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Elizabeth Song | Editing services skirt the real problem: Bad writing skills

(10/26/06 9:00am)

Last Friday, something landed in my inbox that was more disturbing than the usual array of discount Viagra ads, life insurance scams and phony stock options. The message's title read "Special Discount Coupon $7.50 off." Intrigued by the lack of blatant sexual innuendoes or get-rich-quick gimmicks, I opened it.

Top executives talk mergers and acquisitions at conference

(02/02/99 10:00am)

Mergers and acquisitions have caused corporations to change their names in the past few years faster than one can say "DaimlerChrysler." At a conference that the Wharton Management Club sponsored last Friday, several corporate executives and business leaders who have played an active role in company mergers were on hand to share their experiences with about 70 Penn students in Vance and Steinberg-Dietrich halls. "Many students come to Wharton knowing they want to do mergers and acquisitions and investment banking, but they don't know what it entails," conference chairperson and Wharton sophomore Janice Yu said. "We wanted to expose students to areas of investment banking and mergers and acquisitions in the telecommunications, insurance, biotechnology and financial sectors," she added. Yu pointed to the recent growth rate in mergers and acquisitions despite problematic financial markets in East Asia, Russia and other international locations. Executives from deal-making firms like Goldman Sachs offered a financial sector perspective on mergers, while top officials from newly merged firms like MCI Worldcom, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Chase Securities and Citigroup explained why their firms merged. "It's not just a change in capital structure -- it has got to be a change that increases the value of your firm," said 1991 Wharton graduate Mark Feldman, vice president of global mergers and acquisitions for Chase Securities. And 1974 Wharton graduate and Travelers Group chief executive officer Jay Fishman cautioned that the recent trend of corporate mergers "is not a business strategy," but is instead "a reflection on changes in the business environment." Globalization, increased competition and the increased speed in relaying information have made these mergers more pronounced, Fishman said, explaining why his company merged with Citicorp in April 1998 in what was considered the largest merger at the time. Citigroup is now the 12th largest corporation and the third largest business insurance firm in the world, according to Fishman. Other executives pointed to the need for additional resources and increased market share, since clients now require a greater breadth and depth of services than they have in the past. Still, all of the executives were quick to point out that the transition isn't always smooth. "The biggest problem of a merger is changing the [rigid] mindset of 'we used to do this but they do it like that,'" said Duross O'Bryan, a top partner in the financial services division of PricewaterhouseCoopers. "Seven months into [our merger with Coopers & Lybrand] and that's still a cultural issue that is hard to get over," O'Bryan said. In addition to having to lay off workers as his company downsized after merging, Fishman related some of the problems his company faced. "At the very least, there are two people who hold the CEO position, and you must decide who will hold that position [in the merged company]," he said. Students gave the event positive reviews. "You hear about mergers and acquisitions every day, but unless you read The Wall Street Journal every day, you don't often see tangible results," Wharton sophomore Huijin Kong said. For College and Wharton sophomore Elizabeth LaPuma, the conference had a more practical implication by helping her decide which type of summer internship she wants.

Gimme My Space

(10/16/97 9:00am)

