Money makes the world go round: A blog about the business and culture of all things entertaining in the world of theater, television, film, music, art, gadgets, gizmos and other life necessities (and probably other things, knowing myself)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The New Breed of Business Personnel

Disclosure: I wrote this to explain the versatility of the new business personnel. The story is true. The court case is a real one. The defendants were sentenced in May 2011. The true name of Mr. Smith has been changed.

In a Manhattan criminal courtroom, John Smith’s name was heard but he was nowhere to be seen. The case was an insurance fraud scandal involving two wholesale jewelers from the Diamond District accused of staging a real-life version of the movie  “Snatch” – a fake $7 million fraud heist to collect insurance reimbursement.

When the insurance company – Lloyds of London – began to suspect their clients were not being entirely truthful, they brought in Mr. Smith, a well-known general adjuster of McLarens Young International.

“The real mantra of insurance is to put things back to where they were five seconds before it happened,” Mr. Smith explained in a nearly empty diner in White Plains, N.Y. a month after the two “Snatch” jewelers were convicted of insurance fraud, attempted grand larceny and falsifying business records.

“I take the claim cradle to the grave.”

Putting together pieces to a puzzle is not unfamiliar territory for Mr. Smith, a former New York City detective who now works ferreting out scam artists making false claims against insurance companies to collect millions of dollars in payoffs.

When a package from Tel Aviv arrives in New York sans it’s content of a three-carat diamond, it is Mr. Smith's responsibility to determine what happened during the trip across the Atlantic.

And when a jeweler in Boynton Beach, FL decided he no longer loved his wife and wanted to be with his lover instead, Mr. Smith revealed the man’s desperate attempts to collect a hefty amount in fraudulent claims.

And when a 7.5-carat diamond, with an estimated wholesale value of $750,000, fell out of a broker’s pocket in the crowded Diamond District exchange, Lloyds of London immediately assigned Mr. Smith to the case.

“I went to every single video camera, even ones they didn’t know they had,” Mr. Smith said.

After some street investigation, he recovered the missing diamond and the man who pretended to tie his shoes in order to confiscate it.

“Like [the “Snatch” jewelers], most of these guys are flat broke,” Mr. Smith explained. “Did these people think they’d get as much attention as they did?”

“Probably not.”

His professional title hasn’t been “detective” for more than twenty years, yet he still looks the part – white hair, thick mustache, inquiring green eyes and a big gold, NYPD band on his left ring finger, as if he were married to the job.

He drinks his coffee black.

In the late 1960s, Mr. Smith joined the police department at the age of 18 and just three years later, he caught a glimpse of a dangerous world that would eventually follow him throughout his professional life when members of the Black Liberation Army assassinated his partner and friend, Gregory Foster.

Throughout his law enforcement career, Mr. Smith was credited with solving more than 25 homicides and responsible for at least 1000 arrests. He was also chosen to protect Indira Gandhi, Hafer Assad and Teddy Kollek. But, after 19 years of numerous battle wounds and getting passed over on a number of promotions, he reconsidered his career and eventually chose a path less taken by decorative officers: investigating insurance claims with an eye on catching those who might commit fraud.

His unexpected switch to a career in business began two years before his retirement from the force. On the way to work as an officer, Mr. Smith would drive by assigned homes to verify their descriptions with insurance companies. His part-time gig earned him $25 an hour and, eventually, a long-term career.

Upon retiring from the NYPD, Mr. Smith worked for Adjustco, a third party administrator, while obtaining the necessary qualifications to officially make the switch from detective to general adjuster.

Now, instead of investigating homicides and narcotic cases, Mr. Smith examines claims of insurance, liability, fidelity and rape.

In one of the rape claims he investigated, a robber slipped pass a doorman and took an elevator to the top of the building before breaking into a woman’s apartment on 44th St. The perpetrator robbed and raped the victim and she later sued apartment management. Mr. Smith found the victim’s claim rightfully filed.

“I don’t just look at one thing,” he said. “I look at everything.”

