Tuesday, December 30, 2008

400,000 sausages

I have recently discovered a podcast that caters to my new found interest in numbers and statistics by the name of “more or less” a BBC run podcast hosted by Tim Hartford, author of “The undercover economist” (great book by the way).

One of the topics discussed in a recent podcast was the widespread hysteria surrounding the finding of high levels of Dioxins in some Irish pork which led to a recall of all Irish pork from the market. On the face of it, I suppose people were justified in being a little bit worried, after all it was Dioxins that were used to poison Ukrainian President Victor Yushenko.

Of course it was not long till the reputable newspapers such as the Sun, Mirror and Mail got out there with the respective headlines: "Toxic Irish pork is swept off shelves","Poison pork panic: Irish pigs were fed on plastic bags" and "Shoppers told: Don't eat toxic Irish pork"... Not so hard to see why people might start panicking.

However behind the scary headlines and uninformed hysteria lay a numerical truth to the situation. An analyst on the podcast commented how in order to reach the levels of Dioxin that poisoned Mr. Yushenko, an individual would have to consumer 50,000kg of tainted pork, or put is sausage terms, that would be a whopping 400,000 sausages.

So with that in mind how many contaminated sausages you would have to eat to achieve Yushenko-esque levels of poisoning? With an Irish life expectancy of 77.7 years:
400,000 divided by 77.7 divided by 365 = 14.1 dioxin contaminated sausages a day for the rest of your life.

Although the above example may be a bit unrealistic, what really would be the effect if one were to eat sausages for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A nutritionist on the podcast had his own opinions on that particular choice of diet: “The first thing I would suggest if you get your cholesterol checked” adding that “Even if you consumed that amount of pork, would there be any risk from the dioxins, in all probability the answer would be no”

So one very public health scare and more than a few damaging headlines later we are left with an Irish Pork industry that has taken a huge hit, and whose future is uncertain. Again this comes down to omission of certain facts by the media in order to make a story more than it is.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Key accounts - Big... Beautiful? (Ed)

Jo my German friend wrote a post yesterday about "Key account management" here, it discussed how your big customers (in terms of sales volume) may not necessarily be worth the effort, money and time spent that must be spent to keep them happy
I had a few thoughts on this myself:

Degree of customer independence
I suppose one thing that needs to be taken into account when talking about these “Big customers” is whether they hold any weight in the decisions made by other parties in the marketplace.

Suppose that “Compu Co.” sells a type of computer to retail shops all around the country, their biggest customer accounting for more than 20% of their sales is PC World. Although this relationship takes a disproportionate amount of time, money and effort PC World are judged as the industry leaders by the competition and all the smaller players purchase according to the trends set by the industry leader. In this case it may be worth the money and effort expended on keeping this “key account” going strong, as a consequence they receive stronger sales from the other 80% of customers who judge their product to be superior to the competition – “it must be, PC World just bought 10,000 of them!”

However if the “Key account” company does not have such sway over the other operators in the marketplace and is completely independent, as I would assume is the case in the majority of b2b relationships then the importance and priority attributed to keeping the big guys happy needs to be re-examined.

The influence of a customer down through the supply chain.
Some industries may be structured so that one set of large customers have a hugely disproportionate say in what gets sold at a later stage in the market. From my own experience the example of pharmaceuticals manufacturers and hospitals comes to mind.

In Ireland the network of Irish hospitals are considered a “Key account” not primarily because of the quantity sold in the actual hospital, but because the decisions made in the hospital have wide reaching effects into the market as a whole.

Hospital pharmacies are able to purchase pharmaceutical products at a heavily discounted rate in comparison to their private sector counterparts, with the manufacturers employing the logic that whatever drug they get prescribed in the hospital, will continue to be received by the patient outside the hospital. So by selling the hospital cholesterol lowering drugs at bargain basement prices, the company have now ensured that 54 year old Johnny will be paying for these on the outside world till death do them part.
As much hastle as it is to maintain these hospital relationships – its is most certainly worth it.

Eggs and Baskets.
To keep it short: nothing is certain, especially in this economic climate. If your key account worth 30% of your sales were to... go out of business... where would that leave you. Expect the unexpected.

They are just my observations on the situation, and in summary I think Jo is correct, the fact is that many companies seem incapable of distinguishing a difference between a customer that provides Sales volume and one that provides superior profitability. Exceptions certainly exist however, and I suppose the lesson to take away from this is that analysis of WHY your supposed "key accounts" are important should be thorough and ongoing.
for example below... big... NOT beautiful

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Guest poster - "Jo"

I am happy to announce that my good German friend Jo will be contributing a few guest posts on this little blog of mine. I had the pleasure of sharing my final year of marketing with Jo and he taught me a thing or two about work ethic and ways of analysing situations. Jo shares some of my pet peeves and odd obsessions so I see his posts as being a good fit for the blog.
Introducing Jo:

Let me say HI first and briefly introduce myself. Most people call me Jo (short for my long full German name Johannes) and I got to know and work with Ed while I did two exchange semesters at UCD. I am really thrilled to write a little guest entry for Ed’s blog and the two of us hope to make this somewhat regular… I am studying business administration and economics with specializations in marketing and services management. At the moment I am working with a consultancy with a focus on marketing and strategy in Luxembourg.

Key accounts - Big... Beautiful?

“Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not.”
Yoda (Star Wars)

In my recent consulting work I did a project that focused on the design of a key account management (KAM) - sometimes also referred to Strategic Account Management - strategy and the implementation and realization of KAM.

Many companies in different industry generate a significant share of their revenues with few customers – the so-called key accounts. In some extreme cases, even the old 80-20 rule is proven true, meaning 20% of customers create 80% of the company’s sales.

