Saturday, September 17, 2005


September 18, 2005



The damp, persistent chill had ended, and by noon in Westende, a community of high-rise apartment buildings on the coast of Belgium, the temperature had risen to 65 degrees. At cafe tables along the boardwalk, middle-aged women opened the tops of their blouses, while down on the beach, pinkish bodies, plumped by their Lycra casings, lay between the canvas windbreaks.

Raf Simons leaned against the rail of his balcony. He had made the 90-minute drive from Antwerp, where he lives most of the year, in part to satisfy my curiosity to see his place at the beach. When I first spoke to him, by telephone, more than a year ago, he had described the place as ''crappy.'' I don't know why, but I liked him immediately. Westende was all he said it was. The Germans in World War II built bunkers there, and you can still see their ghastly windows in the dunes, but for the most part, the history of Westende is the history of the past 20 years: concrete pedestrian plazas with shops and restaurants where you can have a beer and eat shrimp croquettes while listening to Europop.

Simons's apartment is on the top floor of a 1970's building. It has a small living room and kitchenette, with two bedrooms and a bath on the second floor. There is a wood stove, a section of a black sectional sofa and one wall papered in a blue-cloud pattern, left over from the previous owner. Simons dragged the sectional piece out to the terrace and then opened a bag of Doritos and the liter of Diet Coke that he had brought with him in a plastic shopping sack. Later we went down to the boardwalk. It was crowded with young families and old people who, from the look of their clothes, were middle-class Belgians. At the end of the boardwalk we came to the dunes. ''Will you be all right in those shoes?'' Simons asked. I took off my sandals, and we crossed the dunes until we were on the flat, hard beach. The shimmer on the North Sea had turned to a pale mauve, and the air was sweet and sticky with the approach of evening. I looked back at the boardwalk. It was physically ugly, but there was something moving in all that collective effort to reach the sea -- to be able to raise your glass of beer. We climbed the last of the breakers that jutted into the water and returned to the apartment, where Simons gathered up his plastic bag. Then we got into his Volvo wagon and headed toward Antwerp, past the German bunkers and the tram lines, until the brown coast turned into the familiar deep green of Belgium in the late spring.

Simons is probably the most influential men's-wear designer of the last decade. ''He did everything before anyone else, and everybody has copied him,'' Marie-Amelie Sauve, the stylist for Balenciaga, said. Although Simons is virtually unknown outside the small world of European men's fashion (he shows in Paris), his effect on the way young men dress cannot be overstated. Only with training, genius, intoxicating amounts of culture and possibly a discreet drug habit have a handful of designers been able to change the shape of clothes. Simons, without any of these advantages, has done it three times. The first time was in the mid-1990's, at the beginning of his career, when he came out with suits that were cut unusually small in the shoulders. The skinny black suit was not a new idea; it had been in existence since the late 50's, pleasing playboys and punks until Helmut Lang picked it up. But by putting his suits on sapling-thin Belgian boys who were not agency models, Simons introduced the idea that a young man's physical size was not at variance with his sense of isolation, a feeling that would have been ordinary to anyone who had grown up in Antwerp -- or Rotterdam or Manchester -- in isolated apartment towers built since the war, and who had spent a lot of time listening to bands like Joy Division and Kraftwerk, whose 22-minute song, ''Autobahn,'' managed to convey the monotony of riding on the German superhighway. If Gucci's caftans and Jean Paul Gaultier's cowboy chaps didn't represent the same emotional trip to this generation, Simons's minimalist suits did. They became the dominant silhouette of the late 90's. I once asked him what made him think of that shape. As usual, he had a straightforward explanation. ''It was just because we were so small,'' he said.

The second time was in 2001, with two collections that played host to the layered, hooded, sinister image of the urban guerrilla. Although these shows were later seen as eerily anticipating the reality of 9/11, and were meant, according to Peter De Potter, a writer who collaborates with Simons, to express more mundane concerns like a fear of globalization, their chief effect was to start the trend for oversize layers. The third time was last January, when Simons brought out wide, high-waisted trousers with Eisenhower jackets. He felt that the basic element of men's design, proportion, had become secondary to postmodern abstractions. ''I was so fed up with how all these people were tweaking the silhouette,'' he said. ''Very few were working on shape. It was all about two pleats, then three, then six. And in the end you get 250,000 pleats. And embroidery. I thought, No, we have to strip it off.'' Simons also looked at the influence of skateboarding as early as 1996 in a charming video presentation called ''16, 17, How to Talk to Your Teen,'' and at more pessimistic currents, like Gabba, a working-class youth culture confined to the Netherlands that led him, in 2000, to produce ''Isolated Heroes,'' a book of portraits with the photographer David Sims. Whereas most designers build their collections around a theme -- say, Capri in the 60's -- Simons has built his entire career around the ideas and attitudes of a generation of men. His 22 shows and video presentations, and his photographic and curatorial projects, like ''The Fourth Sex,'' a 2003 exhibition in Florence, are a catalog of youth's extremes, seen through the single window of Antwerp and told in a quiet voice that lets us know, This is how it actually is.

Not everybody has been paying attention. In May, when Prada announced it had hired Simons to succeed Jil Sander at her label, many editors and retailers drew a blank. Jay Fielden, the editor of the new Men's Vogue, told me that until he saw Simons in the front row at the Sander men's show in June, he didn't know what the 37-year-old designer looked like. Simons's anonymity in a world he influences can be explained by the fact that the men's business doesn't produce stars the way the women's side does. But even if this were not so, even if he did not live in Antwerp -- where, as the designer Walter Van Beirendonck said, ''you present yourself mainly through your work and a little bit outside the fashion world'' -- even then, he would discourage interest. He possesses none of those small deceptive tricks of personality that the fashion world relies on and are commonly called guile. He is, almost ideally, a blank -- a person without surface in a superficial world. In 10 years, he has agreed only once to pose for a portrait (he thought portraits were just downright embarrassing). In a sense, the person who represents Raf Simons, and whose face appears on the cover of his recent retrospective catalog, is not Simons but a much-tattooed, 28-year-old model named Robbie Snelders, who functions as his alter ego and also runs his office.

Simons is a fashion mystery, and maybe the most mysterious thing about him is that he just shows up. A few years ago, hearing that he was to give a show at a club in Lower Manhattan, Julie Gilhart, the fashion director of Barneys New York, decided that she would go and introduce herself. But after searching the crowded club for an hour, she left. ''All I could see were men in hoods,'' she said. Then last March, Gilhart was in Paris, waiting to take her seat at the Alexander McQueen show. ''Somebody was being interviewed by a TV crew, so I was just standing there, kind of lost in my thoughts,'' she said. ''I felt this tap on my arm, and my first thought was, Oh, please don't let it be a designer with a collection he wants to show me. It was really late. I turned around, and there was this good-looking guy in a trench coat. He said, 'Are you Julie Gilhart?' I said, 'Yes.' And he said, 'I'm Raf.'''

Although a Simons show can look intimidatingly cool, he himself is warm, gentle, forthright. With people he likes, he can quickly establish an intimacy that confuses both sexes. An American writer I know in Paris, a married man, insisted that Simons was gay on the basis of a firm hug that Simons had once given him after a show, while a woman who has known him many years said with an assured smile, when I returned from Antwerp in May, ''He's complicated, isn't he?'' I don't know. A guy who will go to the beach with only a bag of Doritos and a bottle of Coke can't be that complicated. While we were on the terrace, Simons got a call from Marc Foxx, a Los Angeles gallery owner, informing him that he had lost out on a Brian Calvin painting that he wanted. Simons has been collecting contemporary art for years and has works by, among others, Katy Grannan and Evan Holloway. But I also recall that he had a half-dozen boxes of Marlboro Lights stuffed in the door pockets of his car, all of them empty.

Simons is extremely sensitive -- you can make him cry -- and extremely masculine. When I saw him a month later, in Vienna, where he was finishing a five-year stint as visiting fashion professor at the University of Applied Arts, he said that, with people with whom he is close: ''I really like that it becomes very romantic. Not only in a relationship but also in the friendships.''

He went on: ''People who don't know me look at my world as something very hard-core, and I don't feel it that way. It's not what attracts me. We go to the sea, five or six of us, and we're all in pajamas with candles around and watching movies. O.K., maybe we're watching a good movie, but we also watch trash movies. We've never really been that kind of group that goes to the scenes where all the cool people hang out.''

The Belgian designer Veronique Branquinho, who was Simons's girlfriend between 1995 and 2000, agreed: ''In a way, he's very much a family man. He likes to be at home. He's very cozy about his family.''

Branquinho first met Simons as she was riding her bike past a cafe in Antwerp where Simons was sitting with Olivier Rizzo, a stylist who, like De Potter, had gone to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, which had produced the Antwerp Six, a seminal group of designers that includes Dries Van Noten. Simons, who comes from a rural town near the Dutch and German borders and is the only child of a career soldier and a housecleaner, had studied industrial design at a university in Genk. Like a lot of Belgian teenagers in the 80's, he watched ''Top Pop,'' a weekly Dutch television show that featured stars like David Bowie and Blondie, and he went through a goth phase, a problem at his Catholic school. ''It was very hard-core,'' he said. ''Priests, priests, priests. If one or two of your friends dressed differently, which of course in the 80's was black, you couldn't stand together on the playing field.'' (Significantly, a number of Simons's collections have alluded to school uniforms and priests, and the casting of many of the same models reflects an early obsession with repetition.) But his childhood was unrebellious, even wholesome, and it wasn't until the late 80's -- when he started going more to Antwerp and did an internship with Van Beirendonck and met Rizzo -- that he thought about becoming a designer.

De Potter says that Simons was intimidated by the Antwerp academy crowd: ''He was scared to death of us.'' Simons says he was especially unnerved by Branquinho, whom he used to see around Antwerp but never spoke to until that day she rode past the cafe. ''Veronique was one of those girls that I was just, you know, always attracted to but was very far away, and it was unreachable,'' he told me. He asked Branquinho if she would be in an eight-millimeter movie he was making of his second collection, with just some friends hanging out in a house and Rizzo holding a cheap light; and it was on that night that Simons and Branquinho began their relationship, sharing a bed with Rizzo and another boy, because it was too late to drive back home.

''He was a very serious guy compared to me,'' Branquinho said. ''I was a girl who was going off a lot -- rock 'n' roll, a wild life. This was not his world. He was very intrigued by it, so he surrounded himself always with people who were connected to it. But it was never his world.'' Yet it's remarkable, as she points out, that Simons not only was able to connect with someone like Robbie Snelders but also could see merits that maybe weren't evident in 1997, when Snelders, then 20, a scruffy kid in ripped army pants, a follower of the Sisters of Mercy, was recruited one day to be in a show. Today, Simons says that Snelders is one of the most important people in his company. ''He knows how important it is to have a couple of people around me -- 'family' is not the right word -- who are very intimate,'' Simons said. ''At a certain point he said to me, 'I know you don't ask me, but as long as you want to work with me, I will be with you.'''

Simons can be very persistent, even ''possessive,'' according to Linda Loppa, the head of the fashion department at the academy, who was a mentor to Simons. ''He wants to know everything from the people around him.'' Branquinho said: ''He's very demanding. It's all about love as everything or nothing.'' Yet the flip side to this devouring nature, Rizzo suggests, is a responsiveness to things that creates intense loyalties. Rizzo recalls the day he graduated, in 1993, from the academy: ''I had just done my final show, Gaultier was in the jury and afterward Raf came backstage. He was crying. I was kind of comforting him. Raf is a very emotional person. He gets touched really deeply by things. He said to me: 'What you did was really amazing. So fantastic, and I want to be part of this world.' And I said, 'You will be part of this world.''' But, as Rizzo says, Simons's hammering actually betrays a virtue: ''What you felt from Raf was that he was a very social guy but wasn't someone who got very close to a lot of people, and when he really liked someone he wanted to go to the bottom of it. He has a general interest in people. In that sense he was very into knowing everything.''

Simons doesn't present his first collections for Jil Sander until early next year. But while the chance to do both men's and women's clothes is exciting and will bring him some long-overdue recognition as well as financial security after years of running his own company rather close to the bone (often with as few as three people), it will not change his basic values and ideas. I once asked him if it bothered him that he wasn't better known. He answered: ''I have done what I believed in. So what is recognition? For me, recognition is about people you have a relation with. Somewhere, in some city in America, someone is wearing my clothes, and I'm happy with that.'' Simons, who has a three-year contract with Sander, is also approaching the job -- and his relationship with Prada's chief executive, Patrizio Bertelli -- with the attitude of someone who has nothing to lose; unlike Sander and Helmut Lang, he has not sold his name. ''People are not going to judge my work and my label and me as a person if it's not going to work out,'' he said. ''And that makes it more convincing for me to go for it.'' But it's pointless to speculate about whether he'll get along with Bertelli, who manages, it seems, to tick off everybody, including his wife, the designer Miuccia Prada; once, in a product meeting with her, he reportedly said that he would urinate on her handbags. Simons says that his own dealings with Bertelli have been cordial, but he observed: ''I think if he would listen a little bit more, or a little longer, it would be a good difference for him and the people who work with him. I can't complain, because when I was there he really took his time. But I feel it more with the other people in the room. Those people are all there to help him.''

