Daniel McGinn

Stories by Daniel McGinn

  • Finance: Blackstone's Billion-Dollar Baby

    Fortune magazine hailed Steve Schwarzman as "The King of Wall Street"—but lately there's been more attention on his wallet than his crown. Schwarzman cofounded the Blackstone Group, the private-equity giant whose $4.1 billion initial offering last week constituted the biggest IPO in five years. The deal valued Schwarzman's stake at nearly $9 billion.That payday has attracted congressional attention. Private-equity firms have long enjoyed cushy tax treatment; in Britain, critics grouse that private-equity bosses pay lower tax rates than their cleaning women. In June, two U.S. senators introduced a bill to close this loophole; Congress plans hearings later this summer.The proposed legislation, however, has done little to rein in investor enthusiasm. Blackstone shares rose 13 percent on its first day of trading, and rivals like Kravis Kohlberg Roberts are now reportedly mulling offerings, too. (A KKR spokesman declined to comment.) Of course, going public carries a price, as the...
  • How Housing Developers Really Work

    At just past 10 a.m. one morning this week, auctioneer James Regan stood in the driveway of a large home in central Massachusetts, ringing a handbell. After reading aloud a foreclosure notice, he looked up at the 40 or so onlookers—realtors and clients, bankers, a few curiosity-seekers (including me)—and asked for someone to open the bidding on 2 Copperbeech Circle. The 5,381-square-foot home is still under construction; inside, the family room is missing half its flooring, and the kitchen lacks counters or appliances. A hundred yards away, a similar completed house sold for $2.3 million—but since then, the real estate market has softened and the developer building this neighborhood has run out of money. That led the bank to foreclose on this entire half-built cul-de-sac, and today the five properties—three partially built homes and two vacant lots—were being auctioned off, one per hour. “Do I hear $500,000?” Regan asks. A woman in a tan pantsuit raises her bid number, and the first...
  • Building an Empire One Block at a Time

    Like most parents, Phil and Karyn Corless face a constant struggle to keep their home from becoming overrun with toys. They have a specially designated toy closet in their Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, home, and when playtime is over, they cajole their children—Ethan, 8, and Megan, 5—to store their Play-Doh and Hot Wheels, crayons and Barbies. But there's an exception to this put-it-away rule, a toy that enjoys most-favored status: the family's Lego collection. "They're one of those toys that always stay out, because ... when [friends] come over, you know they're going to play Legos," says Phil, who has fond childhood memories of building elaborate Lego mazes for his hamster. "I've never seen a kid who didn't want to build something."Like potato chips and pandas, Legos seem universally appealing: does anyone not like them? For managers at the privately held, Danish-based company—which celebrates its 75th birthday this year—that's mostly a blessing. At a time when parents struggle to pry...
  • Return to Sender

    A new book cautions against overrelying on e-mail.
  • You Need to Get to Work!

    Steffany Mohan needs to be organized. The dentist from Des Moines, Iowa, runs her own practice, as well as a school for dental assistants on the side. She has three children under 8—and is expecting her fourth in a few weeks. Her husband is a busy surgeon. Not surprisingly, her desk is a jumble of in-process items. Her to-do list appears endless, and she's constantly struggling to make headway. So last month Mohan flew in productivity consultant Barbara Hemphill from North Carolina for a two-day intervention. Together they purged her office of unnecessary clutter, set up a system of file folders and discussed strategies that would allow Mohan to make decisions more quickly. Not only is Mohan's desk spotless, but her files are so organized she can delegate more work to her assistant. The cost of Hemphill's consultation: $5,000. "It was outrageously worth it," says Mohan.In offices across America, we seem to be at a moment of get-organized-now hysteria. Time-management gurus have been...
  • Corporate Confidant

    When Jack Welch ran General Electric, every so often he'd schedule an appointment with a man named Ram Charan. They'd sit in Welch's corner suite and spend a couple of agenda-less hours talking about business, people and the world. Charan is a management consultant, but these meetings--like Charan's chats with dozens of other CEOs--were unlike most interactions between consultants and executives. Charan presented no PowerPoint presentation and kept no team of M.B.A.s standing ready to implement his advice. Instead, he just offered informal wisdom about how to improve companies--and even bosses as overscheduled and impatient as Welch routinely have made time to listen. "I'm a huge admirer," Welch told NEWSWEEK, describing Charan as unusually adept at helping companies import "best practices" from other firms. "Ram is an incredibly effective sponge--he's always learning, and he keeps confidences ... People just like to listen to what he's saying."It's a unique way of earning a living,...
  • Taming To-Dos

