Daniel McGinn

Stories by Daniel McGinn

  • Weathering The Storm

    After One Of The Worst Weeks Ever For Stocks, Hopes For A Quick Economic Recovery Are Fading. What Consumers Do Next Could Cause-- Or Avert--A Recession.
  • A Mom For Massachusetts

    When Jane Swift ran for lieutenant governor of Massachusetts in 1998, she faced tough questions that had nothing to do with her record. How's that morning sickness? Would she breast-feed? How would she govern and take care of Elizabeth, the daughter she'd delivered just two weeks before Election Day? "Her uterus [received] more attention than her politics," wrote Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman. Last week Swift--and her maternal duties--regained the spotlight when the Bush administration tapped her boss, Gov. Paul Cellucci, to become ambassador to Canada. That will make Swift, 36 this week, the nation's youngest governor--and, if all goes well, in June she'll be the first ever to deliver twins.Working mothers are nothing new in the corporate world. But Governor Mom will be a test case of how well a female elected official can juggle work and family. Swift has dropped some balls before. As lieutenant governor she used state employees to baby-sit her daughter, took a state...
  • How Safe Is Your Job?

    Pink Slips Are Suddenly Flying Again, As Employers Show A New Willingness To Cast Off Workers At The First Hint Of Trouble. Why This Wave Of Layoffs Is Different, And What Workers Can Do To Prepare For The Worst.
  • A Recession, Virtually

    If the U.S. economy were a patient in a hospital, its doctor might be admitting it for close observation.This week's release of the gross domestic product figures for the fourth quarter showed the economy growing at an anemic 1.4 percent, the lowest growth rate in five years. The stats confirmed what Alan Greenspan told Congress just a week earlier: that the economy has undergone a dramatic slowdown in the last four months, and may be idling at close to zero growth.The low number, combined with a striking drop in consumer confidence and continued layoffs at companies like DaimlerChrysler and Amazon.com this week, have lots of folks wondering: Are we entering a recession?We're not there yet. The classic definition of a recession is six months of economic contraction, which means that 1.4 percent number would have to dip into negative territory before the R word applies. "We limit the concept of a 'recession' to something where there's been an actual decline, a substantial decline,...
  • Jack Welch Goes Surfing

    General Electric chairman Jack Welch doesn't have a little black book. Instead, he keeps two enormous black binders--GE's operating manual, filled with reams of minutiae about company operations--on his credenza. And when Welch talks about the Internet, his current passion, he flips madly through those binders, showing off how GE is using the Net to reduce phone bills and transaction costs, increase sales and energize its work force. Welch, 65, came late to the Internet revolution, but he's driving so aggressively to wire his Old Economy behemoth that InternetWeek magazine recently named GE--not some hot dot-com--as America's top e-business. Welch preaches that after all the hype, it's really big, old companies like GE (revenues: $112 billion) that will reap the biggest benefits of the Internet. He told NEWSWEEK's Daniel McGinn why: ...
  • What's A Shopper To Do?

    When it comes to the slowing economy, Ellen Spero isn't biting her nails just yet. But the 47-year-old manicurist isn't buffing, filing or polishing as many nails as she'd like to, either. Most of her clients spend $12 to $50 weekly, but last month two longtime customers suddenly stopped showing up. Spero blames the softening economy. "I'm a good economic indicator," she says. "I provide a service that people can do without when they're concerned about saving some dollars." So Spero is downscaling, shopping at middle-brow Dillard's department store near her suburban Cleveland home, instead of Neiman Marcus. "I don't know if other clients are going to dump me, too," she says.Even before Alan Greenspan's admission that America's red-hot economy is cooling, lots of working folks had already seen signs of the slowdown themselves. From car dealerships to Gap outlets, sales have been lagging for months as shoppers temper their spending. For retailers, who last year took in 24 percent of...
  • Anything Jack Can Do...