During the course of the project, I did some background research and stumbled across a really interesting article by some researchers from Warwick (Piercy & Lane). They wrote a paper about the dangers of key account management which I thought was well worth reading. In a nutshell, their message to CEOs and marketing VPs was to examine KAM a bit more critically. It is quite in line with my observation in the “real world”.

While there is a lot of fuss about increasing sales and strengthening the competitive position in these large accounts, very few actually discuss whether these large accounts are really as attractive as they seem, especially in regard to their profitability and fit with overall company strategy.

Is should be noted that the installation and maintenance of a KAM strategy and systems are likely to lead to further increase the costs to serve these large customers. It is important to note, that big is not always beautiful and especially, if your sales come out of an 80/20 situation, you may want to seriously reconsider your business model.

Of course, revenue generated is an important factor, but size should never be the only or main decision criteria for deciding whether an account is strategic/key or not. While Yodas sentiments may be a little too much, it should not be size that is prized alone either, finding balance as always is key.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Is there a doctor in the county?

Above is a map detailing the number of General practitioners per county in Ireland.
I was pretty amazed to find out there are circa 3900 GPs in the country, about 1 for every 1,100 people.
Dublin leads the way with over 1,100 GPs registered in the county.

Aer Lingus: Death by rejection?

Well 2008 is almost behind us and the Aer Lingus/Ryanair saga continues with no sign of an agreement in the near future. In my opinion the continued blanket refusal by Aer Lingus to consider a takeover by Ryanair is completely unfounded and ridiculous.
Firstly it is clear that sentimentality and politics are getting involved in the situation, where clearly this should not be the case. The “state run company” attitude is still following Aer Lingus around like an unprofitable shadow and is clearly getting in the way of important commercial decisions, like say... dropping an unprofitable route:

“Also at the hearing, Aer Lingus has been told that unless it re-instates a Shannon to Heathrow service, there would be considerable support among TDs for the Ryanair takeover bid. A number of TDs from the Shannon region said there was still a lot of anger there, about the pull-out”

The fact is that Aer Lingus is not a charity, it does not OWE any airport in Ireland anything, the airline should be able to make commercial decisions without having TDs from the Shannon area interfering and I have a feeling that a management headed up by Michael O’Leary wouldn’t stand for this constant interference from these irrelevant parties.

My second point of contention with the anti-Ryanair takeover crowd is their insistence that the takeover bid “significantly undervalues Aer lingus”:

Ryanair says the proposal represents a premium of about 28% over the average closing price (€1.09) of an Aer Lingus share for the 30 days to November 28. It also represents an premium of about 25% over the closing price of €1.12 of an Aer Lingus share on Friday.

Given that Ryanair offered 25% over what the market values Aer Lingus at, I find it bizarre and absurd that someone would argue the bid “undervalued” the company, again this act of denial of financial reality is another example of the complete ignorance of the Aer Lingus board as to the state of their company.

Some interesting facts from Finfacts.ie:

Since 2006, when Aer Lingus rejected Ryanair’s €2.80 offer, they have:

  • Spent over €24 million on its defence of Ryanair’s 2006 €2.80 offer

  • Allowed its director’s basic annual fee to almost treble from €17,500 to €45,000

  • Allowed its non-executive Chairman’s basic annual fee to increase fivefold from €35,000 to €175,000

  • Increased short haul fares by 7% to €94Increased fuel surcharges 5 times to a current average of €75 per sector

  • Aer Lingus’ forecast operating losses for 2008 and again in 2009
In summary I suppose I would like to tell the Aer Lingus board to get real, a Ryanair takeover is the best option for the continued existence of the company. Its time for Aer Lingus to get the sentimentality of “the good old times”, and the politics out of its decision making, its also time to have a management that is not afraid to make tough decisions, and its time for Aer Lingus to get a strategic plan that will ensure the companys long term survival.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Damn Lies

Having dealt with a large amount of data in my line of work in the last while I have become more than a little bit sensitive and touchy about a few things related to the area of statistics. The above quote sums up what I am trying to get at here, being the constant hijacking of various bits of information, and presenting them in a way which, by exluding other relevant factors is completely misleading and unhelpful.

I talked about this briefly a few posts ago where I mentioned the importance of putting things in CONTEXT before judging them to be relevent/important/interesting in any way at all.

Well the nice folks at the Irish times gave me something to grind me teeth to yesterday: "Ireland ranks fourth dearest in price survey"

Now I realise what they are saying is for the most part correct, Ireland is undeniably an expensive place to live, but it is the inclusion of sentances like "a trip to the movies checks in at €8.22, down from €9.50 last year. By contrast, a cinema ticket in Lithuania costs just €3.63." which get me a little worked up.

Yes the absolute euro cost is almost three times higher, but to willingly OMIT the fact that the GDP per capita is 6 times higher in ireland ($51600 in Ireland vs $8590 in Lithania (2006 UN stats link)) renders their argument on this instance completely meaningless, seeing as going to the cinema in Lithuania, on a Lituanians wage, would take up more of the average persons income.

This example is by no means an isolated example, these "news stories" crop up all the time and all they do is serve to misinform and confuse people... Lies I tell you! Damn LIES!!!

On the British VAT plan

It seems like I am not alone in my views on the British governments "big plan" to get consumer confidence back up, the decidedly timid 2% cut in VAT.
Germany's finance minister Peer Steinbr├╝ck had a few choice words on the matter which appeared in this weeks newsweek.

