Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The End Of An Era, And The End Of A Genre

When I started the day, I made a promise on Facebook that I wouldn't post incessantly about the end of David Letterman's Late Show. But I HAD to write at least one thing. For any student of broadcasting, any student of comedy, or anyone who lived through the last 33 years, this is a truly bittersweet day. And for some of us, it's just a little more sad. I won't dwell on all the things you've probably seen on real media outlets, but I wanted to share some personal recollection on David Letterman's talent and influence on my life.

I spent my formative years in Indianapolis, and have a very unique experience of watching a very young David Letterman and a very young Jane Pauley start their careers on local television. Jane was, and still is, a magnificent newsperson but Dave started out a little bit differently. He was the smart ass who was sitting in the back of the room throwing spitballs at the teacher while the teacher was trying to explain the Roman empire. Even as early as the mid 70s, Dave was the guy who was breaking rules and changing the way those of us in our impressionable years molded our personalities. Just listen to the writing and delivery on this rare audio of Dave doing radio bits in 1974, courtesy of Brad Krantz.


People in Indy knew Dave had "something", but most of them didn't know exactly what it was. But it did land him a full time job at WLWI, the then ABC affiliate. Here's a video of some of Dave's local television work, hosting a 4H talkshow, doing the weather, and other middle market television duties in Indianapolis.


You've got to understand, that as a 15 or 16-year-old kid growing up in ultra conservative Indianapolis, seeing this kind of stuff on local television had a huge effect on me. Not only was it incredibly funny, but it proved that you could be sarcastic, sardonic, and silly without being shot at sunrise. I felt that this guy gave me permission to come out of my shell and develop a personality that was uniquely mine without fear of being seen as a freak. Of course, if you talked to my classmates at North Central High School, many still thought of me as a freak and do to this very day. But that's another blog post

After gaining a foothold in television and doing guest comedy bits on legendary Indy radio stations like WNAP,  David Letterman somehow found himself becoming a radio talk show host on WNTS, perhaps the worst radio signal in Indianapolis, a daytime station at 1590, WAY at the end of the AM dial. Just to give you an idea of what a potential train wreck the station was, this was their building.
WNTS building
But Dave did amazing radio. There aren't many tapes of his work at WNTS, otherwise I'd post them here. But he was simply hilarious, doing "bits" unlike anything heard on the radio at the time and coining phrases like "homelisteners" to refer to his audience, a term that' morphed into "homeviewers" during his TV career. The son of the owner of WNTS and General Manager of the station was Jeff Smulyan, who has always had a keen eye for talent and broadcasting, and later went on to found (and still runs) Emmis Communications. On a side note, I tried to call into Dave's show often, and hardly got more than a few what I thought were brilliant words out before he'd call me a "snot-nosed kid" and hung up on me with great aplomb. I don't think I ever got past the second sentence, and sadly have never communicated directly with Dave since those days.

At some point, most everyone realizes they've done all they can do in Indianapolis, and Dave was no exception. He got his wife Michelle, loaded up a red pickup truck, and headed to Los Angeles. This is where the well shared stories about David Letterman in just about every media outlet start, and where, in the interest of brevity, I take a pause in the Dave stories.

Fast forward to 1980. With The Gong Show's run finished, I needed a reason to avoid college classes by watching oddball TV shows, and I discovered my childhood hero Dave Letterman had a NETWORK show. None of this cheesy local programming, a real live network show with an audience, Edwin Newman, an actual News God, doing updates, and crazy things that nobody had ever seen on television before. He had semi-regular guest players like Chris Elliott, Edie McClurg as the wonderful Mrs. Marv Mendenhall, and many more. It was absolute genius, and that's why it lasted only four months.

But like Jeff Smulyan before him, Fred Silverman, who was running NBC, saw that there was something amazing about Dave, so, as is well documented in other places, Dave got his own show in the Wasteland of the Vast Wasteland, 12:30AM Eastern. And it was spectacular. You know the story, I won't go into it, but for many years, I never missed the show, watching it in real time even though I had to get up at 3:30AM to produce a radio show for some of that time. It didn't matter, you never knew what a going to happen next on the show, screaming at workers in Rockefeller Center with a bullhorn, jumping into water in an Alka-Seltzer suit, having Jay Thomas throw footballs at a meatball on top of a Christmas tree, it was all off the wall, usually hilarious, and completely different than anything else on TV.