    It's true-confession time: how many messages are in your in box? How often do you check your e-mail? And just how many items did you check off your to-do list today? For many of us, the answers are "too many," "too often" and "not enough." There has to be a better way--and productivity blogger Gina Trapani is here to help. For the past two years Trapani has edited Lifehacker.com, a Web site owned by Gawker Media that offers advice designed to help people work smarter. This month she joined the blogger-turned-author brigade by publishing "Lifehacker: 88 Tech Tips to Turbocharge Your Day" ( Wiley, $24.99 ). The book includes tricks to automatically back up hard drives, optimize to-do lists, construct and remember passwords, filter e-mail and make better use of search engines--just a few of the methods Trapani believes can help desk jockeys cram more into the average workday. "My focus is ... to automate tasks to make things easier, to free up your head to think about important things,...
  • Free Your Mind

    Nearly a century ago, engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor conducted time-and-motion studies of factory workers to determine the most efficient way to work. In the 21st century, fewer Americans toil in factories—and many of us sit in front of computer screens, trying desperately to break away from answering e-mails to get our real work done. In this quest, Gina Trapani stands ready to help. Trapani, a computer programmer, edits the blog Lifehacker.com. Each day the site offers readers tips on ways to be more productive and otherwise improve their lives, whether it's creating a smarter To Do list or sticking to New Year's diet resolutions. Trapani recently compiled some of the site's greatest hits into a book: "Lifehacker: 88 Tech Tips to Turbocharge Your Day" (Wiley). She spoke with NEWSWEEK's Daniel McGinn.  Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: Isn't there an irony to publishing a blog about productivity when blogs are, for most of us, a huge obstacle to being productive?Gina Trapani: I think about...
  • Hot or Not?

    What a difference a year makes. For the last few autumns, when America's real estate agents met at their annual convention, much of their shoptalk focused on navigating the red-hot housing market. Realtors from the tightest regions traded tips on how to choose among the multiple offers—many over the list price—that would routinely pour in within days of listing a home for sale. Buyers' agents would commiserate over the handholding required when a client put in offers on a half-dozen homes—and in each case, lost out to higher bidders. From this year's vantage point, these look like marvelous problems.As the National Association of Realtors opened this fall's gathering in New Orleans last weekend, the mood was decidedly different. The much-celebrated real estate boom has officially ended; nationally, economists now say, the housing market peaked in August 2005. For 2006, the industry expects existing-home sales to fall by 9 percent, and new-home sales to decline 17 percent. In some...
  • Real Estate: Not Your Father's Retirement

    The 3,000-acre site west of Phoenix isn't much to look at--not yet, anyway. Far from urbanity, past a highway sign warning no services next 38 miles and amid acres of saguaro cactus and creosote bushes, only a few streets have been built and a few foundations poured. But last week the Del Webb division of the homebuilding giant Pulte Homes Inc. closed on its first house here at the foot of the White Tank Mountains.The company hopes 7,200 other "active adult" households will join this new neighborhood, called Sun City Festival. There will be no shuffleboard courts or bowling alleys, the hot amenities when retirees began coming to communities like this nearly a half century ago. Instead, there will be the accouterments better suited for modern-day retirees: Pilates classes, home offices, high ceilings and marble countertops. They're all part of the plan builders are using to custom-build a lifestyle that calls out "Home Sweet Home" to aging baby boomers.When it comes to housing,...
  • It's Splitsville

    For centuries, European royalty has kept country estates to complement their urban castles. In 19th-century America, Gilded Age millionaires built Newport mansions as getaways. And for decades, the wealthy have summered in places like Martha's Vineyard and wintered in Palm Beach, while less-affluent "snowbird" retirees have made annual migrations north and south. But as large numbers of baby boomers have begun buying second homes, trend watchers are starting to see the first signs that something new is going on. Today in vacation-home hotspots like Naples, Fla., you won't need binoculars to spy a new species of homeowner--one that some demographers are calling "splitters."The term stems from research done last fall by WCI Communities, a big Florida home builder. It found that boomers are buying second homes at younger ages (47, on average) than their parents did and visiting them more frequently (18 times a year, according to the study). More important, they're finding ways to use...
  • Are There Blue Skies Ahead?