"Our British friends are now cutting their value-added tax. We have no idea how much of that stores will pass on to customers. Are you really going to buy a DVD player because it now costs £39.10 instead of £39.90? All this will do is raise Britain's debt to a level that will take a whole generation to work off"

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Handshake? no need! - A George Bush guide

Rowan over at the Fortify Services blog wrote a little bit recently about the importance of handshakes, he referenced a quote from the one and only Donald Trump who "poo-poos" the handshake altogether
"I think that the only thing better than a good handshake is no handshake at all."
If the Trump man is true then former President George Bush has mastered that tactic, watch the video below and marvel at his ability to break free from that pesky norm of shaking hands with other national leaders.
*he does seem kind of sad, as the news anchor says, almost like the kid who no-one will play with.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Absolute vs Percentage - put it in context

I have been thinking about writing a piece on this for quite some time but two events I read about in the news have spurred me on to write it without delay.
People need to realise there is a difference between a absolute number and a percentage. Without being able to put either the absolute, or percentage figure into context they are effectively meaningless.

Take example one. Absolute figure without percentage for context
The Irish agency "FAS" who are involved in training, reskilling and job creation in Ireland, were lambasted in the media for spending circa €600k on "travel and entertainment". Firstly, like it or not, that is the way business is done, building relationships with organisations is an expensive activity, business class flights, fancy restaurants the whole nine yards, as unattractive as that may be its the reality of the situation. SECONDLY, Fas's budget is €1billion. In percentage terms €600k is equal to... wait for it... 0.06% of the overall budget (odd they don't quote that figure in the media)... get over it.

Example 2. Percentage without the absolute for context
Another story that really grinded my gears was the "groundbreaking news" that the UK VAT rate will be reduced by a whopping 2%. The UK media, and seemingly government seem to think that by reducing VAT by 2% this will get people spending in the same reckless way which they used to pre-financial crisis. This is just stupid, and people are obviously not thinking of this in context.
"Plasma screen T.V. - previously £999, now starting from as low as £979"
"Bottle of Champagne - previously £60, now £58.80"
... useless.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The price of admission

A pic taken from my recent travels.
For a brief while I thought this was the extent of American security at the Canadian border. I by charging a fee to get in you are ensuring only the wealthiest of immigrants.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Media and definitions

Now don't get me wrong I am happy that the US election panned out as it did, I was very much an Obama man. However one thing I cant get behind is the general media's attitude that the election of an African American president shows that the US has turned a major corner.

Pundits will often cite the "crushing", "landslide" victory that Obama enjoyed once the votes had been counted, and I suppose the electoral college system in the US goes a long way to make the vote often appear more one-sided that in it should. Obama received 53(ish)% percent of the overall vote, now I dont know how the average person would define a landslide, but for me that just doesn't cut the mustard.

Almost half of the US voting population do not want to see Mr. Obama in the Whitehouse, and these nice folk will be gunning for him (hopefully not in the literal sense, but I wouldn't doubt it) for the entire duration of his time as the "Commander in chief".

Say it all you like but 53% does not a landslide make... thats all I have to say about that

Saturday, November 15, 2008

30 years on

This week I witnessed a colleagues 30th work anniversary (right term?). This is quite an accomplishment and from the multiple "can you beleive it" conversations going on around the office I gather it is extremely rare that someone completes such a long stint with one employer.

There was of course the standard issue cake, speech and handing over of a nice watch, and it was quite nice to see how proud the man was of being, as the MD put it, "woven into the fabric of our company".

My favorite part of the proceedings was the employee's recount of what working in the pharmaceutical industry was like all those decades ago.

I suppose for people of my generation it can be easy to forget that until relatively recently there was no internet, there were no computers, no emails, no excel spreadsheets... (that last one could be a good thing).

I can imagine that working without these things must have been an entirely different ball game, a very papery ball game. In the days when email was a few decades away, and computer based documents were unthinkable, paper must have been king and thats something I just cant imagine.

All this thinking about how weird and tough it must have been back then, made me appreciate (in an odd way) the current bains of my daily life, things like Microsoft Excel, email, Powerpoint, because I know that having to perform these functions in an analouge way would be an insane operation. By using excel spreadsheets I have the power to perform various statistcal analyses that would be totally impracticle to try on paper (I have horrible thoughts of sitting infront of graph paper with a pencil and ruler). By using a simple database program managers can check sales of every pharmaceutical product, in every County, by using video conferencing an employee in Ireland can talk with an employee in America in real time...

While all this may seem boring to the average person I do find the changes that have occured between Mr.30ths first day and today to be fairly amazing.

30 years... It's a long way off, what will things be like then?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

You know a political campaign has been a success when...

Well I suppose you know it has been a success when you have been elected, but during a walk around Buffalo, NY, I found the scene pictured above. The Obama "change" had spread beyond the electorate to the extent where little kids with chalk were inspired by the possibility of a change of direction for the US.

I am very happy that Mr. Obama prevailed in the election, however I see two major challenges for the new President.

  1. He only won 53% of the "popular vote", meaning 47% of the country aren't so happy to have Obama in the Whitehouse, these nice folk will be trying to shoot him down (hopefully not literally) every step of the way.
  2. Even with his fans the expectations of what he will deliver are unbelievably high, even if he performs adequately, or indeed above average, this will probably be viewed as "not good enough".

Interesting times ahead.

Golf Sale?

From what I gather, selection of actors for ads is a fairly extensive process which takes days if not weeks, or maybe even months. Take for example the "I'm a pc, I'm a mac ad", it just wouldn't have worked unless those actors suited the role, and were dressed in a way that would best convey the message.

I was taking a stroll through Grafton street and came across the "oh so regular" regular feature of Grafton street, a gang of homeless looking folk holding up signs for various shops which reside down some side street.

The fine gentleman in the blue jacket, with his hood up, is holding up a sign for... a golf shop. Now I may not be an expert in advertising, but I am a person with reasonable intellect, does this person really convey what the golf shop want people to think about their shop? For me, I would be afraid it is some sort of trick to lure me down a lane (which it might be).