Perhaps my favorite recurring bit on the show, both at NBC and CBS, a the annual visit from Darlene Love and her singing the classic "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)". After her final performance of the song last year, the Late Show staff put together this supercut of all her performances. I only have two words to describe it, musical magic.


I can't talk about David Letterman and how much he means to me without sharing two personal stories, so please indulge me. My wife and I got to see Late Night With David Letterman tape in the mid 90's, and it was amazing. But perhaps the part I'll remember most was before the show. As things often happened for me in those days, we got our tickets from a staffer on the show who was the friend of a friend, so we sort of had to sneak our way into what was then (and to me will always be) the RCA Building, we went up to the offices and got taken to the 6th floor studio. We were early, so the person who was taking care of us suggested we wait for a while up on the 9th floor in the NBC Commissary and she'd come get us when it was time for warm-up. I'd been to the legendary Commissary before, but my wife hadn't. So we hung out there having a drink with me rambling on about how Johnny Carson made jokes about the place when he was in the building and who I'd seen there in the past. Just then, Hal Gurnee, who was a TV legend in his own right, but was better known as the Director of
Hal Gurnee
Legendary Director Hal Gurnee
Late Night, walked in. If you remember those days, Hal was a part of the show and had become kind of a cult hero. To make a long story short, I can clearly remember Hal's blue shirt and the fact he grabbed a snack and coffee before showtime. It was "a moment", to sit a few tables away from HAL EMMY AWARD FREAKING GURNEE. I can't tell you who was on the show, what jokes Dave told, but I can tell you all about my "brush with greatness" with Hal Gurnee.

One last thing. One of the Executive Producers of the Late Show With David Letterman is a lady named Barbara Gaines. She's been featured on the show on and off over the years in many different ways, but her story is much more significant to the success of the show. She started out as the receptionist on the Morning Show, has been with Letterman through thick and thin, and, as many of the unheralded staff and crew of TV shows are, is not recognized for the tremendous contribution she's made to Dave's career. I found her on Twitter (no, I wasn't stalking her) yesterday and sent a short "thank you" tweet.
I know this sounds geeky and a little bit creepy to some, but I was stunned to see that she favorited the tweet and followed me. That may not mean much to most people, but it's a true honor to be noticed by one of the unsung heroes of Dave Letterman's magnificent career. Barbara, not that you'll read this, but I'm deeply touched.

I loved Johnny Carson, but only really appreciated his talent and interviewing style towards the end of his career. I feel like I've had some kind of connection to David Letterman most of my life, and I've laughed and learned from him. I believe he's the last of the late night sitting-behind-the-desk-with-a-big-non-functioning-microphone-on-it hosts. Yes, we have Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, and those who will follow them, but the guy who set the tone for all of them is Letterman. 33 years on network television is an amazing run, especially with some of the bumps in the road he's endured. But his wit, wisdom, and whimsy have changed the late night talk show genre forever, and we should all be proud that, just as with people like Michael Jordan and other one of a kind megastars, we got to see Dave in his prime. There will never be another David Letterman, and, at least to me, he will be missed.

But that still doesn't make up for hanging up on me so many times.


Sunday, May 03, 2015

Flying While Disabled-A Cautionary Tale

I have a vision problem. Actually, I'm legally blind. I'm usually able to take care of myself and get around just fine, although I don't see well enough to drive. I've discovered that as air travel and airports get harder for all of us to deal with, I need some help when I fly. The airlines are supposed to provide assistance for disabled passengers, and some do a fine job in that area. Of course, there are exceptions to that, and this is a true story about my latest flying experience. It's not presented for sympathy or pity. I'm sharing because people with a disability should know what to expect when flying, what their rights are, and how to deal with airlines and airports when something goes wrong. 


Remember when airlines claimed to make travel a "special" experience, even running ads like this on TV?


If you've flown anywhere in the last ten years, you know those days are over and this is what flying is like now.
crowded airport and plane
It isn't pretty. It isn't easy. And it's harder if you have any kind of a disability. Yes, there are laws that provide protection and help for disabled flyers like 14 CFR Part 382, which provides for nondiscrimination on the basis of disability in air travel, but the laws are only as good as the airline employees who have to follow and enforce them. More often than not, the airlines are aware of the laws and do their best to follow them. But when airline employees don't follow the rules, things can go horribly wrong.

I had to fly from St. Louis to Boston on April 28, 2015. 