Snelders, though, worries for Simons. He worries that the things that have so far been unimportant to Simons will find a way of entering his small, protective world -- maybe change it altogether. ''It sounds scary, but he needs to be left alone,'' Snelders told me. ''He spends way too much time on the phone doing interviews, daft stuff. The phone is constantly ringing, like, for nothing. He needs a new mobile phone.''

The central question about Simons, and the one that has gone unanswered, is: How did he do it? How was someone without training or signs of genius able to project such a remarkably accurate portrait of urban youth? And not only that, but how was he able to give the idea by his choice of music and use of large public spaces that youth was also a monumental event?

Simons was 25 when he settled in Antwerp, too old to get lost in the club scene that had influenced many of his contemporaries. Surrounding himself with people like Snelders certainly helped. (In that sense, Simons, for all his calculated distancing from the fashion world, is a seductive personality -- and he knows it.) But this doesn't explain everything. Although a number of writers have ascribed Simons's powers to intellect, he actually embodies a different quality. He looks at everything very simply and directly. This was the quality that Lionel Trilling identified in George Orwell, and that he celebrated in his introduction to Orwell's ''Homage to Catalonia.'' Trilling argued that Orwell was able to see the Spanish Civil War for what it was by virtue of not being a genius. ''We admire geniuses, we love them, but they discourage us,'' he wrote. ''They are great concentrations of intellect and emotion, we feel that they have soaked up all the available power, monopolizing it and leaving none for us. We feel that if we cannot be as they, we can be nothing.'' In fashion, Karl Lagerfeld and John Galliano are geniuses, but they don't communicate the sense, as Simons does, that we can understand our world just by looking at it. We feel we have to be as smart and cool as they are. Simons, the coolest of designers, tells us differently.

When I saw Simons in Vienna, I mentioned that I had seen his shows described as many things -- dark, aggressive -- but never romantic. Though a romantic is surely what he is. For a moment there was a look of surprise in his pale blue eyes, and then he said: ''Because very few people go into the heart of things. They look at the surface, but I hunger for an ideal world always. Before I came to the city, I had also had the feeling that I grew up in an ideal world. My mom and my dad, what they have together is amazing. Then there's my village, with the grass fields and the woods and the animals.'' This has been the perspective all along, from the eight-millimeter movie through to the recent collections -- of someone looking at contemporary life from the vantage of his own humble background and wanting to make it not merely right but better. Not many designers would have the instinct to call a collection History of the World, as Simons did in July 2004, and have the models descend on a pair of huge escalators or print on their invitation the names of people and things that had changed the modern world, as if to suggest that fashion -- or any one of us -- could do the same. How many people would make such a moral claim in a cynical age?

This summer, as I stood with Michael Roberts, the fashion editor of The New Yorker, outside Galliano's men's show, he recalled a collection that Simons had presented in 1998, on a series of concrete overpasses that were reflected, like the surrounding Paris neighborhood, in a huge futuristic silver ball. The show opened with ''Space Oddity,'' by David Bowie, and at first, Roberts said, the audience didn't know where to direct its attention. ''We were all sitting there, waiting and wondering, Where are the models going to come from?'' he said. ''I'm looking through the haze of this warm summer evening, and then, in the distance, about three overpasses away, I see this line of boys in black suits walking along, like union workers, one after the other. It dawned on me that this was the show. Then they disappeared and came along the nearer overpass. It was just unbelievable. So eerie and so beautiful.''

I said that in looking back at all of Simons's shows, it seemed to me that they didn't date. The clothes from the 90's still looked relevant today. Roberts agreed. I wondered how that was possible.

''I don't know,'' he said. He thought for a moment as we watched people file into the Galliano show, which would feature a New Orleans-style band and many orange-robed Hare Krishnas. Finally, Roberts said, nodding, ''Because he was right, and we were all looking away.''

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

The dynamics of advice.

Wisdom and youth rarely coexist.


Wall Street Veterans Find New Gig as Counselors --- As Investment Banks Become Acquirers, Companies Look Elsewhere for Merger Advice

By Jed Horowitz Dow Jones Newswires
775 words
16 September 2005
The Wall Street Journal
(Copyright (c) 2005, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)

ROBERT GREENHILL was settling in for the Fourth of July weekend at his Nantucket, Mass., retreat when he got a call from Jeff Fettig, chairman and chief executive of Whirlpool Corp.

Mr. Fettig needed to quickly cobble together a bid for rival Maytag Corp. but couldn't use his usual adviser, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., because it was part of an investor group also pursuing Maytag.

Whirlpool eventually prevailed over two other suitors, Wall Street veteran Mr. Greenhill added another notch to his advisory belt -- and any one paying attention saw a prime example of the rapidly changing dynamics of Wall Street: While investment banks still mint millions helping corporate chieftains buy each other's businesses, mergers-and-acquisitions advice is no longer the crown jewel of their operations.

Instead, firms like Goldman and Morgan Stanley make much more from buying companies themselves or even trading bonds and stocks -- often of companies in transition -- for themselves and clients, including hedge funds.

"The M&A business is no longer a profit center at most firms," says Roy Smith, professor of finance at New York University's Stern School of Business and a former partner at Goldman. These days, he says, M&A is valued mainly because it attracts ancillary assignments like underwriting.

Indeed, Goldman and Morgan Stanley, which compete for the top deal-making slot, have dismantled M&A as a separate business unit and sprinkled their bankers among other corporate-finance groups. The companies say this has ended years of internal battles over who gets credit for generating business as well as costs.

Goldman booked advisory fees of $800 million in its first half -- less than half of its total investment-banking revenue and a sliver of the $7.2 billion it captured from trading and merchant banking -- investing for its own account -- or the $2.3 billion of revenue from asset-management and securities-services fees. The breakdown is equally stark at Morgan Stanley. Advisory fees in its first half totaled $611 million; revenue from trading stocks, bonds and commodities was $5.7 billion.

Meantime, other firms have bowed out altogether. "We have managed well without M&A," says Robert Diamond, president of Barclays PLC, who shed Barclay's deal unit after he took control of the firm's U.S. investment bank in 1996.

Contrast this with the M&A heyday of the 1980s and 1990s: Mr. Greenhill, Morgan Stanley's Eric Gleacher, Lazard Freres & Cie's Felix Rohatyn, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.'s Peter Solomon and deal makers Bruce Wasserstein and Joseph Perella were legend, their deals held in awe.

Many of these aging bankers -- Mr. Greenhill is 69 years old; Mr. Rohatyn, 77; and Mr. Solomon, 66 -- now run their own shops. They also preach the virtues of offering pure advice to corporate chieftains, unadulterated by other activities.

"How can you manage a hedge fund or merchant-banking fund that is buying and selling major companies and not create conflicts with clients?" asks Mr. Greenhill, who started his eponymous firm in 1996 after almost 35 years at Morgan Stanley and Citigroup Inc.'s Smith Barney.

In an initial public offering last year, Greenhill & Co. Inc. shares made their debut at $17.50. Yesterday, the company's share traded up $1.05 at $43.75 in 4 p.m. composite trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Mr. Greenhill employs 150 people, who, he says, generate more revenue per employee than deal makers at publicly traded banks. He also operates two merchant-banking funds with about $1.3 billion, but says he avoids conflicts by investing only in smaller businesses of little interest to his larger corporate clients.

For their part, the bigger firms say they can still square any conflicts between merchant banking and advisory assignments.

Goldman, for instance, said this week it advised Siebel Systems Inc. on its $5.85 billion planned sale to Oracle Corp.

Meanwhile, the old turf still looks golden to some veterans. Simon Robertson, 64, who was president of Goldman's European banking unit, resigned in August to form his own advisory shop.

And Mr. Perella, 63, who stepped down as a vice chairman of Morgan Stanley in April, sounds like he'll be following soon. "There are a lot of companies out there who want a confidant," he said recently. "In our business, the older and more experienced you get, the more valuable you are."

Linking competencies.

The question is whether one is assigning the right competency to the right party.


An antidote to neglected diseases - PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS: Alliances of drugmakers, governments and charities are reviving research into overlooked health problems, writes Andrew Jack.

1229 words
16 September 2005
Financial Times
London Ed1
Page 14
(c) 2005 The Financial Times Limited. All rights reserved

Basel may be the commercial centre of Switzerland's pharmaceutical industry, but new not-for-profit medicine groups are taking root in nearby Geneva with important lessons for drug development - and even for their for-profit counterparts.

Since 2000, the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) have been established in the city alongside the World Health Organisation's own programme for tropical disease research.

They are among a growing number of innovative public-private partnerships (PPPs) that are giving fresh impetus to the development of drugs to treat "neglected" diseases.

During the latter half of the twentieth century, political decolonisation and corporate consolidation undermined previous efforts to find cures for malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases primarily affecting the less lucrative markets of the developing world. The result was that between 1975 and 2000, just 13 drugs were developed for the WHO's list of 10 neglected diseases, which also includes leprosy and dengue.

Since the turn of the millennium, times have changed again, with fresh public pressure on governments to assist the developing world and improve its public health. But if the response by policymakers has been well meaning,it has also been largely misplaced.

Recent recommendations by governments and industry alike have focused on the need for financial incentives to create commercial markets and stimulate research and development by multinational drug companies.

Earlier this year, for example, the UK-inspired Commission for Africa called for "giving large pharmaceutical firms incentives to investigate diseases that affect Africa".

Discussions have focused on tax breaks for innovation, patent extensions conditional on neglected disease research, and "pull" incentives such as "advance purchase commitments" to motivate companies to develop for-profit drugs.

At the other end of the spectrum, some advocates have called for a fundamental overhaul of the existing patent system. They argue that the drugs companies benefit from monopoly profits while patent exclusivity is in place, but are not directing their research efforts into the areas of greatest health need.

Such calls for a radical overhaul caused Chris Hentschel, the head of MMV,to intervene in frustration at a seminar on the subject organised by Medecins sans Frontieres earlier this year, arguing instead: "Let's focus on what we know works."

An analysis published this month for the Wellcome Trust by the pharmaceutical research and development policy project at the London School of Economics suggests that he may be right. The work of MMV and similar PPPs are beginning to deliver promising results.

In the past five years alone, the study estimates that 63 drugs have entered the pipeline, with 18 new products in clinical trials.

"Everything we believed when we started out was wrong: that there were no projects on drugs for neglected disease; that big pharma wanted to work on them alone," says Mary Moran, who led the study. "PPPs work. They are cheap, effective and the best outcome for public health."

Progress has come despite the withdrawal of big pharmaceutical companies from developing world disease research. Just seven of the 12 largest groups remain involved, of which the four most visible are European - GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Novartis and Sanofi-Aventis.

The first three have created dedicated research centres costing up to Dollars 20m (Pounds 11m) a year each, while other companies have taken a more sporadic and low-profile approach.

The large drugs companies that remain active today now explicitly recognise that their neglected disease work is conducted on a "no-profit no-loss" basis. While they may have an interest in using such drugs to help win broader access to countries that may in future provide markets for other commercial products, they appear primarily motivated by corporate social responsibility and efforts to minimise their reputational risk.

But the mechanism that has allowed three-quarters of the new neglected disease drugs to emerge since 2000 is the PPP, which brings a mix of public and private skills. Alongside MMV and DNDi, the study considered the US-based TB Alliance and the Institute for One World Health. It did not consider similar work in vaccine development.

The large pharmaceutical companies are best suited to discovery, using the techniques they employ for commercial drugs. But a PPP can help them focus on the most suitable products for neglected disease patients, and provide money and links to others in academia or business involved in the process of research.

In particular, by acting as an honest broker, the PPPs have been able to foster co-operation between traditional competitors. As a result, even drugs companies no longer directly involved in neglected disease work, including Roche, Merck and Abbott, are willing to offer scientific advice or access to their libraries of compounds.

Since they often employ former drug company staff, they can also bring expertise in selecting the best "candidate" drugs. PPPs' greatest assistance comes in clinical development, drawing on staff from the public sector to bring "political cover" and experience in negotiating testing and regulatory approval in the developing world.

The 46 neglected disease drugs developed in this joint way in the past five years have so far performed favourably compared with commercial medicines, with similar timelines. At a cost of Dollars 112m to date between them, their development has also proved extremely cheap.

In contrast to their larger rivals, some smaller pharmaceutical companies are willing to try to develop neglected disease drugs as commercial products. Their lower cost base allows them to focus on medicines with sales below the threshold sought by their larger rivals.

PPPs have also proved useful in these cases, although the study suggests that the mix does not always work well. It highlights at least one case where a company was unable to agree commercial terms to enter joint development for its product with the TBAlliance.

There are two challenges ahead for the PPP approach. The first is that most of the new treatments have yet to prove themselves to completion. The LSE study estimates that eight or nine should gain approval by 2010. That may be optimistic, since some of the most advanced are "low hanging fruit" which had already been partly developed.

PPPs must yet negotiate regulatory and safety hurdles, and tackle one obstacle that hindered the previous round of neglected disease drugs: they often remained too expensive to find a market in the developing world, even when sold at cost.

