleagues? How would that change attitudes about going to work every day, and the quality of customer service then provided?

Imagine a Congress and White House where government officials looked first at what they admire in other people, rather than judge others by nothing more than a party name.

How would the world change if churches, mosques, and synagogues respected the highest values in each other’s faith, without trying to make everyone else adhere to their beliefs?

Christine’s friendship is a cherished blessing in my life. If her blessing card inspires you to pass some kindness along, please write and let me know. The more good stories we share, the more the world will change… for the better.

May 21, 2014

How I Got Started: Planting the seeds of 1-800-flowers.com

Posted in Business at 1:18 am by dinaheng

How did a nighttime social worker at the St. John’s Home for Boys in Queens, N.Y. get the audacity to think he could launch a national chain of flower shops? As Jim McCann says of his younger self, “Sometimes naivete can be an asset.” McCann parlayed a single shop into the easy to remember 1-800-Flowers.com. Today, it’s a florist and gift-shop company that serves 70 countries and generated $1 billion in revenue last year.

To read the complete story in Fortune magazine, click here.

Millenial-minded Pivot seeks network niche

Posted in Business, Entertainment, Politics, Television at 12:46 am by dinaheng

Nine months after giving birth to Pivot, an entertainment network aimed at inspiring Gen-Y viewers to push for social change, network president Evan Shapiro is one happy programmer.

While Pivot (like Netflix) is not rated, Shapiro says viewership is ahead of projections, and advertisers and cable companies are clamoring to get Pivot’s research findings on the coveted demographic every network wants.

To read the complete story in USA TODAY, click here.

April 10, 2014

Random Acts… Doing the telephone tango

Posted in Business at 5:55 pm by dinaheng

It may have been an honest mistake – or not.

At the end of February, I called AT&T, irritated over the constant increases in my landline phone bill. Yes, I could just maintain a cell phone and cancel the landline. But since I don’t get a good signal inside my home, half the time the cell phone doesn’t ring.

Surprisingly, the moment I started complaining to the AT&T billing rep, she switched me to the Retention Department. The rep there immediately said he could lower my bill by $10 a month with a “special.” When I asked if I would lose any of my services, he said, “No, everything will stay the same.” So I agreed to stay with AT&T for the lower rate.Dinah Eng

A couple days later, the telemarketing calls started. Since I’ve had an unlisted number for more than a decade, and never give out my home phone to anyone but family and friends, I never got telemarketing calls… until I got on the AT&T “special” plan.

When I called the phone company to ask why I was suddenly inundated by these calls, the billing rep told me that my non-published number had been changed to a listed number. I explained that since their Retention Department rep had told me that no services would change with my lowered rate (which was a recorded conversation), he clearly lied and had made this change without my knowledge or permission. The billing rep said she’d make the number unpublished immediately, and that since it had only been a few days, “there shouldn’t be a problem.”

Six weeks since that little “mistake” by AT&T, and I was still getting three to four telemarketing calls a day from Caribbean Cruise Line, the Los Angeles Times, ADT Security, Elite Security, SRVC, and more.

I put the numbers that showed up on caller ID on my call block list, but the phone still rings once before a call is actually blocked, so the house was never quiet. I put my number on the National Do Not Call Registry, but it takes 31 days for it to take effect, and not all telemarketers honor it.

I asked everyone who called to put me on their company’s do-not-call list, a request that had to be made up to three times up the chain of supervisors before the phone stopped ringing. One day, I finally held my temper long enough to ask one of the telemarketers how they got my number, and he told me that his company bought their call list from Nationwide Marketing.

I looked up Nationwide’s website, called, and got a recording, so I left an irritated message asking them to remove my number from their database. To my surprise, a representative called me back, apologized, and said he would make sure my number was scrubbed from their various lists.

“We try hard to stay current with the Do Not Call registry, but not all our clients comply,” he said. “We’re just trying to make a living, supplying companies with numbers for people who may be interested in their products. The problem comes when some of these companies keep recycling the numbers to others who are selling things people have no interest in. Then the marketing calls just become a nuisance. Companies may keep calling for a year before they drop you off their lists.”

Nationwide isn’t the only company that sells call lists, but at least they seem to respond to complaints. So if you’re inundated with telemarketing calls, don’t just ask to be put on the company’s do-not-call list. Also ask how the company got your number, and close that loophole, as well.

In the fight against unwanted telemarketing calls, peace and quiet at home is dependent on guarding your phone number however you can. Especially since the only thing AT&T (and other telecom companies) will do is charge you for the privilege of not listing it.

 

February 11, 2014

How I Got Started: The sweet smell of Jo Malone’s success

Posted in Business, Women at 1:35 am by dinaheng

As a child, Jo Malone did not enjoy a lot of advantages. Dyslexic, she grew up in a troubled family, and left school at 14. But Malone, now 50, had her own gifts: ambition and, most of all, an acute and artistic ability to perceive and concoct scents. Starting in her kitchen, Malone created exotic fragrances, and skin and bath products, ranging from Wild Fig & Cassis Cologne to Nutmeg & Ginger Bath Oil. She built her self-named brand into a multimillion-dollar global phenomenon before selling it to beauty conglomerate Estée Lauder (EL, Fortune 500) (whose filings don’t break out results for individual brands). After battling breast cancer, Malone is back with a new company called Jo Loves. 

To read the complete story in Fortune magazine, click here.

How I Got Started: Hobie Alter… founding father of the surfing industry

Posted in Business at 1:30 am by dinaheng

Foam and fiberglass. If you’re not a surfer, that combination means little to you. But if you like to ride the waves, you can thank Hobie Alter, the man who combined those two materials. That breakthrough made boards 20 pounds lighter and easier to use, as well as simpler to manufacture. It helped transform board-making from expensive balsa and fiberglass projects that you shaped and sanded in your garage into an economical, mass-production process in the 1950s.

To read the complete story in Fortune magazine, click here.

January 23, 2014

The accidental auctioneer

Posted in Art, Business, Women at 4:03 am by dinaheng

Kathleen Doyle never planned on running an auction house. But when her husband, William J. Doyle, founder and CEO of auctioneer and art-appraisal company Doyle New York, died of leukemia 20 years ago at age 53, she not only stabilized the firm but modernized a business that was antiquated in more ways than one — and turned the company into a global brand.

To read the complete story in Fortune magazine, click here.

How I Got Started: Kingston Technology and the power of memory

Posted in Business, Diversity at 3:49 am by dinaheng

You may not recognize John Tu’s name, but if you’ve ever used a flash drive or added memory to a digital camera, you’ve probably bought a storage device made by his company, Kingston Technology, the world’s largest independent manufacturer of memory products. The co-founder and CEO, 73, loves playing the drums in his own rock band — JT & Friends —  which performs for charity. The group rehearses at Kingston headquarters in Fountain Valley, Calif., where Tu’s office is a modest cubicle. The private company’s last disclosed annual revenues were $6.5 billion in 2010.

To read the complete story in Fortune magazine, click here.

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