Ford hires 2,000 in Kansas City, pickup truck demand booms


DETROIT |
Thu May 2, 2013 12:04am EDT

DETROIT (Reuters) – Ford Motor Co is adding more than 2,000 jobs at its pickup truck factory in Kansas City as growth in the U.S. housing and oil sectors trigger a boom in truck sales.

The second-largest U.S. automaker said on Thursday that it will add 900 jobs and a third shift at its Kansas City Assembly Plant to build the F-150 pickup truck, the top-selling U.S. vehicle for well over three decades.

Another 1,100 jobs will be added starting in the fourth quarter to prepare for the 2014 introduction of the Ford Transit full-size van. The moves will boost Ford’s workforce at the factory by just over 80 percent.

The announcement comes after several months of surging sales in the lucrative pickup truck market. Truck sales grew three times the rate of the overall auto industry, Ford executives said Wednesday while discussing April U.S. auto sales.

“There’s a lot more room for the housing market to move because it bottomed out so low in the U.S.,” said Joe Hinrichs, who leads Ford’s operations in North and South America.

He added in an interview that the average age of the trucks on the road is at a record high, which should push some tradesman to buy new trucks as business picks up.

Kansas City is the latest Ford factory in the United States to run a third shift. Hiring more entry-level workers as well as increasing factory capacity utilization helped Ford’s profits margins in North America.

About 1,000 of the workers will be hired at the entry-level wage. Entry-level workers start at $15.78 an hour or nearly half the pay of traditional unskilled blue-collar Ford workers.

Under its four-year labor pact with the United Auto Workers union in 2011, Ford promised to create or preserve 12,000 hourly jobs in the United States by 2015.

Ford said it was now three-quarters of the way through with this commitment.

(Editing by Miral Fahmy)

Another Win for Uber and Hailo: Payments

It’s official: approved app-makers can legally connect cab drivers with passengers in New York City. And by July, they’ll be able to process payments for NYC’s iconic yellow taxicabs.

Just days after New York City announced it would allow Uber’s app to be used to hail yellow cabs, a deputy commissioner of the New York City Taxi Limousine Commission said that additional taxi-hailing apps are likely to be approved. What’s more important: Taxi passengers who’ve electronically hailed their rides will be able to pay through their smartphones.

“In 60 days you’ll be able to hail and pay for your ride with your smartphone,” said Ashwini Chhabra, deputy commissioner of policy and planning for the TLC.

The city’s initial announcement this week said that Uber, a ride-hailing app that already allowed smartphone users to hail and pay for rides in private sedans, electric vehicles, and SUVs, was the only application approved for NYC taxi e-hail. Uber’s taxi-hailing capability launched Tuesday in New York. Chhabra announced Wednesday that Hailo–whose CEO sat on a panel alongside Chaabra at the Disrupt NYC conference–is currently under review by the TLC, and would likely be approved within hours (“days, at most,” he said).

“In a couple hours we will be part of the taxi industry,” said Hailo founder and CEO Jay Bregman.

Indeed, by late Wednesday afternoon, the TLC approved Hailo as a participant in its e-hail pilot program.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday in a statement: “Adding safe and regulated e-hail service is the latest in our administration’s efforts to use innovative technology to improve taxi service.”

While both Bregman and Chhabra expressed Wednesday their feeling that the e-payment agreement between ride-hailing companies and the city is “historic news,” no one on stage–especially Sunil Paul, the founder of SideCar, which just days ago had a private driver’s car impounded in New York City–seemed proud of how lengthy and fraught the approval process has been.

“We shouldn’t stand up here and take any bows,” Chhabra said, noting that Uber is a three-year-old company now, and Hailo has been operational in London since 2011. Hailo, which has more than $50 million in venture capital, already operates in five major cities. New York City isn’t exactly used to being a late-adopter of technology. “The fact that it’s 2013 and you can finally e-hail a taxi is not something to be proud of.”