The second challenge is funding. As the report points out, the term PPP is in reality a misnomer, since the partnerships sometimes work without a private partner, and very often have minimal public backing.

Philanthropy has to date been a far more important source of finance than governments, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation alone providing almost 60 per cent of all financial support to the organisations studied.

Four charities have paid or pledged Dollars 211m, while total government support is Dollars 44m. That has left the PPPs under-funded, with some clinical trials under way without sufficient money to guarantee completion.

As Mr Hentschel puts it: "For the first time in many decades, there are completely new malaria drugs in the pipeline. We are just hoping that the enthusiasm will not fade. We are not yet 100 per cent certain."

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Proxy by onion.

What's in color? Restaurant chains switch from yellow to red onions

Associated Press Writer
1,177 words
12 September 2005
Associated Press Newswires
(c) 2005. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

HERMISTON, Ore. (AP) - Bob Hale took a risk a decade ago, pulling up his yellow onions and planting red ones instead.

"Color is the new thing," he predicted -- and was promptly ignored by the farmers here, at the heart of the nation's onion belt.

He was proved right in 1997, when Pizza Hut took the plunge and switched from yellow to red onions on all its pizzas. Two years ago, Subway, the nation's largest selling sandwich chain, embraced red, saying they added a splash of color to subs.

Now, large and small chains are experimenting with the brightly pigmented onion, a highly temperamental plant that takes far more skill to grow than its yellow cousin.

Few farmers were prepared to accommodate the booming demand for reds. Which is why, if you ask for onions on your next 6-inch sub, chances are they came from American Onion, the farm Hale and his partner run here.

According to Food Beat Inc., which tracks the top 200 restaurant chains, the number of mentions of red onions on menus nationwide has grown 88 percent since 1999 -- from 229 that year to 430 in 2004.

Of the overall onion market nationwide in 2004, 88 percent were yellow onions, 7 percent were reds, up from 5 percent five years before, and 5 percent were white, according to the National Onion Association.

Fast-food chains are discovering what gourmet chefs have long known -- a dish's visual presentation is almost as important as its taste.

"Consumers, first of all, eat with their eyes," said Shirish Mehta, chief food innovations and technology officer for Dallas-based Pizza Hut Inc.

In the company's pizza lab, researchers were bothered by the fact that the yellow onion blended with the cheese. "Cheese is light in color and so a white or yellow onion doesn't show up," said Mehta.

So they did a test, putting two pizzas in front of customers -- identical but for the fact that one was topped with reds, the other with yellows. Overwhelmingly, their subjects chose the more colorful one, even though the two onions also differ in taste, with reds generally thought to be milder.

The decision to switch was a "significant investment" for the chain because red onions are pricier than their yellow relatives, he said.

The same held for Subway, which changed to red in 2003. In spite of the higher price tag, the switch was a "no brainer," said Subway's Nick Hauptfeld, manager of new product development at the company's headquarters in Milford, Conn.

After doing tests in selected sandwich stores, Subway researchers concluded that their customers chose red onion toppings to yellow 3-to-1, he said.

"Red was outpacing yellow to the point where there was no point in having the yellow anymore," said Steve Sager, who owns a franchise in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., where the two were tested side-by-side.

Last year, Burger King began using red onions in their salads. But forget finding anything other than a traditional onion on their whoppers, the chain's all-American offering since 1957.

Smaller chains, too, are giving their menus a red tint.

Shari's, a 27-year-old chain based in Portland, did away with yellow onions in its burgers, salads and sandwiches in 2002. Brueggers, a national soup and sandwich chain with more than 240 locations nationwide, uses red onions in seven of its 12 sandwich offerings.

They continue to use yellow onions in their soups; chains that have continued to use the yellow variety are mostly ones that use it inside a dish, where appearance is not a factor, such as in a bowl of Wendy's chili or inside a Taco Bell taco.

And some major chains have decided to stick with yellow.

"Appearance is certainly a key thing, but great taste is also a priority. And we found that a yellow onion makes for a better pizza," said Trish Drueke, Domino Pizza's vice president of brand marketing.

Executives at Domino's Pizza Inc., the nation's No. 2 pizza chain headquartered in Ann Arbor, Mich., said they tested red onions and found their quality and consistency were harder to assure. That may be a result of the fact that 80 percent of the nation's onion fields are still planted with yellow and the red is harder to find in bulk.

The chain has chosen to infuse its pizzas with color in other ways, such as adding bright green parsley to its recently launched Steak Fanatic Pizza, Drueke said.

The red onion's sudden popularity caught the farming industry off guard, with many farmers forced to scrounge for seeds.

Dan Miyasako, 44, inherited his father's farm in Homedale, Idaho, where the elder Miyasako had been growing yellows since the 1940s. In the last two years, he has doubled his area of reds from 30 acres to around 60 acres, hoping to meet the recent demand from grocery chains.

When he's not out harvesting or caring for his fields, he's now on the phone looking for a good pail of red seed.

"There's a real shortage of it. It's hard to get your hands on it. You can get the ugly, the not-so-pretty reds. But the real pretty -- the red wing, salsa, red bull seeds -- those are hard to find," he said.

Because the yellow onion has been by far the most popular variety for decades, seed breeders have focused most of their attention on yellow. And producing a good variety takes on average around 10 years, said Ton Van Der Velden, U.S. sales manager for Nunhems Inc., the largest onion seed supplier in America. Today, 20 percent of the company's research dollars are focused on red onions, up from 5 percent a decade ago, he said.

"You can put a red in the ground," said Bob Hale back in Hermiston, whose red onions are the only ones sold in Subway's 20,000 North American franchises for 33 weeks out of 52. "But you may not harvest it."

Back when other farmers in this town were planting the same yellow onions their fathers and grandfathers had once harvested, he and his partners at American Onion were experimenting with the fickle vegetable, trying different seeds and improving the way the red is stored.

First Pizza Hut came knocking in the late 1990s, confirming his hunch. They barreled ahead -- increasing their acreage of reds, while maintaining their fields of yellow, an onion which continues to be a staple of grocery stores and dinner plates in spite of the red's newfound fame.

When Subway was looking to fill its supply, they were ready.

"Money is made on the fringes," he said. "We had some people tell us it was crazy."

Forget angels on the head of a pin.

The real question is: how many blades can fit on the head of a razor?



Gillette's Smooth Bet: Men Will Pay More For Five-Blade Razor

By Sarah Ellison and Charles Forelle
941 words
15 September 2005
The Wall Street Journal

(Copyright (c) 2005, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)

DAYS BEFORE Procter & Gamble Co. reached an agreement to purchase Gillette Co. for $57 billion, P&G Chief Executive A.G. Lafley had a special request. He wouldn't put forward a final bid until he had tried Gillette's new top-secret razor, whose success would determine Gillette's profits for years to come.

So one day in late January, Mr. Lafley and his chief financial officer, Clayt Daley, walked out of Gillette CEO Jim Kilts' office in Rye, N.Y., clutching two razors to take home and try out the next morning.

Yesterday, weeks before P&G is due to complete its Gillette acquisition, Gillette unveiled the razor. Dubbed the Fusion, it offers five blades to the three of Gillette's current leading product, the Mach3, plus a "trimmer" blade on the back. Gillette said it expects Fusion, which will go on sale in the first quarter of 2006, to reach $1 billion in sales in its third year on the market.

Mr. Lafley had good reason to be so diligent in determining Gillette's future in shaving. Blades and razors make up more than two-thirds of Gillette's profit. But the company comes out with a new razor system only every seven or eight years. Each launch is underwritten with a huge advertising campaign, and Gillette rolls out the new blades at a hefty price premium to its predecessors. The company then gradually raises the price of its older razors to persuade men to switch to the new model.

That strategy has made Gillette's Mach3, introduced in 1998, the best-selling men's razor product of all time, used by 100 million men every day, according to Gillette. With each launch, Gillette faces skeptics who wonder how much better -- and more expensive -- a shave can get. Its advancements have even become the stuff of comedy; Saturday Night Live years ago, and the Onion more recently, parodied the perpetual move toward more blades on a single razor.

Now, for the first time in many years, Gillette is facing a small but persistent challenge from Energizer Holdings Inc.'s Schick brand. For years, Schick ceded innovation to Gillette, and Gillette brought out new products on its own schedule with little attention to competitors.

Jolted out of perpetual somnolence in 2003 by new owner Energizer, Schick beat Gillette to the punch with a four-bladed men's razor called Quattro. In the past two years, Schick has boosted its share of the market for replacement blade cartridges to 16% from 10%, while Gillette's share has dropped to 81% from 86%, according to market researcher Information Resources Inc. (IRI's data don't include sales from Wal-Mart and club stores.)

The Fusion announcement comes only weeks after Schick said it would sell a battery-powered version of Quattro, which apes Gillette's own M3Power. Gillette's Mr. Kilts dismissed comparisons between Gillette and Schick, but some analysts question how hard the company will have to work to maintain its dominance.

"Gillette may find that it costs more than expected to defend these businesses," said Constance Maneaty, a Prudential Equity Group analyst, in a research note.

To promote Fusion, Gillette is expected to spend "substantially more" than the $100 million it spent in the first year promoting Mach3, said people familiar with the company's marketing. Gillette wouldn't disclose detailed marketing plans. Peter K. Hoffman, president of Gillette's blade and razor division, said the company planned a major advertising effort that would be backed with "state of the art" in-store events.

Fusion signals that Gillette has had to drive its innovation engine faster -- the company has less time to milk the substantial capital investments that go into developing and manufacturing new razors. Gillette managed to stay at two blades for 27 years and through three major razor systems (Trac II, Atra and Sensor) before going to three blades in 1998. Almost eight years later, Gillette has skipped to five. And Fusion will come less than two years after Gillette pushed some men to leave their Mach3s in the medicine cabinet and buy a juiced-up M3Power.

Gillette says the trimmer, which is a single blade attached to the back of the razor, helps men shave under the nose, trim sideburns and shape facial hair. "You should have seen how uneven my sideburns were until this product came along," joked Mr. Kilts in an interview.

Fusion has other features, including a thin, irritation-damping blade. The Fusion comes in two varieties, manual and battery-powered. The latter vibrates, like Gillette's M3Power, but has a microchip to control the vibration rate.

Mr. Kilts said the company introduced both the Fusion and the Fusion Power at once because they couldn't ask consumers who had switched to the battery-operated M3Power to go back to a manual razor. "Most people who try the power razors can't go back," he said. That means any launch in Gillette's future will likely include a power razor.

A four-pack of Fusion refill blades will cost $12 to $13, breaking the $3-per-cartridge barrier for the first time, and commanding a premium of about a third over Mach3 Turbo refill blades. Mr. Kilts said Fusion's innovations would be more than enough to ensure "trade-up" from Mach3, and the company's research shows a 2-1 preference of consumers for Fusion over Mach3. "Men are always looking for a better way to shave," Mr. Kilts said.

The goal: temporary confusion.

The more they dwell, the more you sell.


Taste has little to do with it

A Wharton study found that the wackier the name of a color or flavor, the more likely consumers prefer the product.

By Stacey Burling
Inquirer Staff Writer

What color is Sin? How would Riptide Rush taste? What does Ionic smell like?

If you've spent an extra moment in a store aisle wondering, that was probably good for the marketers of Nars Sin blush, Riptide Rush Gatorade and Degree Ionic antiperspirant, according to new research from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

The researchers found that, in general, surprising or ambiguous names for colors and flavors made consumers - in this case, college students - more likely to prefer a product.

Wharton marketing professor Barbara Kahn's theory is that when consumers spend more time thinking about a product, they form more connections to it and end up liking it better. Trusting souls that they are, shoppers believe marketers are trying to tell them something important with a name, an assumption she traces to the way people fill in the gaps in confusing conversations. Plus, people enjoy figuring out what a name like Dublin Mudslide (Irish cream liqueur and chocolate ice cream made by Ben & Jerry's) or Gash (dark metallic red eyeshadow by Urban Decay) means. Their positive feelings transfer to the product.

"Some of these weird names were actually little puzzles," Kahn said, "so if you thought about it, you could get it."

Evocative names, said Danny Altman, founder and chief executive of A Hundred Monkeys - a naming company in California - are often better than explicit ones.

"There definitely is a component to all of this - which I think is underrated - which is mystery," he said. "Mystery in the right dosage can be a powerful force."

Maria Forte, a makeup artist for Nars Cosmetics Inc., who works at Lord & Taylor in Center City, said her company's edgy names definitely affect sales. Sin is a big seller, but not as big as another blush: Orgasm. "We have, like, 19 in stock because we go out of it so quick," she said. "Orgasm definitely sells totally because of the name."

No doubt it helps that Orgasm is a pretty color, a surprisingly subtle mix of peach and pink with gold overtones. Sin is a neutral berry shade.

Nars spokeswoman Rachael Kelley said company creative director Francois Nars comes up with both the colors and the names. "The names certainly get attention. But they become popular, and they stay popular, because of the color, and pigment, and texture," she said. Orgasm was launched in 1999.