Constructing across the University is forcing PAC to regroup. The University has seen simpler times. In the days before e-mail and computer-chip-equipped ID cards, when Mask and Wig and Penn Players rounded out Penn's performing arts scene, to have 35 different performing groups probably seemed unimaginable. Today, the number of performing groups recognized by the Performing Arts Council reaches that number -- and those positions are coveted. After Provost Stanley Chodorow told PAC last year to hold off expansion while the renovation of some important venues -- Houston Hall and Irvine Auditorium, specifically -- cramps space, nascent groups are learning that PAC membership has its privileges. And PAC members -- along with the organization itself -- are faced with the task of a re-assessment. "Our goals change every year," explained PAC Co-Chairperson Elizabeth Scanlon, a College senior. "But I see this executive board as really working with the administration to find more space and working with student groups to examine their mission." Formed 10 years ago to organize the ever-burgeoning performing arts community, PAC has been the administration's tie to the needs of Penn's dancers, actors, comics and musicians. PAC membership is necessary before a group can join the Student Activities Council -- and hence be eligible for University funding. And because campus has always had limited space, PAC has a partial monopoly on its distribution. "If a group is serious about performing, it's a member of PAC," Scanlon said. Indeed, it is PAC that holds monthly meetings with Valerie Swain-Cade McCoullum, the vice provost for university life. It is PAC that lobbied for new options when it learned that vital spaces it was using were in jeopardy. It is PAC that put a detailed write-up of its members' space needs on line in 1995, and PAC that walked around with Executive Assistant to the Provost Linda Koons last year to survey campus for possible options. "Having PAC is a really good idea," Chodorow said. "You could talk to 30 to 40 student groups, each with its own story, [but] PAC has taken on [organization] by itself. That's real student government," he added. Representing four subcommittees -- SMAC (Singers, Music and Comedy), AC (A Cappella), DDAC (Dance) and TACKY (Theater Arts) -- PAC has provided a "security" for its members through the transitional "interim" period before 2000. Space Solutions Even when the Annenberg School Theater is restricted in May to performing arts groups in order to make way for the coming Public Policy Center expansion, when Houston Hall goes under renovation next year and while construction to Irvine Auditorium continues, most of the University's performing arts groups will be able to rehearse, perform and operate. This is primarily because PAC has helped find alternate space. To cope with losses both temporary and permanent, the University has leased two new spaces -- a scene shop at 4100 Walnut Street and the 450-seat MTI Theater at 37th and Chestnut streets. Additionally, the University has received permission to use the St. Mary's Church at 40th Street and Locust Walk for rehearsal space. In order to orchestrate the "interim period," however, Chodorow placed an informal moratorium on the number of PAC groups last year. "You can't work with a moving target," he said. So PAC kept its membership under control, and in turn, the administration tried to satisfy the group's requests. Granted, transition from current to new space hinges on a few unknowns. City inspection and plumbing kept the 4100 shop space from becoming usable until two months after its scheduled July 15 opening. And although few are questioning that the MTI Tabernacle theater will be viable by the time groups need it in January, PAC is uneasy about banking on anything. "There are lots of good plans in place," said Engineering senior Ron Isaacson, PAC co-chairperson. "I'm just concerned with the follow-through. If if the delays are as long as they were for 4100 Walnut, we're going to be in big trouble. It seems like we've had more of our share of problems." Isaacson added that many of PAC's current concerns -- surrounding office space once Houston Hall closes -- are relevant to a population much broader than the performing arts community. "When Houston Hall closes I think we're really gonna be in the rough, and it's not entirely clear yet where transitional office space will be," he said. "But it probably won't be more difficult for us than for other student groups." And in the year 2000, PAC -- albeit with mostly new members -- should have facilities that are highly superior to what exists now. "We're spending a lot of time on space issues," Chodorow said. "In the year 2000? it's going to be [an all-around] vast improvement." Amending the PAC Constitution Amidst the turmoil surrounding space, the question of performance group redundancy has been brought to the forefront of discussion. "[The Perelman Quad project] prompted a lot," Scanlon said. "And we have to fix the constitution. We want to become better." While the University undoubtedly sees its numerous groups as an attractive feature and a point of pride, different performing arts groups undoubtedly cover similar territory. And a few are wondering whether this is unfair for unique groups who want to join PAC, but have been prevented due to necessary parsimony. The most common example of such redundancy is a cappella groups -- of which Penn has a booming 12. But while a cappella is often fodder for criticism for the overlapping of PAC groups, its demands for rehearsal space are minimal. The groups can rehearse almost anywhere -- from the American Diner to Chimes Cafe -- and are otherwise self-supporting, Koons said. But other PAC groups do have preference for space -- and they take advantage of it, limiting resources for outside organizations. Much of the controversy stems from an aspect of PAC's constitution that has been widely interpreted over the years: groups must put on a performance to qualify for membership, in addition to writing a constitution. In recent years, PAC has required that groups perform for an audience comprised of at least 50 percent students. Faced with less-than-ideal spaces and hours for rehearsal, budding groups see the situation as a sort of Catch 22. Meanwhile, groups already in PAC have felt little pressure -- until now. "Currently, there is no mechanism for saying 'get busy or get out'," Scanlon noted. "And institutional memory is so short, groups go through fluctuations every year." PAC held its first meeting regarding constitutional change October 6. Among the reforms planned: a "unique" clause mandating that all groups establish mission statements that differ in goal and the installation of a mission review system. SAC has always had a similar unique clause, though groups sometimes stray from their mission statements. But citing SAC's revocation of Circle K's funding last April due to its shared mission with Kite and Key, Isaacson stressed that PAC would not do anything "iron-fisted." "It's much too touchy a subject to make an example of that," he said. In fairness to start-up groups, PAC plans to remove the requirement that groups perform before they join, although performance will be recommended and must be intended at some point. As for the results of the proposed constitutional reform, Scanlon is optimistic. "I think you might see the consolidation of a few groups -- groups seeing that they can help each other rather than just starting a new group," she said.

