It’s Not Easy Being Green

Zaid Ashai invests money for Point Judith Capital, a private equity firm, and heads their Boston office.  On March 6th through 8th  , the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association held its Energy 12 Trade Show at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston, and Zaid ran a seminar on the VC view of the building energy market.

Money seems to be flowing into the business of managing energy.  The companies that are getting funded address the demand side: energy efficiency, use, tracking, management.  The supply side is sluggish for investors and may well stay that way for the near term, given the low price of natural gas.  Thus, investment in wind, solar (even though solar companies were lavishly represented at the Trade Show), batteries and the like will encounter difficulties in attracting investment capital.

Point Judith looks to do Series A investments into the emerging markets, from the $500,000 to $3,000,0000 to $4,000,000 range.  What do they look for?  In order of priority: a management team with emotional self-intelligence and humility, a strong market, and thirdly the product.  Not surprisingly, they strongly recommend avoiding cold submissions to investors; it is common wisdom to try to be introduced to the money rather than simply tossing your business plan over the transom.

Energy is a regulated and structured market and consequently great care has to be given to the strategy of the business plan.  Are you going to compete with or try to partner with the big players?

Most interesting to me was the effort to apply information technology to the monitoring and management of the demand side of the energy market.  The goals are efficiency and low cost management of the energy supply.  With a tight economy, the business plan ought to aim to provide payback to customers in a shortened three year span rather than the traditional five year payback; customers also want a turnkey installation with a single installer, minimizing disruption and giving the customer “only one neck to ring.”

Energy management companies which are drawing financing not surprisingly seem to address the larger markets: office, retail, education institutions, lodging.  Of course it makes sense to offer energy management solutions to customers who have a lot of energy to manage.

Why don’t the energy suppliers, many of which are very large and sophisticated, enter into this market and blow away the emerging enterprises?  The thinking seems to be they are not fast enough or innovative enough to do this; software development in this area is being driven from the bottom up (as indeed in many other areas).

To the shock of some of the attendees, it was noted that business buyers in this marketplace don’t much care about being green (although they may say otherwise as a marketing tool); they want low cost and reliability, and investors want companies that drive that result.

The goal of United States energy policy is to provide 20% energy savings by the year 2050.  Point Judith Capital targets demand side management companies that will facilitate reaching that goal.  So while the Trade Show floor was flooded with portable toilets, triple pane windows, solar energy panel manufacturers and installers, and the like, the financial discussion was all about software solutions, and knowing when to shut down servers in data centers.  A brave new world.

(Disclosure: my lawfirm has represented Point Judith.)

MassChallenge and Entrepreneurship

Mass Challenge is a Boston-based accelerator that annually takes over one hundred emerging entrepreneurial companies through an intense mentoring program in order to build enterprises from the ground up.

Supported by private industry and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Mass Challenge works out of offices on the Boston waterfront.  Each year, between the 1st of March and (this year) April 11th, entrenpreneurs around the world can apply to be mentored here in Boston.  Application are available at  Last year, 125 companies were selected from over 750 applicants; at least one principal from each selected company must be resident from July to September to participate in the four month accelerator program, and in October ten to twenty such companies will be awarded seed funding in the aggregate of $1,000,000.  (Disclosure: my law firm, Duane Morris, is this year, and each year has been, a Mass Challenge sponsor.)

I asked Akhil Nigam, a founding principal of Mass Challenge, to describe the niche he is attempting to fill.  Akhil is looking for teams with new ideas in any industry.  They hope to identify future high growth companies.  He characterizes the competition as a search for the very best new ideas, and for teams which can benefit (aside from access to capital resources) from the 300 or more mentors and from the peer-to-peer contact with other emerging companies.

Who wins the money?  Akhil believes that the winners share several characteristics:

  • A high impact idea.


  • Which is disruptive within a given industry.