Unilever held big, in-house brainstorming sessions to come up with scent names for two of its men's deodorants, Axe (Voodoo, Unlimited, Touch) and Degree (Ionic, Silver Ice, Cool Rush), said Allison Harmon, integrated marketing manager for Unilever deodorants.

The company wanted scent names that focused on emotions, not functional names such as pine. It wanted names "enticing enough to take the cap off and smell it," Harmon said. She's seen it happen. "Guys actually will stand with their girlfriend or with their mom in the deodorant aisle," she said, "and they'll sniff every can."

Kahn launched the study after noticing more products with unexpected or even uninformative names: Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby ice cream, Crayola's Tropical Rain Forest crayons, Hard Candy L.L.C.'s Trailer Trash nail polish. The one that stopped her was Gatorade Frost, which comes in Glacier Freeze, Cascade Crush and Riptide Rush flavors. "I remember going to buy it the first time," Kahn said, "and I had no idea what flavor Frost would be."

Kahn wondered how consumers responded. "I wanted to know what the underlying psychological process was."

She and Elizabeth Miller, who teaches marketing at Boston College, came up with four categories of color or flavor names: common (dark red or light blue), common descriptive (cherry red or blueberry blue), unexpected descriptive (Coke red or Cookie Monster blue), and ambiguous (antique red or passion blue).

They then devised experiments that measured how students responded to jelly beans and sweaters marked with various types of names.

When the students had time to think about it, they chose jelly beans with unusual names more often. When distracted, they didn't.

In the more-complicated sweater experiment, students liked the ambiguous color names when they saw the name before the color, but preferred unexpected descriptive names when they saw the color first.

One implication is that marketers might want to print ambiguous names large enough that customers notice them before the color. And, Kahn said, catalogue designers should devise layouts that encourage customers to spend more time thinking about colors.

Kahn said she thought that surprising or confusing names were most likely to work with fun products. No one wants a medicine with an ambiguous name. And companies can go too far with the weird names, she said. People will long for old catalog favorites, such as aubergine and celadon, if they think "you're not helping me at all."

© 2005 Philadelphia Inquirer and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Not lacking for creativity.

Of course, not necessarily the best of sensory associations.



1,138 words
13 September 2005
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
© 2005 Hearst Communications Inc., Hearst Newspapers Division.

To rush-hour drivers, the beggars standing mute and motionless beside Seattle highway exit ramps may be a persistent nuisance or a sign of deep social ills. But to Ben Rogovy, they were an answer.

After scrambling to create an Internet development business and engineer his own Web site for poker fans, Rogovy had lots of ideas but little cash with which to advertise them. Then, while staring at a panhandler's cardboard sign, the light bulb clicked on.

"So much traffic goes by these sign holders, I thought, `Wouldn't it be cool if they could advertise themselves and me at the same time?'" he said.

A 22-year-old economics major who tore through the University of Washington in three years, Rogovy packed his knapsack with cash, a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and three professionally printed posters advertising his venture, Then he hit the streets.

The idea was simple: Pay panhandlers a few dollars to let him attach a glossy, green PokerFaceBook ad to their own signs, and drivers scanning the beggars' rumpled, hand-lettered pleas would inevitably notice his.

Thus was born "Bumvertising," a name Rogovy has trademarked, and a concept that has suddenly won him national, even international, attention.

"I was a little nervous when I walked up to the first guy," he said. "I was expecting all kinds of questions, but the first thing he asked was, `Do you have any tape?' He understood exactly what I wanted to do."

Now several times a week the Mercer Island native steps into his four-door Mercedes, dressed in a button-down shirt, and goes hunting, as he puts it, for "good, consistent beggars." Then he makes an offer - a bit of food and water, plus $1 to $5, according to each panhandler's relative value, a determination Rogovy calculates in his head, based largely on traffic patterns. In the past month, he has hired about a dozen vagrant sign-holders.

"I am fascinated by these people, out there from dawn to dusk," he said. "It was so much untapped labor. Some of them were working longer days than I was."

In the past month, Rogovy's idea - which most of his friends initially scoffed at - has won him guest spots on a dozen talk radio programs.

"Genius," said one visitor's post on his new Bumvertising Web site. "Brilliant," said another.

Advocates for the homeless are appalled. Some have called Rogovy a "poverty pimp." Others say Bumvertising is craven exploitation. Nicole Macri, co-chairwoman of the Seattle/King County Coalition for the Homeless, objects most of all to the sensationalism of using a name that "capitalizes on negative stereotypes."

To such objections, the resolutely sunny entrepreneur merely shrugs.

"Possibly insensitive," he said. "Definitely accurate."

Rogovy was always a wheeler-dealer, even in high school, snapping up the maximum 12 tickets he could buy for the Mariners-Yankees series in 2001, then hiring a friend to buy 12 more and selling the $35 tickets for $150 each.

He camped out all night to buy a $200 Sony PlayStation2 the morning they went on sale, and unloaded his videogame console for $650 a few days later when prices had peaked. "Not a bad night's work for a high school kid," he said, grinning.

But Doug McKeehen, 46, who spent two years living on the streets, is appalled by the younger man's entrepreneurial zeal. The day McKeehen was reduced to begging for change by standing on a road holding a sign was among the worst in his life, he said. It left him utterly demeaned.

"Of course a person who's got a low self-esteem is going to take this guy's money," he said. "But I find what he's doing extremely offensive - I wonder if it's even legal."

It is. Elaine Fischer, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Labor and Industries, called Rogovy's venture "interesting," but said it did not appear to violate any work rules, mostly because the vagrants aren't, technically, working. "It's certainly unique, but I don't think it rises to the level of employment," she reasoned. "Our sense is that these people are doing what they were doing anyway so the way we see it, there's no clear employer-employee relationship."

Good news, perhaps, to the would-be entrepreneurs who have contacted Rogovy from around the country, asking if they may co-opt his idea. A radio station in Flint, Mich., plans to advertise itself using the homeless there, he said, and a man from Las Vegas is thinking about doing the same to publicize his own Web site in the Nevada desert.

"I think it would be great if this went mainstream," Rogovy said. "Think of all the commerce it would create that wasn't there before."

Standing at the entrance ramp to Interstate 5 in the University District at Northeast 50th Street and Fifth Avenue Northeast, Zack Peters appeared to care little about Rogovy's intentions or their implications. He held a cardboard sign that read: "Homeless natives. Please help. God bless," and shook the young man's hand, nodding enthusiastically at his offer of $5, a package of Fig Newtons and a bottle of water.

"I like this, I do," said Peters' girlfriend Deanna Quiroz, sitting next to him on the pavement. "I did good that day I was out here holding his sign. Usually it takes me an hour and a half to make a dollar, but when he tapes that on, I always make money."

Rogovy believes this is because passers-by feel more generous toward panhandlers who demonstrate even a minimal work ethic and a man in a bright red sport utility vehicle seemed to confirm this, giving Rogovy and his new hires a hearty thumbs-up, though he sped away without handing over any cash.

"People think I'm exploiting them," Rogovy said, walking back to his car. "But I think they're happier now than they were 10 minutes ago. Zack's going to be out there, holding a sign anyway. I don't know if I'm socially insensitive but it seems pretty logical to me."

Placements in placements.

The more the merrier...


Products placed in other products' ads ; Songs in Starbucks commercials get boost

Theresa Howard
687 words
12 September 2005
USA Today
© 2005 USA Today.

NEW YORK -- Product placement, already common in TV programs, movies and video games, now is being seen in yet another medium: commercials. Marketers are pushing products in other marketers' commercials.


*Music and iPods. Getting a new release featured in the snappy, dancing ads for the hot Apple digital music player is much sought after by music labels, and for good reason. Pop songs featured in the commercials quickly became popular downloads at iTunes.

*Mazda and NBC. The car company helped foot NBC's bill to hype new shows for the fall season with the network's "First Look" campaign. Mazda cars star in promos for the NBC shows.

*Carl's Jr. and more. Whether it's a Bentley getting a sultry wash by Paris Hilton or the movie trailers, video game promotions and Motorola cellphone ads at the Carl's Jr. website, cross-promotions are hot with the burger brand.

The notion of product placement in commercials for other products is a natural evolution in a market already saturated with commercial messages, says an alarmed Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert.

"Now that ad creep has crept into every nook and cranny of our culture, advertisers are looking to colonize their own commercials with more commercial messages," he says. "It's part of the downward spiral of commercial culture."

Marketers, however, see it as a smart way to leverage promotional spending bucks. That's what Warner Music Group had in mind when it landed its recording star Michael Buble in an ad for ready-to-drink Frappuccino, distributed by Pepsi and marketed jointly by Pepsi and Starbucks.

The ad, by Fallon, shows an office worker stressed out by colleagues, computers and tasks. She feels refreshed when she pops open a bottle of Frappuccino and is swept away by Buble, who appears in the ad, and his music.

The placement was orchestrated to coincide with release of Buble's second CD, Feeling Good. Starbucks stores sold an exclusive version of the album, including Come Fly with Me, the song in the Frappuccino ad, as a bonus track. The song was a track on his first album, but Warner music marketer Tami Rittberg thought consumers who bought the CD in Starbucks stores would want the song on the new CD. And they did.

"It sold like gangbusters," says Rittberg, vice president, strategic marketing for WMG's Warner Bros., Reprise and Sire Records labels.

Rittberg says the combination of the Frappuccino TV ad on the air and availability of the CD at Starbucks stores resulted some weeks in nearly half of Buble's CD sales being made at the coffee chain.

The ad also boosted sales of Frappuccino. Sister brand DoubleShot, an espresso and cream drink, also had success with a musical ad. In it, Hank starts his day with a can of DoubleShot. Fans help him throughout his day by chanting "Hank" to the tune of the Gary Glitter stadium anthem, Rock 'n' Roll Part Two.

Sales for both products climbed 20% over the summer, says Tracey Doucette, vice president and general manager of North American Coffee Partnership, the Pepsi-Starbucks joint venture.

"We've historically found that music is a great way to connect to consumers," she says.

"Frappucino is a smooth rejuvenating break in the day. Who better to take a break with than Michael Buble? In the case of Gary Glitter, that's motivating music. The music matched perfectly with the audiences."

The ads for the two products were a match with consumers surveyed by Ad Track, USA TODAY's weekly poll.

Of those familiar with the ads, 26% like the ads "a lot," vs. the Ad Track average of 21%. Despite the sales results, fewer rated the ads "very effective," with 14% giving them the top mark, vs. the 21% average.

"The advertising is entertaining," Doucette says. "It delivers the message and connects with consumers and their lives."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

A willing subject.

September 11, 2005
Does the Truth Lie Within?


The Accidental Diet

Seth Roberts is a 52-year-old psychology professor at the University of California at Berkeley. If you knew Roberts 25 years ago, you might remember him as a man with problems. He had acne, and most days he woke up too early, which left him exhausted. He wasn't depressed, but he wasn't always in the best of moods. Most troubling to Roberts, he was overweight: at 5-foot-11, he weighed 200 pounds.

When you encounter Seth Roberts today, he is a clear-skinned, well-rested, entirely affable man who weighs about 160 pounds and looks 10 years younger than his age. How did this happen?

It began when Roberts was a graduate student. First he had the clever idea of turning his personal problems into research subjects. Then he decided that he would use his own body as a laboratory. Thus did Roberts embark on one of the longest bouts of scientific self-experimentation known to man - not only poking, prodding and measuring himself more than might be wise but also rigorously recording every data point along the way.

Self-experimentation, though hardly a new idea in the sciences, remains rare. Many modern scientists dismiss it as being not nearly scientific enough: there is no obvious control group, and you can hardly run a double-blind experiment when the researcher and subject are the same person. But might the not-quite-scientific nature of self-experimentation also be a good thing? A great many laboratory-based scientific experiments, especially those in the medical field, are later revealed to have been marred by poor methodology or blatant self-interest. In the case of Roberts, his self-interest is extreme, but at least it is obvious. His methodology is so simple - trying a million solutions until he finds one that works - that it creates the utmost transparency.

In some ways, self-experimentation has more in common with economics than with the hard sciences. Without the ability to run randomized experiments, economists are often left to exploit whatever data they can get hold of. Let's say you're an economist trying to measure the effect of imprisonment on crime rates. What you would ideally like to do is have a few randomly chosen states suddenly release 10,000 prisoners, while another few random states lock up an extra 10,000 people. In the absence of such a perfect experiment, you are forced to rely on creative proxies - like lawsuits that charge various states with prison overcrowding, which down the road lead to essentially random releases of large numbers of prisoners. (And yes, crime in those states does rise sharply after the prisoners are released.)

What could be a more opportunistic means of generating data than exploiting your own body? Roberts started small, with his acne, then moved on to his early waking. It took him more than 10 years of experimenting, but he found that his morning insomnia could be cured if, on the previous day, he got lots of morning light, skipped breakfast and spent at least eight hours standing.

Stranger yet was the fix he discovered for lifting his mood: at least one hour each morning of TV viewing, specifically life-size talking heads - but never such TV at night. Once he stumbled upon this solution, Roberts, like many scientists, looked back to the Stone Age for explication. Anthropological research suggests that early humans had lots of face-to-face contact every morning but precious little after dark, a pattern that Roberts's TV viewing now mimicked.