Recently when I was in Chicago I saw a homeless man, wearing old shabby clothes, holding up a sign for a shop which sold "Luxury mens suits", I know that the advertisement may be cheap, but I would predict that it drives exactly ZERO customers to your fine suit shop, therefore although you may be paying them a meagre $5, that's five big ones down the drain.

So to those who favour "advertisement via big sign held by a homeless person" I say: Is this really the way you want people to view your business?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Airport security - dont bother asking

I used to like flying, I used to like it alot.
I suppose a great deal of my enjoyment was based on the fact that flying was like a real life google earth (I have called it this on multiple occasions).
Times have changed... the novelty I once enjoyed has been replaced with complete loathing for the amount of my life that is wasted in queues for queues, and spent answering absurdly stupid questions. Questions such as "did you pack your bags yourself" are surely unneeded, I think the late George Carlin put it very well when talking about the question "have your bags been in your possession the whole time"

No. Usually the night before I travel – just as the moon is rising – I place my suitcases out on the streetcorner and leave them there, unattended, for several hours. Just for good luck.

The one that really gets me is the set of questions they see fit to ask you on the USA visa waiver form, the little green form that no one can ever figure out how to complete (In Dublin airport they now have people dedicated to telling you how, nice design eh?).
The questions that are most ridiculous are to be found on the back of the form.
The first question regarding communicable diseases is fair enough, however if you were afflicted with yellow fever, and you really wanted to get into the USA would you really tell them? My personal favourite is:
"Have you ever been or are you now involved in espionage or sabotage; or in terrorist activities; or genocide; or between 1933 and 1945 were you involved, in any way, in persecutions associated with Nazi Germany or its allies?"
Again, this may indeed be information that the US government would like to know, but do they truly believe that any person who fits this bill will ever tick "yes"?

Questions like these are a stupid waste of time, I would assume that no sane person who actually wanted to enter the US would ever tick yes to any of these questions, if you know you will be lied to, don't bother asking, and let me get on my damn plane

2 Weeks, 3 cities

2 weeks and 3 cities later I am back, what a long 2 weeks (in a good way) perhaps the key to maintenance of sanity during employment? I thought I was on a roll there with a few comeback posts but this holiday has thrown things off a bit, posts should be a little more regular now I wont be spending all of my internet time researching a holiday...

Stay tuned.

From top: Boston, Chicago, Buffalo/Niagara falls

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Shwarzenegger school of economics

Understanding that you would believe me when I put this quote up I have also included a video for your viewing pleasure

Thursday, October 9, 2008

On the subject of pharmacies...

At the moment there are circa 1500 pharmacies around Ireland, and if you were to take a stroll around any mid sized town in the country I can guarantee with a certain degree of safety that you will see at least four pharmacies there, I would know, I have done it.

Abbeyfeale, Newcastle west, Castlecomer, Douglas... all areas that I have never heard of in my life (until recently) and all of them with four pharmacies.
The weirdest bit about it is that they often locate very close to one another, within a literal stones throw.

Apart from establishments that sell another type of drug... pubs, there is no other category of shop that have such a presence (could you imagine there being four barbers in one village?), I suppose the fact that four pharmacies can co-exist in a one horse town points to the fact that they are obviously making huge profits, if not it would be safe to say that they wouldn't be there. As I found out recently pharmacists are most certainly not in the business for the love of the patients.

On a quest to cut back on Health care expenditure the Irish government have tried to cut down the amount they pay to pharmacists for dispensing drugs to those with medical cards, and as soon as they announced this proposal, which to be honest would help the country in many ways, the pharmacists went into a state of rebellion, according to them this was grossly "unfair".

Well a group of pharmacists took the Health department to the high court over this... and by some absurd oddity won the case... so it looks like the government wont be making those savings after all... And whats more is allows this ridiculous extortionate situation to continue.

Some time soon I hope that the "four pharmacies to each village" situation will be broken, I hope that pharmacists begin to make normal profits, and the industry becomes as competitive and fair as any other.

Rant over

Friday, October 3, 2008

Dell and some "Cop on"

Well today is a very momentous occasion, today saw the arrival of my first new laptop since my first ever computer that I got allll those years ago (3) for the start of college. At less than half the price, but more than twice the power, I am a happy man and it now means that I can lay my old computer to rest in the laptop graveyard... its been sick for quite some time now.

What I couldnt help noticing is how stylish my new computer is in comparitive terms to my old Dell, I mean look at the picture above, makes you jealous... right... (probably not). My old dell purchased in 2005 looked like laptops did in 1985, and I would attribute most of that to the fact that until relatively recently Dell didn't consider itself to have much competition.
... Well the other companies caught up and soon surpassed poor old Dell on design, and even price, but now through some inivative (copying of) design (from apple) development and quick "copping on" Dell have managed to come up with some great machines, with fun features such as coloured panelling general sleek design and I now have a laptop I can be proud of...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sarah Palin... is not smart

I must say that I am quite amazed that any nominee would be stupid enough to choose Sarah "20 months governer of Alaska" Palin as their VP candidate. I could go on and on about how stupid she really is... but I decided I would just copy and paste a section of her most recent TV interview.

Talking about the proposed financial bailout package in the US:

"ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the healthcare reform that is needed to help shore up our economy. Um, helping, oh -- it's got to be all about job creation too. Shoring up our economy, and putting it back on the right track. So healthcare reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions, and tax relief for Americans, and trade, we've got to see trade as opportunity, not as a competitive, um, scary thing, but 1 in 5 jobs being created in the trade sector today. We've got to look at that as more opportunity. All of those things under the umbrella of job creation. This bailout is a part of that."