  • Carried forward by a really good team which has the flexibility to react to feedback when the shaping force of the marketplace defines commercial strategy.

Mass Challenge is making a “bet” on people, not just on a pitch.  Can the people execute?

Mass Challenge is open to entrepreneurs from around the world, and it is “free;” Mass Challenge do not take equity and does not receive payment.  Akhil now is looking to promote the accelerator program in New York, London and perhaps Israel, but is planning for now to remain physically located on the Boston waterfront.

Beyond keeping American entrepreneurship pre-eminent, start-up companies drive American business and American employment, and put capital to work (the 2010 accelerator led to the raising of over $100,000,000 of capital and the creation of more than 500 jobs in its first year).  I inquired as to suggestions for fostering American entrepreneurship.  Certainly Mass Challenge cannot support all the disruptive ideas that will lead to high growth.  Akhil makes a societal argument: we need broad social and government efforts to support entrepreneurship, the coming together of communities to foster mentorship programs to help new ideas grow, and career options in entrepreneurship in the universities.

Government policy initiatives, perhaps through SBA or tax incentives, also are needed.  The growth of angel networks, and the possibility of “crowd funding” for start-ups, could be of help.  (This week Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown conducted a panel at Mass Challenge exploring crowd funding options.)

Akhil also noted that we are “in a different time and age” and start-ups need talented workers.  The government needs to step in with retraining programs to provide the kind of support for start-ups that will drive not just innovation but also commercial realization; this is a theme which echoes discussion at the Association for Corporate Growth’s Boston conference last week.

Made in the USA!


The stated theme of the recent meeting of the Association for Corporation Growth in Boston was to explore the prospects for a manufacturing resurgence in the United States, and a panel headed by MIT Professor Suzanne Berger took a pretty deep dive into that issue.

Noting that the U.S. contributes 19.4% of the world’s manufactured goods, a statistic that has remained stable for about twenty years (although the number of workers declines, we make up for it in productivity), the panel agreed that manufacturing in the United States is here to stay and indeed will see something of a resurgence.  U.S. manufacturing will take place where technology and innovation are important to production.  “Cheapest country” manufacture will continue to focus on the less technologically sophisticated products.  U.S. workers provide the greatest per-capita value-added to manufacture of any country in the world, exceeding that of Japan and other developed countries and blowing away the value added component of Chinese labor.

Manufacturing jobs are back; last month 50,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs were added and industry optimism is higher than in the last two years.

What are the drags?  A significant shortage of skilled labor, together with higher U.S. operating expenses for manufacturing even putting aside the cost of labor; it is at least 20% more expensive to manufacture in the United States than elsewhere, by reason of tax load and government regulation.

The capital providers on the panel thought there was no lack of capital to finance American production, but were worried on a couple of other fronts:

  • A foolish immigration policy that causes us to train engineers and others who can drive successful manufacture, and then making it impossible for them to stay in the United States.
  • A lack of an educational system designed to support development of the kinds of sophisticated factory labor that is required.

There are functional dynamics which drive United States manufacture.  There remains substantial distrust of the ability to protect intellectual property offshore.  This pushes low tech manufacturing offshore, or manufacture of technological products where the obsolescence is so rapid that having the technology knocked off is irrelevant (as the United States will continue to re-engineer and improve what is marketable in a given space).  Also, attenuated supply chains make it difficult to rely on production that spends six weeks on a ship coming from China, particularly when goods are destined either for the United States economy or the South American economy; as just in time gets shorter, the  attenuation and reliability of the supply chain becomes more vital (witness the disasters in Japan and the impact on U.S. business).

