Good Company: Caring as Fiercely as You Compete is the story of a company grounded in positive human dynamics. Hal P. Rosenbluth is the chief executive officer of Rosenbluth International, a global travel services firm based in Philadelphia. With co-author Diane McFerrin Peters, who used to be the company's top communications officer, Rosenbluth details the employee-oriented management style he says spurred the company to financial success and global growth. As a service company, Rosenbluth firmly believes in listening to customers and in empowering employees closest to the customer to make meaningful decisions.
In 1992, the company underwent a reorganization that, among other things, significantly flattened the hierarchy and put systems into place that identify employee strengths and leadership potential. Interestingly, Rosenbluth International puts the human resources function at the center of what it's about, not shunted off to the side with no real power as is the case at many companies. Rosenbluth practices what is often only preached: that a company's employees are its greatest asset. That's a truth particularly applicable given today's tight labor market.
While Rosenbluth International is the main focus of this detailed management study, the authors also describe enlightened employee practices at 14 others companies that, along with Rosenbluth International, were cited in the 1992 book The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America. These companies include Hallmark Cards, Hewitt Associates, Mary Kay Inc., and Lands' End.
One criticism of the book is that it is too rah-rah. Managers also learn from mistakes. Were there employees who couldn't cut it in the new organizational set-up? Were some reluctant to take on decision-making responsibility? Such questions go largely unanswered.
In addition to treating employees well, companies in today's crowded markets have to find ways to break through the clutter of advertisements and information to reach consumers. That's where Send 'Em One White Sock: And 66 Other Outrageously Simple (Yet Proven) Ideas for Building Your Business or Brand (McGraw-Hill, $18, 0070526680) comes in. It's a compendium of practical brand-building ideas from two veterans of direct marketing.
With one page or less devoted to each one, authors Stan Rapp and Thomas L. Collins list 67 tried-and-true ideas from successful companies around the world. The second part of the book provides fuller descriptions of the innovative marketing and service programs these companies employ. The downside of this format is that the second section seems somewhat repetitive after the one-page teasers. On the plus side, the ideas presented are flexible and varied enough to be applicable to companies of all sizes in a broad range of businesses. Companies cited range from an upscale Minneapolis men's clothier to giants such as Ralston Purina and Andersen Windows. The authors don't spend much time with the Internet, but what they do say is on target. They see the World Wide Web as a place for companies to fill the gap between advertising and sales, using the limitless Web to provide gobs of information about products and services.
Direct marketing becomes relationship marketing through the creation of frequent buyer clubs, the launching of contests, and other methods of building customer loyalty and customer data bases detailing specific interests. Okay, I know you're dying to know, so here briefly is the story of the one white sock that forms the basis of this book's intriguing title. A New Zealand airline included a single white sock in its direct-mail effort to get people to renew membership in the airline's frequent flyer club. The renewal required a significant fee. The company promised two more white socks would be sent to the club member if he or she renewed. This fun offer promised two more socks so that the member would still have a pair even if a washing machine or dryer ate one of the socks. The promotion resulted in a 92% renewal rate.
One of the great issues facing couples with children is the work/family crunch. There never seems to be enough time or energy to do everything well (or even passably). Most often women bear the brunt of this dilemma, handling the bulk of child-rearing and housecleaning responsibilities while more and more also hold full-time jobs. Sure there are exceptions, but they are still just that. In Two Incomes and Still Broke? It's Not How Much You Make, It's How Much You Keep (Times Business, $14, 0812929896) author Linda Kelley doesn't take sides in the cultural/sociological battle about whether both parents should work. Obviously, economics are a compelling factor for many. What Ms. Kelley does offer is a detailed look at the real, after-tax, after-job-related-expenses financial benefit of a second wage earner in the family. She offers worksheets to help you figure out your own situation. The bottom line is that second incomes usually net less than they seem.
Though she doesn't take sides, readers might conclude that Ms. Kelley's own route (part-time work as a second earner) is the most financially logical and perhaps a better parenting choice. But the author insists the spouse most often at home also has to do heavy lifting on serious household budgeting and comparison shopping (some would say penny pinching). It's not a universally desirable lifestyle. This book will make you take a hard look at what it costs to work, not just work's financial rewards.
Neal Lipschutz is managing editor of Dow Jones News Service.