It was also the Stone Age that informed his system of weight control. Over the years, he had tried a sushi diet, a tubular-pasta diet, a five-liters-of-water-a-day diet and various others. They all proved ineffective or too hard or too boring to sustain. He had by now come to embrace the theory that our bodies are regulated by a "set point," a sort of Stone Age thermostat that sets an optimal weight for each person. This thermostat, however, works the opposite of the one in your home. When your home gets cold, the thermostat turns on the furnace. But according to Roberts's interpretation of the set-point theory, when food is scarcer, you become less hungry; and you get hungrier when there's a lot of food around.

This may sound backward, like telling your home's furnace to run only in the summer. But there is a key difference between home heat and calories: while there is no good way to store the warm air in your home for the next winter, there is a way to store today's calories for future use. It's called fat. In this regard, fat is like money: you can earn it today, put it in the bank and withdraw it later when needed.

During an era of scarcity - an era when the next meal depended on a successful hunt, not a successful phone call to Hunan Garden - this set-point system was vital. It allowed you to spend down your fat savings when food was scarce and make deposits when food was plentiful. Roberts was convinced that this system was accompanied by a powerful signaling mechanism: whenever you ate a food that was flavorful (which correlated with a time of abundance) and familiar (which indicated that you had eaten this food before and benefited from it), your body demanded that you bank as many of those calories as possible.

Roberts understood that these signals were learned associations - as dependable as Pavlov's bell - that once upon a time served humankind well. Today, however, at least in places with constant opportunities to eat, these signals can lead to a big, fat problem: rampant overeating.

So Roberts tried to game this Stone Age system. What if he could keep his thermostat low by sending fewer flavor signals? One obvious solution was a bland diet, but that didn't interest Roberts. (He is, in fact, a serious foodie.) After a great deal of experimenting, he discovered two agents capable of tricking the set-point system. A few tablespoons of unflavored oil (he used canola or extra light olive oil), swallowed a few times a day between mealtimes, gave his body some calories but didn't trip the signal to stock up on more. Several ounces of sugar water (he used granulated fructose, which has a lower glycemic index than table sugar) produced the same effect. (Sweetness does not seem to act as a "flavor" in the body's caloric-signaling system.)

The results were astounding. Roberts lost 40 pounds and never gained it back. He could eat pretty much whenever and whatever he wanted, but he was far less hungry than he had ever been. Friends and colleagues tried his diet, usually with similar results. His regimen seems to satisfy a set of requirements that many commercial diets do not: it was easy, built on a scientific theory and, most important, it did not leave Roberts hungry.

In the academic community, Roberts's self-experimentation has found critics but also serious admirers. Among the latter are the esteemed psychologist Robert Rosenthal, who has praised Roberts for "approaching data in an exploratory spirit more than, or at least in addition to, a confirmatory spirit" and for seeing data analysis "as the opportunity to confront a surprise." Rosenthal went so far as to envision "a time in the future when 'self-experimenter' became a new part-time (or full-time) profession."

But will Seth Roberts's strange weight-control solution - he calls it the Shangri-La Diet - really work for the millions of people who need it? We may soon find out. With the Atkins diet company filing for bankruptcy, America is eager for its next diet craze. And a few spoonfuls of sugar may be just the kind of sacrifice that Americans can handle.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A memoir by one of the greatest business journalists of this past half-century.

link to original article.

This most recent issue of Fortune has as many good articles as a year's worth of issues.



My 51 Years (and Counting) at Fortune

She has stood toe-to-toe with imperial CEOs, exposed major frauds, and played some serious bridge with Buffett. Now our intrepid reporter takes on her toughest subject yet.

Tuesday, September 6, 2005
By Carol J. Loomis

"A poet writes one haiku in a lifetime," the 17th-century Japanese poet Basho said. "A master writes ten." A similar rule prevails in journalism, where even the best reporters are lucky to produce a handful of truly classic tales. How, then, to categorize Carol Junge Loomis? In her half-century career at Fortune, Carol has written so many critically important articles that her peers have honored her with not one, but three "lifetime achievement awards." If you press Carol on the secret of her success, she will allow that it has something to do with "hard work." There isn't a document she won't read, a footnote she won't explore, a call she won't make to get a story right. (For a recent feature on the bankrupt Bethlehem Steel, she read 50 years' worth of annual reports.) But her colleagues know where these business-changing, Congress-stirring stories really come from: her conscience. Carol is the soul of this magazine-and the extraordinary tale that follows shows why. Here, then, are a reporter's notes. —The Editors

The date was March 21, 1975, an anchoring, if incidental, fact I have unearthed from a half-century of files. My afternoon task that day was to interview the vaunted chairman of International Telephone & Telegraph, Harold Geneen, then 65, about the tumbling, embarrassing fortunes of his company's subsidiary Hartford Fire Insurance. That morning, though, I was huddled for the umpteenth time over Hartford's thick annual report to the state of Connecticut, a document nicknamed, because of its statistical density and the color of its cover, the "Yellow Peril." Then came a phone call, from an ITT public relations man I knew. "I have a favor to ask," he said. "Geneen figures you know all about him, but he knows almost nothing about you. So I've been told to dig up some information." He slid to the point: "I decided the easiest way to get what I need—but don't give me away—is just to ask you."

I laughed and recited the details of my uncomplicated life: I'd grown up in a rural Missouri town called Cole Camp, population 1,000; earned a journalism degree at the University of Missouri; worked for two years at Maytag in Newton, Iowa, editing a magazine sent to the company's dealers; and come to FORTUNE 21 years earlier, rising from an entry-level job to interviewing men like Geneen. The PR man went away happy, while I fell to wondering how Geneen, a lightning rod for controversy then but still widely acclaimed as a manager, would use his new knowledge. He'd go at it in a sophisticated way, I thought, finding some spot along the line to coolly drop in a reference to my background.

A few hours later, keyed up for the occasion, I walked with a FORTUNE reporter into Geneen's Park Avenue office. The boss rose from a deep couch, wearing a too-large suit meant to disguise the fact that he was a small man. He shook hands jovially, and then kerboom! "Well, how are things in Cole Camp?" So much for sophistication, subtlety, nuance.

As we moved into the interview, with two PR men in tight formation around Geneen, I began to feel that another part of his image wasn't standing up well. He was famous for knowing every detail of ITT's businesses. But on the subject of Hartford, he warned that he might come up short: "Don't get too technical," he said, "or you'll get me on the phone."

Nonetheless, you can't begin to comprehend property and casualty insurance without knowing how "reserves" for claims are booked and the managerial dangers of underestimating them. So I pushed Geneen about Hartford's persistently poor reserving, as revealed in "Schedule P" in the Yellow Peril. He'd never heard of Schedule P; he didn't know much about Hartford's reserve insufficiencies at all. I left the interview knowing I had some news. Our story, "ITT's Disaster in Hartford" (May 1975), laid out the intricacies of the insurer's problems. An ITT auditor claimed that investors understood the complexities of reserves. Hardly, I thought, and wrote, in italics: "Harold Geneen does not really understand these matters himself."

Next: The Road to FORTUNE

The Road to FORTUNE

How I got to a confidence level where I could say that—how I attained "a sufficient lack of humility," as one of my editors said of himself—is of course the story of my getting from Cole Camp to more than 50 years at this magazine. Maytag, I'd say, set the stage. I took that job, with its accompanying paycheck, as a second choice; I really wanted to somehow work for Time Inc., whose big magazines, Time and Life, I'd learned to admire in journalism school. But Maytag, to my everlasting gratitude, got me interested in business. It didn't hurt that among Newton's few single guys ("There are not too many legible young men here," said a malaprop artist in my office), I dated one who avidly read FORTUNE. It didn't hurt, either, that I read a transcript of a marvelous speech by a FORTUNE editor. So I expanded my Time and Life ambitions to include FORTUNE.

By late 1953, going to New York on vacation, I had lined up several Time Inc. interviews—and what they did was give me a lifelong appreciation of the importance of luck in getting a job. I was seeking to be a "research associate," the company's name then for reporters, but the women who saw me at Time and Life politely sent me packing. I think the head of research at FORTUNE might well have done the same. (At least, when I ultimately met her, she looked me over as if I didn't quite fit.) But she was on leave when I showed up, and the person who greeted me was her assistant, Mary Johnston. We hit it off.

A month later, with me back in Newton, Mary wrote, saying that she now had an opening. "The next time you're in New York," she said--that was a hoot!--she hoped I'd come by. I got the letter when I came home from work on a Thursday, called her on Friday morning, and was at FORTUNE when its office opened on Monday. And, at 24, I was hired.

The mathematically inclined among you will not be surprised to hear that, almost 52 years having passed, I am now 76. Perhaps you will think also that you don't know many 50-year lifers. Well, most college grads go to work in their early 20s and retire no later than 65, which does not get you to 50 years. Me--I hit 65 and kept working. As that may suggest, I like it here. My daughter, however, says that when people ask her why I stay at FORTUNE, she has a ready reply: "Has it occurred to you she might not be able to get another job?"

The FORTUNE I came to work for on Jan. 25, 1954, was a monthly, with pages significantly larger than what you're reading; "art" covers that did not relate to stories inside; and a newsstand price of $1.25. (We'd be at $9 today if we'd matched the CPI; instead we're a bargain $4.99.) We had an editorial staff, counting secretaries and typists, of about 80 people.

Those of fame on the masthead included managing editor Hedley Donovan, who a decade later succeeded Henry Luce as Time Inc.'s editor-in-chief ("It must be like being elected Moses," wrote a friend to Donovan); William H. (Holly) Whyte, author of the FORTUNE series about corporate life that became a bestseller, The Organization Man; labor writer and, later, prominent sociologist Daniel Bell; and Charles J.V. Murphy, who wrote the Duke of Windsor's memoirs and would have done the Duchess's as well had she not fired him for lacking a "young enough mind."

The celebrated photographer Walker Evans was also on the staff. But his collaborator on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee, had by then left, as had noted writers Archibald MacLeish, Dwight Macdonald, and John Kenneth Galbraith. Still another alum was Alfred Winslow Jones, who did not become a star as a FORTUNE writer but, as A.W. Jones, later established a hedge fund that kick-started an industry now up to $1 trillion in assets. An article I wrote about Jones in the 1960s, when he was largely unknown, helped make him famous.

These editors and writers shared one distinction: They were men. It was assumed throughout the Luce empire that men wrote, and women, paid less of course, assisted them as reporters and fact checkers. There were rare exceptions: When I came, FORTUNE had Katharine Hamill, white-haired then, who was turning out excellent stories that often dealt with what I'd call "soft" subjects, like "women as investors." About the general division of duties, meanwhile, there was no rebellion then among the women of Time Inc. and, as I recall, not even much chatter. Things were the way they were.

Certainly I was in no mood to revolt. From the minute I got to FORTUNE, I loved my job. I knew myself to be a virtual dunce about business, and I was wide-eyed about how much I was learning. The people I worked with were terrific, certainly including our impressive, engaging managing editor, Donovan.

Indeed, everything about the paternalistic magazine emporium that was Time Inc. thrilled me. On my first day, I toured the Morgue. That was the apt name for the library, which housed the vast collection of beige expandable folders—organized by subject, person, and company—into which millions of press clippings and files from correspondents had been stuffed. Everything dated from the early 1920s, when Luce and Briton Hadden had founded Time Inc. So when you wanted to know about Wall Streeter Charlie Merrill, for example, you'd call for his bio file and Merrill Lynch's company file. Or if you happened, as I did, to have a relative who had a bio folder—mine was my mother's brother, Brigadier General Homer Case—you'd steal a look when you visited the Morgue. I'd periodically hear, in fact, that the Morgue was being weeded of useless files. And then I'd check on Uncle Homer, and there he'd be.

In my first eight years at the magazine, from 1954 to 1962, I had three different jobs. The first was working on departments (now expunged) in what we called the back of the book. Reporting an item about the heads of air-conditioning companies for one of these departments, Businessmen in the News, I learned from an editor that profits were more important than sales. Wow! Short pieces we did about entrepreneurs introduced me to such characters as Howard Head, a stubborn engineer who'd financed his Head Ski Co. with poker winnings and who kept trying to tell us what to write. Occasionally I'd also work on a "superface": a full-page picture of a CEO (though that acronym was not then in use) facing one page of text.

There was also Products and Processes. My first assignment at FORTUNE, in fact, was to attend a press luncheon about a new germicide made of chlorine. Writing my parents on my first day of work about that imminent event, I said, "With my extensive background in germicides, I know I will be a big hit at the luncheon." (It turns out that my mother, perhaps even more awed than I was about the adventures of her only child, saved every one of my letters.)

In those early days, the importance of accuracy was burned into me. I wrote home about being "worried sick" about a possible error in a picture caption: "They impress you so with accuracy here," I said, "that you get almost physically ill when something like this comes up." Thankfully, that dreaded error did not creep in. But I have never recovered from error anxiety. I think I remember every mistake I have made in an article—and will mention one later that was particularly embarrassing.