Perhaps the most interesting comment was related to the tax code.  Even the Obama program calls for the reduction only of corporate tax rates, but 70% of United States manufacturing is done by enterprises with flow-through tax treatment, which means that the individual tax rate is really the corporate tax rate for 70% of our domestic manufacture.  Does this matter?  Is this just a question of making sure that the rich owners of companies will have to pay their fair share of taxes?  The panel, which included one such owner, didn’t think so.  There seems to be at least anecdotal support for the proposition that lower tax rates for this population will cause greater investment in the growth of a company, and in the growth of the R&D function of a company.  Two-thirds of R&D in the United States is performed in manufacturing companies, and it is also thus essential that Congress pass a permanent R&D tax credit.

In addition to tax, immigration and education reforms, the panel noted that American manufacture would be improved by a more friendly attitude on the part of EPA and OSHA, a clear and liberal policy toward stem cell research, and the establishment of trade agreements that foster U.S. exports.

Is there an analogy between what has happened to agriculture and what has happened to manufacturing in the United States?  We have learned that 1% of the U.S. population can not only feed the United States but also create substantial exports of food stuffs.  We are a “category killer” when it comes to food.  Can American manufacturing become a “category killer” in the manufacture of technologically related goods?  The panel thinks yes.  The panel doesn’t think that a huge increase in the number of manufacturing jobs is a measure of United States manufacturing prowess.  The panel thinks that if we can get out of our own way, and educate and accept from overseas the necessary worker base, primacy of U.S. manufacturing will remain an economic fact in the world economy.

On Investing in the US

At the February 29th “Deal Makers” Boston conference sponsored by the Association for Corporate Growth (“ACG”), the spotlight was pretty much stolen by Dr. David Kelly of JP Morgan Funds, who gave a sweeping assessment of the American economy and (from his standpoint) how one ought to invest into it.

Introducing his summary by noting that too much attention is paid to forecasting (no one can know what is going to happen in a given year), the key to success is to find imbalances and invest in ways that will be profitable when balance is achieved.  His theory of investing is reliant on the proposition that there are no paradigm shifts; everything reverts to baseline, a proposition  that historically seems true,  and which also speaks to an investment strategy that neither times the market nor is upset by short term volatility.

Generally, Kelly expects 2012 to be better than 2011, which was net flat for equity markets.  He sees increases in consumer confidence, improvement in consumer balance sheets (measured by percentage of income used to service debt), slow but steady job growth, a rebound in housing and a vigorous year for automobile sales.

While keynote speakers always revel in statistics, some of the statistics are pretty startling:

  • The ratio of the price of a home to average income is historically very low, with the affordability index (impact of lowered price and low interest rates) showing that we are at the most propitious time to purchase housing since World War II (notwithstanding the foreclosure overhang).


  • New housing starts are magnitudes below standard, so notwithstanding the foreclosure overhang the available housing inventory will inevitability fall.


  • For the first time in forever, it costs more to rent living space than to buy it.


  • As the housing market improves, the value of homes will increase, bank reserves for loan losses will decrease, and banks will then be more willing to lend across the board.

In a tirade, Kelly challenged the proposition that there are no jobs.  In 2011, 48,400,000 hires took place in the United States, a rate of almost 1,000,000 jobs a week.  The job market is selective and competitive, however, and he noted that unemployment for any person who attended any amount of college was 4.1%, increasing to 8.7% for high school graduates, and upwards from there.

He predicts an increase in U.S. manufacturing, although since 1948 the percentage of work force jobs in manufacturing has fallen from 25% to 8.4%.  The fall seems to have stopped.  The United States still remains the major manufacturer in the world, through increases in productivity.  Our hourly labor costs are flat at least compared to other developing countries, in large measure because of weakness of unions.

There is great concern for the political stalemate concerning taxes.  Kelly predicts that the automatic spending cuts scheduled for 2013, if the President and Congress fail to enact new tax legislation before the end of 2012, will cause a recession because the cuts will take too much demand out of the economy.  He sees, however, that either a Republican or a Democratic win for the presidency will lead to a tax deal which will include tax increases in various areas.