Exec discusses airline's recovery

(04/19/96 9:00am)

Trans World Airlines' vice president painted a complete picture of the miraculous reconstruction of his company Wednesday night at Steinberg-Dietrich Hall. Approximately 40 students and faculty members attended the lecture given by Scott Gibson, who graduated from the Wharton School of Business as an undergraduate in 1980. TWA hired him last year to be its vice president of planning and corporate strategy. The event was sponsored by the Wharton Transportation Association. "We chose Gibson as our speaker because of TWA's important 50th anniversary and because it is now a top airline," said Wharton Transportation Association founder Neysan Rassekh, a Wharton freshman. Before Gibson's arrival, TWA was on the verge of bankruptcy after falling from its former position as the nation's top international carrier, Gibson said. However, TWA is now celebrating its 50th anniversary of continuous trans-Atlantic service. And according to Gibson, the airline has regained its position as one of the top U.S. airlines. No other airline flying today has been able to boast such a record, Rassekh said. Gibson began his lecture explaining how, at the start of his tenure as vice president, TWA spent three days below the cash level necessary to liquidate the company. Gibson outlined the tactics that "a new management team" used to stabilize TWA. The first step was to bring in operating profits, he said. TWA's main strategy was to redeploy assets by moving planes and other capital from the money-losing Atlanta market to the blooming St. Louis market. TWA is now based in St. Louis, with a "hub dominance" rate of 70 percent, Gibson said. He added that St. Louis's airport is highly internationally-focused and well-suited for TWA's needs. Gibson also noted that the new management felt TWA had "tired products." "There was no new money invested in the company," he said. "So we introduced the Trans World One Premium Class Service and the Comfort Class." The Premium Class Service has received an award for being the "Best Product across the Atlantic" and TWA's Comfort Class has also met with great success, Gibson said. He also spoke about TWA's restructured balance sheet, new aircrafts and a new, computerized yield management system. "In terms of financial balance sheets, we have gone from the worst of the industry to one of the best, within a year," Gibson said. "While our entire company used to do everything by hand, including ticket-handling and flight-dispatching, we are now catching up with the times and becoming computerized." Gibson also outlined various future strategies he hopes to use, such as alliance partnerships, bottom-up management, removing commission caps and increasing the number of "banks" -- or groups of flights per day -- from St. Louis and other locations. Immediately following the lecture, Gibson opened up the floor for questions. Students asked about everything from the effects of costs upon customers to electronic ticketing. The event concluded with a raffle that gave away two free TWA cash travel rebates. But some members of the audience said they came away from the lecture having learned little. "I came because I am interested in the airline business," Wharton senior Raj Shah said. "However, to somebody keeping up with airline issues, he didn't present anything new." But Shah said he thought Gibson's discussion of in-flight meals -- meals given pre-flight in a bag -- was quite interesting. Others reacted more positively to the event. "This is an especially inspiring story about a young Wharton graduate," Public Policy and Management Professor Elizabeth Bailey said. "[The new management team] really overcame big risks to team up together and save the airline."

