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Who would replace Fred Smith at helm of FedEx?

Financial Post has an article today examining the question of who might succeed FedEx chairman and CEO Fred Smith when he finally leaves the $27 billion company he founded. Smith once indicated he might leave by 2013, but he now says he has no plans to leave any time soon.

"I'm extremely concerned," said Ron Wickens, FedEx's former vice president for strategic projects and a shareholder. "Who is that replacement? And does he have the vision that Fred Smith has?"

Smith's eventual successor at Memphis, Tennessee-based FedEx will face the burden of following a pioneering CEO, said John Haber, executive vice president of the transportation division at Atlanta-based NPI LLC, which helps clients manage supply-chain costs. That means he or she will have to figure out what to change to build on the company's success.

FedEx has "good bench strength, but their bench strength, they're not visionaries like Fred Smith," said Haber, who previously worked at competitor United Parcel Service Inc. "What is at risk is, 'What is the next great idea?'"

The article also tosses out a few names as possible successors for Smith's CEO title. It appears that this would be an internal hire or someone who has been groomed to step in.

Possible candidates for Smith's CEO job include Chief Financial Officer Alan Graf and Mike Glenn, executive vice president of market development and corporate communications, according to Ross and Satish Jindel, president of SJ Consulting Group Inc. in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. Dave Rebholz, the head of FedEx Ground, and Dave Bronczek, who leads Express, also are potential choices, Jindel and Ross said.

scrocket1.jpg NPR follows up today on one of the true feel-good stories out of Memphis so far this year. Recall the Wooddale High School "Fly Boys," two top-notch students in the school's aviation program who won the chance to compete in the elite nationwide Team America Rocketry Challenge, which takes place this weekend in Washington. Darius Hooker and Wesley Carter beat out thousands of other hopefuls to earn a berth in the competition, but they and their school lacked the money to pay for the trip to Washington and back in time for graduation. Sure enough, though, Memphis came through with donations to support these two impressive young men, their sponsors and classmates on their quest.

Here are some excerpts from Hooker and Carter's chat with NPR's Michel Martin; transcript and audio available here.

MARTIN: I'm imagining that being in the rocket club, particularly when you were younger guys, was probably like being in the glee club, not the coolest. I don't know. So I just wanted to ask - did you ever have that experience and how did you, you know, overcome the usual?

HOOKER: My ninth and 10th grade year, to be honest - yeah. We were counted like the outcasts of the whole thing. My 11th and 12th grade year, me and Wesley kind of turned that around 100 percent. We were like the guys on campus. We are what's happening and, I mean, people see that we have things going for ourselves, so everybody wants a piece of what's going on. I didn't let anybody's worries get me down. I always knew what I was waking up to go to school for at the end of the day.

MARTIN: Wesley, what about you?

CARTER: We came in our ninth grade year and we would sit in class and, you know, everybody would be like, oh, hey, Darius - or hey, Wesley, can you give us the answers to this, this, this? And we would be completely nice about it, but once we got out of class, we had no friends at all, so me and Darius had to keep each other up.

PICTURED: Wooddale High School seniors Wesley Carter (left) and Darius Hooker, show off the rocket that qualified their team to go to Washington DC for the finals of the Team America Rocketry Challenge.

The Tennessee state House today approved a bill that phases out the state's inheritance tax along with trimming the state sales tax on food. One of the leaders of the anti-estate tax movement, according to a story this week on Politico, is conservative Nashville-based economist and former Reagan adviser Arthur Laffer. Laffer was in Memphis this week to address the Economic Club, and he generally praised Tennessee's pro-business climate:

"There's just one problem," he says. "Don't die here."

The grandfather of supply-side economics -- the man who once sketched the Laffer Curve on a cocktail napkin for a Gerald Ford staffer named Dick Cheney -- is leading a crusade to kill the estate and gift tax in Tennessee.

Laffer describes Tennessee's gift and estate tax in no uncertain terms: He calls it "the proverbial scat floating in the punch bowl" and says it's "the single biggest reason" why wealthy people don't want to live in the Volunteer State.
Laffer, who also met with FedEx founder and chairman Fred Smith during his visit to Memphis, says he moved from San Diego to Nashville solely for lower taxes and that he bought his house in Belle Meade with the cash he saved.

Meanwhile, the estate tax phase-out, which passed 88-8 in the House now moves on to the Senate, where it is also expected to pass easily.

