The Gucci Killers
Kudos to Linda Tischler for giving Fast Company readers a glimpse into the future and demonstrating your commitment to exploring business innovation wherever it may be ("The Gucci Killers," January/February 2006). I've been a fan of Shanghai Tang's for years. After every business trip to Hong Kong, I'd bring my wife something beautiful from them. I am often stunned by how little Americans know about the Chinese market… and the brands that will soon be coming to our shores.
Boston, Massachusetts, and Beijing, China
The Gates Effect
I was interested to learn about Bill Gates's efforts to improve U.S. public schools in "The Gates Effect" (January/February). However, I was somewhat puzzled by the author's comment that "throwing a lot of money at the problem can actually help." Later in the article, Wendy Zellner acknowledges that the Gates Foundation and its money may not be making much of an impact on our public schools: "The early results of its high-school reinvention efforts—with many foundation-backed schools now in their fourth year of existence—are mixed at best." Ms. Zellner does not seem to be aware that, according to the U.S. Department of Education, the amount of money spent per student in U.S. public elementary and secondary schools increased eightfold from 1945 until 2002 (in inflation-adjusted dollars). Despite these huge increases in funding for public education, our schools seem only to have gotten worse.
Los Angeles, California
In your article about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, you cite the enormous failure of America's public-education system. How true. In 2004, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Board of Education, which made separate education unconstitutional. Yet according to a Jonathan Kozol story in Harper's last September, schools are as segregated today as they were in the 1970s. In Chicago, Hispanics and blacks made up 87% of the public-school enrollment for the 2002-2003 school year. Less than 10% was white. In Washington, DC, 94% of public-school students were black or Hispanic, and less than 5% were white.
Correspondingly, per-pupil expenditures in minority-dominated school districts cannot compare to what's spent in white communities. In New York City, where three-fourths of the school population is black or Hispanic, the per-pupil expenditure is $11,700 a year. In the wealthier suburbs, it exceeds $22,000. For the 2002-2003 school year, the median teacher salary in New York City was $53,000. In tony Scarsdale, it was more than $95,000. The enormous failure of the public schools represents the nation's failure to live up to Brown vs. Board of Education and to provide equal opportunities for minorities and the poor.
The Wal-Mart Effect
Your article ("The Man Who Said No to Wal-Mart", January/ February), and my recent experiences at Wal-Mart, will make me think twice before shopping there again unless I absolutely have to (the sad thing is that there are often so few alternatives now). I expect that someday soon the Chinese will turn the tables on Wal-Mart and give them the same treatment that Wal-Mart now gives its current business "partners." That will be a wake-up call for Wal-Mart and for American business in general, which seems to be all too eager to sell China the rope they will eventually hang us with.
New Brunswick, New Jersey
In my career, I've learned that the best way to resolve a problem is to eliminate it. Wal-Mart is proof that the nation's laws have not kept pace with the ingenuity of corporate attorneys in finding ways to circumvent and frustrate the intent of the law. That intent has always been to protect independent pricing and to ensure the ability of others to compete freely. Because Wal-Mart manipulates every element of business to its benefit by means of its massive purchasing power, it effectively eliminates competition by means of suffocation.
Teddy Roosevelt, the Great Trust-Buster, is dead. So we need a "Wal-Mart Law," one that will impose a graduated excess revenue tax on businesses. One that will be zero to most businesses but will be supersubstantial when it approaches Wal-Mart's gross revenue range.
Suppliers and manufacturers need to show benevolence to their communities. I work in a small family-run business with three stores in a metropolitan area. We are known for service and integrity in business, the stuff you don't always find in big-box store operations. Build relationships with customers and the community, and treat them fairly. We sell products similar to or the same as the big-box retailers, but we also sell our service and relationships. Integrity, having a business identity, and creativity are integral to survival and success. Look for your locally owned businesses.
