From TV to books to advice, here's your business briefing for the month of June:
June 3:General Motors holds its annual shareholders meeting amid speculation that CEO Rick Wagoner will announce further restructuring plans for the unprofitable automaker.
June 10:How high will they go? The Energy Department announces new third-quarter projections for gasoline and diesel prices. Last forecast: $3.71 a gallon for gasoline.
June 15:American Airlines begins charging most passengers $15 to check a single bag on domestic flights. Exceptions: elite-level frequent fliers, full-fare passengers and international travelers.
June 24:Federal Open Market Committee begins two-day meeting to discuss interest rates.
WATCH, LISTEN & READ
At the movies:
Opens Friday in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York; wide release June 13; R; Dimension Films
Assistant supermarket manager Doug (Seann William Scott) is a "shoo-in" to land the manager job at a new store until fellow underachiever Richard (John C. Reilly) transfers in from Quebec.
Quirky, subdued — and sometimes off-color — comedy ensues in what writer/director Steve Conrad calls a battle of former C students who are trying to do their best as adults.
Conrad, who also wrote The Pursuit of Happyness and The Weather Man screenplays, cites a real-life incident as his inspiration for The Promotion.
"I was watching an assistant manager try to move a gang off a supermarket parking lot, but he couldn't do it. He had no authority, as far as they were concerned," Conrad says.
"I watched him walk back to work, and I just thought a lot of him in that moment. I recognized some strength that I may not have, which is him going back to work and facing many days that are probably like this day," Conrad adds.
To motivate the actors, Conrad pointed out that although the characters were after what seemed like only a slightly better life, the promotion would mean a lot.
"They're trying to make the step from renting their house to being able to buy it, and that's the difference between making $45,000 and $60,000," he says. "And it's the fight of most people's lives."
Airs on PBS stations (check local listings, pbs.org or bizkids.com).
The creators of Bill Nye The Science Guy are back with a fast-paced "edutainment" series that teaches kids about business and personal finance. Each episode combines profiles of kid entrepreneurs and comedic skits to tackle important but often overlooked themes such as "Cash and Credit," "Budgeting" and "Don't Blow Your Dough."
"Teaching kids about the business of their lives, whether they are going to be doctors or gardeners or construction workers or whatever their passions are, they still have to manage their money and grow their assets and understand how all of that works," says executive producer Jamie Hammond.
Coming up in most markets in June:
•Understanding Your Paycheck. This episode includes an animated detective dog on a mission to figure out where the money went.
•Social Entrepreneurs. One segment highlights a group of girls from Seattle who sell artwork to support two girls who are in school in Africa.
Young & Restless'in China
Airs on PBS, Frontline, June 17, 9 p.m. ET (check local listings, pbs.org) Produced, written and directed by Sue Williams.
To many Americans, China is a massive, economically powerful mystery. This absorbing documentary follows nine young Chinese over four years, giving viewers a rare perspective from inside what one budding business owner featured in what the film calls "the land of opportunity."
Director Williams obtained permission to film in China, but she writes in an e-mail that the government had no input about where or whom she filmed.
"With Young & Restless, we chose people as they were starting out on their careers, tracing their ambitions, successes and failures, and their relationships with their parents, partners and loved ones," Williams said. "The idea was that their stories of success and desperation would put a human face on China's breathtaking economic development and transformation."
Her subjects are a diverse and fascinating group. Among them: entrepreneurs launching Internet cafes, hotels and an online tailoring business; an environmental lawyer; a medical resident providing care in a country where 70% are uninsured; a migrant industrial worker struggling with the prospect of an arranged marriage while working more than 70 hours a week; and a rapper with dreams of becoming a record-label mogul.
Traces of the Trade
A Story from the Deep North, on PBS, P.O.V., June 24, 10 p.m. ET (check local listings, pbs.org). Produced and directed by Katrina Browne.
After learning her Rhode Island ancestors were slave traders responsible for bringing more than 10,000 Africans to the Americas, Katrina Browne wrote to 200 fellow descendants and invited them on an odyssey to Africa. Nine others took her up on it, and Browne unflinchingly filmed their trip, beginning in idyllic Bristol, R.I., where their prominent DeWolf forefathers ran a rum distillery.
From there, the group travels to Ghana, where the DeWolfs would trade their rum for Africans. Finally, the descendants visit Cuba, home of five DeWolf sugar plantations and one of the places where the Africans were auctioned into slavery.
Bratproofing Your Children: How to Raise Socially and Financially Responsible Kids
By Lewis D. Solomon and Janet Stern Solomon (Barricade Books, $15.95, June 25)
As far as problems go, making sure your wealth doesn't turn your children into parasites is a high-quality one to have. Nonetheless, in the Solomons' view, all parents — regardless of income — must be careful not to create leeches. The first half of bratproofing is Parenting 101, emphasizing character traits such as self-esteem, hard work and thrift. The second half, aimed at the affluent, focuses on wealth transfer and family-business succession.
C-SPAN2's Book TV June 22 (8 p.m. ET), June 23 (3 p.m. ET):
Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing by Tim Shorrock (Simon & Schuster, $27).
An investigative reporter looks at the privatization of U.S. intelligence activities, from interrogations to eavesdropping.
CHECK IT OUT
As she prepares for the 2009 launch of her own TV network, Oprah Winfrey is aiming to make it her most successful venture yet.