A "Pretty Shrewd Deal"

Another milestone of my first days at FORTUNE was my entry into the stock market. I don't recall that in Cole Camp we exactly knew about stocks. On the rare occasions when my family talked about business, the subject was Kansas City's Boss Pendergast and his potential for muscling my dad's small gravel-and-sand operation. But at Maytag I learned a little about the market, and I came to FORTUNE in 1954 determined both to become an investor and to pursue a theory I had that the stocks of companies we wrote up went on to do well. My first day, though, I found out that we were not permitted to invest in a company until one month after an article about it had reached subscribers. I cooled my heels.

Precisely one month after we'd published a piece about the real estate company Webb & Knapp, I went into a Merrill Lynch office and announced to a startled registered rep that I wanted to buy 200 shares of the stock, then trading at a princely 13/16ths of $1. The company was so speculative that the RR had to get the office manager's okay. I tucked this treasure away for two months, then sold at 14, making a profit after commissions of $62 on an investment of $162.50. I congratulated myself in a letter home, calling this roundtrip a "pretty shrewd deal."

After two years of working on short items, I was promoted in 1956 to the bigs: middle-of-the-book articles. That meant I was assigned, with a writer, to spend up to two months, or even longer, on a single story—traveling if necessary, which was often the case. Most of all, this work required each researcher to adapt to each writer's style of working. One writer, a gentle soul named Bob Sheehan, liked to have his researcher sit by him (sometimes into the night, while your plans for dinner evaporated) as he literally wrung his hands trying to come up with the next sentence.

Another writer, John McDonald, who authored Alfred P. Sloan's My Years With General Motors and such famous stories as "Strategy in Poker, Business, and War," rarely came to the office in the daytime. Instead, he now and then took researchers to the racetrack, and in fact turned one close friend of mine, Nancy Bryan, into an excellent handicapper. Meanwhile, our celebrated chief economist, Sandy Parker, never came to the office, at any hour, because he suffered from agoraphobia and seldom left his East Side apartment except to frequent the excellent restaurants nearby. If you worked with Sandy, you made the trip to his apartment or perhaps got a high-priced lunch.

FORTUNE's practice of having writers and researchers travel together—which lasted until the early 1980s, when the magazine got serious about cutting costs and sent the writers out solo--produced at least one marriage and who knows what other romancing. When I joined the magazine, the term "sexual harassment" was decades away from invention. Still, we had one writer (married) who was notorious among the researchers for having a style of work that drove him, so it seemed, to make a pass at every researcher he traveled with. We researchers discussed among ourselves how to deal with this. My response, when my turn came, was to slap him. Somehow he managed to get past that trauma and write a first-class story, whose title I will omit.

On another memorable occasion, in 1956, I worked with Bob Sheehan on a big feature about IBM. At its outset, we met with the company's head PR man, Ted Rowe, at Manhattan's Laurent restaurant to plan interviews with the Thomas Watsons, senior and junior, and other executives. Discussing the senior Watson, then 82, Rowe seemed on edge. Then he was suddenly called away to the phone. Returning, he said, "Mr. Watson has died." He added, "I imagine this will mean you do not want to go ahead with the story." On the contrary, said Bob, it made him want to speed ahead.

Weeks later, as we reviewed our pictures of Watson Jr., then 42, we saw that his handsome, patrician features were drawn. I recall managing editor Duncan Norton-Taylor saying, "This is not the face of a businessman; it is the face of a poet." Bob Sheehan's piece, "Tom Jr.'s IBM" (September 1956), began with Bob's firsthand report on the funeral and closed with a saying of Watson Sr.'s I had spotted in an IBM office: "It is harder to keep a business great than it is to build it."

Four IBM regimes later, I wrote several stories about this corporate icon's descent from greatness. One of them ("IBM's Big Blues," Jan. 19, 1987) began with a quote from its then-newish CEO that came to seem deeply poignant: "There have been only six chief executives of IBM," said John Akers, the sixth. "I hope that when my tour is over, people will look back and say, 'He deserved to be among them.'" That was a dashed ambition. As 1992 ended, I was bluntly writing, "He hasn't done the job. For eight years, which by now seem an eternity, he hasn't remotely done it" ("King John Wears an Uneasy Crown," Jan. 11, 1993). On Jan. 26, Akers was pushed out by his board.

In 1958, after two happy years in the middle of the book, I was promoted to another job: assistant to Mary Johnston, who had been made chief of research. Less interested in numbers than I was, Mary gave me the responsibility for supervising the data collection for our new and wildly popular FORTUNE 500. We had begun to publish our list in 1955, and I had actually played a cameo role in compiling some of its data. But we had no clue then that we were establishing one of the great brand names in the world. We caught on fast—and by 1957, when I became closely involved with the list, we were treating it like the gold it was. For me, the 500 was a crash course in accounting, a subject I liked immediately.

One of my other duties as assistant chief of research included reading copies of unending notes that had been typed up for the writers. I have a distinct memory of only one thing I read in them, this item being the product of reporting going on in 1961 for a Wall Street series. Interviewing a Kidder Peabody vice president named Bill Ruane (a much-admired money manager today and also a friend of mine), our writer asked whether a securities analyst, to be good, must be based in New York. "I don't think so," said Ruane. "The best analyst I know lives in Omaha." The notes did not indicate whether our reporting team thought to ask who this paragon was. But I stuck Ruane's remark away in my mind, thinking that maybe someday I'd find out.

A Break in the Wall

In the middle of our Wall Street series, something stunning happened to me. I was called into the corner office of managing editor Norton-Taylor and told that he wished to promote me to the writing staff. My first assignment, he said, would be a piece for the series (which ran as "You May Be Missing a Bet in Bonds," September 1962). After the series ended, Dunc went on, we would be starting an investment column, and I would be one of its regular writers.

Katharine Hamill, still our only woman writer, was near retirement then. To promote someone from the research staff would break the Henry Luce mold: Men wrote, women did other jobs. Moreover, Norton-Taylor, a conservative who deplored newfangled things like airplanes and telephone area codes, was an improbable revolutionist. But I had once filled in as a Businessmen in the News writer and done okay. Dunc also knew of my interest in the stock market (though he probably didn't know about Webb & Knapp). Was there also some political correctness at work? Maybe a little: Years later I saw the memo in which he told Donovan, then Luce's deputy, that I would become one of the writers of the new Investing column. It said I wrote clearly, could learn style, and by the way, it wouldn't hurt to have a woman's name on the column.

Personal Investing began in January 1963 and was a challenge for me, since I had to get up to speed simultaneously on writing and the market. About some subjects, I was memorably naive. Interviewing expert Franz Pick about gold stocks, I expressed astonishment upon learning that U.S. citizens, legally barred from buying the metal itself, found ways to do it anyway. "What are you?" asked Pick. "A mental virgin?"

Personal Investing also required me to write now and then about futures. I didn't think I should opine about something I had no experience with, so I opened a commodities account at Merrill. I at first made small amounts of money—the worst thing that could have happened to me, because it made me think I knew what I was doing. And then, in 1967, I flamed out selling silver short. My loss, gulp, was $13,176—a cruel 75% of my annual salary!

There was a silver lining. When Hillary Clinton's winning adventures in commodities became famous 27 years later, I was able to write a piece, "Confessions of a Female Commodities Speculator" (May 2, 1994), that poked fun at her and me. I reported also that after my debacle I had joined Commodities Anonymous, and indeed, I have never since gone near a commodities contract.

The investing piece I wrote that probably had the greatest impact was "The Jones Nobody Keeps Up With" (April 1966), describing the hedge fund run by our onetime writer A.W. Jones. A Wall Street friend had told me about Jones, a scholarly, sometimes pompous sort who had largely, to his satisfaction, escaped press attention. But I went to my first interview, with Jones's lawyer, Lester Kissel, not really understanding hedging. Kissel gave me a breezy explanation, and I pulled out a line that has long served me well as a journalist: "I'm sorry, I know I should have understood that, but I didn't. Could you please explain that once more?" Later Kissel told a friend of mine that he suspected, at that moment, that Jones's hedging and leveraging techniques were about to be thoroughly described in print. In fact, after our story appeared, all manner of Wall Streeters wanting to imitate Jones used our piece as an unofficial prospectus. Even today we get many requests for copies of the article.

In another postscript to the story, Jones offered me a job. I said no to the offer--making the judgment that I was cut out to be a business journalist, not a Wall Streeter. Still later, after I had taken a break from the Investing column to do two major stories about the Securities and Exchange Commission, I had another call about a job, from Manny Cohen, chairman of the SEC. He asked if he could submit my name to the White House as a candidate for commissioner. I told him I had a husband and two small children in New York and couldn't even consider such a proposition—appealing though it was. Today, of course, many young women, presented with such a chance, would try to grab it. In the 1960s most women (or at least this one) just weren't there yet.

Enter Buffett [Stage West]

Earlier I mentioned a particularly embarrassing mistake I had made--and there it was, in the A.W. Jones article. Referring to the few other hedge funds and investment partnerships that then existed, I named Omaha's "Buffet Partnership" as one. Oops, it's Buffett—with two "t's." My chagrin was particularly great because my husband, John Loomis, had only shortly before, in 1965, met Warren Buffett, then not famous at all. They met because John, an institutional salesman in those days for a Wall Street boutique, Faulkner Dawkins & Sullivan, had seen a reference to Buffett in the press and had concluded he should pay him a sales call. My amazement has always been that Warren, who has never derived his investment ideas from securities salesmen, saw John. But he did, and they got along. John mentioned that I worked for FORTUNE, and Buffett (who has said he might have been a journalist had he not chosen investing) found that interesting.

John came back from Omaha saying, "I think I just met the smartest investor in the country." Right away, I recalled those old interview notes remarking that the best analyst in the country lived in Omaha, and said, "Oh, that must be the fellow Bill Ruane was talking about." Next, just as 1966 was ending, Warren asked John and me to have lunch in New York with him and his wife, Susie. I got my first look then at the phenomenon that the Buffetts were—Susie (who died last year) because of her beautiful, caring spirit and Warren because of his brilliance. I realized he knew everything about business I'd like to, and he sized me up as someone unusually interested in learning. John and I were so impressed by Warren that we soon bought shares in his company, Berkshire Hathaway (our lowest cost basis per share is $173), and have therefore benefited from its tremendous rise in price (to $83,000 recently). Leaving aside one trade that John made in 1965, we have never sold a share.

Since those 1960s days, Warren and I have shared many business, journalistic, and social experiences. We regularly play bridge (mostly on the Internet), and I am on the board of the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation. I have edited his chairman's letter in the Berkshire annual report for nearly 30 years. We also talked for eons about collaborating on a book—with me editing what he wrote—but abandoned that plan because he didn't want to put in the work. And as a writer about business, I have gained beyond measuring because of all I have learned from him—including a knowledge of insurance accounting that allowed me to realize that Harold Geneen didn't exactly understand it. (I have also learned some absurdly useless facts. "Did you know," Warren once asked me, "that 'abracadabra' is the only 11-letter word that you can type out on the left-hand side of the keyboard?")

What sets Warren apart are two complementary aspects of his character. First, he is fascinated by everything having to do with business and investing, which means his mind is a storehouse of consequential facts (not including "abracadabra"). Second, when he brings this knowledge to bear on a question, he is supremely rational—unencumbered by the emotional baggage that so many businesspeople and investors bring to their decisions. That means, for example, that he has the patience to sit indefinitely with multibillions in cash ($45 billion now) until the right opportunity comes along.

Since this magazine can recognize a valuable contributor when it sees one, Warren has written (or we have adapted from his letters and speeches) six FORTUNE articles. One, published in late 1999 (Nov. 22), just months before the bubble burst, argued that investors should lower their expectations, which by now everybody has. Warren's last FORTUNE article, "America's Growing Trade Deficit Is Selling the Nation Out From Under Us" (Nov. 10, 2003), worried presciently about an economic problem that only today is causing general alarm.

In the meantime, I have dealt with the sticky challenge of writing about a famous friend whose stock I also happen to own. How do you do that? On the other hand, if you're the business writer who knows more about this fellow than any of your competitors, how do you not do it?

I have answered these questions by staying away from doing major articles about Warren and Berkshire except on occasions when it made unarguable sense for the magazine—which has been the case four times. In those instances, I determined that (a) there was indeed a story that hadn't been told (unusual, given how much has been written about Warren), and (b) I could probably, because of knowing the ground so well, tell it better than another FORTUNE writer could. The last of these four articles, a part of our Most Admired Companies package in 2001, was "The Value Machine" (Feb. 19, 2001), which centered on how Buffett was vigorously buying companies, not stocks. Naturally, in all the pieces, I have conspicuously included the fact that I am a friend of Warren's and a shareholder in Berkshire.

"Frivolous Little Smith Girls"

At FORTUNE in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I progressed from the Investing column to feature stories—and generally grew up as a writer, particularly one who specialized in financial and often "Oh, the pity of it!" stories. (The opposite variety is "Oh, the wonder of it!") As a feature writer, though, I was hardly an instant success. I took a break from the Investment column in 1965 to do "Should Companies Promote Their Own Stocks?" (December), and it was lame.