Congratulations to your magazine and Charles Fishman on this fine story. I'm an American who experienced the decades of prosperity in the Midwest following World War II, when hard work and ingenuity seemed to be inevitably rewarded. It has been tragic to see cities and even states fold up and decay—no factories, no work, no way to keep families going.
"The description of the Wal-Mart meeting area, with its discarded lawn chairs, is chillingly degrading."
Your endorsement of even one courageous stand by an American who follows in our best traditions is heartening. The description of the Wal-Mart "meeting" area for visitors, with its discarded lawn chairs, is chillingly degrading and throwaway. It visually captures the essence of Wal-Mart's degrading ethos. Thank you for getting this story out to the public through the AOL welcome screen. It was refreshing and heartening to me to read your article and to see it in this venue, which spans the world and is read by millions.
New York, New York
Wal-Mart helps support all of us in the not-so-rich category. If some of us didn't have that $99 Wal-Mart lawn mower, our yard wouldn't get mowed for some time. I have three children and a husband. If it wasn't for Wal-Mart, I would suffer and so would many others. The prices have to stay low somewhere. If not, your middle class will be low class, and your low class will be what? A certain store sells Copper Key clothing for four times more money than Wal-Mart. It's the same shirt, but with a different tag. Wal-Mart may have gotten rich off of helping the not so rich, but it's better than not helping and getting rich off all of us. Ask Mr. Snapper how much it really costs to make a $500 lawn mower.
Winter Haven, Florida
It was amusing to read about this boob from Snapper refusing to sell his lawn mowers at Wal-Mart because of his ongoing bias and bitterness toward the success of this retailer.
I enjoy Wal-Mart. Those who don't must prefer government regulation to the free market.
Either that, or maybe they just don't know how to compete.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Charles Fishman is a disgrace. He appeared to do little if any research for his article on Wal-Mart lawn mowers. I don't work at Wal-Mart, never have. I don't own Wal-Mart stock. I do have a lawn mower purchased from Wal-Mart for about $125 seven years ago. Annual maintenance has been the cost of a sparkplug and 20 minutes' labor. I figure it will last about 20 years. Fishman, who referred to my mower as disposable, obviously did no research. His "hate Wal-Mart" attitude permeates his writing.
Wilmington, North Carolina
Millennials? ("Scenes From the Culture Clash," January/February) I am a mid-boomer parent of three of them, so I know what they are all about. Any working parent of millennials should not be surprised. I don't ever expect to turn up at any of my offsprings' employers, but I certainly feel qualified to advise my kids as they start their careers. It's up to them to decide what to do with the advice. Generation gaps of the past aside, the best way to know about and get along with a younger generation is to have participated in creating it.
I strongly disagree with your conclusion that businesses "have to" adapt to the "work habits" of these overgrown children. We live in a global economy. There are millions of Third Worlders who will likely do a better job for less money—and with less attitude. Companies should not try to accommodate them, either. The HR person who was called 17 times by that employee's mother should have just summarily fired him.
Your article was so overtly biased toward the idea that the corporate world should continue to wipe these overgrown babies' butts that I wonder if the writer is either a millennial or the mother of one.
Personally, I think their inability to cope with reality has less to do with emails, video games, and whatnot than it does with their idiot parents and teachers having awarded them trophies for just breathing. Let the real world chew 'em up and spit 'em out, just like it did with my generation and all previous ones. It'll do them some good.
Robin B. Shore
Feedback About Feedback
Apparently, the two letter writers in January/February's Feedback who didn't understand the connection between a city's Gay Index score and a city's business climate ("Fast Cities," November 2005) were sadly typical of the religious right and their selective amnesia. While your response was right on target, I couldn't help but notice that the answer to their question was right in the article. "… [Richard] Florida's 'Gay Index,' which measures an area's gay population as an indicator of its tolerance…" Did they see the word "gay" and skip right to the end of the article? Beyond their efforts to deprive lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals of their basic rights, it's a shame that their own ideologies have also created blinders to good business practices.
Royal Oak, Michigan
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A version of this article appeared in the April 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine.