Archive for December, 2009

Words of wisdom from top local execs

Since I started this column seven months ago, I’ve tried to talk to local business chiefs about the key strategies they’ve used to overcome a specific challenge.

Now, as the new year approaches, I thought it would be a good idea to repeat some of the suggestions they had:

Stabilizing a shaky company: Former Coke Chairman Neville Isdell said he did three essential things to turn around the mess on North Avenue earlier this decade. When he returned to the company after retiring to the golf courses of Barbados, he traveled the globe, listening to employees, managers, bottlers and retailers. He avoided making public comments for 90 days.

Secondly, he parked his ego, so he and about 150 top managers could come up with a new strategy. Finally, he said he found a No. 2 exec, Muhtar Kent, who was both compatible and complementary to his skill set. Kent now leads the company.

Maintaining excellence after achieving success: Braves President John Schuerholz, who has overseen an …

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Top local business stories of the year

What a scary year. Double-digit unemployment. Record foreclosures. Georgia leading the nation in bank failures.

The best thing that can be said about 2009 is that it’s ending.

There were a few bright spots, such as NCR relocating here and Kia beginning auto production. The latter meant Georgia regained an industry that had abandoned the state following the GM and Ford plant closures of recent years.

Our 401(k)s, which started the year as 201(k)s, ended up in the 301 range as the stock market rebounded off its lows.

Let’s take a look back at some of the major business developments. I’ll try to point out a silver lining or two, because the new year should bring with it a brighter future. It has to.

Jobs, jobs, jobs

More than anything else, the growing ranks of the unemployed dominated business news this year.

Metro Atlanta and Georgia, for decades known for more robust economies than the nation as a whole, fell behind. Our over-dependence on home building delivered quite a …

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Power Breakfast: Senate health care vote, unemployment, Christmas shopping, Blackberry, Chick-fil-A

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you the best of holidays.

This will be the last Power Breakfast of the year. I will be posting a column Sunday on the top local business stories of the year and there will be another business column Tuesday.

Power Breakfast will return on Monday, January 4.

Once again, please have a wonderful holiday!

As for today’s business stories, Senate Democrats passed a landmark health care bill this morning that could usher in near-universal medical coverage for the first time in the country’s history, Associated Press reports.

After 24 consecutive days of debate — the second-longest such stretch ever — the final vote was 60-39 on the Democrats’ 10-year, nearly $1 trillion bill. It was the Senate’s first Christmas Eve vote since 1895, when the matter at hand was a military affairs bill concerning employment of former Confederate officers, according to the Senate Historical Office.

Of course, complex talks with the House remain to reach final …

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Power Breakfast: Metro housing turning around, Toys for Tots, Lanier water, cable, holiday shopping

The year is ending with some good news on the housing front.

AJC staffer Michelle Shaw reports that November provided the first year-over-year increase in the price of existing single-family homes sold since at least 2008, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The 2 percent increase for the region, from $126,300 in November 2008 to $129,300 last month, bucked the national trend, which saw a 4 percent drop in sales price, Shaw writes.

Steve Palm, president of Marietta-based SmartNumbers, said “there’s more good news: Locally, price was flat for all housing types sold in November.” Flat is good when you’re dealing with a down market.

Another area that saw marked improvement was sales, which improved 33 percent over November 2008, according to the Realtors’ data.

“Our housing industry had been down for 13 consecutive quarters, but it is a very good bet that fourth quarter 2009 will have a year-to-year increase for all single-family closings,” Palm told …

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Small business lessons from a serial entrepreneur

You know the saying: I’ll know it when I see it. Well, I never knew a “serial entrepreneur” until I met Hank Datelle.

Hank Datelle

Hank Datelle

With all the ventures he’s started, Datelle might have an addiction when it comes to developing businesses, from software to packaging, and then trying to sell them after about five years – that is if they last that long.

In this economy, with many employees dreaming about leaving corporate America to create their own future, what an Atlanta businessman like Datelle, 67, learned from his failures and successes can be helpful.

And for a journalist like me, who has spent most of his career covering large companies, how Datelle went about starting small firms was surprising, at least in one respect. He relied so much more on family and friends than I anticipated, and so little on more traditional sources of funds from banks or venture capitalists.