He described the case on 44th St. as “painful” since the woman was attacked in her home “minding her own business.”

“In the ‘70's Connie Francis was attacked while in a hotel and that was a turning point in culpability,” Mr. Smith said.

His background in law enforcement has created a lack of trust amongst some defense lawyers who believe the retired detective has a bias in favor of the state and accuses him of colluding with prosecutors to “go after” their clients. 

“My counterparts…they’ve watched too much CSI,” Mr. Smith said.

“And the brokers…they get good PR if their claims are paid quickly so they’re going to blame the adjustors if [the investigation] is slow. They don’t want the adjustors coming in there…they think ‘Is he going to notify the IRS?’ The answer is, ‘No’… actually it depends.”

He does admit to speaking to cops and using past connections during his law enforcement days to get to the truth in fraudulent insurance claims.

“Sometimes you have to use the bad guys to get to the bad guys,” Mr. Smith explained. “You have to be nice to people even when they’re doing something wrong…I never know if I’ll need that guy again to help me out.”

Sunday, April 3, 2011

FAA Training Questioned

Obviously not a business entertainment blog entry - I need to change the name of this blog soon enough.  Still...enjoy:

The Federal Aviation Administration recently adopted a new data system for its aviation controller training program after an audit by the Department of Transportation found the FAA’s method outdated and inaccurate.

The modified system will more accurately track failure statistics among those in the program to help FAA sufficiently train 11,000 new air traffic controllers by the fiscal year 2019 to replace vacant positions left by retirees.

“The important thing is that we don’t change the training – we don’t look at the attrition rate and say, ‘[the program’s] too hard,’” said Paul Takemoto, a spokesperson for the DOT. “We have a strict standard that we have to adhere to.”

Nearly two weeks after the FAA adopted the changes recommended by the DOT, the organization faces new challenges in the overall sufficiency of its training program.

A recent incident involving a Southwest Airlines jet and a small plane flying dangerously close together resulted in the suspension of an air traffic supervisor and an investigation into the aviation controller training program by the National Transportation Safety Board.

“By placing this passenger aircraft in close proximity to another plane, the air traffic controller compromised the safety of everyone involved. This incident was totally inappropriate,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt in statement released Tuesday.

“We are reviewing the air traffic procedures used here and making sure everyone understands the protocols for contacting unresponsive aircraft.”

In a separate incident the week prior, a supervisor fell asleep while two aircrafts landed at Reagan National Airport. The supervisor was suspended. 

Update: Read my article about President Ronald Reagan's role on cycles of FAA staffing issues here.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Men's Web site Speaks out to Demographic and Rakes in the Cash ranked Thrillist - a men's lifestyle webzine - #93 in their list of 500 fastest-growing companies in America. 

The concept is simple...
Imagine being able to see everything – the perfect table, the right music and ambiance – that a restaurant has to offer before bringing a date in for a special evening

For young men wanting to orchestrate the perfect evening, a new Web site,, promises to help them do just that. Thrillist, a six-year-old Web site, was started by two fraternity brothers wanting to navigate single men around the city’s restaurant and club scene and impress their dates in the process. 

Acting as an insider’s guide to affordable and trendy places, Thrillist distributes a daily newsletter to more than 2.5 million subscribers and the number increases at a rate of 100,000 subscribers every month. The media company has grown at a rate of 2702 percent in the past three years.

The daily newsletters introduce something new, unknown or underappreciated, such as an underground supper club, a maker of custom shoes operating out of a warehouse in Brooklyn or a restaurant with an off-the-menu three martini lunch special.

The two fraternity brothers behind the operation – Adam Rich and Ben Lerer – decided to start the company when they moved to New York City and realized city guide publications, such as or Citysearch, weren’t written for “guys like them.”

The recent graduates from the University of Pennsylvania saw a problem with daily deal sites, such as Groupon, since they typically featured everything in the area. Rich, 31, and Lerer, 29, wanted a guide that would eliminate all the extra materials and focus solely on the targeted demographic. Other national men’s magazine had the tone, but most of the content is written months in advance with little, local information. 