US Airways and American Airlines, Together
American And US Airways, Together
I bought my ticket on American Airlines, and as it turns out, the flights I was taking were operated by US Airways, the company that recently "merged" with American. As soon as I made the reservation for this trip, I contacted both American Airlines, who I bought the ticket from, and US Airways, who was operating the flights. I let them both know that I am legally blind, would need wheelchair assistance getting to the gate because it's sometimes hard for me to see signs in some airports and would need to sit near the front of the plane because I have problems navigating the aisles and can't see the signs above the rows. When I got to the airport in St. Louis for the first leg of my flight the term SSR  (airline talk for Special Service Request) was on my tickets and the people at the US Airways ticket counter knew that I had special needs. The gate agent and flight attendant on that flight were very helpful and made sure that I was able to find my way and get everything I needed. That's the way things are supposed to work under the Air Carrier Access Act

When I got to Philadelphia, I was quickly taken to my departure gate and I checked in with the gate agent to let them know I was there and had special needs. They found me on the manifest and said they would let me pre-board and take care of me on board. They did let me pre-board, but mispronounced my name so I had to go after a few other people. When I got on the plane, I was unable to introduce myself to the flight attendant because she was looking away from the door doing something in the galley. I always try to identify myself when I get on a plane. However, this time I was not able to. To make a very long story short, I had to go back about four rows behind my seat in order to find an overhead compartment to stow my suitcase as the one above my seat was already taken. During the flight, the flight attendant never approached or acknowledged me as having special needs.

This is when things went wrong, really wrong.

Not my actual bag or overhead bin
Not my actual bag
When the flight landed in Boston, I let people who were rushing to deplane get off the plane and found a break in the line that I could use to go back and get my suitcase. I got it out of the bin facing towards the back of the airplane. I turned around with the suitcase and tripped on the leg of a seat, which I could not see. I fell on my knees and my hands and it hurt quite a bit on my knees. The flight attendant was probably five rows ahead of me and she did not do anything to help me, didn't even walk towards me or ask if I needed help. When I got myself up, I realized that my leg was bleeding and I told her that she hadn't done her job because I had an SSR and she didn't look out for me. She claimed she never saw an SSR for me. I explained that there was one on my first flight and that the Gate Agent saw it, so she must not have looked very hard. I told her I wanted to speak to the captain about the situation and I wanted her to come off the plane with me so we could reported to the CRO (Complaints Resolution Official) on duty. She refused to leave the plane and when she asked the captain what to do he said he didn't know. In fairness to her, a flight attendant isn't supposed to deplane while passengers are on board, but she didn't even come off to follow up with me or the gate agent once the plane had emptied out.

I walked down the Jetway with my pants covered with blood and my leg bleeding. The gate agent was a CRO and I told him what happened.  His immediate response was "what do you want"? I told him I wanted my pants replaced, to fly home on a different airline, and a full refund of my ticket price. According to the ACAA, he had the authority to resolve the problem on the spot, and I wanted to clear things up as soon as I could. the Massport EMTs were called to look over the bleeding knee, examined me, they cleaned it up, and applied a bandage to it. They asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital, and I declined but asked them to file a report of the problem for the record. 
My leg and pants after EMT's cleaned me up
My leg and pants after EMT's cleaned me up

The male CRO (whose name tag I couldn't see so I don't have his name) was very helpful in re booking me on another airline for my return home and having a check drawn for $40 to help pay for my pants. (I haven't done anything with the check because the whole situation is still not settled) However, we were not able to agree on the refund of my entire ticket price. He said that the reason that wasn't possible is I was technically still traveling and that a refund couldn't be processed until I returned. On a number of occasions, he said that refund would probably show up on Friday May 1st. Later on, it was made clear to me that a refund would probably be out of the question. I reminded this gentleman and a lady who was helping him named Heleine Delalue that he had agreed to that refund and then he needed to find out who could get it done. They called the station manager, the person who oversees US Airways operations in Boston, and his response was the same, that I would have to deal with Customer Relations after my travels were over to try to get the refund. 

I could tell we had done all that we could do, so after about 3 hours of activities after I fell, I was put in a cab and sent to my hotel. Later that night, I received the CRO's report to the airline, posted below.As you can plainly see about halfway down the page, there's a question "Did a violation occur?" The CRO checked "YES", meaning that the airline had violated the ACAA. In other words, he admitted that his company broke the law.


I posted quite liberally on social media about my injury. Here are some of the first posts. You might want to open the Facebook post to see the reaction I got. Sorry the same photo is repeated.

