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Probing the Financial Crisis; Billy Mays Dies

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Pecora Hearings: the redux. Like the famous hearings led by Ferdinand Pecora in the early 1930s to investigate the cause of the Wall Street crash of 1929, Congress is developing the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, an investigative body that will examine the causes behind our current economic woes. The Pecora Commission produced the information and impetus for many of the financial reforms of the New Deal. According to the Huffington Post, the nominees for the commission, which will have six Democrats and four Republicans, will be finalized over the next few days. Of the names leaked by Reuters, the only one with the expertise to get the job done, says the HuffPo, is Brooksley Born, who chaired the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in the late 1990s. As for the Republican names leaked--like Sen. Jake Garn, a proponent of deregulation who sponsored a law that led to the S&L collapse--all but one, says the article, "could be an alumni society of the people whose policies helped cause the collapse."

The world loses yet another icon. The advertising community lost its own superstar yesterday with the death of TV pitchman, Billy Mays. The cause of death of the 50-year-old Mays is still being investigated, but Mays did report not feeling well after bumping his head during a rough landing of the U.S. Airways flight he was on Saturday. Mays sold over a billion dollars worth of the products he hawked, from Orange-Glo cleaner to OxiClean stain remover. The Chicago Tribune has a nice photo slideshow of TV's most famous advertising icons, of which Mays certainly has a place among the pantheon. For a closer look at how Ron Popeil, the godfather of all TV pitchmen made his start, click here.

Will camp for tax credits. What would draw company executives to camp sleeping-bag style in a Baltimore auditorium? Friday, execs lined up five days early to apply for tax credits for angel investors who have helped fund their businesses. The applications can't be formally accepted until 9 a.m. Wednesday, but that didn't deter more than 10 company reps from getting there on Friday since the credits are distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis. Luckily the entrepreneurs were offered "lodging" inside University of Maryland's BioPark facility; last year they weren't so lucky and spent 12 hours parked on a downtown sidewalk. "[The turnout] shows how important this program is to biotech start-up companies and how important it is for Maryland to increase funding for the program," said BioMarker Strategies president Scott Allocco, the first exec in line this year. The program encourages investments in biotech start-ups by cutting taxes for 50 percent of an angel investor's investment.

Colorado's coming up green collar. While corporate America downsizes, Ascent Solar, a green energy cell manufacturer based in Thornton, Colorado, is hiring three or four people a week. The company, which was spun out of a technology incubator in 2005, is part of a trial run in Denver over the past few years to test out whether investments in renewable energy, infrastructure, and public transit may be a solution to the economic crisis. It's the same strategy Washington wants to employ nationally. The results in Denver, says Slate's Daniel Gross, show both promise and limitations. Governor Bill Ritter talks about spawning a "new energy economy" fueled by the state's research universities, anticipated stimulus funds, and institutes like the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which is located in the state. Companies like Abound Solar--which spun out of Colorado State University in the 80s, received $15 million in DOE funds in the 90s, and recently picked up $150 million in private investments--give hope. Still, says Gross, "There's a gulf between what the politicians promise and what the engineers think is feasible."

Hitting the links on the down-low. Once a crowning symbol of achievement and deserved relaxation, the golf course has become an incriminating place that some CEOs would rather avoid. USA Today reports that many CEOs have elected to either play golf more discreetly or stop playing altogether. Almost 22 percent of respondent CEOs in a 2006 USA Today poll belonged to three or more country clubs simultaneously, the story says, though many of them have cut their rounds now, in an effort to dodge allegations of executive excess. A June survey by Vistage International, an executive leadership organization, showed that 29 percent of CEOs are playing less golf and that 11 percent have dropped the game completely. One business development consultant said that charities are the ones who really suffer in this arrangement. Instead of playing in a public tournament that could raise much-needed charitable contributions, would-be philanthropists are playing privately. And while a start-up CEO faces a very different set of challenges than, say, AIG CEO Edward M. Liddy, the title itself is not well-received by the public. According to this month's Rasmussen survey, CEOs garnered the lowest favorable opinion of any profession.

Back to the future? As the recession continues to strain businesses, their owners have reinvented the system of bartering. It used to be that in order to attain goods and services neighbors would trade a chicken for some milk, corn for candlesticks. Today, business owners are employing online services such as BizXchange, a Bellevue, Washington-based company that employs a system of trade dollars that business owners can use to trade products or services with other companies on the network, reports CNN Money. Others, like an organic eatery owner named Tina Ames, choose a more informal approach. Her trade with a local contractor? A new roof for an old truck. Typically, barter activity spikes during economic downturns. And as the recession lengthens, it seems that making purchases without cash may turn into more then a trend.

In search of ethanol. Add the giant chemical and plastics maker Dow Chemical to the growing list of large corporations trying to successfully harvest hydrocarbons for fuel and chemicals. Dow is set to announce today that it is partnering with a Bonita Springs, Florida-based start-up called Algenol Biofuels to use algae to convert carbon dioxide into ethanol, The New York Times reports. While the companies hope to sell the ethanol as fuel, Dow's long-term goal is to also use it to replace natural gas in making its plastics. Algenol, Dow Chemical, and other partners on the project, including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, aim to construct a plant that will produce 100,000 gallons a year.

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Last updated: Jun 29, 2009




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