Kelly was particularly critical of the Federal Reserve, believing that they are making things worse.  If the main problem with the U.S. economy is, as he believes, a lack of confidence and not a lack of liquidity, announcing in advance that several years of fixed interest rates are necessary because things look lousy is exactly the wrong message to send, and feeds into the “wait and see” attitude which in turn prevents companies from moving forward and banks from lending.  And indeed low interest rates make the business of lending so unattractive to banks that there is little incentive to lend.

He is bearish on bonds at this point, noting that the ten year Federal bond is now upside down, yielding 2% against core inflation rate of 2.3%.  Conversely he believes that stocks are still relatively inexpensive, with price to earnings ratios, even after the current rally, still a little bit below history.  He thinks we are all too deep into bonds and that bonds are not, at this time, a conservative move.

How to invest?  As he believes corporate profits will grow this year, stocks will remain cheap.  Large cap growth stocks are the cheapest.  Dividend yielding stocks look good to him, with dividends (a rarity) exceeding government bond yields.  He is not much scared of inflation, but notes that investments in commodities, even at a modest level, will counter-act any hit a portfolio may take from the inflation side.

If Israel decides to take out the Iranian nuclear capacity?  This may cause temporary volatility and some inflation, but he goes back to principles: time and diversity solve volatility issues, and inflation in the long run will stabilize and can be hedged.

M&A, Capital in the New England Mid-Market

This post continues an anecdotal review of the investment and M&A climate as the world does, or does not, emerge from the economic unpleasantness that started in 2008.

Kevin Dunn and Ed Pendergast are managing directors of Dunn Rush & Co., a successful Boston based mid-market investment bank serving the M&A, recap, ESOP, private placement, financial advisory services marketplace.  Their experience is basically agnostic as to industry sector.  Kevin previously was Vice Chair of the US division of Canaccord Adams and CEO of Boston based Adams, Harkness & Hill; Ed is an active director of public and private companies and past Vice Chair of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and past President of the Mass Society of CPAs and the New England Chapter of the National Association of Corporate Directors.

Of course, statistics abound from all sources relative to the state of financial activity in the middle-market.  Dunn Rush statistics are consistent with those of other investment banks; number of deals and deal values in the mid-market, particularly transactions below $50,000,000, are recovering from 2009 levels, and multiples of EBITDA similarly are recovering.

There continues to be a marked, indeed an even increased, size premium in middle-market M&A, which is to say multiples for larger acquisitions are more robust than for smaller ones.  Dunn Rush attributes this growing size premium to the investment appetites of many private equity firms that seem to insist upon, and are willing to pay for, companies with an EBITDA of more than $10,000,000.  This leaves smaller deals with less price competition.  Although pricing generally is back to 2007 levels, the size premium similarly has returned to the 2007 range.

Their M&A in New England has not seen much impact from foreign buyers, and indeed on the sell side an approach to strategic buyers remains the norm.  However, the pressure for making sales has increased among clients.  Factors driving the urge to sell noted by Dunn Rush are the following:

  • Industry consolidation which makes competition by smaller companies more difficult.


  • Lack of available capital to expand.


  • Pent up demand, including age of owners (the sale of a business at lower recession multiples was less attractive and thus delayed).


  • Political and marketplace uncertainty.


  • Possible fear that capital gains rates will increase (although this is likely not a significant driver).

What companies are getting acquired in the New England marketplace?  Companies with cash flow are selling to financial buyers.  Strategic sales continue strong.

The PE funds are “like a commodity” in how they operate; there are many, all chasing the same type of deals, and all with lots of money to spend.  This bids up the EBITDA-strong targets.

Do certain sellers avoid private equity buyers?  The answer is yes, they don’t want to see their life’s work leveraged up to finance the acquisition, and their life’s work thereby possibly placed at risk.  Some sellers also still also want to protect their workforce.  All of this can be done but it comes at a cost, in terms of net price.

If a company in New England is looking for financing for growth, but not to sell out, what about the availability of capital?