    Jack Welch wanted everything to be perfect. The celebrated chief executive has spent 20 years turning General Electric into America's most admired company, and as the clock ticked toward his retirement next year, the race to succeed him had become the most closely watched CEO sweepstakes in history. So Welch waited until the quiet Thanksgiving weekend to secretly convene GE's directors and anoint Jeffrey Immelt, the head of GE's medical-equipment business, as the CEO-in-waiting. To prevent leaks, Immelt used a pseudonym ("Mr. Cathcart") to fly to Florida for a celebration dinner. Then Welch surprised his own pilots with last-second orders to fly his corporate jet to Ohio and New York so he could tell the runners-up they'd fallen short. Everything went smoothly until last week's press conference, when Immelt coincidentally wore the same blue shirt, blue blazer and gray slacks as the boss.Investors hope the similarities go beyond their wardrobes. Immelt, who played Ivy League football...
  • Scouting A Dry Campus

    They are stories that make every parent's heart ache. On Nov. 10, University of Michigan sophomore Byung Soo Kim celebrated his 21st birthday by trying to drink 21 shots of whisky. He downed 20, then passed out, turned blue and stopped breathing. As Kim lay dying in a Michigan hospital later that next night, seven college students hopped into a Jeep 500 miles away on the campus of Colgate University. Moments later, the driver, a Colgate student who authorities say was dangerously intoxicated, veered off the road and struck a tree, killing four of the passengers. And by the time Monday classes began, five proud families who'd sent their children away to school were busy planning their funerals.As tragedies like these fill the evening news, they're increasing the anxiety for parents of college-bound students. While this year's seniors winnow through applications, experts see families beginning to consider campus alcohol abuse as a factor in college selection. Surveys show that just...
  • A Ph.D. Hits The Road

    For more than a decade, Pleun Bouricius spent summers prepping for classes as a doctoral student and lecturer at Harvard University. But last August, after a fruitless, four-year search for a university teaching job, she began a different course of study, at the United Tractor Trailer School in central Massachusetts. Now alongside her Harvard Ph.D., she has a Class A commercial driver's license--a diploma that's guaranteed to land her a job. "After years of being met with rejection, it's nice to be in an industry where they really want you," she says, icing her knee after hours of clutching during parallel-parking practice. After she passed her driver's test, nobody asked to see her vitae, her 368-page dissertation on a 19th-century Southern sentimental writer or her adviser's recommendation ("the perfect candidate," he wrote). Trucking companies don't ask about education. No felonies? No accidents? Bouricius is ready to ride.It's an extreme story in these boom times. We're living...
  • Not The Retiring Kind

    When Harvard business School instructs students on how a company should choose a new CEO, professors use a favorite case study: General Electric's famous face-off in the late '70s. Back then, GE chairman Reg Jones put a half-dozen underlings through a fierce contest for the top slot. The winner was John F. Welch Jr., who's now widely regarded as America's best-ever chief executive. And as Welch, now 64, nears his own retirement next April, it looks like GE will give the Harvard profs a new-and-improved benchmark for succession planning. Welch and GE's board have spent years screening potential replacements in what's been called the most hotly watched CEO search ever. But the M.B.A.s may have to make do with the old, outdated case. Last week, as part of GE's $45 billion deal to buy Honeywell, Welch announced he'd postponed his retirement. Says Harvard professor Jay W. Lorsch: "It illustrates how easy it is for events to screw up a well-planned process."In the corporate world,...
  • There's Just No Substitute

    It's 6 a.m., and Piper Haywood is dialing for subs. She and her colleagues at Chicago Public Schools Substitute Teacher Center place 2,200 subs a day--and their job is getting tougher. Ideally, Chicago should have a pool of 10,000 substitutes ready to go, but it now has just more than 3,000. That causes audible distress in administrators' voices. "You'll get someone?" asks a worried principal on a recent Wednesday. "We'll try," Haywood says. By 9 a.m., her team has replaced 92 percent of the absent teachers. Principals or librarians will supervise the 88 teacherless classes.At a time when recruiting full-time teachers is hard enough, finding substitutes is harder. More than 86 percent of the nation's school districts have problems finding subs, according to the Substitute Teaching Institute. Much of the shortage is Economics 101. With unemployment at record lows, fewer people will take no-benefits temp work--especially when it involves dodging spitballs for $65 a day. But there's...
  • Failing Grades: A Small College Hits The Skids

