September 16th, 2009
10:02 AM GMT
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September 16th, 2009
10:00 AM GMT
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September 16th, 2009
05:13 AM GMT
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DALIAN, China (CNN) – After a decade writing about careers for The Wall Street Journal, CNN and others – as well as thumbing through countless books on professional advice – here is a summation of all I have learned:

Careers are built on two things – your skills and your relationships with people.

That’s it.

Skills and relationships are the DNA of all careers, the primordial soup from which the extravagant feathers, hooves or claws of any livelihood emerge. Of the two, relationships trump skills, because how do you grow those skills? Through your relationships with others – exposure to new ideas, colleagues, teachers and friends.

I was reminded of that at the World Economic Forum in Dalian. While the economy is still in crisis and cost-cutting a top concern, hundreds of business leaders from around the world still converged on this Chinese city. It speaks, I think, to the importance of growing and maintaining relationships not despite but because of the 'Great Recession.'

It struck me how much of the advice given to companies at the forum –the need to take risks rather than being paralyzed by fear, using the crisis as a springboard for growth – could be applied to individuals as well. And yet, fear of losing what you have (namely, your job) rather than what you can gain (future promotions, opportunities) rules the cubicles.

Company leaders talked constantly about the need for innovation – not just new technology, but new ways of doing things, new ways of thinking. Brought down to the individual, I think the innovation can be translated to this: Curiosity.

“I think you’re right, I think that’s true,” Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP told me. “If you want to build your way out of the recession, that’s a critical skill.”

Curiosity about a problem leads to problem-solving; it defuses knee-jerk reaction and fears in favor of a thoughtful, proactive response. Curiosity radiates authentic interest in colleagues, competitors and consumers. Curiosity creates the meteorological conditions required for brainstorming. Curiosity is the key that unlocks passion, which is better than coffee to get you out of bed.

Heroes are created in times of crisis. Unlock your curiosity about the problems you confront, and you just may innovate your way ahead of the pack.

What skills are important in a time of recession? Share your thoughts with CNN.

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September 14th, 2009
04:18 AM GMT
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MUMBAI, India (CNN) – Whenever my mother was unsure about what to gift someone for a birthday, wedding, anniversary or festival, my grandmother would say to her, “give gold.”

“It will last a life time and everyone appreciates it,” she would say.

Even today, my parents often gift gold on a special occasion. It’s part and parcel of Indian culture. Indians love wearing gold, giving gold, receiving gold.

Turns out we love hoarding it too. At least 20 to 25 thousand tons of gold is stored in households across India. With gold prices currently around $1005 an ounce that means around $807.7 billion is stashed away deep inside cupboards, under mattresses and at the back of safes in India.

India is the world’s largest consumer of gold and also a net importer of the precious metal. Problem is, once gold enters India, there is no transparent, standardized market for the resale of gold back into bullion. Gold sellers are at the mercy of middlemen: Anyone wanting to sell gold have to take a necklace or chain to a scrap jeweler. He would check it, weigh it and come up with a price for it. He’d charge a hefty commission, take it to a refinery and melt it.

Anjani Sinha is asking gold sellers to ignore the middlemen and follow him instead. He runs the National Spot Exchange – which has created the first transparent, standardized platform for gold trade in India.

Under this system, anyone with gold to sell can go directly to an approved refinery where gold is melted into bars or coins of an international standard. The seller can either take the bar home or leave it in a vault. He is given a receipt, which he can sell via an approved broker. The idea is to make trading in gold as easy as trading in stocks and shares.

If sellers start bringing some of their gold out from under mattresses and into the spot trading market, it has the potential to revolutionize the gold market – and make a massive impact on the Indian economy.

Si Kannan of Kotak Commodity Services walks us through some of the numbers: At current prices, even if 1% of India’s household gold enters the market, it would mean an extra $24 billion circulating through the domestic economy.

This would reduce India’s dependence on imports, pave the way for investment in domestic refineries, and increase employment opportunities.

The biggest challenge now though is convincing people to go to a refiner, not a scrap jeweler, when they want to sell gold. To be honest, I can’t see anyone from my grandmother’s generation going to a refiner instead of a family jeweler she has known for ages. Some habits are hard to break.