When I fly, I usually ask for assistance because I don't see very well. I asked USAirways for the same assistance on...
Posted by Mark Edwards on Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Trying to get the situation resolved

I received a call from a gentleman in American Airlines customer relations the next day, Wednesday, saying that he had seen my social media posts and wanted to talk about the situation to me. I asked if he was calling because I had filed a complaint at the airport, and he said no, it was only because of my social media activities. I explained to him that the outstanding issue was the fact that I wanted to be reimbursed for the full amount of my plane ticket. He told me that he would have to check into that and we get back to me in the next day or so. I asked him to get back to me by the end of business on May 1st, because I wanted this situation resolved, over and done with. In writing this, it is 3:22PM on May 3rd and I have heard nothing else from American Airlines Customer Relations despite many Facebook posts and tweets to their social media team. 

I found out that the flight was actually operated by Republic Airways, I left messages for their senior management on Wednesday morning. Wednesday afternoon I get a call back from Julie Moser, their customer service director and I asked her for the name of the flight attendant. She would not give it to me. She was under the impression that I was ready to file a personal injury lawsuit and I explained to her that I did indeed mention that at the airport because it was an option but I have not decided whether to exercise it or not. She claimed that American Airlines turned my case over to her because of the threat of a lawsuit and that her airline would have to shoulder the burden of that situation. I explained that I had not decided what action I was going to take at that point, but I did want the name of the flight attendant for my records. She said she would get back to her counterpart an American Airlines and see what they can do to get this situation behind us.

I still haven't heard from her. I did try to call her again on Friday, May 1st to follow up but never received a return call. I also called the US Airways disability hotline on May 1st to try to speak to someone and was only able to leave voicemail. American Airlines does not have a telephone contact method as the phone number listed on their website has been disconnected. As a last resort, I left a message with American Airlines' Media Relations department Friday evening. I received a call the next day from a very nice lady in Media Relations, not Customer Relations, who listened to my story and said she couldn't help me, but would talk to someone in Customer Relations and I'd hear back from them "soon". I'm still waiting, just like I have been waiting for the help the American Airlines Twitter team promised early in this situation.
So five days later, I have a huge scab on my knee, a large bruise under it, and while I can bend my leg (which I couldn't do for two days after the fall) a pretty fair amount of pain. And no resolution from US Airways, American Airlines, or Republic Airways.

What to do if you have a disability and have to fly

I thought I did everything I could have to prevent any problems while flying, but even the best preparation can be foiled by bad airline employees, the monopolistic "customer service" practices of the few remaining national airlines, and fate. If you have a disability and need to take a trip by air, I suggest you do these things. 
  • KNOW YOUR RIGHTS. The US Department Of Transportation has many resources showing the rights of the disabled.  If you don't want quite as much information as that link has, here's a handy guide that puts your rights in simple terms. 
  • LET THEM KNOW BEFORE YOU GO. Call your airline's reservation number or look on their website for Disability Services contact information. Once you've made your reservation and have a record locator, contact the airline and let them know EXACTLY what you need to accommodate your special needs. Don't be afraid to ask for what you really need, most airlines will do whatever they can to make your travel experience as painless as possible.
  • GET TO THE AIRPORT EARLY AND IDENTIFY YOURSELF. Even if you already have your boarding pass, get in the airline's ticket line in the lobby of the airport. There are usually airline employees roaming the line and you can tell them you have special needs. They'll get you to the right place and right people to help you, or at least they're supposed to.
  • IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG AT THE AIRPORT, ASK TO SPEAK TO A CRO. The CRO, as mentioned above, has the authority to resolve any problems on the spot. The law requires that at least one CRO be on duty at the airport when their airline is operating. If for some reason the airline can't put you in touch with a CRO, they're violating the law. Ask for the person in charge of the airline's operations at the airport, even if they need to get them on the phone. 
  • IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG ON THE PLANE, TALK TO THE CAPTAIN. Even the "Senior" or "Head" Flight Attendant is just that, a flight attendant. The Captain of the plane has the final word on what is right or wrong and how to resolve a problem. Be strong, many flight attendants don't want their bad decisions overruled by the Captain, but you can consult him if you feel your rights aren't being respected. 
  • DON'T BE AFRAID TO COMPLAIN, AND COMPLAIN LOUDLY.
    Once your travel is over, you can discuss any bad experiences you've had with the airline. Most of them have a special Disability Hotline listed on their website for problems. You may have to look hard to find it, but it's there. And if the airline is too slow, unhelpful, or refuses to deal with your issue, file a complaint with the Department Of Transportation. You can do it over the phone, online, or via mail. Your complaint will be investigated, you'll get a full report of the investigation, and if the airline broke any rules, they will be held accountable for the violations. One thing to be aware of is that the airline has 30 days to respond to a complaint once they get it from the Department Of Transportation, and they usually take every nanosecond of that 30 days to respond. Don't expect a quick resolution, but expect a fair resolution by the specialists at the Department Of Transportation. Some of them are disabled themselves, and they really do understand both the laws and what it's like to travel with a disability. 
  • IF ALL ELSE FAILS, SUE. Even if the Department Of Transportation finds that the airline has violated the ACAA or other regulations, they can't award you anything for damages. They CAN fine the airline and use your complaint to establish a pattern of misbehavior. I'm not a lawyer, but using the legal system might be a remedy in some cases, especially when monetary damages or injuries are involved. Don't just go out and file a lawsuit because you feel like it, find a disability rights attorney and discuss the case with her. Then you'll know if it's worth your time and effort to take that route. I might suggest you talk to more than one lawyer to make sure you're getting the best advice and a plan of action you're comfortable with. 