    There's no popping sound--not yet anyway. But for doomsayers who've been worried about a housing bubble, data released last week brought long-awaited news: after months of slowing sales, in August the median existing home price fell by 1.7 percent, the first year-over-year price drop in more than a decade. The number of homes on the market jumped to 3.9 million--the highest inventory level since 1993. For the 112,000 U.S. agents who work for Century 21--the world's largest real-estate sales company--the changing market demands new techniques. NEWSWEEK's Daniel McGinn asked Century 21 CEO Tom Kunz how he's leading his company as the housing market turns. Excerpts:Not at all. In July or August of 2005 we started telling our brokers that the market was beginning to slow and we needed to start preparing for this. How did you prepare for the slowdown?First, let me say we still have a fairly strong market. Jobs, income and interest rates are in great shape. The forecasts say this will...
  • Man of Leisure

    If anyone needed a good vacation during the past few years, it was Steve Case. In early 2000, the celebrated founder of America Online engineered AOL's merger with Time Warner, which turned into the dot-com era's most disastrous deal. But whenever Case, who stayed on as chairman, wanted a break from the postmerger bickering and falling stock price, planning a respite seemed only to lead to more stress. Like any bona fide mogul, he owned his share of vacation homes--in Florida, New Mexico and San Francisco. When he took time off, he felt obligated to visit these places, even if he really wanted to explore someplace new. "You feel guilty--you might as well go there because you're paying for it," he says. "It's an odd dynamic." When he did venture further afield, the destinations didn't always live up to their billing--like the Hawaiian villa he rented on the Internet that turned out to be oddly configured, leaving two of his five children to sleep on couches. True, having too many...
  • The Benefits of Busy

    For many families, figuring out how many after-school activities are too many is a struggle. For parents who fear they're "overscheduling" their children, a new study carries a soothing message. The paper, published last week by the Society for Research in Child Development, is the first to take a data-driven look at the issue--and whether being so busy is really a bad thing. The study suggests the phenomenon is more isolated than media reports suggest: in fact, 40 percent of children (ages 5 to 18) are engaged in no activities, typical kids spend just five hours a week in structured activities, and very few children--3 to 6 percent--spend 20 hours a week. On average, most kids spend far more time watching TV and playing games. And for kids who are extremely busy, there's also good news: the more activities they do, the better kids stack up on measures of educational achievement and psychological adjustment. "This popular concern [about overscheduling] has been generated by a couple...
  • Getting Back on Track

    It's 4:30 on a weekday afternoon and ordinarily Caterina Bandini would be tracking headlines, tweaking scripts and preparing to take her seat at the anchor desk for the 5 o'clock news at Boston's NBC affiliate. Instead, Bandini, 38, sits with her feet up in her Back Bay apartment, idly watching television as her station's broadcast begins. In October, Bandini will deliver twin girls. For most TV newswomen, childbirth brings only a brief maternity leave--Bandini's predecessor took six weeks--but she's made a different choice. In August, she quit her anchor job, intending to be a stay-at-home mom after her daughters are born. "I always thought it'd be important, at least for the first formative years, to spend as much time as I possibly could with my kids," she says. Bandini hopes someday to head back to a newsroom, but realizes there are no guarantees. "It's very difficult to get back into it--I took a huge risk doing this," she says.A few years ago Bandini might have served as a...
  • Trading Places

    When women talk about managing work and family life, the verb they commonly use is "juggle." If one continues that metaphor, Sylvia Ann Hewlett has become the most skilled color commentator on this juggling act. Her research dissects their performance, sort of like a slo-mo video, analyzing their moves and trying to figure out what makes balancing it all so difficult for so many women. In her 2002 book, "Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children," Hewlett examined the one-third to one-half of high-achieving women who forgo having children to focus on their careers. Lately her work has focused on a different issue: the challenges facing women who take an extended break from their jobs to raise children, care for parents or attend to other life needs. Last year Hewlett, a Columbia University professor and president of the Center for Work-Life Policy in New York, co-authored a Harvard Business Review report on this subject, which the report labeled "Off-Ramps and...
  • Midlife: Time to Start a New Career