Dunn Rush is not in the start-up market, which is a wholly different story involving venture capital, angels and the like.  (A future post will discuss some aspects of this market.)  Equity remains very difficult to raise.  There is a vigorous market in sub-debt with warrants, and also bank financing for worthy borrowers ($5,000,000 minimum generally applies).  The sub-debt market is strong with target yields of 18% or 20%, a mixed yield based upon the coupon plus the attached warrant.  This kind of financing is attractive from the lender standpoint because of the spread between cost of money and yield.

As for the banks, the mid-cap regional banks are easier to access than the giant national banks, and Dunn Rush says they have excellent access in this regard; the larger banks “have their own problems” which are well known and beyond the scope of this post.

Kevin and Ed are optimistic for both the US and the New England economy, and find that businesses are “doing fine this year” in the US.  This conclusion is generally consistent with my own observations, although early stage equity capital remains a big problem which is only partially being addressed by the angels moving up into, and PE firms moving down into, the VC space.

Investing in India: Trends and Observations

Recent investor focus has been on US, Europe and China.  India is (in part) an English-speaking country that is also the world’s second most populous.  What is the prognosis for investing in India, and for the Indian capital markets in general?

I asked Harshal J. Shah, President of Reliance Capital Ltd. and CEO of Reliance Group’s corporate venture capital business, to provide his views on the Indian economy.  Reliance Capital is listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange, is one of India’s largest non-banking finance companies with presence in asset management, life and general insurance, asset reconstruction, consumer and housing finance.  The VC firm is one of India’s largest and best-performing portfolios, with investments in the US, France and India and exits on NYSE and NASDAQ and several multi-billion dollar enterprises.

What do you see as the future of the volatile Indian stock markets?

With anticipated increased monetary flow, liquidity will permit greater growth for emerging companies.  Foreign capital also seems to prefer investments in India over China, although may await the election outcomes for the Legislatures in five key Indian States.  Assuming expected results, foreign interests should begin to participate, having missed part of the rally that started in January.

What was of interest to me was Shah’s caution concerning the Greek crisis and its impact on the EU; truly, the Euro is a global concern.  Additionally, Shah points to the high fiscal deficit, although the government is undertaking divestiture of companies and the auction of telecom spectrum to meet cash needs.  (As the deficit is 5.2% of GDP, I am forced to wonder about the US fiscal situation.)

Will US concerns about direct investment in India abate?

The policy of the government is to foster investment in India.  India being a democracy, its government must respond to populist pressure.  So there will be little resistance to investment in “new” industries (tech, media, financial services) but traditional industries that affect many people (retail, agriculture) will be harder for foreign investment to crack.  The government is trying; for example, when the government rolled back approval of 100% direct foreign ownership in multi-brand retail operations, it approved similar investments in single-brand retail.

Vodaphone issues.

I pointed out that India had attempted to tax the sale by Vodaphone in its acquisition of assets based in India,  causing a concern that a buyer of Indian assets located outside India could be taxed within India upon a sale of those assets to another non-Indian buyer.  Shah noted that the Indian Supreme Court recently had indeed ruled in favor of Vodaphone, and Shah thought that this was a permanent unambiguous decision that would clear the way for transactions being treated tax-wise as in the rest of the world.

Who is investing how much where—into India, out of India?

In the six months ending October, 2011, Shah noted that India invested $25M USD outside of India and that $20M USD were invested into India.  “In essence, India is becoming a net exporter of capital.”  Shah sees an acceleration of foreign direct investment in the future.  This money mostly comes from the US and Europe (hence, I assume, one source of concern over Greece), but some from the Middle East and a surprising amount from Japan.  China is also “becoming a banker to India as well, with its large cash reserves, and its ability to provide large amounts of supplier financing and project finance.”  He sees both Japan and China increasing their efforts, althought the US will continue to be India’s largest foreign investor, with smaller companies joining the parade of giant US companies (GE, IBM, Apple).

