Oh, WeWork. You should have known better.

My office is in a WeWork. I love coworking. I do NOT love bad business decisions. And I think WeWork just took the cake for bad business decisions.

We’re all familiar with the story by now. Juggernaut WeWork was set to take over the coworking world, maintaining space for the small, the solo, the transient, the international. They have free coffee! Free BEER! Comfy seating, secure spaces, fun events, flavored water, someone cleaning your office, and more. I rather enjoy it, to be honest. Especially the coffee.

Then came WeWork’s S-1 filing, which was the business equivalent of juicy gossip. Between the $5.9 million to WeWork’s founder for the licensing of the “We” trademark (which seems, I don’t know, rather excessive), to the refusal to loosen the reins of control by ensuring that voting power remained with the founder and his family, to a new valuation method seemingly designed to obfuscate the numbers, it raised red flags. And that doesn’t count the conflicts of interest. Or the massive, massive, MASSIVE losses, with no plan to get profitable.

In addition, there’s the business model itself: WeWork has significant long-term liabilities, but not long-term assurance of income. After all, we WeWorkers are shorter term – we can rent space month-to-month – but WeWork is on the hook for years to come. Again, does that show profitability? Nope.

I don’t practice securities law. But even I knew that WeWork was not in shape for a public filing. Which leaves two logical conclusions: either nobody told WeWork that the S-1 was a horrible idea, or WeWork’s C-suite didn’t care. And either way, they should have known better.

Oh, WeWork. May it survive in spite of itself.

Career Day

I love Career Day. I love it because I love talking about my work as outside general counsel, and I love meeting people. I got to design my business, and my job is helping other people design their businesses. It’s a great job! I inevitably sign up to present at Career Day.

After I sign up, I remember that I’m a little intimidated by Career Day. My job can be hard to explain to kids. What do I do all day? I help businesses start up, wind down, and address the issues in between. Sometimes I have trouble explaining it to adults, much less children. As I was preparing my Career Day presentation I was nervous. How do I summarize my job? More importantly – and channeling my inner second-grader – why did I choose my job?

We all face these questions regularly. What do any of us do all day? Why did we choose it? How do we see it in the greater picture of what everyone else does? We dedicate years to our specialized education, we pay hundreds of thousands of dollars, we spend years climbing corporate ladders or creating new opportunities. It’s not easy or quick or always fun.

To me, the answer is clear – we find meaning in work.

We contribute a part of ourselves to our work, to our success and our clients’ success, to doing what we do and doing it well. We want to tell other people about our jobs, because it reminds us that even if work is a grind sometimes, we’re doing it for a reason.

Career Day isn’t just good for kids. It’s an exercise in self-reflection. It’s a chance for us to remember how many other types of jobs and career paths there are, and to think about how they all fit together. The best part, I think, is getting to answer the question, “why did you choose your job?” If we can’t answer that, perhaps it’s time for a change.

Monet and Manufacturing- Painting a Picture of Employee Satisfaction

Is manufacturing meaningful? Are employees destined to feel like the cogs they install? Or can a company successfully show employees that they matter to the bigger picture?

One summer during college I got a job as a research assistant. I was hired to perform sociology field work at a manufacturing plant and to take notes on the employees’ satisfaction with their work. I was assigned to Golden Artist Colors, a paint factory in upstate New York.

An all-staff meeting happened to be held on my first day. The workers gathered in the break room and the new employees (mostly college kids on summer break) introduced themselves. Each said his or her name and hometown, and stated his or her favorite hue. One new employee, an art student, said she liked Payne’s gray best and the seasoned employees all chuckled knowingly. The president of the company said, “The artists always like Payne’s gray best, because it’s really blue.” The veterans nodded and smiled.

Wait! I thought. Why does everyone know that? Is everyone an artist but me?

No, they weren’t artists. Instead, everyone working at the factory, from the president to the workers hand-filling buckets of gesso, had a fascinating philosophy about the company. They weren’t making paint. They were making art. Photographs and prints of works made with the company’s products hung on the walls. Employees were encouraged to take home samples to try out. Every employee – eventually, even I – could name professional artists who used the products in their work.