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Make sure it works

Alot of companies (esp pharma companies) like to give away pens, post-its, notepads and other branded items so that you recall their products and brand. This is all well and good, and I'm sure it is reasonably effective, however... if the item you are giving away doesn't work properly then this creates a rather shoddy image of the brand in question.

I bring this up because recently I was subject to such an incident. While staying at a well known Hotel in Galway (which by the way has nothing to do with the Radisson Galway that is pictured above) I decided to take a pen, as I knew I would be needing one later that day while interviewing pharmacists. Later that afternoon I took out my hotel pen, clicked on the top of it and... disaster. The front of the pen ejected off in an extremely comical fashion launching bit of plastic and a spring all over the shop floor of a local chemist... needless to say they weren't impressed... neither was I...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Excess Baggage

A disturbing fact came to my attention while browsing through the business section of the Irish Times last week. It seems that the nice folk who put bags on planes for Aer Lingus get paid... wait for it... Seventy thousand euro...

I understand that having your bags reach the intended destination is fairly important, but I would imagine that the act of "baggage handling" is not so complex or taxing as to deserve such a ridiculously high salary.

and now that Aer Lingus have decided its time to cut costs in the interest of long term existence, the nice baggage handlers have decided to kick up an Almighty fuss, with talk of strikes etc.

The news of Alitalias financial woes shocked many, but like Aer Lingus it is that fact that mismanagement under state ownership has brought about ridiculous situations like baggage handlers on 70k.

in other news, I have began to practice moving heavy bags around my house, soon I will have a valuable qualification!

Meetings, Meetings, Meetings

Through personal experience this week I have decided that business meetings should be strictly policed by a large man with a stick who holds up a clock and MAKES you stop in your tracks without rambling on.. and on... and on.

I witnessed the "And I just have one more point" approach the other day where a certain individual (who I actually really like in day to day interactions) managed to make "just one more point" an incredible six times. Whats more, the content of what they were saying really only had relevance to about 2 out of the other 9 people in attendance.

I consider it to be a totally wasted hour of my life... 2.6% of my workweek...

Keep it short and sweet, get in contact with the people you need to afterward... but don't waste my life

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Experience is... 2

Two posts down I put up a quote from a man named Randy Pausch, which said that "experience is what you get, when you didnt get what you wanted". When I put this quote up I meant to add a slight amendment to the wording, however I didnt...

I think that the thought he is trying to express is better expressed by saying that experience is what you get when you didnt get what you EXPECTED, because in reality it is not only negative circumstances that produce brilliant experiences...

Tales from the road

Well its been a along time since I last posted anything on this little blog of mine but I thought it was about time that I broke the silence with a tale from my new job.

The last week and a bit has been spent on the road around Ireland attending various meetings and more recently interviewing pharmacists about how they view the wholesaler service etc. For these interviews I tag along with a Sales rep who visits the doctors in the area, and I go and visit the pharmacies nearby.

One of the more interesting places I visited last week was a small town called Ballyduff, Kerry. We pulled in on Monday morning at 11am, having finished my pharmacy call I had to wait around for my colleague who was going to be taking a good bit longer. Scanning around the village I saw a nice friendly looking pub and decided I'd pop in for a nice cup of coffee. I walked up to the door, opened it and was slightly shocked... to say the least. It seems that Monday mornings are fair game for drinking down in Ballyduff, and it seemed that the drinking session of the century was in full swing. People were drinking, shouting and about to start fighting... it really was quite an impressive sight. Upon my opening of the door, the place fell silent, and literally everyone stopped what they were doing and looked over at me, in my suit and tie, looking distinctly out of place. In return I looked around the bar slowly in a state of semi horror, gave a little wave and left...

Just goes to show you, what might be normal where you live - not drinking at 11am - may be the norm elsewhere, also, don't go to Ballyduff in a suit.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Welling up with wisdom

Cutting costs (and customers)

I must say that I am surprised that in these apocolyptic "recessionary... times" that budget airlines are reacting in the way that they are. A quick browse of the business pages will tell you all about how airlines plan on cutting costs, eliminating unprofitable routes, cutting out the frills and also grounding planes during the winter months etc... This is all wrong.

What they need to do is cut fuel costs, my somewhat controversial suggestion is that they just don't let their more husky customers on board... I said it was controversial, but hey, we have an environment to go saving AND costs to cut.
However, in all seriousness if an airline lowered the weight of its average passenger, through enforcing restrictions, by say 7kg (just a bit more than a stone), and assuming a plane holds 200 passengers that would mean having 1400kgs less to be lugging through the air. This is not only alot of saved fuel, but also means that certain customers wont be taking up one and a half seats... bad personal experience here

If car insurance companies can have women only clientele, surely airlines can have fit passengers only...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Educating Edward

Not too long ago the results for my college degree were released, as it transpired I missed out on the top grade available by about 1 or 2% overall, which I must say is a bit annoying to say the least. When I saw the results I just sat and stared (and listened to supertramp) at the computer screen and decided to feel incredibly sorry for myself for quite some time. During this time however it gave me an opportunity to really think about the importance of it all.

Did the fact that the number on the screen was slightly smaller than one I wanted to see make a monumental difference? Did it affect all the great things I got out of my time in college?

The next morning when the initial wallowing in self pity had worn out I decided that the grade itself was of practically no consequence, and in reality I had got a first class time out of college.
Some of my friends however have not taken so kindly to their grades and to this day feel hard done by and even worse genuinely believe that by not achieving a 1st class honours have wasted 3 years of their lives. This however, (for them) could be fairly accurate.

As I said about the recent case competition I attended, if your single purpose of attending was to win (or get a 1st class honours), and you end up coming 2nd, then to you the whole thing has been a pointless waste of time. Once you recognise that grades/rank/etc are only a PART of college, you can enjoy the journey, get involved outside of coursework and get the full benefit from the experience.