My personal view is that to characterize GE, IBM and Apple as US companies is an historical but not a currently functional statement, given our flat world, but surely if Shah is correct that smaller US players will invest in India then that would indeed be a true US direct investment trend.

Entrepreneurship is viewed in the US as the engine of economic growth.  How about India?

Shah sees dramatic growth in entrepreneurship.  The country churns out engineers and scientists, and the government must create a business environment to provide jobs for them.  There are impediments, however: regulations favor large companies, bureaucratic delays, finding and retaining talent, implementing IP protection, poor judicial system, “coalition politics,” availability of VC money, infrastructure.

That struck me as a formidable list, but then again anyone traveling to India on business can indeed see that the country is driving forward economically, in spite of such impediments.  India may not feel quite like Singapore, but it surely doesn’t seem to me to feel like it’s asleep.

And for Harshal, clearly, India is where the action is.

Bio-pharma Investment Trends

At today’s MassBio (Biotechnology Council) meeting in Cambridge on new VC models for early stage financing, panelists painted a picture of changes in investor appetites and a more varied landscape for capital sources and exit opportunities.

Three fund managers (two independents and Reid Leonard who is Managing Director of Merck Research Venture Fund) noted a trend to smaller raises focusing on reaching more rapid inflection points for marketability and profit.  The days of nine-figure raises are over, as investors have learned that sometimes it is not good business to fund a decade-long quest to build a company and attempt to bring it public in the face of development risks and a recalcitrant IPO market.  Rather, investments with shorter-term goals and smaller cash needs, leading to licensing deals or acquisition by a large drug company, are becoming the norm.

One interesting logical anomaly seemed to capture the attendees: how do you measure success in a biopharma investment?  For a strategic or captive fund such as Merck, you might consider if it feeds the long term pipeline.  For a fund with a finite time line, say ten years, the metric is different, but even there different investors will have different targets.

Do you aim for a multiple of investment, which is how many GPs get compensated?  Do you aim for high IRR, which puts a premium on rapid exit and which assists in raising your next fund?  The fund managers also noted the interaction between funds at different points in their lives: a fund six years into its life and making its last investments has a different appetite and time-line from a fund making its first placements.  These tensions in goals lead some investors to attempt to invest alone and not in a syndicate, and that decision in turn puts further downward pressure on the size of any investment.  Some even expressed doubts that getting technology out of the Universities and into the marketplace is best accomplished by a for-profit model, as opposed to relying on foundations and pre-competitive consortia.

But clearly there are all types of investors out there; while some investors want to “build to sell” others retain the traditional approach of company-founding.  The art is to find the investor which matches the entrepreneurial vision.

And finally, like all else in the world, the biopharma world is getting flat, as the technology is dispersed internationally and funds now look to ventures in Asia, particularly Korea, China and India.  Certainly tightening FDA regulatory oversight, a perception shared by all, helps to drive those deals out of the United States, a trend not at all restricted to the life sciences.

Life Science Investing

Jeff Leerink is founder and CEO of Leerink Swann & Co., a boutique investment bank with its home office in Boston and an investment banking practice wholly centered on the life sciences.  Given the shrinking venture capital commitment to the life sciences, and the uncertainty in the investment community generally, I asked Jeff his thoughts on the life science marketplace.

Disclosure: Jeff is an old friend but we don’t always agree. Jeff’s participation does not indicate that he agrees with my politics, and parenthetically I can assure you that he does not.

Leerink’ view is that robust investments will continue in healthcare, but will be directed towards products and procedures that drive down costs and improve healthcare outcomes.  He sees a continued focus on filling unmet needs, including in further drug development.  In response to questions concerning which pharma companies are most likely to get funding, Leerink cautiously noted that today, notwithstanding high costs and long lead times, some companies are getting selectively funded even at the phase 1 level.