    Mattie Pontecorvo should be a walking advertisement for Trinity College of Vermont. For the last two years she's thrived at the tiny women's Roman Catholic college: class president, resident adviser, campus tour guide and all-round Trinity booster. But as she walked across campus last month, the back-to-school buzz was absent. Instead, moving boxes sat outside offices and dorms were being repurposed as homeless shelters. After 75 years, Trinity is closing its doors this month--and Pontecorvo begins her junior year at a college across town.This is a strange time to shutter a campus. A record 15.1 million students will enroll in college this fall; meanwhile, the strong economy has swollen endowments. But prosperity isn't uniform. While large, well-known institutions count their blessings, times are tough for many small, less-famous schools. Bradford College, a 197-year-old institution north of Boston, graduated its final class this summer after trustees found no escape from deep debts...
  • The Making Of A Fad

    Elementary schools have long been the perfect place to study how contagion spreads. So let's focus our microscope on Palisades Elementary Charter School, just west of Los Angeles. Last November Walker Baron, 11, became the first Palisades student to possess a lightweight, foldable scooter called the Razor, and he began riding it to school. The Razor had no marketing campaign and could be found in few stores, but word of its wonders spread, mouth to mouth, from classroom to classroom. Before long, one entire class was Razoring to school. "The trend grew at an alarming rate--the scooters started to reproduce," says Palisades principal Terri Arnold. By spring Arnold had banned them from campus, holding firm even in the face of petition-signing fifth graders. "I can totally relate to the Razor's appeal--they're so much fun," says Diana Baron, Walker's mother. "They're greased lightning."They're selling like it, too. This new breed of collapsible scooters, which include models like Razor...
  • Waterworld

    For the people of Gloucester, Mass., it's an eery sight, akin to a ghost ship. Floating dockside is a 72-foot boat christened the Andrea Gail, a Warner Bros.-owned replica of the local fishing vessel that sailed into a storm with a crew of six in October, 1991--and never came back. Six years later, journalist Sebastian Junger's tale of the tragedy became the runaway bestseller "The Perfect Storm." The movie, starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Diane Lane, sails into theaters on June 30..Clooney plays ship captain Billy Tyne, a down-on-his-luck fisherman who leads a crew of six (including Bobby Shatford, played by Wahlberg) into the Atlantic for a month of dangerous "long-line" sword fishing. Their timing couldn't have been worse: miles from land, they get caught in a once-in-a-century storm. While shore-bound family and friends (including Christina Cotter, Shatford's girlfriend, played by Lane) gather at a Gloucester bar to commune, watch the news and worry, the crew tries to...
  • When Teachers Are Cheaters

    This spring has been a season of embarrassment for the nation's public schools. In suburban Potomac, Md., an elementary-school principal resigned last month after parents complained their children were coached to give the right answers on state tests. In Ohio, state officials are investigating charges of cheating by teachers at a Columbus elementary school that was recently praised by President Clinton for raising test scores. And in New York City, more than four dozen teachers and administrators from 30 schools stand accused of urging their students to cheat on various standardized city and state tests.It's bad enough when kids get kicked out for cheating. But as the school year ends, an alarming number of teachers and principals face charges of fixing the numbers on high-stakes tests that determine everything from whether an individual kid gets promoted to an entire district's annual budget. Although there are no firm statistics, school officials agree that the problem has become...
  • Dot-Coms To M.B.A.S: Help Us!