The whole grade fiasco reminded me of the movie “Educating Rita” which I saw recently. There is a brilliant scene near the end of the movie where Rita, having transformed from a working class woman to student of English literature, announces to her lecturer that she doesn’t need him anymore, “I don’t need you, I know what wine to buy, what clothes to wear, what plays to see, what papers and books to read and I can do it without you”. The lecturer (played very well by Michael Caine) responds brilliantly with “Is that all you wanted… Have you come all this way for so very very little?”. I like to think that the lecturers remark is applicable to grades from college too, not that I am saying that barely scraping by is ok, but once you are above a certain point, the grade itself becomes rather arbitrary.

So I think at the end of this rather unstructured rant, I am trying to say is that, by setting the wrong targets and awarding them a disproportionate weight, a person can preclude themselves from important aspects, experiences and outcomes of any activity…
Rant over… I think

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

One man's rubbish...

On one of my many long rambles around Toronto I went to a nice little place called Ireland Park down by Lake Ontario where I bumped into a pretty cool guy by the name of James. This nice fellow had possibly the best (may be exaggerating here) business idea ever.

It seems that when some people need to move house or liquidate an inherited house, that they are just too busy/lazy/distraught to sort through the bits and pieces throughout the house that have been accumulated over a lifetime and, well, just pay someone to come in and get rid of them, that's where James and his buddy come in.

The beauty of such an arrangement is that not only do they charge people for extracting the materials in question... but then proceed to sell anything on that could be of value rather than just dump it! This means that not only do they get even more money out of the job, but also reduce the costs that incur from dumping charges.

the example he gave me was of a home he recently "cleaned up on" where he found a rifle from the US Civil was which sold for $4,000... not too shabby to say the least.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Back in town

Unfortunately a combination of college exams and travels to New York and Toronto have seen posts on this little blog run very dry, however with exams out of the way and having returned to the country I hope to start writing alot more in the coming days.
Relevant personal news from over the past while...

  1. Toronto is a very cool city
  2. I will be officially employed as of this week with a pharmaceutical company
  3. I am now a college graduate (with a 2.1 honours B.Comm)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Boring job, Interesting Location 2

I have always loved the pictures of these guys at work on the great skyscrapers in the US, but I still cant figure out whether they are smart for choosing such amazing locations for work, or stupid, seeing as death on the job is surely more likely!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Silly Coins: Cool but too big

While at my friends house during the week I noticed that he had somehow become the proud owner of both €10 and €20 COINS.

The €10 coin is about the size of a regular five cent coin and the €20 euro coin is about the size of a 1 cent coin (aka teeny tiny), however is it extremely cool due to that fact its made of 99.99% pure gold!

I did actually find these coins pretty cool until I had a little gander on Wikipedia and found that Austria have beaten us to the "novelty coin crown", it seems that last year the Austrian mint unleashed fifteen €100,000 coins upon the world... The picture below displays its true absurdity.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Christian group to boycott... "Slutbucks"...

Seeing as I am short on time due to exams (last tomorrow!!!) and haven't talked about Starbucks for a while I thought I would copy and paste this press release from U.S. - based Christian group that call themselves "The Resistance".
Their little rant is in relation to the recent reintroduction of the old Starbucks logo on merchandise.

Starbucks has recently introduced a new version of their logo which features a topless mermaid with her legs spread, which has caused outrage from a nation wide Christian media watchdog organization. The Resistance, with has over 3000 members nationwide, is boycotting Starbucks across the country saying their new logo is inappropriate.

The Starbucks logo has a naked woman on it with her legs spread like a prostitute, explains Mark Dice, founder of the group (Christian Watchdog). Need I say more? It's extremely poor taste, and the company might as well call themselves, Slutbucks.

Do mermaids even have legs? These guys have too much time on their hands.

Friday, May 9, 2008

No Comment

Memorable scene from the Global Business Case Competition 2008

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Just do it...

Reminded me of some advice given by Grand Master Rowan over at the fortify blog, discussing a particularly novel presentation style:

Borrow liberally. If you have seen a good way of presenting an idea using this medium, borrow it, adapt it, use it. Sure, over a million people have seen this clip of Demetri on YouTube, but that leaves 5,999,000,000 on planet Earth who haven't

Friday, May 2, 2008

Smart as a Fox

Despite what I said about studying in the last post, study got a little more interesting today when a fox decided it would be a novel idea to set up camp right outside my window. After alot of banging on the window the fox gave me a look (see above photo) and proceeded to go back asleep. With that procrastination over I will now return to studying

Study is...

So boring I made this slide in powerpoint, took a photo of it and uploaded it, ahhhh procrastination

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Interesting encounters - "Sniper"

It seems that you can meet a lot of very interesting people on you travels. When me and the case study team were in Vancouver we came across an interesting man with an interesting demeanour and a few missing teeth who had acquired the nickname of "sniper" due to his previous involvement with the Canadian army. He was a very interesting man... (thats him in the far right)

Sniper it seemed had lived an incredibly interesting life, if what he said was true, however some of his stories seemed a little unrealistic. One of the more normal people we met in the hostel, Pete from Australia, (thats him with the laptop) took it upon himself to keep a record of some of the classic sniper moments.

Here are some of the good ones.
Yeah, I was stationed in England with the Canadian Army. I was a sniper instructor. My second day in the army I aced the shooting test. (comparison of hand steadiness ensues. Pete: I'm pretty hungover. Sniper: I'm hungover too, AND I've had 11 cups of coffee this morning.)

