BlackBerry stamps its Passport, Rockefellers get out of oil: BUSINESS WEEK WRAP
It wasn't quite as glitzy as rival Apple's big day last week, but Waterloo Ontario's BlackBerry has had a big week after unveiling its latest smartphone, the Passport, to the world on Wednesday.
The device's main distinguishing characteristic is a square, 4.5-inch screen, designed to be reminiscent of an actual passport. That's a departure from the direction most other smartphone companies have taken, with longer, thinner, rectangular (and, um, bendable) phones. But BlackBerry thinks that feature is going to resonate with its core user base of what are known as "enterprise" customers — serious phone users who spend their time reading spreadsheets and finalizing legal documents, not just playing Angry Birds.
BlackBerry's problems are well documented, but in the early hours and days following the launch, the early reviews are looking pretty positive. The company sold 200,000 phones within two days of launch, CEO John Chen said Friday, enough to take the project to profitability already.
The phone was actually sold out online within hours on BlackBerry's site and on Amazon — something that has to be encouraging for a former tech titan that's fallen on tough times. As technology expert Bob O'Donnell told The Exchange this week, "let's be honest. There's still huge red flags, there's huge concerns [but] I'm cautiously optimistic."
Passport to recovery
BlackBerry wasn't the only business name looking for a fresh start this week. The Rockefeller family, descendants of J.D. Rockefeller, announced a drastic shift in the way the company manages its money this week.
Rockefeller made his billions buying up oil assets across America right before Uncle Sam's unquenchable thirst for fossil fuels began in the late 19th century. Rockefeller amassed so much wealth that when adjusted for inflation, it's believed he was the richest man who ever lived, worth almost $350 billion in today's dollars.
But that was all in the past, his family insists, and the fun that manages much his heirs' remaining wealth committed this week to cleaning up its act.
The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, worth some $860 million at last count, pledged on Monday to sell off all of its fossil fuel assets and move that money into renewable energy investments.
"if he were alive today," fund president and Rockefeller descendant Stephen Heintz said, "as an astute businessman looking out to the future, he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy."
Critics have dismissed the move as largely symbolic (after all, the family made billions of dollars for more than a century off fossil fuels) but the move is nonetheless an important one. It's part of a wider global push to develop sustainability by focusing on the legitimate investment opportunities of clean energy.
At last count more than 180 institutional investors, worth some $50 billion in assets, have joined the pledge. But none likely as symbolically important as the scions of Standard Oil getting out of the oil business.
Wage gap's an age trap
From one group trying to decide where to park their millions, we heard this week about another just trying to get its hands on some.
The Conference Board of Canada put out new research this week full of new figures to confirm what had long been suspected — when it comes to finances, the kids are really not alright.
The current generation of 25 to 29 year olds are way behind financially compared to their parents at the same age, the report found. Since the 1980s, the gap between how much money young workers make and how much older ones do has widened, a lot.
"There is a pattern here that says the baby boom generation did very well for itself, it's children have been clearly left behind," the report's author told CBC's Dianne Buckner this week.
Even among the generation in trouble, there was a wide divide between the sexes. The report found today that the gap between what women make early in their career compared to the end was about eight per cent 30 years ago. Today, that figure has skyrocketed to 43 per cent — although the Board acknowledges those numbers are skewed by the comparatively small number of women who were in the workforce in 1984.
Economists bleating about the fate of Millennials may be nothing new. But baby boomers dependent on new workers to create the tax base to support social programs like health care may ultimately pay the price for that jobless lump taking up space in the basement.
Lousy business (but a good one)
Speaking of uninvited house guests, the CBC's Sophia Harris told us this week about the return of a parasite that many people haven't had to deal with in a while: head lice.
Head lice are back, it seems, and for any parent who's had to deal with the social stigma they can entail (to say nothing about the painstaking removal process) they can be a headache.
But one man's crisis is another man's opportunity. Entrepreneurs like Dawn Mucci have built up a thriving business on weeding the little critters out, for good. Since forming her business 12 years ago, Mucci has expanded to 22 locations across the country, and says she's growing by about 25 per cent a year.
And it doesn't come cheap: a 90-minute session can cost up to $200. But business is so booming, she says, that she can't expand fast enough to keep up with demand overseas.
Not finding enough people willing to kill vermin for $75 an hour? Talk about a head-scratcher.
But while you're here, check out some more of our most-read stories this week:
- Air Canada latest problem: porn in the cockpit
- BlackBerry's Passport represents the crux of Chen's turnaround