In a profile in Black Enterprise's June issue, Winfrey admits she's learned some hard lessons about management the past 15 years. In that period, her company, Harpo, has grown from a five-person enterprise into a 430-employee multimedia conglomerate with $345 million in revenue last year. For a long time, she tried to run her business like a family. It operated for years without associate producers. Her staff was so overtaxed, Winfrey made lunch runs. "I'm just now getting to the point of understanding how strategic planning, creating an infrastructure and having a vision can be very helpful," she tells Black Enterprise. "And as I move forward in creating other companies, I'm operating more as a businesswoman."
China's Africa connection
Half a century ago, every nation in sub-Saharan Africa was a colony of a European power. Today the Europeans are gone, but the Chinese have arrived.
In the June edition of Fast Company, reporter Richard Behar reveals the extent of the Chinese presence. At any given time, he says, roughly 800 Chinese state-owned or state-controlled corporations are operating in Africa, with Beijing funding more than 300 projects in at least 36 countries. The attraction is natural resources. China's leaders understand that the Congo alone contains every mineral known to man, Behar says.
Like Europeans before them, the Chinese have engendered local hostility. Zambian opposition leader Michael Sata ran for the presidency in 2006 on an anti-China platform. He was fond of deriding the Chinese as "infesters" rather than investors.
How well is Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke doing at trying to keep a financial calamity from turning into a full-blown depression?
In the June edition of Bloomberg Markets, reporter Steve Matthews asks the question of a half-dozen economic luminaries who have observed Bernanke respond to a crisis with the most aggressive expansion of the Fed's power in its 95-year history.
Opinion was mixed. In Bernanke's corner: former Fed vice chairman Alan Blinder and former Fed governor Lyle Gramley. Both consider Bernanke's action justified. But former Fed chairman Paul Volcker tilts the other way, saying Bernanke is overreaching and may already have seized too much power. Allan Meltzer, a Fed historian, agrees, saying Bernanke is swatting flies with a sledgehammer.
FIVE QUESTIONS...FOR DIXON DOLL
Q: What was the tech and venture industry like decades ago?
A: When I got out of the University of Michigan with a doctorate (in electrical engineering) in 1969, nobody was paying much attention to communications. There was no wireless then, the Internet didn't exist and I was beginning to follow (pre-Internet) research work by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).
I did a lot of work at IBM, which had brilliant technology people, the best in the world, in knowing how to design computers and software and network operating systems — all the stuff that powered the big computer centers in those days. Quite a lot of technology advances came out of those big labs.
Q: How has the venture industry changed over the years?
A: It started out as a little cottage industry in the 1970s, with people chipping in a few hundred thousand dollars for funds. Now, venture capital worldwide is about $300 billion. There are over 8,000 venture-capital firms in our industry in the U.S.
Q: Are the generations of venture capitalists very different?
A: The guys in the 1970s were legends in those days, and they've all retired or passed away. Now younger guys in their 30s are trying to get into the business, and not too many people are rock stars in the venture world while in their 30s.
Typically, somebody migrates into venture capital after they get a decent amount of operating experience. The vast majority of people who've been successful are folks that have deep subject-matter expertise in (technology, communications, life sciences, new media).
Q: Some say there's too much money chasing too few good deals, especially given the downturn and credit crunch.
A: The venture-capital industry is like the wine business, and 1996 was the best vintage year in history. Funds that got started in 1996 saw the most explosive environment that has ever existed with the soaring of Nasdaq and the stock market.
The returns in venture capital went negative starting in 2001 and 2002, and they've inched back every year. Venture cycles tend to run 10, 11, 12 years, and we're entering what historically has been the most attractive portion of the cycle.
Q: The impact of globalization on venture firms?
A: It may be the most important macro trend in our industry: the globalization of talent, ideas, markets, technologies.
One of the old saws in the industry was that venture firms would not invest in companies that were outside Silicon Valley. They felt that geographic separation would make it difficult for small teams to stay close and communicate during the formative stages of start-ups.
Now, it's almost the rule to have start-ups outside the U.S. Our lives have changed dramatically.
WHAT I READ
Christopher Reed is CEO of Reed's Inc. in Los Angeles, maker of Reed's Ginger Brew, Virgil's Root Beer and ginger ice cream and candies. Reed was a chemical engineer working in the oil and gas refinery industry when it crashed. Eventually, spurred by a love for ginger, he and his wife started Reed's Inc.
All-time favorite books
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. It's such an adventure. I get lost in it.
Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. This book really got me thinking when I was in college and interested in Eastern spirituality, paths to enlightenment and higher states of consciousness.
Genres that appeal to him
Total escape books, such as what my daughter has on the coffee table, like Harry Potter or the latest Clive Cussler (techno thrillers) or books on New Age thought such as Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now.
Last book received as a gift
My nephew gave me When the Impossible Happens: Adventures in Non-ordinary Reality by Stanislav Grof. I do not know how he figured that I would like it. I loved it! The early LSD research, transpersonal psychology, talking about amazing experiences in higher states of consciousness. Not my path, but ahead of its time.
Last book given as a gift
I gave 1776 by David McCullough to my dad. It is so real, a part of Americana that has been glorified and simplified. But the truth is our revolution was much more human, more random and messy than anything I could imagine. It was the way real life is.
What he's reading now
Everything by Gary Zukav. As a kid, I read his book The Dancing Wu Li Masters about the nature of reality as implied by recent theories in physics such as quantum physics. His newer books are much more spiritual. I was very intrigued by The Seat of the Soul.
By USA TODAY's Edward Iwata, Gary Rawlins; Michelle Archer, special for USA TODAY; Parice Gaines, special for USA TODAY