WATCH, LISTEN & READ
Frontline: The Madoff Affair: PBS, May 12, 9 p.m. ET (check local listings or pbs.org)
Perhaps Bernie Madoff said it best himself, calling the asset management arm of his investment firm "one big lie." While Madoff awaits sentencing in June after pleading guilty to a Ponzi scheme that hit thousands of investors for billions of dollars, producers Martin Smith and Marcela Gaviria piece together how he pulled off the ruse for more than 40 years.
Smith says The Madoff Affair includes several exclusive interviews with Madoff associates, former employees and those who were heavily invested with him, including Michael Bienes, who colorfully describes bringing clients to Madoff as far back as the 1960s:
Smith: "Was this easy money?"
Bienes: "Easy peasy. Like a money machine. I always said I never lifted any heavy weights."
For Smith, who has also produced documentaries about Iraq, the Taliban and Hurricane Katrina for Frontline, the Madoff story was a study in gall and greed.
"How can you hide in plain sight and get away with it for so long?" Smith asks. "I'm still dumbfounded by it."
Eco Trip: The Real Cost of Living: Sundance Channel, Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET/PT
Host David de Rothschild, of the notable European banking family and founder of Adventure Ecology, traces the life cycle of everyday products such as cellphones and cotton T-shirts as a gentle nudge for viewers to consume — and dispose of — products in an environmentally friendly fashion.
In Tuesday's episode, for example, Rothschild observes the polluting side effects of gold mining in Nevada and visits a jewelry designer in Oregon who uses recycled and reclaimed gold.
The amiable Rothschild pulls off a neat trick: making a show such as Eco Trip not feel too much like a guilt trip.
Apprentice UK: BBC America, premieres Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET/PT
Self-made English billionaire Alan Sugar is anything but sweet in filling the Donald Trump role in this British version of The Apprentice. The show's premise and format are the same: 14 contestants vie for a six-figure position with Sugar's electronics company, Amstrad, by completing a series of business-focused tasks. Each week, Sugar jettisons an applicant by pointing a finger and barking, "You're fired!" — just like Trump but with a cockney accent.
Though this originally aired in Britain in 2005, the show doesn't seem dated. In Tuesday's premiere, the "girls team" and the "boys team," as Sugar refers to them, must first buy then resell 500 British pounds' (about $746 today) worth of flowers on the streets of London by the end of the day. The team that makes the most profit wins.
BusinessWeek Behind the Cover: Free on iTunes and BusinessWeek.com, Thursdays
Each week, BusinessWeek.com editor-in-chief John Byrne and a reporter or key figure from the magazine's current cover story sit down and record a 15- to 20-minute podcast about the cover story's topic.
"The way I think of (the podcast) is as a conversation about the story as if we were talking in a bar but a little too loud," Byrne says. That way, he says, listeners can "eavesdrop" on a fairly informal and personal talk, including information that may have been cut by an editor.
Recent topics have included Philip Morris and the usefulness (or not) of economists. Coming up on May 14 is a talk with popular Good to Great author Jim Collins, whose new book, How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In, will be excerpted in the magazine's May 15 edition.
Byrne, who says the Collins podcast will be his 180th, is open to song suggestions to play during the introduction and fade-out. Byrne likes to tie the tunes to the topic, though not too obviously. Tweet ideas to JohnAByrne. Perhaps the Mighty Mighty BossTones' Where'd You Go?
Bombs, Bullets & Fraud: Smithsonian Networks, May 12, $14.98
With all the Bernie Madoff hullabaloo, portions of this TV documentary about the U.S. Postal Inspection Service suddenly have become very topical.
This somewhat obscure federal law enforcement agency had a hand in shutting down the scam that first put the Ponzi in Ponzi scheme.
In addition to showing re-enactments of a mail-bomb case and a deadly 1923 mail-train robbery, the DVD retells the fascinating story of Charles Ponzi, an Italian immigrant living in Boston in the 1920s who raked in millions by promising investors outrageous returns for taking advantage of the difference in international and domestic prices of international mail coupons.
As with Madoff, it went spectacularly well, until it ended with jail time for the mastermind: more than three years for federal mail fraud and nine years on state larceny charges for the original Ponzi.
By Michelle Archer
CHECK IT OUT
A capitalist coup?
Political coups happen in unstable or developing countries run by corrupt leaders in the pocket of powerful oligarchs.
Coups could never happen here. Don't tell that to MIT economist Simon Johnson.
Writing in May's The Atlantic, Johnson argues that public policy has been hijacked by a Wall Street elite that "gained power by amassing a kind of cultural capital — a belief system." That belief — an evangelical faith in free financial markets — became a political creed on Capitol Hill.
Wall Street's seductive power, Johnson writes, extended even to the Ivy League, where professors of finance and economics in pursuit of Nobel Prizes succumbed to the siren song of fame and wealth.