Leerink is a great believer in fostering the application of information technology and data mining to the delivery of life science products and services, and sees delivery of the medical arts in the 21st Century assisted by the use of electronic medical records.  He believes that effective, deeper data mining will create “less friction” in the understanding of medical situations and therefore foster better outcomes.

The day after my conversation with Leerink I attended the Massachusetts Medical Device Industry Council seminar on “Catalyzing Innovation.”  Several Leerink points were echoed by the speakers, who included representatives of universities, venture capital funds, and large medical device companies.  Noting that 18% of the gross domestic product of the United States presently is allocated to healthcare, an unsustainably high proportion, the emphasis was on identifying life science ideas that would reduce costs, if only by substitution, provided there is no deterioration in outcomes.  To the extent outcomes can be improved at reduced costs, that is a “better idea.”  The real rub comes when an idea does not reduce costs, but does improve outcomes.  Then the benefit of the improved outcomes must be weighed against the continuing costs involved, an analysis which fall somewhere between “rationing medicine” and comparing apples to oranges (or, perhaps more accurately, apples to machine guns).

The Mass Med Conference also struggled with the linkage between venture investment and the development of emerging companies.  With the FDA approval cycle lengthening, thereby driving up costs, what deals will catch the eye of the investor?

The Conference panels noted that the size of the market, the ease of working with the investigators to find a path from the laboratory to the market, proof of usefulness and, as noted by Leerink, reduction in costs would be the keys.  Some venture capitalists noted that they now expected life science entrepreneurs to have identified the size of the market, the regulatory and market hurdles, and the posture that a product or procedure will have in the reimbursement scheme.

These issues, coupled with the growth of overseas centers of life science expertise, caused the panels generally to be leery of the loss of United States predominance in the life sciences in the midterm.

What does Jeff Leerink recommend as an investment, if appropriate life science investments cannot be found or if one is scared away from the life sciences by reason of some of these factors?

Leerink still believes that healthcare in the near, mid and long terms will remain key growth drivers in our economy, but notes that there is an opportunistic counter-strategy that may appeal to some investors: anything that is for sale in any asset class that is depressed.  Leerink recommends buying anything that “everyone is running away from.  I sell euphoria, buy on depression.”

Occupy as a Seminal American Event

It is always dangerous to write something that could function as a putative “history” at a point in time close to the events being discussed.  One lacks the perspective of time, and the information that future events provides to illuminate those events.  The modern penchant for immediate analysis is good dialog but not necessarily conclusive analysis.

So it is with trepidation that I return to the Occupy movement and speculate on its importance.  Not only is the movement of recent memory, but also it is an ongoing event; NPR reported this morning that Occupy is setting up an igloo encampment even now at Davos, in advance of the worldwide economic conference annually held there.

But I am almost compelled to do so if only because, in glancing out my window just now at the snow-coated grass plot that until recently was the Occupy Boston site, I see traced in the snow-cover, in block letters that must be 30 feet high, the word “LOVE” facing away from me, but directly at the Federal Reserve Bank.  (I wonder if the City will come to erase the message before the polity is further polluted by such things.)

At the end of Occupy Boston I made bold to suggest that the residue of Occupy would, at a minimum, be a palpable contribution to the national dialog on who we are and what we ought to do about it.  I think I was correct.  Those who know me also know that I am not beneath an occasional “I told you so,” particularly since my being correct is such a random, rare event.

Last week’s Sunday New York Times  ran a detailed article about locating the 1% and understanding what it took to find those people within our borders.  The stunning (to me) graphic was a map of the United States made up of City names, and under each City the amount of earnings per year it took to be within the highest 1% of annual income.

