Ben Whitford

Stories by Ben Whitford

  • Creating a New Business Model

    If you're invited to a planning meeting at the typical corporation, you'd be wise to pour yourself a big cup of coffee and bring your BlackBerry. But if you somehow secure a seat at the bimonthly product-review sessions at the Bendon Corp., prepare yourself for a show that's better suited for pay-per-view on cable. Bendon is the New Zealand manufacturer for Elle Macpherson Intimates, the high-end lingerie brand headed by the Australian supermodel nicknamed "The Body." At these meetings, the agenda is simple. "Off come the clothes and on go the underwear!" Macpherson says, describing when she tries on prototypes and offers critiques on fit, comfort and style. The Bendon products that survive this scrutiny form the cornerstone of a growing business empire. Last year Macpherson's brand hit $76 million in sales.It wasn't that long ago that supermodels worried mostly about two key metrics: their measurements (35-23-35, says the conventional wisdom) and their day rate (ideally $10,000 or...
  • Mario Batali Inc.

    Los Angeles is a city awash in buzz. but even the glitterati need to eat. And among the foodies, for whom where you get the next meal had better be as exciting as the next big-screen hit, the chatter's about a restaurant that won't open for five months. Del Latte is currently little more than a shell on Melrose Avenue, but by April its owners will have spent $10 million to turn it into a lavish setting for rustic Italian meals. Overseeing it all is a rotund 45-year-old man with his trademark chef's jacket over shorts, sporting a long red ponytail and orange clogs: Mario Batali. A fixture on TV and in bookstores, Batali is already renowned in Manhattan, where he has seven restaurants and a wine shop. But Del Latte--along with a pair of eateries he'll open later next year in Las Vegas's Venetian casino complex--will be his first foray outside New York. His boosters say it's about time. Mario's "on the precipice of being a big name nationally," says L.A. restaurateur Nancy Silverton,...
  • Who Gets the Organs?

    During the three and a half years she waited for a kidney transplant, retired paralegal Mia Ray left her home in Orange, N.J., every other day and drove to a dialysis center in nearby Livingston. Sitting in a cubicle for hours at a time, Ray watched videos while her blood was cleansed of toxins. Over time she got to know most of the other patients, and as they came and went, she began to notice something. "You hate to say it, or even think it," says Ray, who is African-American. "But it was very rare that I knew someone of color who got a kidney."Ray received her new kidney in August. But her suspicion turns out to be well founded. According to figures from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), which administers the organ-allocation system, ethnic minorities make up 50 percent of the 96,581 people on the waiting list, but white patients receive 63 percent of organs. Even for kidney transplants, for which Medicare funding should provide a level playing field, minorities made...
  • And No Sticky Mess

    Behind the faded storefront of the Closter, N.J., branch of Sandy Deck's Parties, Jack Naidrich turned 4 years old in style. Under the watchful eye of professional party hostess Eugenne Buenconsejo, Jack and a dozen friends gobbled pizza, stomped gleefully on a giant sheet of bubble wrap and danced to the Elmo Song. Off to the side, his parents eyed the chaos with beatific smiles--it's good they were pleased, as the party was costing them $516. After exactly 90 minutes, Buenconsejo distributed goodie bags and steered the revelers out the door. "Get the vacuum cleaner out!" she called to her assistant. "We've got 10 minutes until the next party arrives!"With 45 branches in four states, the Sandy Deck's franchise is at the vanguard of a burgeoning segment of the $10 billion private- party industry: dedicated venues for children's affairs, combining the convenience of a McDonald's with the personal touch of a backyard bash. Once a cottage industry largely confined to New York City,...
  • SOME BIG IDEAS

    'Rewiring' The BrainSawing open someone's skull for research purposes is a no-no, but brain scientists have found the next best thing. By projecting an electrical charge through the skull, they can now flick neurons on and off without ever breaking the skin.The technique, known as transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, uses a $30,000 contraption to fire a powerful magnetic pulse into the cranium, creating an electric charge that activates brain cells. That's enough for some eye-catching parlor tricks: a zap above the temples makes muscles twitch involuntarily; one over the back of the head makes you see sparks. But the real magic begins when TMS pulses are fired in rapid succession. Depending on the frequency, repetitive TMS has long-term sensitizing or inhibitory effects, in principle allowing doctors to "rewire" the brain.That has researchers reaching for their magnets. Doctors already use the technique to treat depression, stimulating areas of the brain that process moods; a...
  • KEEPING HER PROMISE TO OUR KIDS

    Forty percent of children say the American Dream is beyond their reach. A quarter don't feel safe walking alone on the streets of their own neighborhoods. Almost a third of kids under 17 went without health insurance during the last year. Marguerite Sallee, 58, a blond Republican in a power suit, cites these figures to show one thing: America needs to do a better job caring for its children.Sallee, a businesswoman and longtime aide to Sen. Lamar Alexander (Republican of Tennessee), took the helm of children's advocacy group America's Promise last year, hoping to revitalize the faltering organization. Launched amid fanfare in 1997, with Colin Powell as founding chairman and the backing of all the living presidents, the group, intended to provide a unified front for America's children's groups, had lost momentum after Powell moved on to other projects. "We'd gone behind the moon," Sallee told NEWSWEEK in her office in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. As her first major project, Sallee...
  • So You Want To Start A Food Business...