    Last month an envelope arrived at the office of Air Force Capt. A. J. Leone. The enclosed orders had nothing to do with the C-141 aircraft Leone helps fly. When he's off duty in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., Leone studies for an M.B.A. through Auburn University in Alabama, participating in classes via videotape and e-mail. Before graduating, he and 83 classmates (including a NEWSWEEK reporter) had to complete Auburn's Case Study Competition. The envelope contained their mission: a case study. They had to help ValueFind.com, a tiny, stagnant Web site, become a force in e-commerce.Case studies have been an integral part of business school for decades. At Harvard, students dissect 800 cases during the two-year program. "The magic in this school is when I take a case into the classroom and 90 really smart people spend two hours debating what to do," says Harvard Dean Kim Clark. Increasingly, they're debating Internet strategy: up to half of the 750 new cases created annually are focused on e...
  • 'Mr. Welch Is In A Meeting'

    For more than a decade, General Electric chairman Jack Welch has reigned as a management god. And at his right hand, in a cubicle a few steps away, sits Rosanne Badowski, his executive assistant. Badowski doesn't look imposing. But she's the master of Welch's domain, standing guard over his schedule, keeping him focused and on-task. It's an especially difficult job right now. Next April, at 65, Welch retires, and during these final months there's a constant stream of well-wishers. His calendar for the entire year has been booked since last fall, so it's up to Badowski to cull the crucial from the distractions --even if it involves politely telling callers that "Mr. Welch is in a meeting," when he's really playing golf. If white lies were illegal, Badowski says, "I'd be in jail by now."After 12 years alongside America's uber-boss, Badowski stands at the head of an elite group: assistants to powerful CEOs. They're a unique subset of the nation's 3.2 million secretaries, who continue...
  • Dot-Coms Invade The Dormitory

    Ohann Schleier-Smith and Greg Tseng, both juniors at Harvard College, don't look like outlaws. But when they had to buy a $112 textbook called "The Fundamentals of Statistical and Thermal Physics" from Harvard's bookstore for a course last year, a rebellion was born. They did an extensive Web search and found the book online for just $60. Furious at the bookstore's price, they decided to create a Web site to make it easier to find bargain textbooks. Last August, after months of work, they launched FlyingChickens.com, so named because it helps students fly from the Coop, Harvard's cooperative bookstore. In January their site merged with Limespot.com, a similar company, now serving more than 80 colleges. An economics major would say there's nothing illegal about competing with a college bookstore's monopoly. But this crime was different. Until the merger, FlyingChickens.com was headquartered in its founders' Harvard dorm rooms.The rules are clear, right on page 314 of Harvard's...
  • College Online

    Nicholas Jimenez leads a complicated life. As an executive with Computer Associates, he's lived in three countries in five years. Right now he's in So Paulo, Brazil, but "I don't know how much longer I'll be here," he says. "One year? One month?" That uncertainty--plus his hectic work schedule--makes it difficult for him to take classes to gain the skills he needs for a promotion. So when NYUonline, an offshoot of New York University, began offering Web-based courses in February, Jimenez, 27, signed up. He logs on to read tutorials on Management and Organization Principles and chat with his professor. Says Jimenez: "I can take classes wherever I am, whenever I want."College will always convey a certain image: Gothic buildings filled with postadolescents listening to tweed-clad professors. But the Internet is blurring that picture, and State U is quietly morphing into College.com. To be sure, a virtual university is no place for Felicity or her just-out-of-high-school friends; they...
  • 'It's All About Acceleration'

    A few weeks ago Antoine Sorice and six other would-be entrepreneurs had nothing but a top-secret draft of a business plan. The 32-year-old Frankfurt consultant is a cofounder of Snacker.de, a still hush-hush Internet portal and e-commerce platform soon to roll out in Germany. But with no programmers, no office and no financing, Sorice and his team were afraid they wouldn't be ready quickly enough. In February Sorice signed on with VentureLab, a new Frankfurt-based "business incubator" that gets Internet start-ups running fast. Instantly, Snacker had an office with PCs, servers and broadband Net access. Through VentureLab's contacts, Sorice was able to hook up with software teams in Germany and Romania to launch their Web site quickly. And because of a guarantee issued by VentureLab, he won't have to pay them until he secures financing from venture capitalists. "Without VentureLab's resources, we'd be months behind," Sorice says. "This way we can concentrate on getting our idea to...
  • Waiting For The Gavel To Fall