Uber briefly tested yellow cab e-hailing in New York City last year, before having its efforts shut down, and Hailo has been recruiting a network of drivers for months. After a series of setbacks and false starts for e-hailing over the past two years, the latest pause button was a lawsuit in February by groups of black-sedan and limo companies saying e-hail for taxis threatened the livery cab business. A judge dismissed that suit this week.

“I’ll be the first regulator to stand up here and say whatever the entrepreneurs and disruptors are doing you are going to be moving faster and farther than the bureaucrats and legislators,” Chhabra said.

Bregman added: “There is this dance we have to do together, but [start-ups and governments] do have to work together.”

 

This article was updated at 4:55 p.m. May 1, 2013, to reflect the TLC’s approval of Hailo to operate in New York City.

12 Ways to Spring Clean Your Business

When e-commerce company Groove Commerce sent over a list of spring cleaning items to tune up an online marketing strategy, it sounded like a fine thing to do. So I’ve taken some of their points and added a few others.

Why a spring cleaning? Because sometimes you need to shake the dust loose and examine routines that have become habitual. By doing so, you can see if there’s anything needing correction or improvement. It may stop everyone from working like automatons and your customers from responding in kind. Let’s start with the e-commerce selections from Groove and then move into other areas.

E-commerce

  • Switch up email acquisition–Did you spend the winter growing your subscriber base? Then consider trying some work to extend customer loyalty. Concentrate on deals and specials? Maybe it’s time to draw them into your social networks. This might keep customers from falling into automatic responses to campaigns that may be lulling them to sleep.
  • Evaluate cross selling and add-on tactics–Suggesting additional products, either directly connected to what people buy or others that are related or complementary, is important in sales. Now is the time to revisit your choices and the effectiveness they had with customers.
  • Check your links–This goes well beyond your main site and extends into emails, newsletters, and other marketing collateral. The inevitable shifts in page structures and URLs can send people to page-not-found messages. Find the errors before your customer.
  • Set up advanced analytics functions–If you haven’t expanded your use of Google Analytics, or whatever other packages you may use, then you’re leaving important data on the table. See how people come onto your site, where they head, and what tends to be the last thing they see before leaving.

Customer relations

  • Check your customer lists–Customer information can quickly go bad as people move, change email providers, and otherwise change their habits. Check the National Change of Address (NCOA) database to see if you still know where they live. Are the email addresses you have still good? When was the last time you heard from a customer?
  • Run a customer satisfaction survey–If people aren’t happy, they’re more likely to disappear than to let you know something is wrong. So find out how you’re doing and see where you might strengthen operations.
  • Do some analysis–It’s good to have customers, but not all of them will have the same value to you. Run an analysis to see which of them have the best lifetime customer value, who have been the heavy spenders of late, and, as importantly, which ones are expensive to maintain. Know who’s being coddled and who might strengthen your business by leaving and ordering from a competitor.
  • And do some segmentation–Once you can classify customers, see what, if anything, they have in common. Can you notice any patterns that might help you identify other top customers? Might there be things you could do to edge decent customers into the best performer category?

Operations

  • Ask employees what is wrong–You may know your business from one view, but those on the daily firing line are more likely to see things that might becoming tripping points. Make sure that they understand you want to hear bad news and that no messengers will be injured in the process.
  • Competitive comparison–How do your products and services compare to those of your competitors. Revisit the question, as rivals may have improved things on their end. Be objective, as now is not the time to save face. You’re better off saving sales.
  • Business partner plans–When’s the last time you caught up with business partners, vendors and suppliers, and your distribution chain? Have conversations with the major players to see how relationships look from their end and whether they are making moves that might affect your company.
  • Vet your expenses–Now is also a good time to review utilities, phones, shipping, and any other services you have for your business. Are there changes you need or options you should consider? Can you get better pricing?

Too much on the list? Then pick a few things that might make the biggest difference to your business. And remember, if you don’t get it all done for spring, keep going. It’s never too late to improve your company.

Is Your Email Making You Sick?