September 11th, 2009
09:06 AM GMT
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September 10th, 2009
04:12 PM GMT
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DALIAN, China - At one of the first conferences of the World Economic Forum’s “Summer Davos” on Thursday, a large white elephant slowly materialized in the center of the room.

The financial crisis still looms large in the minds of participants, as evidenced by sessions like the morning conference on “Management Lessons from the Great Recession.” A word that appeared time and again at that talk: Transparency.

The CEOs on stage discussed how lack of transparency in financial markets helped lead to collapse. Maurice Levy, CEO and chairman of France’s Publicis Group, said in today’s media environment “every wrongdoing will be known,” making transparency crucial. Added Ben Verwaayen, CEO of Alcatel-Lucent: “In every industry, you have to increase transparency in every aspect of business.” 

Every time “transparency” was mentioned, however, a white elephant grew from a hint of a shadow into a full-blown pachyderm in the crowded conference hall. Finally the moderator, Helmutt Schutte, gently posed a question to the panel’s sole Chinese participant: How about transparency in China?

“We have too much transparency,” said Sun Hong, chairman of the Dalian Port Company, explaining the strength of the unions and importance in shared decision-making; state-owned companies have further oversight from Communist Party secretaries. He gave a detailed response to a difficult question – and yet, to me, the elephant remained in the room.

Concerns about the transparency in China remain high, especially in light of the recent arrests of Rio Tinto employees on charges of stealing state secrets. Yet the “Summer Davos” conference itself is a testament to the importance of China on the global economic stage. As one CEO said, the recession has accelerated the rise of China.

If transparency is a key lesson from the Great Recession, and if China is key player for the world economic rebound, then what will be the outcome when these divergent forces meet? I would have asked the white elephant, but he was in a rush: Too many meetings to attend.

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September 8th, 2009
03:39 AM GMT
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Pop the champagne, light both candles and sing “Happy Birthday” - the Financial Crisis turns two years old.

Author’s parents, Dale and Rosemary Voigt, at his boyhood home in Jasper, Ind.
Author’s parents, Dale and Rosemary Voigt, at his boyhood home in Jasper, Ind.

There are many dates that can be celebrated as the birth of the Credit Crisis, or the “Great Recession.” (Its official christening, it seems, is awaiting anointment by the historians.) It could be July 11, when in 2007 Standard & Poors finally found religion and degraded the credit rating of 612 securities backed by subprime mortgages. Or Sept. 14 when the Bank of England stepped in to provide liquidity support to U.K. lender Northern Rock.

If you missed the birth, you couldn’t miss the first birthday - a year ago this week the U.S. government took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, signaling the start of a wild month that saw Lehman Brothers fold and the crisis smolder into a blaze across the planet.

For me, the crisis began May 21, 2007, when my mother and father put 416 W. 9th St. on the market in Jasper, Indiana – a small German Catholic community in the southwestern corner of the state. My boyhood home.

My siblings talked my parents into purchasing a stairless home better suited for retirees in what passes for the suburbs of Jasper. They purchased the second home, sure that the first would sell fast.

Fast forward two years – through my wife’s surprise pregnancy, the birth of Jonah and his first birthday party this past July – and still, the “For Sale” sign hung on 416 W. 9th St.

In the interim, more than 100 people viewed the house. Two people made offers – one contingent on the sale of her existing home (which didn’t happen) another on approval of a bank loan (which also didn’t happen). My parents plowed $13,000 into upgrades – new carpeting, flooring, wallpaper and paint. My mother planted two statues of St. Joseph in the backyard. (Among the His saintly duties are home sales – you can buy $10 “St. Joseph Statue Home Sales Kits” on the Internet).

The sale was emotionally tough for me. Living abroad since 1996, 416 W. 9th St. was the only piece of real estate in the world I knew as home. It’s where all my letters, diaries and LPs lived. (According to my U.S. driver’s license, I still live there.)

Last month, my family here in Hong Kong got on a plane to visit my parents, but I wouldn’t be showing my boy my boyhood home: The day we landed, 416 W. 9th St. was sold.