The gap in the market encouraged the two co-founders to start something specifically for their demographic of educated, twenty-something, affluent, urban guys with decent-sized wallets.

“We couldn’t trust other city guides – it was written for everyone in New York,” Lerer said. “Were my mom and I supposed to have the same idea of what a romantic restaurant is?”

Rich and Lerer started with a $250,000 investment from Pilot Group, the same company who funded DailyCandy, a similar e-commerce company geared towards women.

The private investment firm’s interest in DailyCandy proved profitable when the company sold its first investment – DailyCandy – to Comcast for $125 million in 2008.

Along with its second investment, Thrillist, the equity firm invests in other corporations, such as David’s Bridal, Double O Radio and Barrington Broadcasting.

“Thrillist is getting close to the size of DailyCandy when we sold it,” said an associate at Pilot Group. “[The company] caught our attention because they are able to evolve and expand into new markets…we saw great potential in them.”

Since their beginnings in 2005, Thrillist currently has 60 employees and has expanded to 16 editions in U.S. cities and London. In 2009, the Web site raked in $7.1 million in revenues.

Their business model is simple – a daily email is sent to subscribers’ inboxes across the nation – and London – of hip places to dine, wine, play and shop. The ubiquitous email system is preferred since most working men in their mid- to late-twenties possess an email address.

“It’s been said that by 2014, there will be over 2 billion people with email addresses,” Lerer said. “Email’s not going anywhere, anytime soon.”

The use of email, an opt-in service, assures potential subscribers that anyone who has been exposed to their advertisements have consented to communications with Thrillist. Email is also an inherently viral medium, making sharing between users uncomplicated and doesn’t require one to visit a different site.

For the content itself, Thrillist ensues a team of edition editors – at least one in each of the 16 cities Thrillist covers – and senior editors to scour the cities, reach out to different venues, gather information and choose only the places they believe will most likely appeal to their audience.

“We’re no B.S…We’re speaking as guys to guys and that definitely sets us apart,“ Lerer said.

The recommendations are strictly editorial and the company does not make a profit from any places they recommend.

Recently, the Web site incorporated online video tours of many of the recommended venues along with useful information as whether the filet is tastier than the strip or which table angle provides the perfect setting for intimate conversations.

Kings County Jerky Co., a homemade jerky operation in Brooklyn, N.Y., reached out to Thrillist and witnessed an uptick in sales the day the Web site featured them.

“Thrillist is successful because they have a distinctive voice,” said Chris Woerhrle, the company’s co-founder. “They cater to an urban male audience which tend to be more liberal and open to a bit of sass, snark, impolite language…there’s no reason to worry about their tone because it’s right for their audience.”

In 2010, Thrillist switched gears from online media company to commerce corporation when they acquired JackThreads, a member-only retailer Web site. Although terms of the deal has yet to be disclosed, the digital lifestyle publication will allow subscribers access to JackThreads’ exclusive shopping community. is part of the group buying industry, offering significant discounts with numerous brands, such as Mishka, ALIFE, WeSC and Shades of Greige, through bulk purchases.

At the end of 2010, Thrillist launched Rewards, a Groupon-like program allowing local businesses to participate in deals Thrillist believes would appeal to its subscribers, such as “Unlimited Beer and Ribs at Hill Country BBQ” and “A Strip and a Strip at Robert’s and Score’s.” The latter deal offered actually includes an exotic dance alongside a strip of steak.

“It is our way of helping to curate fantastic experiences on a local level, and give another round of exposure to our audience for the participating businesses,” Lerer said.

Last June, the company launched their iPhone app and recently, the Android app became available. The idea is more of a supplement to the daily email and Web site with geo-targeted recommendations for eating, drinking and shopping, depending on where you are. The app also allows users to check into recommended places, similar to the frenzy behind Foursquare.