Air travel is hard enough these days, and having any kind of disability, small or large, just makes it harder. I pray nothing like what happened to me happens to you, but I hope you can be better prepared for your next air excursion after hearing about my experiences and how to prevent bad things from happening to you when you travel. Please share your tips, comments, or other things you do to travel without incident in the comments below. And if you know someone with a disability or an organization that helps the disables, please share this tale with them. It could make someone's next trip a lot less challenging. 


UPDATE 5/4/15 4:00PM I've spoken twice today to Greg Avis, the person I mentioned in my blog post as originally contacting me because of my social media activities. We've come to an understanding, and I'll be pursuing this situation further via the US Department Of Transportation complaint process. Thanks to all for your support, thoughts, and kind words. Time to just get on with life. 


Related articles

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Next Adventure Begins

Yes, I'm guilty.

Guilty as charged for not updating this blog for over a year. I could give you a million excuses from "I had a nasty paper cut on my pinky and couldn't type" to "The dog ate it", but I won't. I've been working hard and trying to spend time with the family, doing some very interesting projects, and my attention shifted away from this platform. I promise to do better in the future, especially since I have so much to talk about. 

So where were we? Life has been quite intense and interesting since I last posted here. In addition to my consultancy, Mark Edwards Worldwide, I've been working on an assignment for the United States Department of Justice for the last six months. I can't go into details about it, but I was working outside of the house and putting in some very long hours. It was a fascinating experience, and I learned a lot. But that all changed last week.

I've accepted the position as Genre Manager/Musical Technical Director at a CÜR Music. The service will be launching later this year, and it will shatter everything you know about streaming music. I've been consulting the company for almost a year now, and they brought me on to help build the tools and systems that will schedule and deliver music to our users as well as to be the "bridge" between the Development Team and the Music CÜR8tors Team to make sure everybody understands what needs to be done to make this service succeed, both with disruptive content and world class technology. The company has some extraordinary bright and forward thinking people behind it and is poised to really shake things up in the streaming music space. 

The great thing about this opportunity is that I get to use what I know about music programming, writing computer code, and the online world all at once.  And while the company's offices are on the East Coast, I'll be able to do most of my work from home in St. Louis thanks to the miracle of the Interwebz. It's a truly once in a lifetime opportunity to do all the things I love at once and help build what I believe will be a juggernaut of a company in the process. 

Another benefit of this job is that I'll be much easier to reach than I've been over the last year or so. If you have my personal e mail, by all means use it. If you don't, my work e mail is medwards@curmusic.com. My phone number remains the same at 77.333.MARKE and I'll be hanging out on Skype most of the time as MarkECubFan. And if you're a FaceTime user, you can now find me at any e mail address you have for me. There are about a dozen other ways to reach me, and you can find all of them on my About.me page.