From an original asking price of nearly $135,000, my parents accepted a $105,000 offer. “Obviously, we would have wanted to get more than we finally did,” my father said. “But every month paying utilities, insurance, taxes on two homes … there comes a time when you have to bite the bullet.”

While visiting, my mother wanted to take us to the old house and show off all the upgrades that finally led to the sale, but I wasn’t interested in seeing the new, improved homestead. The place remains holy ground where three beloved dogs are buried. The typewriter tap of my first story and first notes playing guitar haunt its newly finished rooms. The front porch is where I stole my first kiss.

Despite market prices, financial crisis and the address on my driver’s license, the old saying remains true: You can never go home again.

How has the financial crisis affected your family? Share your story with CNN.

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September 7th, 2009
12:42 PM GMT
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September 7th, 2009
06:02 AM GMT
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You know how it is –- you’re in a strange city, maybe a strange country, tired, hungry, missing home, it's kind of late. You walk into that little (in my case, Chinese restaurant), there are teeth marks on the chopsticks, the floor is kind of sticky, and on the menu is the house specialty: rabbit face. Not quite what you wanted, but as luck would have it, just down the road you can see it in the distance – the golden arches, sitting high and proud calling to you.

OK, this might be (in my case) China, but you know that somehow, once you walk through those doors, there on the menu will be a cheeseburger, a Big Mac, Quarter Pounder and fries. And for the most part the food will taste pretty much like the Mickey Dee’s on Santa Monica not far from my old apartment in LA.

So, when I buy my Big Mac here in China, it’s just over 12 RMB, or $1.76. When I buy a Big Mac in L.A. it costs around $3.50. The great thing about a Big Mac as far as economists are concerned (wel, the ones at “The Economist” magazine, anyway) is that it's pretty much the same wherever you go . . . two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.

And that means for economists it’s a great way to compare currencies. Much like the Big Mac itself, it’s not perfect – wages, rents and other costs vary, as well as the size (I have noticed the Chinese burgers a little on the small side). But for more than 20 years the people at “The Economist” have been doing this exchange rate comparison, and – surprise, surprise – they found Asian currencies under-valued, European over-valued.

In the case of China, by about 40 percent undervalued – this is at the far end of the spectrum as far as many critics in the U.S. are concerned. They accuse Beijing of deliberately manipulating the currency, keeping it undervalued. That means exports from China are a lot cheaper, giving exporters here an unfair competitive advantage, they claim.

Imagine if you could go to that McDonald’s in L.A. and instead of paying $3.50 or so for the American Big Mac, you could pay $1.76 for the Chinese version, knowing the ingredients are the same.

September 7th, 2009
03:52 AM GMT
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A new, slimmed-down version of PlayStation 3 hit store shelves across the world last week. But where is PlayStation 4?

According to game industry executives: A long way off.

It's been three years since the PS3 and Wii made their debut; four years since Microsoft released the Xbox 360. As the average console life-cycle is roughly around 4 to 6 years, we should be hearing rumblings about the successor to the current generation of consoles right about now.

Instead, industry figures are lining up to say how long this generation could last. Electronic Arts' CEO John Riccitiello spoke of an "extended hardware cycle" on an earnings call. Activision boss Bobby Kotick echoed those sentiments, while Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter told Edge he didn't expect the next hardware cycle to start until 2013 - if ever.

Why the wait? Microsoft and Sony spent billions of dollars to create the Xbox 360 and PS3 - money they'd like to recoup. Sony Computer Entertainment's Kaz Hirai admitted to the Times Online that they are losing money on each PS3 Slim they sell.

The exception is Nintendo. The company has steadily increased spending on research and development, from $34 million in the 2003 fiscal year to $430 million in 2009. Last year reported that Nintendo was working on the next-generation Wii for 2011.

Another reason for an extended console cycle could be the ability of the current generation of consoles to update themselves via the Internet. Both the Wii and PS3 have added major features through software updates, while the Xbox 360's interface was completely redesigned last year. And Microsoft has promised to add more functionality at the latest this year, including Facebook and Twitter.

The "Big Three" are hoping these moves to freshen up existing models will keep consumers  from relegating the current generation of consoles to the closet.

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