But to do that time and time again – not a bad model during this credit crunch – Datelle …

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Power Breakfast: Marietta Lockheed plant humming with work, new tarmac limit, MARTA, Greenbriar, Caray

There’s good news on the factory floor for a change.

AJC staffer Dan Chapman reports that the dire warnings of layoffs at Lockheed Martin Corp., maker of the F-22 jet fighter assembled in Marietta, have not materialized.

Today, he writes, the massive airplane factory hums with work.  Jobs may not be lost any time soon, if at all. In fact, Lockheed Martin could hire another 500 workers in Cobb County over the next few years.

F-22 production may be winding down, but work on the C-5 and C-130J cargo planes, as well as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, could employ another generation of Georgians.

Also in the AJC:

In other media:

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Power Breakfast: Big developer with big problems, health vote, Dome, temp workers, Fed

In a well-researched story, AJC reporter Rachel Tobin Ramos details how high-flying developer Stan Thomas ran into serious financial trouble.

It’s a story repeated quite often during this financial crisis, although Thomas, of Newnan, had projects that were more far-flung than many — on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as on the West Coast.

Thomas’s reach appeared to indicate a well-capitalized developer who was willing to risk hundreds of millions of his own dollars to get the ball rolling on some of his mega-projects, Ramos reports.

But last month, Thomas — a longtime shopping center developer whose success led him into ever-larger ventures — put three major projects into bankruptcy protection. He also narrowly averted foreclosure on The Forum Peachtree Parkway in Norcross, one of his signature retail developments.

Also in the AJC:

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Power Breakfast: Delta tops in fees, federal loan to pay jobless benefits, Coke Zero, MARTA, climate talks, health care

Fees for checked bags, reservation changes and other services may hurt consumer pocketbooks these days, but they have become a significant source of revenue for Atlanta’s top two airlines., AJC staffer Kelly Yamanouchi writes.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines had the highest “ancillary revenues” per passenger in the third quarter among major airlines ranked in a federal report. It brought in $24 per passenger in such revenue, the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics report said.

That was 20 percent more than the next-closest airline, Delta merger partner Northwest Airlines, whose numbers were reported separately, Yamanouchi writes. And it was twice as much per passenger as fellow “Big 3” airlines American and United.

AirTran Airways, meanwhile, collected only $10 per passenger from such sources, but that money accounted for 11.4 percent of its operating revenue — highest in the industry. Delta was second at 9.3 percent.

Also in the AJC:

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Georgia to get $70 million federal loan to pay jobless benefits

Georgia will borrow $70 million from the federal government to replenish a depleted unemployment insurance fund for the remainder of the year, state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond announced today.

Thurmond also said unemployment insurance premiums for 15 percent of Georgia employers will rise next year by a “modest” amount because of the state’s growing jobless problem.

The state’s unemployment rate rose to 10.2 percent in November, Thurmond reported today, from a revised 10.1 percent in October.

The state’s unemployment insurance fund has only $25 million in it right now, not enough to pay next week’s benefits without tapping the federal interest-free loan. A year ago, the state had $909 million in the fund. But since then, the recession deepened and layoffs increased. Currently, 268,995 Georgians are receiving unemployment benefits.

Thurmond did not know how much money the state would need to borrow from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits next year.

In …

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Power Breakfast: HD Supply cuts workers, Ga. jobless fund, panhandling, AT&T, BofA, Copenhagen

In business, timing can be everything. A former Home Depot division is finding that out the hard way.

AJC reporter Rachel Tobin Ramos writes that HD Supply will lay off 350 employees and consolidate 25 branches in its continuing effort to stem losses related to the decimated residential and commercial construction industry, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Since the fourth quarter of 2008, the Atlanta-based company and former Home Depot division has laid off 4,500 employees nationwide and closed or consolidated 210 branches.

HD Supply was the brainchild of former Home Depot CEO Bob Nardelli, who built what was then a $12 billion division by buying up lumber and other supply companies over several years, Ramos writes.

Current Home Depot CEO Frank Blake sold the division in 2007 for $8.5 billion, saying that the division had distracted Home Depot from its flagship home improvement stores, Ramos writes.

HD Supply was bought by three private …

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