    Producing great food is a labor of love. But no matter how delicious your recipe, successful ventures call for more than just enthusiasm. To gain market share without falling afoul of USDA regulations requires a cool head, forethought and hard work. Here are some pointers.PLAN AHEAD. Got a hot new product? That's only the beginning, says Karen Karp, a Southold, N.Y., food-industry consultant. "Creativity needs to be followed up with careful business planning." Local community groups may offer courses to show would-be entrepreneurs the basics of running a business; make sure you sign up.KNOW YOUR MARKET. Chances are, someone's already selling something similar. Don't let that put you off: that means there's a market for it. But to compete, your food needs to look the part. Basic packaging design costs about $5,000, but it can be worth splurging; top designers charge up to $30,000.SAVE MONEY. A food start-up shouldn't break the bank. "You can get into the specialty-food business...
  • An Unexpected Reprieve

    When 6-month-old Tiffany was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis in 1972, her doctor warned her mother not to let her play with dolls. The girl would die before her 5th birthday, he said; why stir up maternal instincts she could not hope to fulfill? But by the time Tiffany reached 5, new treatments had arrived, and the doctors promised her a few years longer. It was to be the first of many reprieves as medical advances kept barely a step ahead of the growing girl. At 10, doctors said Tiffany would die in adolescence; at 18, she abandoned her dream of going to college because she did not expect to live to graduate. "I can't remember a time when I didn't know I was supposed to die," says Tiffany, now 33, who lives in Bradenton, Fla., with her husband, John Reid, and their three children. "But I'm still proving them wrong."When cystic fibrosis was first diagnosed in the 1930s, 80 percent of its victims died before their 1st birthday as their bodies' mucus thickened, clogging their lungs and...
  • BABIES WHO TAKE VIAGRA

    Bailey Buffalow was 18 months old before she laughed for the first time. Born three months premature, Bailey suffers from pulmonary hypertension, a rare condition in which the artery carrying blood from the heart to the lungs becomes constricted. A scan showed that the right side of her tiny heart had swollen to almost twice its normal size as it struggled to pump enough blood through the narrowing blood vessel. Even the slightest exertion--such as laughter--was too much for her. Left untreated, she would die. "I asked the doctor several times, 'Am I being inhumane to keep her alive?' " says Bailey's mother, Micah, a 23-year-old legal secretary from Albuquerque, N.M. Bailey's doctors were initially optimistic, but conventional treatments had little effect. Finally, they suggested an experimental treatment: Viagra."I said, 'You've got to be kidding'," Micah recalls. "Viagra, for Pete's sake--you wouldn't think of that for a little girl for any amount of reasons." But with no other...
  • TECHNOLOGY: YOU'RE ON THE LIST

    Evite has become synonymous with "electronic invitation." But while the market leader is free and packed with extras, its intrusive advertising has some partygoers looking elsewhere. Some alternatives:Sendomatic.com offers an ad-free option; $12.95 buys up to 100 invites with slick animation. But the site lacks some of Evite's event-planning tools. For the high-rolling host, whizspark.com offers a customized "events platform"--invitations, newsletters and even a ticketing service--for a flat fee of $150. Great, but not necessarily right for that casual barbecue.At the other end of the spectrum, darkguest.com, built by a Dallas programmer as a free service for his buddies, is crisp, functional and ad-free. Another amateur offering, upcoming.org, combines no-frills invites with innovative listings that help friends meet up at events. Now we just need a Web site that will clean up afterward.
  • ONLINE: TRADING PLATES

    You've got the fuzzy dice; all you need is a personalized plate. But only one driver per state can have a given license plate--and what if somebody's already snagged 2FAST4U? Try GreatPlateExchange.com, the would-be eBay of vanity plates. For $14.95 (plus commission), sellers post their unwanted tags. The site helps buyers contact their local DMV and complete the transaction. So far, only a few dozen (including lobyist from D.C.) are listed--one for $5,000. Who'd pay that much? BIGSPNDR, of course.