I came out of that story, though, realizing that I had not done nearly enough reporting, and I turned into an information junkie, bent on extracting every fact I could from interviews and documents. I have never met a document I don't like—wills, privately published books, "yellow perils," SEC filings of all kinds—which is why one of my managing editors has referred to "that toxic-waste dump she calls an office." Inevitably, I finish my reporting with way too much information to use. But then, how do you know what you don't need to know until you know it?

Although in these early days there were very few women business writers, I experienced little discrimination. There was one corker of an exception. In late 1970, a young FORTUNE staffer called the Economic Club of New York to say I would be FORTUNE's representative at an upcoming dinner at the Waldorf. She was summarily told, "Women are not allowed." That got me on the phone with the club's executive director, Dwight Eckerman. He said the club wanted to stay clear of "any frivolous little Smith girls who are looking for a free dinner and the chance to spend an evening with 1,200 men in black tie." My joke is, I then told him I didn't go to Smith, and he let me come. But in truth I began a lengthy campaign against the club—writing indignant letters for two years and ultimately waging an unsuccessful lawsuit—that contributed to its eventual decision to open its doors to women: reporters, guests, and members.

If I generally escaped discrimination, I was deeply familiar with another kind of pressure: trying to balance career and family. By 1967, I had a husband of seven years, a 3-year-old daughter, a new son, a suburban house—and a job that often kept me working past midnight. I used to say that nothing seemed quite finished: My stories weren't finished (I have trouble with deadlines), my kids weren't quite finished, and certainly my house wasn't finished. But I'll give FORTUNE great credit for being an early adopter: In 1968, long before anyone was talking about flextime work for mothers, my managing editor, Lou Banks, allowed me to begin taking off summers to be at home. My kids have grown up, of course—and seem quite "finished," by the way—but I still take that extra time off.

Getting It Wrong About Reed

In any case, I guess I was juggling things okay in the 1960s, because late in the decade I was elected to the Board of Editors, a FORTUNE-peculiar institution (defunct today) formed mainly to salute deserving writers who didn't care to be editors by giving them a grandee title. I was helped to mine by the fact that Wall Street was reeling under back-office problems, and I had become the designated hitter on that subject. In "Big Board, Big Volume, Big Trouble" (May 1968), I described the New York Stock Exchange's insuperable difficulties in handling trading volume that had skyrocketed—to an amazing average of 12 million shares a day! The daily average this year, so far, has been 1.6 billion shares.

Doing another Wall Street story, "The Unbelievable Last Months of Hayden, Stone" (January 1971), I met Sandy Weill for the first time. He was thin then—see his picture for proof—and I have since followed him closely, through thick and thin. By my count, I have done 15 articles, long and short, in which Weill has been the principal, or a main, character. And as a lead actor, he has never really changed: He is unconstrained by convention—ready to do, as we once said on a cover, "whatever it takes."

My articles about Sandy included one written when he was out of work, "sanford weill, 53, exp'd mgr, gd refs" (May 12, 1986)—my all-time favorite headline, which I remember my editor, Geoffrey Colvin, and me composing at 1 a.m. That piece about Weill led to his taking over Commercial Credit, which then morphed into Travelers, which in turn morphed into Citigroup.

Suddenly—as if we'd all climbed up a tower by separate steps—I was covering the odd couple of co-CEOs, Weill and Citi's John Reed, another man I'd written about for years. Not that I had been too perceptive there: I said in a 1980 cover article ("Citicorp's Rocky Affair With the Consumer," March 24) that he had little chance of becoming CEO. I also said that Reed, when he took over a big job at age 35, "looked, as he possibly always will, about 12." Reed didn't relish that comment. Even so, he kept me on his interview list, such as it was (his Puritan ethic told him it wasn't seemly to play the PR game). Any interview was to be treasured, though, because he is a journalist's delight: both intellectually interesting and constitutionally unable to be anything but candid.

Well, that's a slight overstatement. When I reluctantly asked Reed in 1991 whether the rumors that he was involved with a flight attendant on Citi's payroll were true, he chose not to answer. He and the flight attendant were married three years later. On the business side, meanwhile, Reed had great strengths as a visionary but many failings as a manager. When it came to the 2000 showdown between him and the street-smart Weill, it was Sandy who won.

The Intimidator

If we go back to the early 1970s, I wrote two articles that attracted particular attention. One was "How the Terrible Two-Tier Market Came to Wall Street" (July 1973), which suggested—not as forcefully as I came to wish—that the Nifty Fifty stocks could not continue to soar above the market. The other article was "An Annual Report for the Federal Government" (May 1973), which wrenched Washington's fairyland figures into a corporate-reporting format. Two years later, as a result of the article, Treasury Secretary Bill Simon and the head of Arthur Andersen, Harvey Kapnick, formed an advisory committee, on which I served, and launched a U.S. annual report that is still published. In number of readers, it no doubt ranks well below the Department of Agriculture's crop statistics. But for the record, at the end of September 2004, the U.S. had assets of $237 billion and liabilities of $4.4 trillion.

Another 1970s article, "The Three-Year Deadline at 'David's Bank' " (July 1977), gave me a tale to tell about Chase's then-CEO, David Rockefeller, who was struggling to improve the company's rotten record before his scheduled retirement in 1980. Interviewing him at Chase's downtown Manhattan offices was a bit overwhelming: Here was John D.'s grandson sitting across from me and a virtual wing of the Museum of Modern Art hanging on the wall. During my interviews, some of Chase's executives allowed that their boss, though always courteous, was indeed intimidating—just enough to keep them from speaking up about needed changes. Omitting names, I repeated those observations to Rockefeller, who found them mystifying. "Do I scare you?" he asked. And I replied, "Yes, a little." I wrote this exchange into my first draft. My longtime favorite editor, Dan Seligman, immediately told me he'd found an error in my manuscript. I may have paled. Said Dan: "I don't think you were scared at all." The story we published includes Rockefeller's "Do I scare you?" but not my answer.

The Women Rise Up

As these stories were trundling out in the 1970s, there were also immense changes going on at FORTUNE. One of them concerned the role of women on the staff. Our managing editor at the time, Lou Banks, had worked at depicting progress on this front: In words he surely came to regret, he wrote in late 1968 that in the previous 12 months we had increased the number of women editor-writers "by 200%"—that is, from one (me) to three. But the fact is that the great bulk of the women journalists of Time Inc. knew themselves to be second-class citizens and were reaching the point of mutiny. They were then pushed over the edge by the uprising of Newsweek's women, who in early 1970 filed a discrimination complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

A friend on the FORTUNE staff, Marion Buhagiar, soon came into my office, closed the door, and as I sat in surprised amazement, told me that legal action was also brewing at Time Inc. She asked for my support. But as we talked, I began to question whether more effort shouldn't be put into negotiating with management—I learned from Marion there'd been little of that—before things got as serious as a lawsuit. That night, at a Greenwich Village meeting of the women, I made the same case. I got cold looks. This train was set to leave the station. In May 1970 the attorney general of New York State, working with a complaint drafted by women at Time Inc., sued the company's magazines for sex discrimination.

Shocked and angry, but also detesting the idea of hearings, Time Inc.'s management ultimately made a formal commitment to refrain from discriminatory acts and to open up all jobs to women. Each magazine also made specific changes aimed at leveling the playing field. FORTUNE began a program to train women as writers and promoted some senior researchers to "associate editor," previously a writer's title. In a change I thought of particular economic value, researchers who made a "material contribution" to an article (and almost always, researchers did) were given a credit line. If you look at the bottoms of columns in this issue's articles, you will see many credit lines—and you can know that they are a result of the rebellion of women in 1970.

The Men Move In

But of course if the job of writer was unequivocally to be made available to women, then the job of researcher must be equally open to men. So Mary Johnston began to add bright young men to what came to be called the reporting staff. One of them, Alex Stack, worked with me on "One Story the Wall Street Journal Won't Print" (August 1971), a piece about the paper itself. Later, a friend at the Journal, a publication whose record of promoting women was even worse than Time Inc.'s, told me that heads turned as Alex and I walked through the newsroom and people realized I was—not merely in age—the senior member of the team.

Mary Johnston, a great judge of journalistic talent, proceeded in the 1970s to hire five researchers who would go on to become managing editors of FORTUNE or their chief lieutenants—and only one of them, Ann Morrison, was a woman. What about today? Is it harder for a woman to become a high-up editor of this magazine than it is for a man? Going by the statistics of who makes it, I'd say it is. But when it's writers up for discussion, I feel that women face no institutional roadblocks, either in getting hired or in succeeding. As Wyndham Robertson, a former FORTUNE assistant managing editor who was the first woman to hold that job, has said, "We'd hire an orangutan if it could write."

The other riveting drama at FORTUNE in the 1970s was top management's move to change the magazine from a monthly to a biweekly. That idea had been floated even before Luce died, in 1967. But as the 1970s wore on, the business side of FORTUNE began campaigning insistently for the change, believing that it would increase the magazine's profitability (respectable then, but volatile) and strengthen its competitive position.

Time Inc. editor-in-chief Hedley Donovan himself started to believe that in the hectic business world, the big, monthly FORTUNE, with its panoramic stories, came across as formidable and easy to put aside. To appear more approachable, we reduced the magazine's page size in 1972 and added more short articles to the mix. But Donovan continued to wonder if a more cosmic change wasn't essential, particularly because friends of his admitted that they didn't regularly read FORTUNE.

Most of our editors and senior writers, including me, opposed a biweekly. Journalists don't welcome massive change any more than do the businesspeople we write about. At a meeting of the Board of Editors in 1977, I said I had tried to think about the biweekly decision as a business problem. I called it "a risk-reward decision in which we are playing double or nothing." But what I was always thinking to myself is that at heart we were talking about the very sad event of killing a magazine. Yes, there would be a new FORTUNE, but no matter how good the biweekly was—and it became excellent—the magazine I went to work for in 1954, the one we call "the old FORTUNE," would have died.

This, though, was another train ready to leave the station. On the late 1977 evening at which Donovan, a hero of mine then and now, was to announce the biweekly at a party for the staff, I hung around my office to pack up for writing an International Paper story at home. When I finally got to the boardroom on the 34th floor, Hedley was just beginning to speak in his deep voice to a crowd that was spilling into the hallway. I realized then that I couldn't bear to listen, and I turned and left.

I obviously didn't quit. In fact, when I look at the stories I've written since the big change, in January 1978, some I like the most are three-pagers that were close to the news, such as "AT&T Has No Clothes" (Feb. 5, 1996). But the biweekly continued to run lengthy, deeply researched articles—if fewer of them—and for the most part that's what I kept on writing. There was, for example, "The Leaning Tower of Sears" (July 2, 1979). The reporter working with me on that story was a smart 28-year-old named Rik Kirkland, who later became my ninth managing editor. In writing "The Madness of Executive Compensation" for our July 12, 1982, issue—note that long-gone year, 1982—I hoped I might help turn the tide of greed. We all know how well that worked.

In 1982 I also wrote the first of my many stories—"Behind the Profits Glow at Aetna" (Nov. 15)—that exposed the machinations of companies working to show earnings they didn't really have. The Aetna article, which I'd tumbled to because of a footnote in the company's annual report, sparked an SEC investigation that forced the company to restate its earnings. Next were two pieces about American Express's insurance subsidiary: "How Fireman's Fund Stoked Its Profits" (Nov. 28, 1983) and "The Earnings Magic at American Express" (June 25, 1984). The second of those articles, which was the result of an anonymous letter sent me in a Fireman's Fund envelope, caused Jim Robinson, CEO of American Express, particular consternation. He and an army of people tried to convince me—unsuccessfully—that it was perfectly fine for Fireman's Fund to have reported handsome, rising earnings in the 1980-83 period when truly its profits were shriveling.

Among the emissaries Robinson sent was Willkie Farr & Gallagher lawyer Kenneth Bialkin, whom I'd known since his 2-year-old daughter and mine rode the swings together in a Manhattan playground. In the article, I quoted Ken as saying, "If you tell me that it's improper under all circumstances for management to want to smooth out their results, adjust the level of risk, or to smooth out reserves, or to move figures from one period to another—if you tell me that's under all circumstances illegitimate, I'll tell you you don't understand the way American business is conducted." (Today Ken, now with Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, is one of the three lead lawyers working for Hank Greenberg, ex-CEO of AIG, who has famously said that regulators have injudiciously been trying to turn "foot faults" into "a murder charge.")

The problem was that I did understand how American business was being conducted, and I didn't like it. So I kept on spotlighting whatever misbehavior I could find. "The $600 Million Cigarette Scam" (Dec. 4, 1989) told the story of trade-loading, also known as channel-stuffing—the practice of inducing your wholesalers to buy in this quarter what they would have naturally bought in the next—which RJR's tobacco division had covertly done for years to manufacture earnings. New management, though, in the person of CEO Lou Gerstner and tobacco chief Jim Johnston, had publicly sworn off the practice, which is how everybody learned of its previous existence.

A reporter, Mark Colodny, and I then interviewed each of the men, and Mark began to notice how feverishly Johnston was smoking. Mark counted nine cigarettes in two hours! That journalistically irresistible fact made it into the story. Later, RJR's PR head, Dave Kalis, who in his previous job, at American Express, had also endured my Fireman's Fund interviews, handed me what I think was intended as a compliment (and that he may even have meant): "Jim doesn't normally smoke that much. I think you probably don't realize how much pressure an interview of yours puts on people."