    After pink slips and midlife crises, a generation of seekers is beginning to create Career 2.0. In doing so, they may redefine the idea of retirement.
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    Marriage by the Numbers

    Twenty years since the infamous 'terrorist' line, states of unions aren't what we predicted they'd be.
  • Building Success

    By the time Jonathan Reckford was 42, he'd crafted a corporate résumé that would inspire envy: he'd earned a Stanford M.B.A. and done stints at Goldman Sachs, Walt Disney and Best Buy. But life in the Fortune 500 hadn't proved completely fulfilling, and after a financial windfall from a merger, Reckford was working as a Presbyterian minister in Minnesota. So when a headhunter called a year ago wondering if he "knew anyone who might be interested" in becoming CEO of Habitat for Humanity International--in recruiter lingo, that often means "How about you?"--Reckford was intrigued. He concluded that running Habitat, the global home-building charity with $1.1 billion in revenue, might use both his business savvy and his do-gooder instincts. After a series of interviews and a final grilling by Habitat booster-in-chief Jimmy Carter, last August Habitat appointed Reckford its new CEO. Just in time: weeks later, Hurricane Katrina hit.The historic storm was just the latest in a whirlwind...
  • The Aftermath: Built Like a Brick House

    It's a lesson understood by anyone who's read the story of the Three Little Pigs: the stronger you build a house, the less likely it is to blow away when a wolf--or a hurricane--starts huffing and puffing. So as builders begin reconstructing the homes destroyed by Katrina, they're taking steps to increase the odds that the new houses will survive future storms. Says engineer Tim Reinhold of the Institute for Business and Home Safety: "[Builders] need to be thinking about how you'd build this house if you were going to hold it upside down and shake it, to keep things from falling off."Before Katrina, neither Mississippi nor Louisiana had statewide building codes. Last fall Louisiana adopted one, modeled partly on practices used in Miami-Dade County, Fla., which requires more hurricane-protection measures than anywhere else in the United States. In Louisiana, framing carpenters now use metal clips to supplement the nails that hold roof frames to walls. Builders wrap the entire house...
  • Twenty Years Later

    It turns out that getting married after age 40 wasn't quite as difficult as we once believed.
  • College: Smart Picks?

    It's a seasonal hazard for colleges: students love to see the famous onstage at graduation, but odds are that somebody will get upset. At Boston College, some faculty are protesting the fact that Condoleezza Rice was invited to speak at its May 22 ceremony, complaining that Iraq war policies conflict with BC's Jesuit values. And at Brandeis, there's uproar over the decision to award an honorary degree to Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner on May 21.Some Jewish groups are circulating Kushner quotations--totally out of context, he says--that portray him as anti-Israel, a problem at a university where half the students (and most of the donors) are Jewish. The buzz at Brandeis is that trustees invited Kushner, who is Jewish, before "Munich" (he wrote the screenplay) opened last winter and brought new attention to his admittedly complex views on Israel. Some trustees regret the invitation, but Brandeis says it won't be rescinded. Kushner is unapologetic, and is getting his...
  • Rent or Buy That DVD?

    A few weeks ago I slipped out for a long lunch to take my wife and two older kids to see "Curious George." Even matinee tickets cost a total of $27, but seeing my children enjoy the cartoon version of the book we've read countless times was... well, you've seen the MasterCard commercial. Of course, we could have waited a few months, and for slightly less money I could have purchased the DVD. Or we could have watched it for no extra cost on cable or by renting through Blockbuster Online, where we get unlimited rentals for a flat monthly fee.But for a fun winter outing, it was worth the expense.I share this unimportant calculus because it's emblematic of the new world that consumers of entertainment face. How we navigate such choices has become a big focus, both in Hollywood and beyond. Movie theaters are selling fewer tickets as more people decide they'd rather watch movies in their family rooms (or snazzy home theaters) instead of paying to go to the cinema. And Blockbuster lost ...
  • Apartments: Celebration of Small

