First Monday: Coming up this month

Feb. 6: Automakers unveil a bevy of trucks, sleek coupes and updated sedans at the media preview of the Chicago Auto Show. Models on tap include a Suzuki truck and GM's Hummer H3T. The show is open to the public Feb. 8-17.

Feb. 7: Major retailers report January sales — and how much of a lift they got from holiday gift cards.

Feb. 13: The Census Bureau releases its report on January retail sales, a broader gauge of consumer spending patterns.

Feb. 17-20: What will be next Christmas season's hottest toys? Toy manufacturers, distributors and importers showcase their latest products for retailers at the American International Toy Fair in New York.

Feb. 25: Existing-home sales for January will be announced by the National Association of Realtors.

Feb. 28: Congress' investigation of the subprime-mortgage meltdown opens a new line of inquiry into CEO salaries in the financial-services industry. Called to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform: former Citigroup CEO Charles Prince, former Merrill Lynch CEO Stanley O'Neal and Countrywide Financial CEO Angelo Mozilo.



Dirty Jobs— Collection 2 DVD ($19.99). Feb. 5; New episodes airing on the Discovery Channel on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT

Mike Rowe, the affable and eloquent host of The Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs, spent last week lying on his back amid rat droppings and mud in the tiny crawl space of a house riddled with mold. All in a day's work for the man whose show features him performing dirty jobs — such as sewer inspector, road kill remover and fish processor — alongside the often unacknowledged people who do it every day.

Rowe's show aired more than 800 times on Discovery Channel last year. His expressive, rubbery face graces the cover of this month's Fast Company magazine, which hails him as the "Dirtiest Mind in Business." The show's second season arrives Tuesday on DVD. And, as viewers can attest, Rowe is always quick with a quip or sound bite.

Rowe on the DVD:The episode that sticks out: "Snake Researcher," Rowe says. "This woman basically collects the vomit from endangered snakes and analyzes it to make sure they're eating the right thing at the right time of year.

"Filthy work. I got bit about 39 times that day, and viewers just seem to love it when things bite me, so that was a good one."

Rowe on the show: "I feel like dirty jobs are not disappearing — they've just disappeared from public view. The prototype of a 'good job' has undergone quite a change in this country, especially in the last generation. And without making it sound too conspiratorial, I just think the combination of technology and Silicon Valley and Hollywood has shown people over and over what a good job should look like, and it just doesn't look anymore the way it used to.

"There's just not a lot of focus on anything other than well-paid positions where people wear nice clothes and are very efficient and are plugged in technically and have the world figured out. The country is still held together, in my view anyway, by regular people who do the kinds of jobs that keep our society humming along," he says.

"I find people with dirty jobs seem more balanced and, in general, happier than people without."


•Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions By Dan Ariely (HarperCollins, $25.95, Feb. 19)

The bad news: Our decision-making process isn't as logical as we think it is. Standing in line every day for a $4 coffee, for example, is hardly economical or reasonable in any sense. The good news? We repeatedly make the same mistakes, so it's not too late to recognize when we're being irrational and wise up.

Ariely, a behavioral economist professor at MIT, exposes our quirks in an eye-opening and accessible book that, among other things, answers why we always leap at buy-one-get-one-free offers and why a $2.50 aspirin makes us feel better than a 10-cent one.


Get-It-Done Guy: Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More, hosted by Stever Robbins.

Podcasts available free here or on iTunes.

Robbins' résumé screams overachiever: nine high-tech start-ups (including FTP Software and Intuit), degrees from MIT and Harvard, and stints as an author, speaker and CEO of his executive coaching company, Stever Robbins Inc. This is a man who has Gotten It Done.

Each week, Robbins hosts a six-minute podcast on finding ways to do things better, if, in fact, they need to be done at all.

Upcoming topics:

•Feb. 5:Saying "No" with honesty, respect, and style.

•Feb. 12:Taking killer notes.

•Feb. 19:Look to strategy to streamline your actions.

•Feb. 26:Becoming valuable to your CEO.


Minority representation on corporate boards has improved in the past four decades, but blacks remain absent from most of them, reports Black Enterprise in its February issue. Its survey of the 250 largest corporations by annual revenue identified 197 black directors at those companies. But 16 serve on three or more boards.

John Rogers, chairman of Ariel Capital Management and a member of three boards, organizes an annual Black Corporate Directors Conference to coach attendees on networking and leadership.

"We want to make sure we are inspiring each other to get the civil rights agenda on the boardroom table," Rogers tells Black Enterprise. "If the few of us who have this good fortune to be in the boardroom are uncomfortable bringing up race issues, they're not going to be raised, and we won't make a difference."

Beauty tips

Ford Models seems to have cracked the code in figuring out how to tap the Internet's marketing power, reports the February issue of Inc. magazine. Revenue is up 140% in the past five years. Ford churns out videos featuring its models gabbing informally about style, hitting clothing boutiques and hanging out backstage at fashion shows and photo shoots. On YouTube, some have drawn as many as a million views. Ad agencies, apparel manufacturers and retailers are calling — to hire Ford models and to sponsor videos.

NASCAR's diversity gap

Does NASCAR have a race problem? In the February edition of Condé Nast Portfolio, Melba Newsome writes that some would-be corporate sponsors for NASCAR teams are resisting the sport's commitment to recruiting African-American drivers. Fortune 500 companies are tapping the brakes for fear that supporting minority drivers could spark a fan backlash against their products, she says. Although the second-most-watched sport, NASCAR's growth has stalled. The job of revving up revenue has fallen to third-generation CEO Brian France, who's convinced that NASCAR can continue to grow only if it broadens its fan base. His challenge: attracting a more diverse fan base without alienating current fans. Or put another way: Could more diversity put constraints on NASCAR's growth, which is heavily dependent on corporate sponsorship? The single-season price tag for a sponsor is roughly $20 million.

