Monthly Archives: August 2007

And Another

 
Business / World Business
After Stumbling, Mattel Cracks Down in China
By LOUISE STORY
Published: August 29, 2007
Mattel appears to have become overconfident about its ability to operate in China without major problems.

  

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More Mattel Recall

Business / World Business
Mattel Recalls 19 Million Toys Sent From China
By LOUISE STORY and DAVID BARBOZA
Published: August 15, 2007
Amid a wave of increasing safety concerns about products made in China, Tuesday’s recall threatened to set the toy industry on its heels.
 
LINK: 
 
No explanation needed.  Quote from article:  "Mattel executives said yesterday that in the long run they are trying to shift more of their toy production into factories they own and operate — and away from Chinese contractors and sub-contractors."
 
 

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Major Typo

I re-read one of my blog entries last night and realized there was a major typo.  Back in June, I listed visiting friends and loved ones as one of the things I don’t enjoy about being in the USA.  I hope everyone realized this was a typo.  It should have been listed as one of the things I most enjoy about being in the USA!  Anyway, just wanted to set the record straight.  To the contrary, having so little time to do so much, including only having short, abbreviated visits with family and friends, is one of the horrific things about living overseas. 
 
In fact, the difficulty of living without my American friends and family during most of the year makes me wonder with amazement at the people who went before me: both immigrants who left all they had to come to the new world, knowing that they would never see their family and friends again, and people who went to China when it was a six week boat ride and there was no internet.  I think my internet access is what keeps me sane.  Six weeks is far too little time to spend in one’s home culture per year.  The two weeks allotted to my spouse is even worse. 
 
I’m currently on a brief extension of summer visit.  I was supposed to go back on August 11th, but spouse is traveling to USA on business in a few weeks so I’ll wait here and return together. 
 
 

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Salad

One major food shock for me when I went to China was the lack of salad.  It makes sense, in a land where Hepatitis A and C is rampant, that folkways — cultural standards — require all food to be served cooked or peeled. 
 
But it was a shock to learn that, in China, baby romaine or leaf lettuce (sun cai) is first quickly parboiled and then coated with soy sauce.  It’s delicious this way.  Ideally, the lettuce remains crunchy enough to snap off when it’s bitten near the root and is very delicately flavored. 
But no matter how delicious, it’s still not a salad! 
 
Prior to living in China, lettuce had always been a salad vegetable for me.  And I supposed, at heart, it always will be. 
 
When I make salad in China, it’s a big deal because it’s so much trouble.  I first wash the lettuce to get the dirt off.  Most westerners also soak their vegetables in some sort of antibacterial solution, such as a bit of iodine or clorox in the water.  Then, I rinse the lettuce in filtered water to get the tap water and any chemicals off.  The final rinse is in bottled water to make sure there are no viruses or bacteria or chemicals. 
 
Being back in the USA has given me opportunity to indulge in salads again. 
 
My dinner last night: 
 
first course:  mixed salad greens (with cilantro, raddicio, and parsley), topped with dried cranberries, pecans (both unobtainable in China), feta cheese, fresh strawberry slices, and rasberry vinaigrette dressing (not low fat variety which has no flavor!).
 
Wow, this is such a good salad, you really should try it!!! 
 
second course:  a chicken thigh from a deli chicken
 
third course:  mixed salad greens with herbs, feta cheese, fresh strawberries, and rasberry vinaigrette dressing
 
fourth course:  fresh strawberries with feta cheese
 
fifth course:  another strawberry of course! 
 
There’s simply nothing like a good salad.  I’m sure I’ll be dreaming about that salad for months after I’m back in China! 

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Corporate Accountability

I saw the recall sign in Target yesterday for the Mattel toys.  No doubt about it, this one is painful for that company.  Sometimes, you’ve just gotta do what you’ve gotta do.   They did.  Bully for Mattel! 
 