The range was remarkable; over $900,000 on Connecticut’s Gold Coast, below $200,000 in some forelorn Cities (if I recall correctly, Jamestown New York and Flint Michigan).  The high numbers were concentrated along our coasts (save Chicago).  A rich man in Mississippi cannot ante in a poker game in Darien.  While we cannot necessarily equate annual earnings to true wealth, the map gives us a clue that the country is not at all a unity, but rather a conglomeration of diverse localities that have fared very differently in the face of economic developments.  There are numerous economies alive in the United States, perhaps something not surprising to affectionados of the House Hunter series on television (I am addicted, and I watch almost no other television; I love to see houses much nicer than mine being sold in Keokuk, Iowa for less money than it takes to maintain my lawn for a year in Newton.)

And this past weekend’s Wall Street Journal (Review section) again discussed America in Occupy terms.  Author Charles Murray, writing a feature article extracted from his upcoming book on wealth disparity in our country, tracks fifty year trends in our collective perceptions of who we are as a country in a piece entitled “The New American Divide.”  Expressly noting Occupy, and beginning his article with the words “America is coming apart,” Murray chronicles the division among Americans that is partially financial and partially social.  He notes that we have not only differences in wealth, but also cultural differences in what we eat, how we get educated, whether we marry or pray, whether we have children of unmarried women, whether we are working or idle, all based on fundamental differences between our world views.

I look forward to the January 31 publication date of the book, entitled “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010,” which analyzes, prototypically, the upper middle class town of Belmont, MA and the depressed Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia, PA.

Differences in economics over time drive differences in culture in a way never before experienced here.  Occupy gave voice to these differences.  In a way, Murray’s analysis answers the question raised by many as to what the message of Occupy really was, or the criticism that the message was so garbled as to be meaningless.  Occupy reflected the wide panoply of differences on many issues that reflect the division of America along deep cultural lines.  Money is a leading cause and indicator of that division, but all the ancillary complaints and causes espoused at Occupy really were of a single cloth:  different aspects of the two countries we have become.

Murray’s suggestion to bridge this gap is for the “new upper class” to engage themselves and their families in breaking down the cultural isolation.  I am not quite sure what he has in mind, and must await the book to learn more, but it doesn’t sound so different from applying the big block letters in the snow visible outside my window, left anonymously by some prophet of   cultural detente.

The Modern Corporate Director

Karen Kaplan is President of the advertising agency Hill Holliday, chair-elect of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, and has had a solid background of board service (presently she serves as Trustee at Fidelity Investments and a Director of DSM [Delta Dental, Doral, DentaQuest]).  She believes that the time has come for redefinition: we need the “modern director.”

The modern director not only hears what is being said by various constituencies (not just shareholders) but also listens and takes action.  In remarks before the New England Chapter of the National Association of Corporate Directors, Kaplan noted today that social media and speed of information moving in the marketplace require immediate corporate response to crises, and in fact no company is fast enough to do effective damage control.  Rather, it is the task of the board to get ahead of the public by being responsive to their expressed perceptions before corporate actions run afoul of those perceptions.

Kaplan claimed that statistics showed that consumer loyalty was driven more by public perception of the selling company than by product features.  She pointed out how quickly the public perception can force reversal of a corporate strategy: Verizon abandoned its $2 charge for on-line payments within 24 hours of adoption in the face of viral outrage at what was seen as corporate greed.

Which constituencies must be listened to?  Time Magazine’s Man of the Year was a protester!

How do you recruit directors who are attuned to reading the input from the various constituencies that can affect profit and stock price?  How do you get ahead of the 99% and direct a company away from disaster?  Kaplan suggests that adding women and minorities and  people with very different backgrounds can help.

Discussion at the meeting included references to the Occupy movement; how long, it was asked, until the Occupy people, the 99%, buy a few shares of stock and start showing up at corporate annual meetings?  Followers of my blog posts know that I believe the Occupy movement did have clear primary focus and that its perceptions have inevitably entered into the national discussion at least in substance if not by direct attribution, but somehow I just don’t see most Occupiers I met waving their ten share certificate and asking to be recognized by the chair.

Although it IS an interesting thought….