    They are the business world's greatest rivalries. Coke and Pepsi. McDonald's and Burger King. And at the high end of the food chain, Sotheby's and Christie's. The dueling auction houses began adorning the walls of stately homes nearly a century before Manet picked up a paintbrush. They compete fiercely for business--but, authorities now suspect, have had a cozier relationship when setting commissions. In January Christie's disclosed it was cooperating with a Justice Department investigation into alleged price fixing. Last week, in a move that stunned the art world, Sotheby's chief executive Diana Brooks, who's gained fame presiding over the house's most famous auctions, and chairman Alfred Taubman abruptly resigned. To most observers the shakeup seemed a sign of guilt--and perhaps a move by Sotheby's to strike a better deal with the Feds. Galleries buzzed with news of the scandal. Says Irving Blum, a retired dealer: "The government's going to do to the auction houses what it's doing...
  • Poison Ivy: Campaigns On Campus

    As break-ins go, it wasn't exactly Watergate. One afternoon last December, in broad daylight, Harvard College junior John Burton entered the unlocked office of the college's gay-rights organization. Inside sat a box filled with lapel pins, which students wear to show support for the cause. "Free," read the side of the container. "Take." So Burton took--the whole box, containing 180 pins. Using adhesive felt, Burton transformed the pins into campaign buttons publicizing his run for vice president of Harvard's Undergraduate Council. The buttons, in their small way, helped Burton win a landslide victory. But in the venomous world of campus politics, they gave his opponents an opening. Rivals charged Burton with campaign violations. By last week's council meeting Harvard was embroiled in Buttongate. "Be it resolved that John Alexander Burton is impeached for misconduct," read the agenda. If two thirds of the council voted against him, Burton faced expulsion.Student government used to be...
  • The Boom Generation

    George Papson will never forget his "Black Friday." That was the day in March 1982 when the 49-year-old machinist was laid off, a casualty of the deepest recession America had experienced since the 1930s. Papson stood in Rockford, Ill., unemployment lines for 18 months. But he did find work and, by 1986, he was living in Florida, where he crafted parts for NASA space shuttles at the highest wages he'd ever earned. Today Papson, 66, can afford long trips to his native Greece every year. He works part time delivering golf supplies, but that's just to keep busy. Looking back, this onetime castoff is decidedly upbeat. "The good times," he says, "have overshadowed the bad."That's the understatement of the decade. As the U.S. economy enters its 107th month of expansion this week, unemployment is at a 30-year low; consumer confidence is at a 50-year high. Since this boom began, in March 1991, the economy has created 20 million new jobs and America's output of goods and services has grown...
  • A Vital New Role For An Old General

    Imagine a movie script featuring an aging CEO who runs a media giant. In the opening scene, his company is bought by a hot Internet company with a young chief of its own. This flick's closing scene is obvious: like an old general, the boss quietly fades away. But Gerald Levin, 60, could rewrite that finale. The cerebral, literate Time Warner CEO has overcome steep odds in the past. His climb began in the '70s, when Levin dreamed of a cable network that beamed movies via satellite, a notion that created HBO. By the late '80s he'd lost the race to become Time Inc.'s CEO to rival exec Nick Nicholas. But his fortunes changed when he helped engineer the merger that created Time Warner, and then Levin played shrewd office politics and ingratiated himself with directors, which helped lead to Nicholas's ouster. As CEO Levin has been a laid-back anti-mogul who stands in sharp contrast to most entertainment chieftains. That's been a mixed blessing: depending on who you ask, it's either...
  • Living The Self-Help Life