Mystery is the theme of May's Wired magazine. Front to back, articles may leave you scratching your head. In "Mission Impossible," Steven Levy writes about a sculpture at CIA headquarters that contains a coded message that has stumped the agency's brightest minds for two decades. In "American Stonehenge," Randall Sullivan writes about an enigmatic monument in Georgia, consisting of huge slabs of granite, inscribed with directions for rebuilding civilization after the apocalypse.
Time for a meeting of minds?
The latest edition of The International Economy asks if the world's best financial minds should assemble to find a global independent means of regulating credit markets. The magazine points to an example of such a gathering in response to a financial crisis nearly a century ago. Using an excerpt from Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World, released in February, the magazine presents the circumstances in 1912 that spawned a meeting that led to the formation of the Federal Reserve.
Up on the house tops
Only the photos do it justice. May's National Geographic magazine gives readers an aerial view of the greening of the "urban roofscape." Pictures of "living roofs" atop buildings in various cities around the world highlight the potential of landscape architects to increase energy efficiency and add habitat to a metallic city center.
By Gary Rawlins
WHAT I READ: Mitchell Gold, CEO of Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams:
In 1989, Mitchell Gold and his business partner, Bob Williams, created a furniture company that now includes a factory and chain of Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams Signature stores. He plays a major role in the dialogue on gay rights and established Faith in America, a non-profit group dedicated to ending what it calls the use of religion-based bigotry to justify discrimination against gays. That led to his book, Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain & Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America.
His three favorite books
Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple: A Journey of Adventure, Ideas, and the Future by John Sculley. "This book put into words so many of my thoughts about running a business." Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust: Genocide and Moral Obligation by David P. Gushee, an evangelical minister and professor of ethics. "Reading this book was a watershed for me, giving me the tools and the framework of how to combat anti-gay bigotry." Bodyguard of Lies by Anthony Cave Brown. "This book by one of England's master spies during World War II was just one of the most suspenseful and best-written books I've ever read. It's one of the reasons I hesitate to read books during the workweek. It was over 900 pages, and I couldn't put it down."
A favorite genre
History, biographies, non-fiction. "I like to learn and be inspired by the success and failures of others. I also love children's books. When I'm having a really stressful day, I like to go to our on-site day care center and read books to the kids."
Books that helped him in his career
Like No Other Store: The Bloomingdale's Legend and the Revolution in American Marketing by Marvin Traub and Tom Teicholz. "I started my career at Bloomingdale's and worked under Marvin Traub, so I knew his brilliance firsthand. His book taught me so much about smart marketing and how to run a fashion business. A book I had my whole sales team read and buy copies to give to their customers was Jack Mitchell's Hug Your Customers: The Proven Way to Personalize Sales & Achieve Astounding Results."
What's in his briefcase
"Right now, Kenneth Cole's Awearness: Inspiring Stories about How to Make a Difference. Kenneth's philosophy is so in line with my true belief that businesses have a social responsibility and can both make a lot of money and do a lot of good. I read USA TODAY regularly. I also carry The Wall Street Journal and magazines that cover our industry."
Must-reads in his business
Furniture Today and Advertising Age. "But the news in general — from all parts of life — is what helps in my business and life."
When he reads
"I read news all the time. If I can't be on my computer when the plane is taking off, I'm reading."
By Patrice Gaines
5 QUESTIONS FOR KEVIN MAGUIRE
Kevin Maguire, president and CEO of the National Business Travel Association has 35 years' experience in the airline, travel agency and travel management business. He manages travel for 19 athletic teams at the University of Texas-Austin. Maguire also has personal experience with emergencies: He and three colleagues were in Costa Rica on business in the early 1990s during an earthquake. He ordered everyone home immediately.
Q: When a travel warning is issued and the government discourages non-essential travel to a hot spot, what should employers do?
A: For a lot of companies, the next step is the travel manager contacts upper management, and they bring in the risk management and legal teams. A joint decision has to come from those sources. Then you immediately disseminate the policy to your employees and your travel planners.
Q: How should employers define essential vs. non-essential travel?
A: Essential travel means an important issue has to be addressed, like closing a sale, or there's an emergency situation of some kind. Only 30% or 40% of business travel is essential. The rest is non-essential in situations like this.
Q: If a company must send employees to a hot spot, what precautions should be taken?
A: The travel manager must educate himself or herself, upper management and the traveler about exactly what the situation is there. There may be medical steps.
You also need someone on the ground (at the destination) who can get timely information to the employee. The employee needs to know that if they find the situation is worse than expected, get out. I think the employee has to have the right to decline to go.
Q: What should you do with employees coming from infected areas? What if co-workers don't want to work near them?
A: We're seeing companies telling employees coming back from Mexico to take 48 to 72 hours off to see if they develop any symptoms of swine flu. If symptoms develop, they can get medical attention.
This also takes away the fear of other employees. It's a disruptive force if employees are afraid to sit at the next desk or in a meeting with a person who has just returned.
Q: What sources offer guidance?
A: The websites of the World Health Organization and the Centers For Disease Control (and Prevention). Our own organization has information posted at www.nbta.org/swineflu.
By Marilyn Adams