Norfolk, Va., police raid Mo Money Taxes; employees skipped town

Memphis media have been reporting for several days about complaints from customers of Memphis-based Mo Money Taxes about late or unavailable income-tax refunds. Earlier today, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., asked the U.S. Attorney General's office to look into the complaints and possibly refer the matter to local U.S. Attorneys. Other cities where Mo Money has outlets have seen similar complaints. From earlier this week in Norfolk, Va.:

More than 70 people waited, some for hours, outside the empty Mo Money Taxes office on Granby Street late Monday. Maybe this time they would receive their refunds from the tax-preparation company. Several said Mo Money had broken promises over the past two weeks to provide the checks.

Nearly a dozen representatives from Mo Money got to the Riverview storefront about 5:15 p.m. and entered through a back entrance, avoiding the crowd. Then they allowed only a handful of customers in at a time.

When they left, several still had no checks.

"I do feel as though I've been robbed," said one of them, Rhoda Williams of Norfolk.

The plot thickened today in Norfolk as police executed a search warrant and found that the Mo Money employees -- who had moved there from Memphis to work at the business -- had skipped town. The search warrant was based on complaints from eight Norfolk residents:

According to search warrants, the first victim told officers she filed her taxes on January 17th.

When she didn't get her money at the beginning of February, she called the IRS and found out her refund was deposited in someone else's bank account. The account belonged to a man named Clayton Bullard she says.

Coincidentally, the 2nd victim who came forward to police said Mo' Money lied about how much they would charge him to prepare his taxes and the person who did his taxes was a man named Clayton as well.

Victims four and five say Mo' Money quoted them lower tax refund amounts than what the company actually filed on their behalf after checking with the IRS. Both discovered the company kept more than $1,100 of their refund money for fees.

Victim eight told police that Mo' Money filed her taxes without her W-2 information available.
He might not be blowing up on the indie underground or on the rap charts, but Memphis MC Adam WarRock is making his presence felt in his own particular niche of the hip-hop world. Kotaku, the Gawker Media site for video gamers, features WarRock today in a post titled, "A Resplendently Dorky Hip-Hop Tribute to Mass Effect."  It links to the original post on Destructoid, which explains that WarRock's tribute to the sci-fi-themed video games is a follow-up to an EP based on the NBC sitcom "Parks and Recreation."

Some people call this type of hip-hop fan-fic "nerdcore."

Memphis crime tracking part of cities' information revolution

Washington Post columnist Neal Peirce looks today at a revolution in information systems in which high-tech giants like IBM and Cisco are helping the world's cities address some of their most vexing problems. Memphis, of course, already has experience with this movement: Recall IBM helped implement the real-time crime-tracking approach used by the city police's Blue CRUSH initiative:

IBM already reports over 2,000 "Smarter Cities" programs worldwide. A leading example is Memphis. The city faced the dilemma of shrinking budgets even while crime -- especially violent crime -- was rising. Though 2,000 officers were responding to more than 1 million calls a year, there was scant time to "connect dots" of incidents and develop strategies.

IBM's solution (working with the University of Memphis' Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice) was to apply "predictive analytics" software to compile volumes of crime records by type, time of day, victim/offender characteristics and more.

Now Memphis has a new Real Time Crime Center that's able to pinpoint and relate crime incidents in seconds, and to predict hot spots and redeploy police officers with high efficiency. Robberies, burglaries and forcible rapes have fallen to their lowest rates in a quarter-century. Several million dollars in savings are being reported. And IBM has sharpened crime tracking and control software it can offer to cities elsewhere.

The headline on a piece that ran over the weekend on DC.StreetsBlog shows that some observers are already impressed with Memphis' progress in implementing more sustainable transportation policies: "Who Knew? Memphis on Track to Add 55 Miles of Bike Lanes in Just Two Years." The article itself continues the theme, and gives a lot of the credit to the city's current administration:

It seems nowadays you aren't truly a bike-friendly city until you've had your first civic dust-up over bike lanes. And by that standard, Memphis, Tennessee has arrived.

Last month, this mid-sized Southern city fought back challenges by business owners to install a bike lane on one of its main major commercial thoroughfares, Madison Avenue. That street was just the latest in Mayor A C Wharton's ambitious plan to add 55 miles of bike lanes in just two years.


Wharton issued his 55-mile challenge in the summer of 2010, saying the plan "is critical to the livability and health of our city." Since that time, the city has been making laudable strides toward that goal. According to its bike planner, the city now has 30 miles of bike lanes, 70 miles of shared roadways and 40 miles of multi-use paths.