You know Ted Turner? The guy who owns CNN and used to be married to Jane Fonda? Well, he's the largest single land-owner on the planet, he owns like, a third of the US, all prairie, and he leased it back to the farmers on the condition that they take down all the fences. So now he's got the largest bison herd in the country. They were all endangered but now there's like, 3 billion of them. That's a lot of ‘illions! But they had all these gophers, and you can't have the gophers because the bison step in their holes and break their legs, and when you're dealing with an endangered species you can't have that, you need that gene pool. So I was getting paid a dollar a gopher, just going out with a long 22 and ping! Ping! I was getting like 150 dollars a day, and no 15 year-old should be making 150 dollars a day, you know?

As much as he scared me, he was quite the story teller.

Murder - the ice cream connection

We were told a rather interesting fact during my last Strategy class.
Did you know that in New York City there is a strong correlation between the amount of ice cream sold and the amount of people murdered? Well, believe it or not it’s quite true, very predictably when ice cream sales rise, so to do the amount of chalk outlines on the street.

So, what could be the reasoning for this high correlation? You could reason that either
a - Ice cream actually whips (no pun intended) people up into a murderous rage

b - murdering people increases the appetite for a nice ice cream based treat.

The answer is... of course neither of those options and the reason for the correlation is actually the summer weather and the accompanying heat which seems makes people a tad more murderous than when it is cold.

The moral of the story, two sets of figures correlating may not tell much of the story.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Coming to an end...

This week has signalled the end of my college-going days. *brushes tear away from eye* It was weird to say goodbye to the business school and its plush seating, but I suppose it has to be done in the interests of not being a "lazy" student all my life.

This last Monday also brought my days at a teacher to 1st year students to an end, it really was a great experience and has taught me many more useful and important lessons than many of the subjects deemed worthy of being on my curriculum. Accounting I'm looking your way.
At the end of the class, all the nice guys and gals gave me a round of applause for my efforts, better payment than any sort of financial compensation...

The next exciting milestone will be putting down my pen after my last ever exam, although I think at the time I will be so overjoyed that the ballpoint in question might find itself thrown across the exam hall.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tall Irish man visits Starbucks, is happy

While I was in my travels to Seattle I decided that I should call down by the first ever Starbucks, everyones favorite coffee chain. (yep thats me out side it)

It was pretty cool to see where the whole thing started off all those years ago, and the original shop is a distinctly modest affair located at Pike Place market in downtown Seattle. Starbucks were launching their new "Pike place blend" that day so I got me a teeny tiny free cup of the stuff, but of course proceeded to buy a large coffee anyway (damn caffeine addiction).

Two Starbucks facts that you might not have known:

  1. The logo that you see on every street corner today is quite a bit different from the the one that hung above the door from day one. The pic to the right shows the original logo in its full former glory.
  2. The growth rate of Starbucks has been what I like to describe in technical terms as "rediculous". I made this nice graph for our case presentation (also on Starbucks) to illustrate the levels of growth... crazy

Friday, April 18, 2008

Impressions count?

In marketing class we often discuss how a business needs to carefully craft every aspect of its physical environment to attract customers and create a positive image in their head.

For a retail shop a great deal of attention is paid to the shopfront. The picture above was taken by a friend of mine on his travels around Vancouver, more specifically on the street I was staying, Granville St. (it was a nice place... really it was)

I'm not sure the inclusion of this announcement does much for the appeal of the shop, or indeed that area of town!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Sleepless in Seattle

(Me, the team and our ambassador Tina)
Well I'm finally back after my somewhat epic journey to the continent of North America, and I am very tired indeed.
We didn't win the competition in the end but definitely put in a strong performance.
Lessons learnt while there...

  1. It REALLY is the taking part that counts not the winning, some of the teams decided to lock themselves away for the duration of the competition and maintain a policy of no communicado with the rest of the participants. The best part of these competitions is enjoying being in a new place and meeting new people. If you come to the competition only to win, and you lose, then the competition was a complete waste. If you wanted to win, tried hard, but also had a great time then the whole trip was a brilliant success, so by that logic.... I won the competition...

  2. People need sleep, and with that I must sleep for the next 4 days
This was a view to be had on campus in University of Washington

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Allowed - Not Allowed

Women only gyms
Flying with 25kg of excess fat around your body

Not Allowed
Men only golf courses
Checking in bags with a few extra kgs in it

Friday, March 28, 2008

Collage of Steve does the Job

I must once again expose my nerdy side by proclaiming my admiration of this collage of Steve "Mr. Apple" Jobs, who is one of my business related "heroes". The collage is surprisingly life like considering it is constructed entirely of Apple products/logos. I like it, I like it alot. Click it to enlarge, go on... I dare ya

Originally published in Fortune Magazine, brought to my attention by way of geekologie.com


When I was working at the recent Work Matters conference I saw on one of the slideshows being presented the tagline for Lulea University in Sweden, get ready for it folks...

"Lulea University: The northernmost University of Technology in Scandinavia"

I just like the way that rather than refer to the college as being high achieving or forward thinking, they promote the extent of its northerliness... True outside the box thinking

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Nothired.com - Amazingly funny

This wonderful site is a brilliant collection of cover letters, rejection letters and other job related materials that resulted in not getting the job. Below is a perfect example of the gold to be found on the site. click for bigger imageH/T to Evilhr lady & Execupundit

Friday, March 21, 2008

Starbucks Fined $100m

...For the most ridiculous corporate lawsuit I have ever seen. It seems that because shift supervisors, who are glorified regular staff (and not exactly as well paid as execs), were taking an equal share of the tip pool at the end of the day, Starbucks are guilty of a crime under US law.
Just silly stuff really.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Academically disrespectful

I have been spending the last few days "working" at the Work Matters Conference in the UCD business school, which has essentially entailed me sitting in on quite a few interesting talks about research done about various work areas ranging from the aspirations of migrant workers to the uncovering of rebel activity in a luxury hotel.