Your inbox may be causing you more stress than you realize.

According to Linda Stone, a former Microsoft researcher and tech executive, some 80% of people either hold their breath or breathe shallowly as they work through their email. She uses the term email apnea to describe this.

That disruption in your breathing is a pretty big deal. Holding your breath alters the level of oxygen in your system, triggering that familiar fight-or-flight response and contributing to stress-related diseases. It’s also not, as you might imagine, the most productive or creative state to be in.

“It isn’t email that is making us crazy. It’s how we’re doing email that is making us crazy,” says Stone. “If we were all driving with no speed limits and no stop signs, there would be chaos. That’s how I think about how many of us are doing email.”

How can you avoid email madness, and the fight-or-flight state it produces? Stone has six tips.

Exhale. One of the easiest ways to get out of fight-or-flight? Exhale.

Re-think your day. The more Stone enjoys what she’s doing, she says, the more relaxed she is and the better her thinking flows. Often, she just needs to take something off her to-do list to get into a better frame of mind.

Ask yourself questions such as, “How do I feel? Have I exhaled lately?” Says Stone, “If you’re not sure how you feel, it’s time to get up and walk away from the computer–and your email!”

Set stop signs. You can set stop signs on your own personal information highway by setting expectations and sticking to them. If you only answer email a few times a day, eventually, people will stop expecting you to be available at a moment’s notice. But only if you stick to your guns. Similarly, if you’re going on vacation, you can let correspondents know (nicely) that you’ll be deleting any emails received during that time (Journalist Lauren Young calls this email bankruptcy.)  

Set speed limits. Speed limits refer to “how” we’re doing email. Here, the driver has discretion. If you’re checking your email the minute you wake up, bringing your smartphone into the bathroom, and glancing at your phone at every stop light, you need to give yourself a minute to breathe–literally.

Try a heart rate variability monitor. Stone often clips one of these to her ear to become more conscious of the relationship between her mind and body. Multicolored lights give the wearer visual cues about the state of his or her nervous system.

Stone reminds us that in the 1800s, attention was defined not only as what we chose to focus on, but also as what we chose to exclude. Since then, we seem to have forgotten the part about what to exclude. “Are we being tyrannical with ourselves or are we being reasonable?” Stone asks. “And are we breathing?”

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One Company’s Audacious Org Chart: 400 Leaders, 0 Bosses

Morning Star, the world’s largest tomato processor, is flatter than a pancake leveled by a steamroller. There are no managers. No directives from above. No promotions. No titles.

Instead, there is the philosophy promulgated by Morning Star’s founder (don’t dare call him CEO), Chris Rufer. More than 40 years ago, Rufer launched a trucking company to haul tomatoes to canneries. The work did not lend itself to the management theories he had learned as an M.B.A. student at UCLA. “How do you manage truck drivers, anyway?” Rufer muses. “Put a supervisor in every truck? It was just, I do my thing; everyone else do your thing. That seemed to work.”

What worked then for a one-truck business works today for a company that swells to more than 2,400 employees in tomato season. “Quite good, high-performing people love it here, and they flourish,” says Rufer. “That is our competitive advantage.”

“It’s a beautiful way of structuring a workplace. Management is not nearly as necessary as it thinks it is.” —Ben Cohen

Morning Star calls what it practices self-management. But it is also mutual management. Employees’ decisions about what they will do are determined largely by their commitments to others. You know what you need from me to do your best possible work, and I know what I need from you to do mine.

Those commitments are embedded in peer-to-peer contracts known as colleague letters of understanding, or CLOUs. The keystone of each CLOU is a “personal commercial mission,” crafted by each employee to describe her contribution to Morning Star’s success. (Rufer’s PCM is “to advance tomato technology to be the best in the world and operate these factories so they are pristine.”) The terms of how everyone will work with everyone else are negotiated by the people doing the work.