    Some people dabble in self-help. Kristen Kurowski is immersed in it. During afternoon breaks she stares silently at the lake outside her office, a relaxation trick she picked up at a recent seminar. Her bookshelves hold the work of Norman Vincent Peale and Stephen Covey. In her bedroom is the board she punched through at an Anthony Robbins seminar last summer. "They introduced this exercise--you're going to break boards--and my reaction was 'What, is he kidding?' " she says. "But I was so pumped up, I did it on the first try."Pummeling lumber is a strange hobby. So is sitting in a hotel ballroom, holding hands with strangers who chant, "Kristen, you're a special person," as Kurowski did at a seminar in September. But for self-improvers, those are small steps toward a larger goal: Building a Better Me. Their ranks include some New Age flakes and others whose devotion to the various 7 Laws, 8 Habits and 9 Secrets is a tad frightening. But mostly the gurus' customers are a lot like...
  • The Internet Brain Drain

    Few newspapers cover the high-tech world better than the San Jose Mercury News. Its Internet-savvy reporters regularly break stories and win awards. But lately their expertise has become a liability. In the past year, 11 of the paper's best writers have quit to join the dot-coms they once covered. "I've been here 10 years, and I've never seen an exodus like this," says environmental writer Paul Rogers. For the workers left behind, life has become a whirlwind of goodbye parties and a punishing workload until jobs get filled. "It's like World War I in the trenches," says one reporter. "You don't want to make friends because you might turn around and they'll be gone." The paper is hiring lots of fresh talent, but the newsroom still has some long faces. "It's demoralizing to see so many of your colleagues go," says another writer. "If all the best and brightest leave, who's left?"On the opposite coast, that same question echoes down Wall Street, where even Masters of the Universe are...
  • Barbarians At The Rx

    William C. Steere Jr. hardly looks like the kind of guy to spoil a wedding. But last week Steere, the dignified chairman of drug giant Pfizer, acted out one of comedy's oldest plot twists: breaking up a happy couple just as they reach the altar. The betrothed, in this case, are Warner-Lambert and American Home Products, which had just inked a $72 billion deal to form the world's largest pharmaceutical company, peddling everything from Advil to Zantac. But as execs celebrated, Pfizer busted in with an $80 billion bid for Warner-Lambert. Huge prices have become the norm in the merger business lately, as companies use their bloated stock to buy each other. But unlike the friendly mergers that have dominated late-'90s dealmaking, this one's a fight, making Pfizer's the biggest hostile bid in history.Why the urge to merge? On the surface, the pharmaceutical business has never been healthier. The $335 billion global industry is growing smartly at 8 percent a year, and aging baby boomers...
  • Yogurt Goes Tubular

    It's lunchtime at a parochial school in Brookline, Mass., and the third graders are chowing down. Amid the tuna sandwiches lies a new treat: tubes filled with squeezable, wildly flavored yogurt. All but one of the eight children at this table have tried Yoplait's new Go-Gurt snack, and in this world of trade-you-my-apple-for-your-granola-bar, Go-Gurt has catapulted to the top of the food chain. Its appeal is easy to understand, says 8-year-old Daphne Vessiropoulous: "We like to eat slurpy stuff."First came juice boxes, then fruit roll-ups. Now comes Go-Gurt, which is becoming the next kids' food fad. Introduced by General Mills in a few markets last fall, the product hit the East Coast in May and will be launched nationally next week, backed by a $10 million ad campaign. Go-Gurt rang up $37 million in sales in its first year despite limited distribution, and it's expected to become a huge seller in the $1.8 billion yogurt category. In the cutthroat food business, where 12,000 new...
  • The Big Score

    Inside Chicago's top-ranked Whitney Young High School, the posters started appearing last December. LET'S BE #1! GIVE IT 110%! Usually this sort of rah-rah propaganda supports the basketball team, but this campaign by the principal had a different aim: urging kids to score high on the Illinois Goal Assessment Program, a standardized test that students would take in February. Tests are nothing new to the kids at Whitney Young--they already take three other batteries of standardized exams each year. But for a group of high-achieving 11th graders, the pressure was just too much. These kids say real learning is being shoved aside as teachers focus on boosting test scores. Creative writing? Forget it. Instead, they say, teachers emphasize a boilerplate essay format that exam scorers prefer. So on Feb. 2, eight juniors purposely failed the social-studies portion of the test. The next day 10 failed the science test. Then they sent a letter to the principal: "We refuse to feed into this...