Although I have found these talks very enjoyable, I have been a slight bit disappointed to observe the degree of what I would class as disrespect (although more subtle than the term might suggest) between the Academics attending the conference.

There are 3 main things I have noticed that I found slightly amiss:

  1. Punctuality - People continually strolling into talks ten minutes late as if there were nothing wrong with it at all. It is obvious to see that this does have an impact on the presenter and acts as a distraction for the next minute or so as they try and get all their bits and pieces in order. I find this quite surprising as they are all lecturers themselves and I'm sure wouldn't be to tolerant of such a casual attitude towards punctuality from their students.
  2. Q&A Time - I remember when I was in 1st year in college, that at the end of presentations I would always make a point of asking an intentionally tricky questions... just because I was mean. When I saw this happening at the conference, and on a regular basis, I was shocked. Some of these guys ask questions such as "OH.... you didn't think of studying x,y,z etc..." questions that seem to serve no other point but to make the presenter squirm.
  3. The Presentation Itself - I have sat through 15 presentations in the last 2 days, with the exception of literally one, they have been appalling. Poor/no slides, poor/no preparation, poor/no timekeeping and often going over the allotted time... pretty unbelievable I thought. People have travelled from the 4 corners of the world to attend this conference and what do they see when they get here? The crappiest bunch of presentations I have seen in a long time, and content that adds no further value than if they had just read the damn paper at home with a nice cup of coffee in hand! I'm sure that the presenters lack of practice and preparation was as annoyingly obvious to everyone else too, and to be honest it even peeved me off a bit, and I'm just a lowly student.

With all that said though, I have very much enjoyed the content and theories discussed over the past few days, but I just think that a little more respect between attendees would make the whole thing even better.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Merchandising "Proper" books

Just a quick follow up to the piece on book merchandising at Borders.
I was chatting online recently to my friend Ben who studies English in college. It was his opinion that this merchandising would only work on "novelty" books that were gimmicky, and no-one who was looking for a "proper" book (by which I presume he meant art/literature etc) would be swayed by such techniques. I did a little research on this because I had a pretty strong feeling that he was right to a certain extent, BUT that sales of "proper" books was so minimal that not being able to sway those intending to buy these books wouldn't be a huge issue.

Unfortunately the latest figures I could get were book sales in the US from all those years ago in 2000, but I would imagine that trends in booksales do not shift in a dramatic fashion.
In descending order, the most bought categories are...
  1. Cooking - 10% of sales

  2. Religion - 9.3%

  3. General Non-fiction - 7.8%

  4. Business - 6.2%

  5. Scientific - 5.8%

  6. Psychology - 5.2%

  7. Biographies - 3.7%

  8. Art/Literature/Poetry - 3.3%

  9. Reference - 2.2%

  10. Travel - 1.3%

So out of the top 10 categories, I would be of the opinion that attractive merchandising, as in ANY shop that regular customers shop in, would influence peoples likihood to purchase.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Bear Found Guilty

This breaking "news" from Sky "news"

A bear has been found guilty by a court of stealing honey from a beekeeper. Fancy some honey perhaps?The animal was convicted of theft by the court in Bitola, in Macedonia, following a year-long case.

However, he was excused from attending court.
The case came after a beekeeper reported the bear for stealing his honey. He told the court he had to protect his hives by playing thumping folk music. Beekeeper Zoran Kiseloski told the court: "I tried to distract the bear with lights and music because I heard bears are afraid of that."

He said he bought a generator, lit up the area and played songs by the Serbian turbo-folk star Ceca. The court heard the bear stayed away for a few weeks but returned when the generator ran out of power and the music stopped.
Mr Kiseloski added: "It attacked the beehives again."

The court found the bear guilty but since it had no owner and is a protected species it ordered the state to pay for the 140,000 denars (£1,700) damage it caused to the hives
There is no information on the bear's whereabouts.

This is very possibly the most rediculous outcome of a lawsuit I have ever heard of, I wish this was a joke, I really do.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Google Madness 2

I do love to look through my sitemeter account every so often and look at the traffic that Google sends me from searches. I especially like when they seem to give me an absurdly high ranking on very popular searches. My favorites from the last week are:

Ford Pinto - 8th of 142,000
For what I wrote about the "barbeque that seats four"

Aer Lingus Marketing - 10th of 461,000
For my views on the lack of strategic vision at the company

Lunch is for wimps - 5th of 370,000
For what I said about Gordon Gecko-esque attitudes towards the lunch break

And last but not least...

Good vs Bad - 12th of 14,300,000 !!!!
For what I had to say about good lecturers vs bad ones

Selling a book by its cover

I read about this on Brandautopsy just now and thought it was a great example of making a very simple change how you market your goods that ends up resulting in unusually high gains.

As you have probably noticed, most book stores tend to stock most of their books in a "spine out" manner, with only the best sellers and heavily promoted titles being shown front on. This is of course perfectly logical and allows them to fit in more of the lesser known/demanded titles, while displaying the big sellers in the best possible way.

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about the worldwide bookstore chain "Borders" who have recently launched a new merchandising initiative that has seen more of the books be exposed "front out", with a reduction in the overall number of titles available on the shelves by between 5-10%. Although reduction of titles may appear bad it is not all that illogical considering some books will only be purchased once or twice a year.

Over the trial period of this new merchandising strategy sales rose by 9%, and as a result Borders are planning continuing this strategy in order to further increase sales levels. Borders undertook marketing research in the trial stores, and interestingly enough consumers believed that there were in fact MORE books in the store under the new configuration... Looks like they are onto a winner!