“We’ve also evolved into more than just the original business model…so in that respect, we’ve developed far beyond any other publication that could have previously been considered a competitor,” Lerer said. “We zone in on a very specific part of the male demographic that is untouched by any of the other email newsletters.”

The testosterone-driven editorials seem to be appealing to their target demographic; last year, Thrillist raked in anywhere between $5 and $10 million, the actual numbers are unknown since Lerer and Rich are keeping quiet.

“[Men] are probably even more graphic,” Lerer said. “We speak to guys as guys, so what may seem shocking to someone outside the demographic is exactly what builds trust within it. “

“We've never aimed to be all things to all people.”

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Weak-Tie Generation, A Strong Revolution.

A funny thing occurred to me a couple of months ago.
I was reading The New Yorker when I came across an article written by Malcolm Gladwell, a colorful writer whose pieces are oftentimes filled with so many grandiose ideas, it can be difficult to keep one thought separate from the next. I like him as a writer for that very reason.
In this particular article, Gladwell called our current generation a “weak-tie generation” due to the social networking takeovers during our lifetimes.
He toyed with the idea that great events throughout history transpired only from passion, courage and beliefs deeply rooted in the participators…passion not present in the current generation. 
He called this a “strong-tie phenomena.”
It occurred in 1960 in Greensboro, North Carolina when four dark-skinned college students sat at a lunch counter and refused to move. Less than two weeks later, news of the protest spread throughout the South and eventually, the number of protesters soared to seventy thousand.
Thirty years later, across the Atlantic, another “strong-tie phenomena” occurred when a Wall collapsed and a people was given the chance for reunification.
“Weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism,” Gladwell wrote.

He doesn’t believe the deep roots present at that lunch counter in 1960 lives in us today.

Perhaps he is right.

The printing press. The telegraph. The telephone. Magnetic spectrum in the air. The radio. And finally, Twitter and Facebook.

Like it or not, we are living in the most expressive age; so expressive that how we read into that expression is another expression of its own.

I see a graffiti wall and it's expression. I see a man sitting in the middle of household objects making music and it's expression. I see a woman dancing to a technique I can’t even pretend to recognize and it's expression.

If I meet a person and the only communication I have with them is through texting or social media, the first time we have voice on voice contact will be awkward. The mediums have switched gears and perhaps that is too much, too soon.

We have become a generation where we notify others of our daily lives, daily thoughts, and have “followers” and “friends” whom we will seldom ever share a meaningful relationship.

But it is these exact thoughts shared that have allowed for ideas to evolve and the exchanging of ideas to occur. It is these instantaneous thoughts that have given us all a glimpse of the revolution occurring in that foreign land. 

From the beginning – three weeks ago – I scrolled down the screen of my phone, scanned the headlines and I am rewarded with each move documented in Egypt. I can simply scan headlines from multiple news organizations and the revolution unfolds with every word I read. 

"[It's] so much more exciting than waiting till the end of the day to read a newspaper report. It’s also better than simply watching one news channel. Instead, I get reports from ALL the news channels — both English and Arabic," blogged Matt Duffy, journalism professor at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. 

"I can’t imagine I’ll watch any breaking news story in another fashion." 

Muslims and Christians are uniting for a change. Their change. Their revolution. And I feel connected. In contrast to what Gladwell thinks, I feel deeply rooted.  

So perhaps when Gladwell wrote his piece in The New Yorker a couple of months back, he didn’t envision the hundreds of thousands of people camping, chanting, yelling and hoping in Tahrir Square. But of course, this has happened before - in Moldova. And before that - all throughout the Middle East. 

Can it happen in America? If it must, I believe it can. I believe in our generation and I believe we are deeply rooted. Don’t let the users who tweet about relationship problems or what was happening for breakfast, lunch and dinner make you believe that you already have us all figured out. 

Accept social media for what it is, and not for what it was never meant to substitute. 

Viva la revoluciĆ³n.

Note: Follow me on Twitter @vivian_giang