A transportation amenity introduced during the tenure of Mayor Willie Herenton gets a tip of the hat on Twin Cities Daily Planet, in a piece advocating a closer look at streetcars for public transit in North Minneapolis.

Lest we dismiss Toronto's system as a byproduct of the desire to get away from the insane cold and/or Celine Dion music, we can head south to Memphis, Tennessee.  In 1993 they started with a 2.5-mile line downtown.  Since then, another 4.5 miles were added and ridership has gone from 500,000 in 1993 to 1.5 million in 2004.  In Memphis ridership was a mix of workers and recreational users, but contrary to common perceptions about mass transit, ridership was heaviest on Saturdays.  Surveys showed that almost half of the riders could have made the trip by car, but chose streetcars "for the experience."  Eighty-three percent of riders said they did not ordinarily use public transit.  In an interesting contrast to Minneapolis, Memphis streetcars paved the way for a light rail system.

On The Wall Street Journal's MarketBeat blog, reporter Jonathan Cheng passes along a sampling of quotes from American investment professionals flummoxed by the U.S. markets' being held in thrall to the European debt crisis. Among those quoted is David Waddell, president and chief investment strategist at Waddell & Associates in Memphis:

"My economics degree and analytical background is useless in a political environment, where so much of this is about handicapping whether Europe comes up with a plan or not." While ruminating on the markets during a recent morning jog, it struck Mr. Waddell that success in the stock market required a money manager to be part market historian, part global economist, part stock analyst, part China expert, part political scientist and part psychologist."I should have stayed in school."
20101103_hamilton_0200.jpg In a Saturday op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, education philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates discuss their quest to improve teacher performance and the need for schools to evaluate what teachers do and help them do better at it. As part of their Gates Foundation's research, the Gateses sought teacher volunteers last year to participate in a project where their teaching was videotaped and they could then watch themselves work. As The Commercial Appeal reported last November when the Gateses visited some Memphis City Schools:

The Gates Foundation is combing through thousands of hours of video, comparing teachers' performances with their students' test scores to isolate attributes that propel some teachers to the top of their profession .

In the WSJ, the Gateses write that some of the best teachers they observed appreciated the feedback and the opportunity to improve:

The 3,000 teachers who are helping us with the MET project are already getting feedback on their teaching. Last year, we visited Ridgeway Middle School in Memphis and sat down with Mahalia Davis while she watched a videotape of herself teaching. Ms. Davis had many years of experience, and it was obvious to us that she was a standout. She watched her video because she wanted to get even better at something she already did well.

We were impressed by how much Ms. Davis enjoyed taking apart the craft of her own teaching. She leaned forward in her chair and said, "Look, I just lost that student." Then she said, "The class wasn't with me on that point. I need to teach that concept in a new way."

Another interesting finding from the Gates Foundation's teacher surveys:

The teachers who took the survey were given a list of 15 things that might help to retain the best teachers. Higher salaries ranked 11th on the list, behind benefits like more time for preparation and opportunities for professional development.

PICTURED: Bill Gates visits with students in a math class at Hamilton High School during a visit on Nov. 3, 2010. (Photo by Barbara Kinney/Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

How copper theft in Memphis stings investors; get ready for more

Copper Investing News has an interesting piece linking recession-era theft with fluctuations in the commodities markets. Specifically, the metal's recent price plunge has been made worse by thieves flooding the market with fenced booty. Things are just that desperate out there:

Copper theft has risen across continents as robbers seek to liquidate assets in a hurry. In the US city of Memphis, Tennessee, for instance, the occurrence of scrap-metal theft via air conditioning units skyrocketed some 515 percent this year in comparison with 2005 levels, according to The New York Times. Market participants are responding with heightened awareness and supporting ramped-up legislation that could turn the tables on criminals.

(Here's a link to that New York Times piece, which tracks the trend of thieves nicking copper components from air-conditioning units in the very dead of summer. And radio towers, live electrical lines, Alzheimer's facilities, etc.)

The good news in the future for the shrewd thief or junk collector? Copper appears to be getting close to its price floor. Steal low, and sell high:

Perhaps if  copper thieves had the fortitude to follow China's example and wait for the price of the raw material to bottom, they too could legally participate in an eventual comeback. Whether scrap metal regulators are ready or not, market signs appear to be pointing toward recovery. "Regarding the direction of copper prices, there were many discussions during LME week which led to a slightly more positive picture as the industry only slowly felt the impact of the financial markets," said Triland Metals' Schmidt.

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