I visited nearly everywhere in the plant: the manufacturing floor, filling room, marketing workshop, formulation lab, and rooms where employees hand-painted each color sample chart and paint-jar label.  I interviewed as many people as I could about their jobs. Nearly everyone truly enjoyed working at the company, because they believed that making paint was making art, and art changes the world.  

The company successfully fostered a sense that the employees’ work meant something. Paint wasn’t just paint; it was possibility, beauty, creativity. All it took was time and focus by the management team. The hard costs seemed minimal – some extra product, a few minutes’ extra worth of time in a staff meeting – and resulted in extraordinary staff loyalty, cutting down on turnover. The real trick was in the world view. Management encouraged employees to feel proud of their work at every opportunity.

Why isn’t everyone using this model? I still don’t know. It seems so simple: find the company’s greater purpose, and put employees’ work into that context.

To find the company’s greater purpose, look at the company as you would a Monet. Stand back from the pointillist details until a picture emerges. If you sell cheese, are you supporting mom-and-pop cheesemakers? Investing in organics? Enhancing sustainability? If you are a lawyer, are you helping to support investment in cutting-edge technologies? Protecting families? Creating a fresh start? What is the greater story, and how does it fit into the world?

Now that the picture is clear, make sure that every employee knows his or her role in creating it. Bringing in clients or customers to explain how the company helped their business shows workers how their labor changed things for the better, and at a minimal cost to the company. If workers get feedback that their work is useful and helpful, they are likely to become more invested in the company’s success. Implementing this process can set the company apart from its competitors in two key ways: by increasing employee satisfaction, and by sharply defining its mission.

In stepping back from the day-to-day of production and looking at the bigger picture, I saw firsthand the art of meaningful manufacturing. It took time and effort, but each dot and detail fostered a sense of greater purpose, leading to enhanced employee satisfaction.

Communicate discreetly!

Increasingly, our communication takes place online – via pixel and text and upload. I’m sure all have heard this a million times, but I add my voice to the analog multitude:communicate discreetly.  Oh goodness me, please, please communicate discreetly.

From examples as costly and major as the implosion of mega-conglomerate-law-firm Dewey & LeBoeuf, to the Twitter debacle of Justine Sacco, we all have to watch what we say and how we say it. Our written words, whether in email or otherwise, will live forever. 

Justine Sacco: if it’s funny to you, is it offensive to someone else? Remember Justine Sacco? She posted a snarky racist tweet on the way to meet her family in South Africa. When she got on the plane, she had 170 Twitter followers. For eleven hours, she was offline. When she disembarked in Cape Town, her tweet had been re-tweeted bazillions of times, she had brought shame on her family, and she had been fired from her job. Her best friend deleted her account, but it made no difference – the damage had been done. 

Dewey LeBoeuf: emails hastened their demise. This mega-conglomerate-law-firm, the unhappy marriage of Dewey Ballantine and LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae, failed for so many reasons it’s hard to count them all. However, indiscreet communication was key to its failure. Some key partners sent insulting or crude emails naming others and suffered no adverse consequences; other partners learned via email that their colleagues received sizable financial guarantees which were unrelated to actual earnings. Still other emails reflected that marketing information on earnings were grossly inflated, and financial information and invoices were falsified. This led to a loss of confidence in management, and may have led some lawyers to leak information to the media. It also contributed to defections, instability, and layoffs, and ultimately to bankruptcy. Worse yet, the Manhattan District Attorney filed criminal charges against the firm’s chairman, executive director, and chief financial officer of falsifying business records, conspiracy, securities fraud, and other charges. The incriminating emails were at least part of the information upon which charges were based. As of the time of this writing, the jury was deadlocked on many of those charges. 

If you’re a person, a huge business, or anywhere in between, discreet communication is key. Email can be forwarded and searched. Tweets and posts can be searched. Failure to practice discretion can negatively affect an ongoing dispute or a future dispute. It can affect your personal life. Anyone can be a media story for all the wrong reasons.