I remember a call I got not long after the RJR story from a friend of mine who'd recently retired from a high-up job at Bristol-Myers Squibb. "Everything you said in the article about the folly of trade-loading is true," he said. "It's uneconomic, it's a habit almost impossible to break, it's like smoking dope. But I'll tell you this—the next time some sales organization needs to stuff the channel to make its numbers, I bet it will do it." And as it happens ... 14 years later, in 2003, Bristol-Myers was revealed to have been channel-stuffing for years. For its sins the company has since been fined $150 million by the SEC and is paying $300 million to shareholders in connection with a Department of Justice deferred-prosecution agreement.

One person with whom I argued in the mid-1990s about "managed earnings" was GE's Jack Welch, a man I admire in many ways. As we sat in a conference room near the top of the GE Building in Rockefeller Center, I told Jack that I thought GE's well-known practice of "smoothing" its earnings was terrible. He said, in that high raspy voice of his, that he couldn't disagree more. "What investor would want to buy a conglomerate like GE unless its earnings were predictable?" he asked. It was an argument about which neither of us would budge.

As a digression, I will report another, lighter argument I had with Jack. One day in 1999 while my husband and I were vacationing on Sea Island, I learned from then-managing editor John Huey that Welch was about to call me to protest a change we were planning to make in GE's industry listing in the FORTUNE 500. Up to then, we had categorized GE as an electrical equipment company; because its revenues had changed in composition, we were now planning to list it as a diversified financial services company. Huey, the coward, had told Jack we were just following "Carol's rules" and that only I could bend them, which was malarkey.

Jack called, nonetheless, and put up a fervent, how-can-you-possibly-do-this argument. "Why do you care so much?" I asked. Because, he replied, young engineers would no longer want to work for GE if they thought it a financial services company. A comical picture formed in my mind: A Purdue engineering student goes to the library, sees that FORTUNE has slotted GE in financial services, and shouts, "Never in a million years will I go to work for this company!" Truth is, Jack probably hated the change because he knew price/earnings ratios for financial services companies were lower than what GE was selling for. I told Jack that the rules were the rules. And we designated GE a diversified financial services company.

A "Split" Cover

So back to serious stuff, which is a pretty good way to describe my article "Lies, Damned Lies , and Managed Earnings," published in 1999 (Aug. 2). There had been plenty of big scandals by then—Cendant, Rite Aid, Waste Management, Sunbeam, McKesson HBOC—but no one connected with them had gone to jail. In fact, looking for CEO felons to list in a table, I had to settle for small-fry companies. But the first two sentences of my piece said, "Someplace right now, in the layers of a FORTUNE 500 company, an employee—probably high up and probably helped by people who work for him—is perpetrating an accounting fraud. Down the road that crime will come to light and cost the company's shareholders hundreds of millions of dollars." Plainly, I goofed on costs. I should have said "billions of dollars," since that was the toll of the scandals soon to surface: Enron, WorldCom, HealthSouth, Adelphia. Otherwise, I feel good about the soundness of those sentences (and the ones that followed). I felt satisfied also that this story was to be promoted by a strong cover created by our art and photo people. It showed a large, heavy pot of smoking, boiling water in which a gray bookkeeping ledger was perishing. The cover talked about "cooking the books," and said, "Cross the line, and you may do time." A rendition of that cover hangs on my office wall today, overlooking the toxic waste.

Come to think of it, some readers never saw that cover. Those were the days of the Internet bubble, and in FORTUNE's halls there was a competing cover, titled ".com fever." This version showed a Harvard MBA striding purposefully along a railroad track—I never quite got that image; was he about to hop a freight train?—heading toward a job with a website. And what do you know? My editors decided that FORTUNE would for the second time ever do a "split" cover, in this case meaning that newsstand buyers would get the Internet image and subscribers would get the cooked books. For those of you who missed the cover the first time around, it's shown here at the top of the page.

Irrational exuberance, of course, wasn't limited to the dot-com world. Blue chips had their folly too. For some time I'd wanted to pursue a story attacking the notion that big companies could keep turning out 15% earnings increases year after year. To my puzzlement, I couldn't get managing editor Huey, a great journalist with a superb story sense, interested in the piece. The situation changed when John moved up to editor of the FORTUNE/Money group in early 2001 and Rik Kirkland became FORTUNE's managing editor. Rik quickly scheduled the story, which ran as "The 15% Delusion" (Feb. 5, 2001). A bit of immodesty here: Bob Eckert, CEO of Mattel, has called that piece "my all-time favorite business article ever." And Huey's reluctance? What I heard eventually is that he basically disagreed with my thesis, believing instead that really effective managers like Welch and Time Inc.'s own Don Logan could somehow keep the 15% going. Asked for his thinking now, editorial director Huey responded, "I have since gotten religion and conceded the error of my ways. Duh!"

One sad footnote to the bubble days, this one having to do with the Morgue: With the arrival of the Internet, and with the company's increasing determination to bear down on costs, Time Inc.'s vast collection of bio and company files were moved to storage in Pennsylvania. You could still get the folders (though Uncle Homer's file had by then finally bit the dust), except that it took time to retrieve them. Then, one day in 1998, I called for the company file on American International Group and was met by, first, silence and, second, "I'll get back to you," from the librarian on the line. The person who called next was the head of the library, who confessed in enormous embarrassment that all the company files—this priceless resource—had burned in their storage site and that she somehow hadn't gotten around to telling the FORTUNE staff of the loss. I may have shed a couple of tears that day (as I may be doing now, just from writing this). Luckily, the bio files did not burn, and to this day I use them.

Poison Pill

If you will permit me to grossly stretch a point, I will say that the banishment of the Morgue's files to storage resembled what happened to Time Inc.'s magazines in 1989. That was when Gulf & Western's Marty Davis sought to take over Time Inc., and in defense, we hurtled ahead with our planned merger with Warner Communications, which was headed by the egregiously compensated Steve Ross. While that outcome was still in doubt, Jason McManus, then Time Inc.'s editor-in-chief, hosted a lunch for maybe a dozen of the company's senior writers, including me. He reported, with satisfaction, that it appeared Davis would be repelled. Getting mainly sour looks, he asked for our thinking. Expressing an opinion that I knew was shared by many others in the building, I said I did not want to see the magazines pushed down into the bowels of any big, sprawling company. I added a specific worry: "The situation is worse for FORTUNE than for the other magazines because we write about business and need to be free of conflicts about what we say. Any new business the company gets into creates problems for us."

Point noted, perhaps, but certainly not taken. With the creation of Time Warner in 1989, the magazines went from their premier spot in the old company to underground storage in the new. So today Carl Icahn wants to see the publishing operations—Time Inc., that is—spun off into a separate company. I certainly would not care to see such an enterprise be run by Icahn, whom I got to know while doing a TWA tale, "The Comeuppance of Carl Icahn" (Feb. 17, 1986). Any man who can turn standard airline food into substandard food is not someone you want running a magazine. But his idea of a separate publishing company? Gets my vote!

I say that, even though I cannot complain that the 1989 merger affected my work in any way. Twice I wrote biting articles about cable TV's John Malone ("The Enrichment of John Malone," Nov. 15, 1993, and "High Noon for John Malone," Jan. 13, 1997). Those pieces not only took me into Time Warner's TV cable neighborhood but also left me shooting bullets at a man who controlled major amounts of Time Warner stock. To my knowledge, no one in top management interfered in the least with those stories.

Doing the AOL Math

For FORTUNE, the world grew crazier still on Monday, Jan. 10, 2000, when Time Warner and AOL announced they would merge. We had exactly one cycle—ten working days—until an issue closed, and everyone knew we'd have to be dead-solid perfect in what we said. My assignment, unsurprisingly, was to look at the financial prospects for the merged companies. Starting off, I had no opinion about that matter. But I took the precaution of asking Huey to reassure me that no holds were barred in this project. He did so.

When we closed the story well after midnight on the Friday of our closing week, the title was simply "AOL+TWX=???" (Feb. 7, 2000). But the "deck" just below had the killer punch: "Do the math, and you might wonder if this company's long-term annual return to investors can beat a Treasury bond's." The last two sentences of the piece, for which my editor, Tim Smith, thought up exactly the right closing words, spoke of the colossal difficulty the merged company would have in making its $280 billion market cap grow: "It will be like pushing a boulder up an alp." If you need a reminder, the market cap in late August was $83 billion. (A ten-year Treasury bond extant at the merger date has been returning 6.5% annually and has vaulted in price besides, while a Time Warner share has lost 60%.)

Some people have asked me whether it wasn't tough to write that story. Tough, yes, in the sense of hard work. But not tough in the sense of my having any reservations about arguing my conclusion: that this merger was headed for trouble. I think the assignment might have been very difficult for a young writer looking forward to a career in the company. But I knew I was going to be able to say what I thought, and for sure I wasn't going to get fired. Think of the newspaper headline: time warner fires veteran fortune writer for bashing merger. No, that wasn't in the cards. What was, though, was widespread surprise that we'd be so unrestrained in what we wrote. Said Disney's Michael Eisner, in essence, to Huey: "I always thought all that talk about editorial independence at your company was a lot of baloney. I see now that it isn't."

I have since done two other articles about the merged company, and both have surely stung. The first, "AOL Time Warner's New Math" (Feb. 4, 2002), recapped the merger's terrible results for the company's shareholders. The story also included a box that reported my belief, based on good evidence, that our departing CEO, Jerry Levin, was being pushed out. Levin talked to me on that story, maintaining firmly that he was leaving of his own accord. But the conventional wisdom today, buttressed by a couple of books about the merger, is that he did not.

The other story, "Why AOL's Accounting Problems Keep Popping Up" (April 28, 2003), allowed me to do something I really like: explain a complicated subject in a way that makes it easy for the reader to understand. The complexity in this case was how AOL had fabricated $400 million in advertising revenues out of a deal it did with Bertelsmann. The SEC and the Department of Justice, fully on that case when I did the story, have since penalized Time Warner $450 million for what AOL did; Justice is still considering criminal prosecutions of individuals.

Reporting that story, I tried to interview Time Warner executives, CEO Dick Parsons included. Word came back that our people could talk only off the record. Now, I will happily do what we call not-for-attribution interviews when I am talking to some side party in a story. But over the years I have told a good many companies that were central to my articles that my interviews with them must be on the record. I certainly didn't think I could tell my own company anything but the same. So Time Warner stuck to its position, I stuck to my mine—and we did not talk.

In the wake of my Time Warner stories, the article of mine that gained the most attention was this year's piece on Hewlett-Packard. It was a relatively unusual assignment for me: I'm not a tech writer. But there are times in the affairs of tech companies (as there were when I wrote about IBM) when the story is business, not technology—and that's why Rik Kirkland asked me in August 2004 to look into HP. The impetus was the terrible quarter the company had just reported. But the real goal was to figure out what we should be saying about CEO Carly Fiorina and the famous 2002 merger she had engineered between HP and Compaq.

This story then proceeded to drive me a little batty. Despite weeks of research in the fall that included a long interview with Carly, I couldn't figure out what I had new and insightful to say. I told Rik that except for two cover stories on derivatives that I'd done in the 1990s, this HP story might be the hardest assignment I'd ever had. Then, suddenly, as I plowed through HP documents while flying again to the West Coast to interview Carly, I knew with conviction what should be said: The results that the company had just announced for its 2004 fiscal year were horrible in comparison with the detailed forecasts that the company had set forth in its February 2002 merger proxy. In other words, by HP's own standards, this merger had not worked. That was the message of "Why Carly's Big Bet Is Failing," which came out in the issue dated Feb. 7 but hit our website Jan. 22.

Carly was fired by her board two weeks later, on Feb. 8. The company's new chairman said "recent press coverage" had played no role in the ouster.

Next: Ty Cobb—Yes, Ty Cobb

Ty Cobb—Yes, Ty Cobb

That brings me up-to-date on my recollections. But I have reached this point without relating perhaps the most entertaining fact about my FORTUNE years: In 1957, I had two dates with Ty Cobb. I was 28 and he was 70. We met because he watched a quiz show, Tic Tac Dough, that I was on for four days and on which, out of years spent following the St. Louis Cardinals, I correctly answered some baseball questions. Cobb then asked me to have lunch at the "21" Club. A couple of my male friends thought that my accepting was not a good idea, perhaps believing that Cobb was somehow going to extend his base-stealing record in broad daylight at "21."

I went to lunch; I could not have made myself turn down that invitation. Cobb was smart—that fit his reputation on the diamond—and gentlemanly—that certainly didn't. At lunch he came forth with a second invitation, which was to go to the Old-Timers Game at Yankee Stadium. I couldn't turn that down either. But there was no third date. This was not a match made in heaven.

On the other hand, my joining FORTUNE may have been. Most people who work have not been as lucky as I. To have had an absorbing, worthwhile job, carried out in the company of talented, likable people bent on creating the best product possible, in a collegial environment that many a person who has come from another journalistic organization finds amazing—all that is not the average working experience. And that's why I'm still here. This is a hard place to leave.