When he first learned of Morning Star’s bossless model, “I thought it sounded pretty cool,” says Brian Hagle, whose job involves evaporating water from tomato juice. Twenty-two years later, he still feels that way. “It’s almost like every one of us is manager or CEO,” says Hagle. “We set our goals high, and they’re our goals, so when we meet them, there’s a real feeling of achievement.”

Autonomy extends beyond deliverables. Need equipment to do your job? Buy it. See a process that would benefit from different skills? Hire someone. Colleagues consult one another and then simply act.

The ballast to autonomy is accountability, which can take many forms. Perhaps most important, employees want to perform because reputation is the coin of the realm. In a company with no promotions, people earn more by getting better at their jobs. Employee-elected compensation committees set pay levels after measuring colleagues’ performance against their CLOUs and other metrics. Morning Star can pay 15 percent more in salaries and 35 percent more in benefits than the industry average because it’s not paying managers and productivity is so high.

“We take our cues from the world,” says Paul Green Jr., a colleague at the Self-Management Institute, a research division within Morning Star. “In society, you have individuals essentially pursuing their own deals but figuring how to come together in a relatively organized way. It’s beautiful.”

DBS 1st Quarter Net Rises 2%

DBS Group Holdings Ltd.’s (D05.SG) first-quarter net profit rose 2% on loan and deposit growth and strong non-interest income, it said on Thursday.

Net profit for the three months ended March 31 was 950 million Singapore dollars (US$770 million)–up from S$933 million a year earlier, DBS said in a statement to Singapore Exchange.

Net fee and commissions income rose 25% to S$507 million as wealth management and trade finance businesses grew. An improvement in the capital markets boosted trading income 40% to S$408 million.

Loans grew 13% to S$224 billion. Net interest income, however, declined 1% to S$1.33 billion as net interest margin remained under pressure at 1.64% as low interest rates prevail world-wide. That was slightly higher than the 1.62% seen in the fourth quarter but below the 1.77% in the first quarter of 2012.

Expenses rose 6% to S$952 million and the bank’s allowances for credit and other losses grew 55% to S$223 million.

“After a slower second half in 2012 we started the year on a very solid note. Business momentum is strong and growth has been broad-based showing the impact of our investments across all lines of business,” Chief Executive Piyush Gupta said in the statement.

Write to Martin Vaughan at martin.vaughan@dowjones.com

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U.K. Clamps Down on Tax Havens

The U.K. government has reached agreement with its overseas territories–including the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands–to share information about bank accounts, as it looks to clamp down on secrecy in the tax havens as part of its ongoing fight against tax avoidance and evasion.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said the agreement–which also covers Anguilla, Montserrat, and the Turks and Caicos Islands–is a significant change in the level of international transparency, making it much harder for people to escape paying taxes by hiding their money overseas.

“I now hope others follow these governments’ lead and enter into similar commitments to this new level of transparency, removing the hiding places for those who seek to evade tax and hide their assets,” he said.

Thursday’s agreement means the U.K., along with France, Germany, Italy and Spain, will be automatically provided greater levels of information about bank accounts held by their taxpayers in the overseas territories, including names, addresses, dates of birth, account numbers, account balances and details of payments made into those accounts. This also includes information on certain accounts held by entities, such as trusts.

The agreement comes after months of negotiation between the overseas territories and the U.K. government. While the U.K. represents the overseas territories on the international stage, the territories have legal systems that are independent of the U.K.

The agreement is part of the concerted effort in Europe over the past few months to crack-down on tax evasion and avoidance, as governments respond to the heightened public resentment about the seemingly low taxes paid by some large firms and individuals during a period of austerity.

Last month Luxembourg–a country that has long guarded its banking secrecy rules–agreed to exchange information with the rest of the European Union about EU holders of bank accounts in the country. Also in April, the U.K., Germany, France, Italy and Spain agreed to develop a system that would make it easier to clamp down on tax evaders by automatically exchanging information among those countries.

In addition, the U.K. has also reached agreement with its three Crown dependencies–the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey–to share tax information in late 2012.