Again, I am sorry I fell off the grid. It was unavoidable with the projects I was working on. I look forward to being easier to find, catching up with you, and staying in touch in the future. And yes, I'll do my best to post more regularly here on MarkEdwardsUncensored.com.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

R.I.P Judy Martin

It seems that I write too many posts about those we've lost, but those who have touched our lives and made the world a better place deserve to be remembered.
Judy Martin
One of those people is Judy Martin, a person I had the pleasure of interviewing a couple of times on the John Tesh Network in 2012.  Judy was a TV news anchor, ran the website WorkLifeNation.com, and was one of the most interesting and inspirational people I had the pleasure of interviewing during the all too short life of the long form interview series I did for John.

You can read more about Judy in this story from the New York Daily News.  I first heard of the passing of Judy Martin from Susan Steinbrecher, who runs a firm called Steinbrecker and Associates and posted this touching tribute on her website:
I was shocked and saddened yesterday to hear of the sudden passing of someone I truly admired; Emmy award-winning journalist, author, yoga/meditation instructor and well-known work/life balance champion and blogger, Judy Martin.
A quote from Judy’s website aptly describes her work as a work/life balance consultant:
Essentially, I teach business professionals the skills they need to take their stress down a notch. To be fully present and harness awareness at work and in business, to cultivate an inner state of calm, clarity and resilience that is completely aligned with their values and highest purpose in the face of an uncertain marketplace. It’s what I call the “exaltation” of the human experience in business.
Judy touched the lives of many. She was approachable, candid, sincere, intelligent, and of course, a truly gifted writer.
Outside of the respect I had for her life-changing work, it was Judy’s palpable warmth that endeared me to her the most. I “met” Judy, virtually, on Twitter back in 2009—but we never actually met in person. Yet we shared such wonderful discussions over the phone, via email – and on Twitter – (I will dearly miss our late evening DM exchanges wherein she would check in on me to see how life was, and to update me on business and personal events). On all of these occasions, she made me feel like we were longtime friends.
Throughout these exchanges, I came to respect and admire her work more and more, and, in 2011, she agreed to be interviewed for my book, Kensho, A Modern Awakening, on the significance of mindfulness and work/life balance. Most recently, after reading the manuscript for my upcoming book, she generously offered to write a testimonial.
About a week ago, Judy DM’d me that she was excited to be working on something new, another book project and she wanted to interview me for it. I was honored, and we both vowed once again that we would try to meet each other in person, someday soon.
Sadly, that “some day” will never come…
I went over to her twitter feed today. For some reason, I wanted to see what that last 140-character communiqué into the world had been. I became overwhelmed with emotion when I saw it:
Living In The Moment – Why Is It So Important And Why Should You Care?http://goo.gl/oiyyPT
I clicked on the link and the first thing I saw at the top of the page was this quote:

“The past is behind, learn from it. The future is ahead, prepare for it. The present is here, live It.” ~ Thomas S. Monson

I’m sure Judy would want all of us to be mindful of this message, each and every day that we are blessed with on this earth. I am so grateful to have known her.
RIP Judy Martin 1965-2014

I went to the archives and found my interviews with Judy, done just after Superstorm Sandy demolished part of Long Island, where Judy lived and worked as an anchor and reporter on Long Island's channel 12.  We talked about Sandy, work/life balance, and much more.  The interviews are below in tribute to Judy Martin.


Sometimes the people the world loses aren't the biggest stars or world leaders, but they do much to change the world.  Judy Martin was one of those people.  May her memory be a blessing.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, January 10, 2014

In Praise Of The Under Appreciated HR Director

Here's a question for business owners and managers. When was the last time you hugged your HR department?

It occurs to me that the human resource manager, human resource assistants, recruiters or whatever you call the people in your HR department are the unsung heroes of business in 2014. They have to find the right people, train the people, and then retain the people for it as long as possible. With all the talent available these days, that's a very very tall order.

Yes, the government says that the unemployment rate dropped to 6.7% today. Theoretically, that's good news, especially if you ignore the low number of jobs created in December. But it also means that a lot of people have just stopped looking for jobs and left the work force. And that might make the HR department's job a little harder because some of those people could be diamonds in the rough for your company. Perhaps their skill set doesn't exactly line up with what you're looking for, maybe they are over 40 and have had jobs in industries that don't exactly match yours, or maybe they just were honest about how much money they wanted to make when they filled out applications. For whatever reason, they've climbed out of the talent pool and therefore can't be used as human capital.

How important is finding and keeping talent? Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, opened the 2013 event in Davos by asking "Is talentism the new capitalism?". He talked about the importance of talent and how having the right people can provide a huge competitive advantage for any organization. Everyone has the same computer programs, analytic tools, and syndicated data to work with, but the key to making all those things work right is having the right talent to use them, interpret them, and put them to work for your business. And in most companies, finding that talent falls squarely on the shoulders of the overworked and undervalued human resource department.