But is it really all "bully" for them?  Probably not.  We’d like to pretend that doing the right thing always works out for the best in the end, financially.   But the truth of the matter is that sometimes it doesn’t financially work out for the best.  Sometimes it would be better for a company not to take the hit.  That’s where management values come into play. 
 
Human life — and quality of life — has intrinsic value that cannot be measured by monetary factors alone.  Human managers must make those calls, and we hope they make the right ethical decisions regardless of consequences.  The freedom to make those decisions, to take those risks, to push back against shareholders only looking at the bottom line, must remain with managers steeped in sound values.  Every management decision ought to consider not only risk and benefit in monetary terms, but also in larger terms not so easily measured.  Things like sustainability, quality of life, degree of risk versus potential benefit, all tempered by degree of probability. 
 
And if they don’t?  Then thank goodness for plaintiff’s lawyers, for juries, for government regulations, and for the other very real checks and balances in our system.  Too bad those checks and balances on rational decision process — balancing risk and benefit of actions and consequences — seem to have been lost in regard to those making policy decisions when it came to hurricane preparations in the Mississippi delta, NASA managers who ignored warnings from engineers, or government officials who would rather trumpet lower taxes than allocate money for bridge repair.  At least in this country we have free speech, free press, and thus some measure of public accountability that isn’t present in some other places in the earth. 

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More on the Right Way to Do Business . . .

Another high profile product recall!  And from Mattel, the business I held up as a model in my last Blog entry! 
 
As my way of adding value to the discussion, I’d like to comment on the business ethics of Mattel as revealed by its decision to recall a million toys.  Namely, Mattel did the right thing.  Mattel demonstrates a company policy of transparency, honesty, and making the hard decisions to come clean for safety.  These decisions are hard to make, because they cost the company millions of dollars in the short run.  In the long run, however, they are cost effective business wise as well, because they confirm the company’s trustworthiness and reliablity for the consumer.  Another example of a painful recall decision was the case of the tainted Tylenol pills.  Remember that one?  Tylenol rebounded, and so will Mattel, because consumers know they can trust the company. 
 
The other thing this recall illustrates is the magnitude of difficulty of the task of policing product safety.  If Mattel can’t trust a supplier it’s been doing business with for fifteen years, then who can it trust? 
 
Here’s a quote from the article:  "Mattel requires the factories it contracts with to use paint and other materials provided by certified suppliers. Mattel executives said they did not know if the contract manufacturer substituted paint from a noncertified supplier or if a certified supplier caused the problem.  Mr. Eckert said Mattel was considering various ways to overcome the problem, including reducing the amount of toys it makes through contract factories. About 50 percent of Mattel’s revenue comes from toys made in 11 factories it owns and operates."    Switching suppliers can be painful and expensive.  There’s always a new learning curve, there’s the issue of qualifying new suppliers and time and resource issues related to that, and no guarantees that the next supplier will be any more reliable than the first.  I know this will be painful, and it may involve fundamental shifts in business models.  So, the whole operating model may have to be reexamined, with early signs that the answer may be to maintain even tighter reins over ownership and control. 
 
And in my simple mindedness, I wonder, "What kind of thought process / value system leads any supplier to put lead paint on a toy, in the first place?"  Is this such a stupid question?  Is the apple rotten in the very core? 
 
I remember in some graduate student beer topic ethics discussion, one of the grad students argued for the pure cultural relativism of ethical systems.  He was saying there is no way to prove that one ethical system was superior to another.  I disagree.  I think these things can be measured empirically.  How many kids in YOUR culture have lead poisoning?  Of course, we only see what we are looking at, and every culture has its own blinders.  But even a flawed system for making values based ethical — and economic — decisions is better than none at all. 
 
Here’s the article: 
 
Business
Lead Paint Prompts Mattel to Recall 967,000 Toys
By LOUISE STORY
Published: August 2, 2007
The maker of Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels cars is recalling the toys because of lead paint.
 

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