The U.K. also plans to use its presidency of the Group of Eight nations this year to place the focus on international efforts to stop multinational firms using legal loopholes to shift profits to tax havens.

Write to Ainsley Thomson at ainsley.thomson@dowjones.com

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ASIA MARKETS: Asian Stocks Fall; Tokyo Down Ahead Of Holidays

Most Asian markets declined Thursday, tracking losses in the U.S. after the Federal Reserve’s monetary-policy decision, with Japanese stocks dragged further down by a strengthened yen and caution ahead of a long weekend.

Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average gave up 0.4% to stay on course for its fourth straight trading day of losses, while Australia’s SP/ASX 200 also shed 0.4%.

South Korea’s Kospi was down 0.2% in choppy trade as the market reopened after Wednesday’s holiday.

“With the Federal Reserve reaffirming their dedication to current stimulus measures … economic data will likely have greater weight on equity market performance. So if the current theme of negative data surprises continues, we could see equity markets catch up with the recent selloff in commodity markets,” said Rivkin Securities global analyst Tim Radford.

Stocks on Wall Street suffered sharp losses overnight after the Federal Open Market Committee said the U.S. central bank would continue buying $85 billion in bonds each month, but may raise or cut the program, subject to economic conditions.

U.S. data showing a weak jobs addition by private employers, and tepid growth in manufacturing also weighed on markets.

The broad drop in Asian equities came ahead of the Friday’s U.S. nonfarm payrolls data and the European Central Bank monetary-policy meeting later Thursday, where the central bank was expected to cut interest rates amid weakening economic indicators.

In Asia, HSBC was scheduled to release the final result of its April survey of manufacturing conditions in China, after a preliminary reading showed cooling activity at mainland Chinese factories. Markets in Shanghai and Hong Kong were also set to reopen, after an official gauge of Purchasing Managers’ Index for April came in weaker than expected on Wednesday.

Over in Tokyo, exporters were among the top decliners on Thursday as the yen strengthened further against the U.S. dollar (USDJPY).

Among them, Nissan Motor Co. (NSANY) lost 2.2%, and Bridgestone (BRDCY) shed 1.9%.

The decline also came ahead of a long weekend, with Japanese markets closed on Friday and Monday.

On the upside, Sharp Corp. (SHCAY) jumped 2.2% after a Nikkei newspaper report that some banks were considering extending a 100-billion-yen ($1.01 billion) credit facility to the electronics company ahead of an upcoming bond redemption.

Panasonic Corp. (PCRFY) edged up 0.1% after a separate Nikkei report that the company had unloaded shares worth about Yen100 billion in firms such as Toyota Motor Corp. Toyota (TM) stock lost 1.1%.

Minutes of the Bank of Japan’s last meeting in April, released earlier on Thursday, showed the central bank’s board members felt it was necessary for the bank to “enter a new phase of monetary easing.”

In Sydney, the resource sector came under further selling pressure after a drop in commodity prices overnight.

Shares of mining heavyweight BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP) dropped 0.7%, and Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. (FSUMY) shed 2%.

Macquarie Group Ltd. (MCQEF) rose 0.7%, however, after The Australian reported the financial company was aiming for control of a portfolio of nine investment schemes managed by collapsed logging firm Gunns.

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Xstrata Plans to Close Sinclair Nickel Mine in Australia

Xstrata PLC (XTA.LN) said it plans to close its Sinclair nickel mine in Western Australia state this month, in the latest move by a major mining company to cut costs amid soft metals prices.

Sinclair is reaching the end of its expected life and mining will finish May 15, Xstrata said in a statement. Stockpiled ore will continue to be processed into the third quarter of the year.

It follows Xstrata’s move to shutter its nearby Cosmos mine in September due to a prolonged period of low nickel prices and the high Australian dollar.

The latest closure comes as Xstrata and Glencore International AG (GLEN.LN) finalize their merger, which is due to come into effect Thursday.

-Write to Stephen Bell at djnews@dowjones.com

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