Many businesses try to help their HR department with this daunting task by
getting them applicant tracking software so they don't have to spend as much time looking at every application that comes in for every opening no matter how big or small it is. We all know how the software works, whether it's Taleo or Kenexa or another vendor's system. The HR person puts in the parameters they are looking for, adds the keywords, presses the button, and the job is posted for all to see. Then the system scans the applications, looks for the best matches, and puts them in a file. The applicants who don't match the qualifications set by the HR department sometimes get a nice rejection letter but tend to go into another file never to be seen again.

Technology is good, and having been a hiring manager I know that often times most of the people applying for a job simply aren't qualified. That's why applicant tracking software was invented, to weed those people out so that the overworked HR department or recruiter can concentrate on the best people based on their keywords. 

But technology has its limits. In an ever-changing world where so many people are trying to reinvent themselves or enter a new industry, applicant tracking systems don't see how the skills these candidates bring to the table can match the keywords for the open positions. It's no one's fault, it's just the way computers work and the applicant tracking system is doing the best job you can based on the information it was given. So is the recruiter really getting the very best person for the job? According to the applicant tracking software, they are. But in reality they may not be. And if that perfect person ends up getting noticed by your competitor, your company has lost the opportunity to acquire a valuable piece of human capital. Sometimes, and probably more often than that, the real best person for the job doesn't make it over one of the benchmarks in the ATS and they get thrown out, leaving the company with no idea that they're missing out on a potential superstar. 

To try to show this theory in a real world experiment, I applied for a job that I am well-qualified for yesterday after 5 PM. The application was through an applicant tracking system which was nice enough to send me an automated response saying they had gotten my stuff and would consider me for the job. At a little after 11 PM last night, six hours after making the application and most likely while the HR department at this company was far from their desks, I received a rejection letter for the job I just applied for. I can't prove this, but I can bet that my application was never seen by the retina of any human eye. It didn't match the keywords or got bounced for some other reason and the recruiter or HR director at this company will never know that I applied for the job. They lost the chance to at least investigate the acquisition of good human capital. And if I get a similar job at their competition, they lose the never ending battle of having the best people in their company.

I don't envy the role of a recruiter or HR director in this day and age. Too many tasks, too little time, and not enough help makes the job one of the most challenging in any firm. But companies who don't invest in finding the best human capital and looking beyond the applicant tracking systems are likely missing the opportunity to grow a world-class organization. Not having the human touch in the recruiting process could theoretically make the difference between success and failure for a project or an entire company. Setting one parameter unwisely in the ATS can rob a business of the person they need to move forward without them even knowing it because the HR Director or hiring manager will never see the application.

I worked for a decade at Viacom, and the chairman of the company, Sumner Redstone, was well known for saying that his most valuable assets go down the elevator at the end of the day. He knew that it was the people that worked for him that made his brands great. He also knew it was the people that did the work that generated the profits that he and his stockholders enjoyed. Even the strongest brand has to be powered by human capital.

So I go back to the question I opened this post with. When was the last time you
hugged your HR department? What have you done for them to make their jobs a little easier, a lot more productive, and help contribute more to the acquisition of the very best human capital out there? In 2014, it's about the people working in the companies that will decide success or failure. Think about that when you're looking at your HR budget or when you walk past that department in your company. Those people need a hug, and a whole lot more.

Mercer released a report about the importance of human capital. You can find a link to download the Executive Summary here. If you're in HR, you might want to print it and leave it on your boss's chair. 
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Price-Gouging Pharmacies, Inflexible Insurance, and Healthcare 2014

Normally at this time of the year, people write their end of the year reviews or predictions for the year ahead.  I find most of those features slightly more entertaining than guessing how many times Ryan Seacrest has his makeup touched up during his Times Square broadcast on New Year's Eve.  So rather than write about what I saw in the last year or what I see ahead, I want to share a true story about healthcare, especially with the Affordable Care Act affecting so many people.  There is a lesson here, or at least I hope there is.

Metformin, prescribed 48 million
times a year
I'm a fat guy, and fat guys sometimes get high blood sugar or diabetes.  My doctor recently put me on a medication to try and keep my sugar down, along with diet and exercise.  I don't mind telling you what the stuff is, it's called Metformin and it's been around forever as a first step in treating cases like mine.  No big deal, let's try this stuff for a few months and see if it helps.