    In real estate, there's one variable that buyers value nearly as much as "location, location, location": square footage. The average newly built U.S. home contains 2,350 square feet, up 57 percent since 1970. But Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, a New York interior designer, believes many people can live comfortably in drastically smaller spaces if they choose furniture and possessions sparingly and arrange them wisely. Gillingham-Ryan himself lives with his wife in a 250-square-foot Manhattan apartment, and this week his Web site, apartmenttherapy.com, will launch its second annual Smallest, Coolest Apartment Contest.Last year's contest limited entrants, who e-mail digital photos of their abodes, to New Yorkers living in 500 square feet or less. This year, the contest has gone national and upped the cutoff to 650 square feet. Gillingham-Ryan, whose new book, "Apartment Therapy: The Eight-Step Home Cure," arrives in bookstores this month, says the key to making small spaces work is to...
  • Larry, We Hardly Knew Ye

    At noon last Wednesday, several hundred Harvard students filed into a lecture hall and opened their notebooks. Harvard president Lawrence Summers had announced his resignation less than 24 hours earlier, but the students in Life Sciences 1B had an exam to prepare for. So instead of gossiping, they listened closely as their professor explained how to use statistical techniques like Bayes's Theorem to estimate whether diseases will be passed from one generation to the next. It's a lecture that owes its existence, in part, to their soon-to-be ex-president. Life Sciences 1B is a new course, introduced in September as part of Summers's push to get undergraduates jazzed up about science. Its syllabus draws from cutting-edge topics in biology, chemistry and statistics. "The idea here is to completely change how students are introduced to the life sciences," says Prof. Robert Lue, who oversees the course.As news of Summers's resignation spread through Cambridge, Mass., and beyond last week,...
  • Having Grape Expectations

    It's a rainy day in wine country as a team of laborers works its way through the lush vineyards at the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa, Calif. Carefully they prune the vines, getting the plants ready to produce the grapes whose juice will yield $125 bottles of Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. Inside the Mission-style buildings that comprise one of the region's most celebrated wineries, some things remain unchanged. Portraits of founder Robert Mondavi, now 92, look down on visitors who stroll toward the tasting room. But throughout the establishment, there's a newfound sense of efficiency. Those vine pruners are subcontractors, who'll finish the job more quickly than the employees who used to do it. The winery once produced three Merlots--now it makes just one. Not long ago Mondavi wasan undercapitalized mess. But now, says Jean-Michel Valette, the Harvard M.B.A. and former investment banker who is Mondavi's chairman, "it's a more centered, calmer place, brimming with optimism....
  • A Shattered Family

    It's a lesson taught at every police academy (and by common sense): if someone flees a crime scene, there's reason to be suspicious. And if the person hops a flight to London, leaving behind his murdered wife and daughter, and skipping their funeral, the case shouldn't require Sherlock Holmes. And so there was a sense of relief last week when London police arrested Neil Entwistle, 27, who will be extradited to the United States to face charges of killing his wife, Rachel, 27, and 9-month-old daughter, Lillian, in Hopkinton, Mass., on Jan. 20.The case had, to say the least, gotten off to a rocky start. Despite repeated searches of the Entwistle home by family, neighbors and police, the bodies went undiscovered for several days, hidden under a pile of comforters in the master bedroom. The resulting uncertainty over the time of deaths led prosecutors to admit early on that they couldn't even tell if Entwistle was in the country at the time of the killings. Although prosecutors...
  • NASCAR's Hot Numbers

    Until 2003, Stefan Kretschmann followed three sports: baseball, football and hockey. Then he watched his first NASCAR race. He was hooked. "I just love the strategy of it," he says. To better understand the action, Kretschmann began TiVo-ing races and keeping a database to track which drivers were involved in accidents. Next he developed his own computer model--based on qualifying times and starting positions--to predict which drivers should do well in each race. It may sound like a strange hobby, but Kretschmann, 34, a former Marquette University math major, works as a systems manager at Stats LLC, a firm that produces analytical statistics for pro baseball, football and other sports. His role as auto racing's self-appointed data czar remained a private pursuit until last year, when NASCAR called his company to request a meeting. As soon as NASCAR's gearheads and number crunchers sat down together, ideas started to fly. Together, they began working to invent a system that may...