 

 

Preventing unexpected internal losses

Last Tuesday, my colleague John Capizzi, Principal of Internal Audit Services, Inc. International and I presented to the Diversified Real Estate Investor Group (or DIG) at the London Grill, on unexpected internal business losses – otherwise known as internal fraud or theft. Here are a few of the highlights.

If you experience a business loss, it may be due to inattention or expectation. Perhaps a business owner trusts others to handle his books and records for him so he can concentrate on other things – like the back nine at Bala Golf Club. But a small business owner depends on that business’s profitability not only for income now, but also for his retirement – so why delegate it to someone else? An owner may be complacent or absent, causing employees to believe there are no repercussions if they take from the business. An owner’s attention may also be diverted because of an internal power struggle, an emergency, or a shift in management. That’s no excuse for not watching your business’s profitability closely.

The owner may also expect to lose money in the short term. Think about a business that’s expanding into a new product line. An owner will expect to see money being spent on new equipment, furniture, attorneys’ fees, employees, accountants, and supplies, and may expect to see a loss in the short term. That loss may be accelerated by employees who pad bills, issue phantom invoices, or slip their own phone bills in with the business’s bills.

How can you protect against internal loss? Just a few ideas: Be vigilant. Open business bank account statements. Double-check figures. Spot-check invoices on a monthly basis. Most importantly, make your employees feel appreciated and acknowledged.

If you have questions about business loss or suspect internal theft, call Bloom & Bloom.

Bloom & Bloom’s First Anniversary!

I can’t believe it’s been a year since Bloom & Bloom opened for business. It’s been a great year. From starting up at the South Philly Co-op Workspace, to booking new clients, to presenting on real estate topics, to working with businesses, it’s been an adventure.

We look forward to continuing our business, and to continuing to help our clients, new and old. Give us a call, send us an email, and let us know how we can help your business bloom!

My Interview with Paul Rosso of Real Estate Today with Paul Rosso

A great big THANK YOU to Paul Rosso and the staff of WWDB-AM TALK 860 for taking the time to interview me on conservatorship under Pennsylvania’s Act 135 of 2008 (and other topics) on his radio show Real Estate Today with Paul Rosso. The interview can be downloaded here: http://retodayshow.com/download/real-estate-today-show-april-26-2015/ (last visited April 28, 2015). 

Upcoming Events and Announcements- April 2015 Edition

Bloom & Bloom believes in disseminating knowledge. That’s why we like public speaking on small business and real estate topics. If your group needs a speaker, reach out – perhaps we can help.

Nella’s upcoming speaking engagements include:

  • “Philadelphia’s Distressed Properties: What are My Investment Options?”
    • April 15, 2015 at 6:30 pm, Johnny Utah’s (461 N. 3rd Street), for DIG/HAPCO
    • April 22, 2015 at 6:30 pm, 2424 E. York Street, for the Philadelphia Neighborhood Development Association
  • “Distressed Properties in Philadelphia,” Real Estate Today with Paul Rosso 
    • Air date is April 26, 2015 at 11:00 am on WWDB Talk Radio, 860 AM (will be available for rebroadcast)
  • “I had a great month but I can’t pay my bills. What now?” – with John Capizzi of Internal Audit Services, Inc.
    • June 2, 2015 at 6:30 pm, London Grill (2301 Fairmount Avenue), for the Homeowners’ Association of Philadelphia
  • “Starting Up a New Business: What Everyone Should Know,” – with Timothy Carroll of Drucker & Scaccetti
    • June 3, 2015 at 5:30 pm, location TBD, for Girl Develop It
  • “Sheriff Sales in Philadelphia”
    • October 1, 2015, location TBD, for for the Homeowners’ Association of Philadelphia

More events to come – keep checking our site.

We’ve Moved to Center City!

We’re pleased to announce that Bloom & Bloom, LLC has moved to Center City Philadelphia! We are now located at 1528 Walnut Street, Suite 910, Philadelphia, PA 19102. We’ll miss South Philly and the South Philly Co-op Workspace. But continuing in the fine tradition of coworking, Bloom & Bloom is sharing an office with the Center City Proprietors Association. 

Feel free to reach out at (267) 630-2466. Let us know how we can help your business bloom.