I took the prescription to my neighborhood Walgreen's store, got it filled and paid $8.01 for a month's supply using my health insurance. When I tried to get it filled for the third month of the experiment, my insurance company, Express Scripts, refused to pay for the medicine, saying after two fills I HAD to get the drug filled in a 90 day supply via mail order through them.  No exceptions, even though you only need 30 days to see if the stuff works, you need to get a 90 day supply and wait for us to mail it to you.

Full disclosure: I've had so many problems with Express Scripts "customer care", website, and mobile app that I've offered to come to work for them or consult to help them improve what is arguably some of the worst "customer care" other than major airlines. Funny, I've never heard back from them.

Walgreen's already had the refill being processed, so I checked with them to see how much it would cost without insurance paying part of the freight. After all, the insurance price for the generic was just over eight bucks,, the pill has been around forever, and it's a generic.  How much worse could it be?  How about $24.99? You're seeing it right, no insurance and I have to pay more than THREE TIMES the cost of the drug, which I guessing wholesales for about $3.50.  Now I know every pharmacy makes most of their money at the "back of the store" on prescriptions, but $25 for something that cost $8 with insurance?  I might have to call that price gouging. Wait, I already called it that.

So I took to the interwebz and did some comparison shopping.  Turns out
Metformin is an inexpensive drug, so inexpensive that big box stores and other places that offer $4.00 30 day prescriptions have it on their list.  So do many grocery stores with pharmacies, and I like to give my business to local companies
when I can, so I had the prescription transferred to Dierbergs, a family-owned St. Louis grocery chain. They're just a few blocks away from Walgreen's, even have a drive though pharmacy, and sell the same exact pill, right down to the manufacturer, for HALF of what I was paying for it using my health insurance and less than ONE SIXTH of what I would have to pay at retail.

Here's the lesson, one that will get more and more important as Big Pharma, doctors, pharmacies, and other healthcare providers try to figure our how to make more money in the new world of Obamacare.  These people are not your friends.  They don't stay up nights figuring out ways to save you money on the services and medicines you need.  They have no guilt about charging you $25 for a drug you can get down the street for $4.  Forget the commercials with the caring, fatherly doctor or pharmacist making people happy. Those people are actors, and they're doing a mighty fine job of playing the part of someone who gives a damn about you.

Healthcare, and especially the pharmaceutical industry is BIG business. Don't just take what your insurance company or pharmacy says as gospel. Take a little time to make sure you're not being taken advantage of and overpaying for the things you need, whether it's Metformin or (G-d forbid) a mastectomy.  Get a second opinion, check to see if you can get the same medicine or service for less, and sometimes that means not using your insurance at all and taking advantage of a better deal. You'll be healthier, happier, and have more money in your pocket.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Mark Edwards Worldwide Returns




This post was originally published on the Mark Edwards Worldwide Blog on October 3, 2013.


I wanted you to know about a decision I've made. As I see the digital media landscape unfolding and the opportunities to create a myriad of highly effective content growing, I'm returning to working with selected clients at the consultancy I've run since 2007, Mark Edwards Worldwide. This move will allow me to maximize my time and efficiency while sharing the things I've learned about the digital, social media, and new technology spaces with clients who really want to succeed in those worlds. It gives me great pleasure to say that TeshMedia is on the client list so I'll be able to continue to work with John and his team going forward.


After working for a year and a half as Senior Vice President of Content Development with John Tesh and the TeshMedia Group, we've accomplished a lot, more than doubling our online audience, growing website visits and conversions, and starting a video version of John's Intelligence For Your Life brand.

I've had the chance to implement countless online and social media programs, develop and fine tune best practices, learn an astonishing amount about online video and TV production, and help contribute to the continued success of the John Tesh Radio Show. It's been the most rewarding professional experience of my career, and I know the things I've learned working with John and his gifted team will help me immensely. You can see many of the fruits of our labors at the new IntelligenceForYourLife.com and in our new mobile apps.

I'm always on the lookout for the next opportunity, whether it be in a consulting, project, or full time capacity, so please keep me in mind for anything you might know about and feel free to share my contact information with your network.


I'd like to thank John and the TeshMedia family for a wonderful experience and thank you for your friendship and support. Let's stay in touch and do great things together. You can find me here and get all my contact info at http://about.me/markedwards.



Enhanced by Zemanta