Brickbats and roses this month. Readers cheered the "bad boys of Wall Street," jeered research on "copreneurs," and admitted that their personal life is more important than growing a company quickly. For all that and more, read on.
A Load of Bulls
Edward O. Welles's January cover story, " The Bad Boys of Capitalism," profiled two Texans who have irked Wall Street with their cutting-edge on-line-trading service. Readers clearly like the idea more than traditional brokers do:
Your article really hit a nerve. I'm not a day trader, but I trade frequently. It's not often that I don't shake my head at the execution after looking at the intraday numbers on the issue. Bring on these two entrepreneurs! I for one am fed up with the games of the Street.
These young men must be onto something. Why else the strong resentment from the established old guard, and equally strong interest and success from those taking advantage of their program? I love renegades who challenge the status quo and succeed. Bad boys? I can't wait to get in touch with them.
G. Scott Miller
These two kids have learned the looting techniques of the Wall Street sharks and are now teaching the average citizen how to steal money--all to the irritation of larger firms. They're not entrepreneurs, thieves, or even rogues--theirs is simply a case of "monkey see, monkey do." But they'd better enjoy the fun while it lasts. This gigantic speculative financial bubble is about to pop any day, and when it does, they'll be lucky to find a $5-an-hour job answering phones.
Ed Welles responds: On January 20 the Securities and Exchange Commission instituted changes to order-handling rules that would do two things. First, they'd allow certain orders by small investors to compete with orders placed by dealers and institutions, to ensure a fairer price. Second, they'd permit market makers to reduce (from 1,000 to 100) the number of shares they must honor at their quoted prices for 50 of the most widely traded stocks on NASDAQ. SOES traders, like those at Block Trading profiled in my article, applaud the first change but see the second as making it more difficult for them to execute trades at favorable prices--particularly in periods of market stress. At press time, the second rule change was undergoing a 90-day test.
Of Mice and Men
In " The Best-Laid Plans" (Street Smarts, January), Norm Brodsky shows how entrepreneurs often pursue the wrong goals. The column tells of Mike, who wanted to grow his family business quickly because he thought he had to. But he really didn't want to deal with hypergrowth at all. For some, Mike's story hit close to home:
After 10 years of working like a dog I finally realized that what I really wanted was to grow my company big enough that I could hire people who excelled to run their own departments, allowing me to concentrate on the things in the business I enjoyed and did well. Doubling my salary and taking more time off to play were really my goals, and that did not necessarily mean taking my company to $20 million. I wish I'd seen this article two years ago.
Todd S. Keller
CEO and Founder
IMC Health Care
In the management and organizational-behavior classes I teach, I ask my students to write their ideal obituary. It's when you evaluate what you'll be remembered for that you actually identify the life goals that your article discussed. For many of my students, that helps them identify a direction to go in throughout their entire life.
Bennett W. Cherry
Teaching and Research Assistant
University of Arizona
All in the Family
A considerable number of readers called into question the research of psychologist Kathy Marshack, whose work was cited in " The Myth About the Mrs. in Husband-and-Wife Teams" (Managing, January). Marshack reported that "copreneurs," or husband-and-wife entrepreneurial teams, were far from being models of business and marital equality. A sample of the responses appears below:
Copreneurs: The Inn Crowd
Has Kathy Marshack (see "All in the Family") ever talked to couples who operate some of the 30,000 bed-and-breakfast inns throughout the United States? Those are truly one of the fastest-growing types of real husband-and-wife team businesses that involve a true husband-wife partnership. We know of very few B&Bs in which the owners conform strictly to stereotyped roles. Take ourselves: Bill does more than his share of the cooking, housework, and shopping, while Sharon also handles business finances, fixes broken doors, and works with contractors. Each of us can and does do each type of job necessary, and neither of us limits what we do to roles based on gender boundaries.
Bill and Sharon Kaufmann
Commencement Bay Bed & Breakfast
How can you let one psychologist's experience with 30 patients be portrayed as the "norm" in copreneurialism? Maybe those business owners are in therapy because they haven't figured out how to share the limelight and the workload effectively!
Creative Computer Services
Kathy Marshack responds: The participants in my study were not therapy clients. They did not come to me with problems to solve but were volunteers from Vancouver, Wash.; Bainbridge Island, Wash.; and Portland, Oreg. My study was a controlled research study and had statistically significant findings. Just because there was an inequity in the division of household labor and work responsibilities, copreneurs did not report dissatisfaction with their chosen lifestyle. Rather, there was a high rating of marital satisfaction for copreneurs as well as dual-career couples. The couples in my study were interested in an equitable or fair relationship as they defined it, not necessarily a completely equal relationship.
In his January Critical Numbers column, " Measuring Morale," Jack Stack wrote about how he adapted a worker survey to measure his employees' morale. We posted his poll on Inc. Online. Hundreds of readers have taken the poll. Others wrote us:
Particularly encouraging in Stack's article is his point about letting morale slip: that it is not enough to check in once in a while, that you need to maintain morale constantly. Even the best managers mess that up. Take that point a step further and you realize that management of all aspects of the company, particularly when successful, requires constant maintenance, rechecking of systems, tweaking, and fussing. That is what management is all about.
Stefan H. Doering
President and CEO
New York City
Focus: Love Thy Competitor as Thy Neighbor
In May 1995 a friend (and competitor) of mine asked me if I would consider sharing office space with him when we moved into our new offices. Though we were both starting advertising agencies, a very competitive business, we agreed to try it. We both knew the benefits of shared overhead. Plus, we thought having more people in the office would make us both look bigger than we actually were.
It worked. Both companies have grown significantly in the past two years. We're now ready to move to a larger office. We plan to keep the same arrangement. As a matter of fact, we found an added bonus that we didn't expect. Our staffs share ideas and help one another out. Not only does it look as if we have a bigger agency--we act like one.
If you are familiar with other companies that have tried this, please let us know. We think it's working great. But if there are some pitfalls ahead, we'd sure like to know.
Sam Meers & Associates
Kansas City, Mo.
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Readers took issue with Kathy Marshack's conclusion that husband-and-wife teams who run businesses together are less egalitarian than dual-career couples. Yet there are plenty of studies that corroborate Marshack's conclusions. Here's a selected bibliography of articles from periodicals:
"Who's the Boss? Responsibility and Decision Making in Copreneurial Ventures," by L. Ponthieu and H. Caudill ( Family Business Review, 1993, Volume 6, Number 1, pages 3-17). The Family Business Review is now published by the Family Firm Institute, in Brookline, Mass. To order a back issue ($21), you can go to the Institute's Web site, call 617-738-1591, or send a fax to 617-738-4883.
"Close Coupling in Work-Family Relationships: Making and Implementing Decisions in a New Family Business and at Home," by A. Wicker and K. Burley ( Human Relations, 1991, Volume 44, Number 1, pages 77-92). To order a reprint ($11.50 plus a copyright fee of about $6), call 800-787-7979.
"Working Couples in Small Business," by J. Cox, K. Moore, and P. Van Auken ( Journal of Small Business Management, October 1984, pages 24-30). To order a reprint ($11), call UMI at 800-248-0360.