Tops in tech

The Feb. 11 issue of Forbes magazine lists the 25 fastest-growing technology companies in the USA, with an accompanying "Midas List" of the sector's top dealmakers. Google is well ahead of the competition, with its five-year sales growth — the list's focus — at an annualized rate of 155%.

Contributing: Gary Rawlins, Bruce Rosenstein


By Jayne O'Donnell, USA TODAY

Mark LaNeve, General Motors' top sales and marketing executive, is the father of twin 15-year-old boys. Drew has learning disabilities that include autism-spectrumlike issues, and Jake is autistic. LaNeve says balancing his work life with his home life can be a challenge.

Q: You've called your job "duck soup" compared with raising an autistic child. What did you mean?

A: Going to a job I love, working with the dealers, marketing and selling cars, is easy. Sure, my job has pressure. However, trying to figure out a way for GM to win against tough competition is fun and actually a great diversion. Autism is unexplainable and invisible. It's frustrating to try to fight that. All I can say is, thank God for my wife. Autism is a spectrum ranging from a very severe to a mild disability. Children with autism have learning deficits, real problems with social awareness and adaptability, erratic or bizarre behavior and odd interests. But they also have many strengths. My children have great memories, great artistic abilities and they're great rollerbladers.

Q: How do you balance the demands of work with your family life?

A: It's tough at times with the late nights and the travel associated with the job. By 15, most boys have their own friends and activities. Kids with autism don't have these things. I'm their friend and provide the activities. I feel horrible when I can't see them and usually do everything possible to cut trips short and at least make it home before they go to bed. Autism puts tremendous pressure on the family and marriage. A very high percentage of marriages with an autistic child end in divorce. We are blessed in that in many ways we believe it's made our marriage stronger. We celebrate even the tiniest victories and don't let little issues bother us.

Q: How old were your children when they were diagnosed?

A: They were 3. We've had literally thousands and thousands of hours of speech, occupational and social therapy. God knows where the kids would be if they hadn't had that. And it's even a lot more advanced now. Now, when you get diagnosed, they put you immediately into applied behavior adaption, which really tries to retrain the child's brain to perform at a more normal level.

Q: What does the future hold for your kids?

A: Drew goes to Eton Academy in Birmingham, Mich., which is a school for different learners with kids ranging from dyslexia to ADD to high-functioning autism. He plays basketball and soccer. Of all the doctors and treatments we've gone to, it's this school that's really unbelievable. He keeps up basically with the ninth-grade curriculum. His class size is only seven or eight kids. He'll get secondary education in some kind of adaptive setting. My other son, Jake, won't be able to get a high school diploma. He goes to Burger School for Students with Autism. He's receiving an appropriate level of academic and vocational training. They're trying to train him for food service or factory work. The goal would be for Jake to live as independently as possible. He'll need assistance his whole life unless things dramatically change.

Q: What charity work do you do?

A: I'm on the board of directors of Autism Speaks. It's the biggest national foundation for autism and is primarily driven around awareness, advocacy and finding a cure. I'm also on the board of trustees for the Judson Center in Detroit, where they have a great program to help the children and their families who are afflicted with autism. The main goal is early diagnosis and intense treatment.


Today: Mei Xu:Owner and CEO of Chesapeake Bay Candle and Blissliving Home.

What she's reading now

I just started reading a book called The Quest for Global Dominance: Transforming Global Presence into Global Competitive Advantage by Anil K. Gupta and Vijay Govindarajan. This book is full of insights about globalization. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning about global business.

Recently read

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future by Daniel H. Pink. This is a fantastic read about the importance of design and story-telling in the business world.

Her most favorite book

The Last Song of Dusk by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi. I was so fascinated by this spellbinding love story, set in 1920s colonial India, and by the author's superb use of language. Shanghvi was barely 26 years old when he completed The Last Song of Dusk, his debut novel. I could not believe he was that young — his storytelling is that of an old soul.

Three other favorites

The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav has helped me keep perspective in today's busy world where there is little room for spiritual thinking. Reading The Seat of the Soul is helping me to restore a connection with my inner self, and to break free from my daily routine. I love how this book provides inspiring spiritual thinking without drawing from religion.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference, by Malcolm Gladwell, has changed the way I think about branding and marketing. It has changed the way we conduct business. I truly believe in

Gladwell's thesis of word-of-mouth marketing campaigns, with opinion leaders spreading the word about an idea, a product or a message — and the word traveling across country or even around the world until a crucial "tipping point" is reached.

When I started the company I was extremely focused on growing sales and strengthening our operations. Reading The Tipping Point contributed to our decision to invest in branding to establish Chesapeake Bay Candle as a household name for fabulous fragrances, stylish designs and affordable prices.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind. This is a fascinating — and horrifying — tale set in 18th-century France of a man with an extraordinary sense of smell, who becomes obsessed with producing the perfect scent. Because of my background in home fragrance development, I relate to this story. And Patrick Suskind's language and the way he describes the power of fragrance are just amazing.

The book that has influenced her most

Crossing Boundaries: A Global Vision of Design by Vicente Wolf.Wolf demonstrates how travel can be translated into design. It is fascinating how Wolf uses his travel impressions to express his creativity. I strive to deliver authentic cultural experiences through fragrances, design and textures to our customers — and this is exactly how Wolf works, as well. I am fascinated by his language to describe his creative work. I get inspired every time I open this book.