Lost in the mail

(02/07/94 10:00am)

Despite efforts to improve mail delivery on campus, hundreds of students still complain about lost and late mail on a daily basis. Complaints are being received from all over campus, but a majority of the problems -- as in the past -- are in the Quadrangle. Residential Living Director Gigi Simeone says the 30th Street Station Post Office is providing inadequate service. But officials there say the University is at fault for the mail problems. Quad students, caught in the middle of this debate, are receiving their mail days, weeks, even months late -- if they receive it at all. College freshman Amy Kwan echoed the sentiments of many of her Quad neighbors. "I just want my mail," she said. "Is that too much to ask for?" Campus mail surveys recently distributed by The Daily Pennsylvanian to 120 students in the Quad reveal that students are losing more mail than they are reporting to Residential Living officials. At least 394 letters and cards were never received by the 120 students, and at least $13,064 in checks were lost in the mail. In addition, 52 students reported lost magazines or catalogs, and 27 said they had lost "important documents" -- plane tickets, bank statements, bills, credit cards, MAC cards and the like. Many students said they are also experiencing late mail, which may arrive days, weeks or even months after the postmarked date. And several students, like Wharton freshman Jeffrey Greenhouse, commented that it is impossible to guess how many more items they had lost. "I am sure that I have lost more mail, but I don't know what I have lost since I didn't receive it," he said. The current inquiry into campus mail delivery arose from an incident two weeks ago when several University students found a garbage bag full of undelivered mail outside the Quad mailroom. At that time, Simeone said she had received about 200 complaints of missing mail since September. These complaints followed an investigation last spring which determined that the University was not responsible for the more than 350 incidences of late or lost mail reported to officials. "I tell people not to mail anything because I know I won't get it," said College freshman Rahul Aggarwal. Aggarwal -- whose problem occurred with intramural mail -- said a letter he received on January 29 was sent on January 10. The problem, he said, was that the letter was regarding a meeting on January 17. Other students have experienced similar problems with first class mail delivery: · Wharton freshman Michael Fieldstone received a package on January 23 that was postmarked December 17. · College freshman Dalya Rosner had a MAC card sent to her three different times and never received it. · College freshman Erika Leslie had a tuition check which never arrived, and an overnight Federal Express package which came a week late. · Nursing freshman Jina Wye received a magazine one month late, and it "looked like it had gone through a gutter" when she finally got it, all torn up. The late and lost mail has left students angry and confused. "The mail system, for lack of a better word, sucks!" said College freshman Ben Saul. "What amazes me the most is probably the lack of concern or lack of attempts to change an obviously inadequate system," said College freshman Maria Gonzales. Simeone said last week that she and her assistants are "tremendously frustrated as we know students are" about the delivery problems, but she reiterated that the University is not to blame. "We have perceived tremendous inaccuracies with the mail we've been receiving [from the 30th Street Post Office]," she said. "When we get the mail, we get it out to students immediately. "We feel very good about the system that we have in place and the employees that we have on campus," she added. The employees are retired postal workers who have been in place since January 1993, Simeone said. At that time, Residential Living fired the student mailroom workers in an effort to correct reported mail problems. Lenore Dash, supervisor for the University's postal zone, said the 30th Street Station Post Office is just doing its job -- delivering the mail to the University. After mail arrives at the University, Dash explained, it is the University's responsibility to get the mail to students. "All we do is deliver bags of mail with a truck to the mailroom," Dash said. "Once we drop it off at the mailroom, it's not our responsibility. We don't know what goes on in that mailroom." Customer service clerk Frank Marcoveccio did acknowledge that the post office is experiencing delays, but added that the delays are still due to recent bad weather. The biggest problem that 30th Street Station has experienced, he said, is mail being delivered late from other states because of weather conditions. Marcoveccio added that every piece of first- or second-class mail which is received at 30th Street each day must be delivered that day. "If you get something that's dated a week and a half ago, the carrier [still] got it today," he said. "As soon as the carrier gets it, it goes out that day." Another problem causing disagreement between the University and the post office is how students should file complaints about missing mail. Assistant Director of Residential Services Nancy McCue said last week that students are given "1510" forms from the post office to fill out when they have a complaint. "It gives [the post office] an overview of where things are coming from," she said. "It's more than what they offered us last year." "The post office said, 'we don't want to hear from you unless we have the forms,'" Simeone added. But Marcoveccio said that "a lot of people make the mistake" of filling out the form at the wrong location. "It you're waiting for a piece of mail and you're not getting it, you can't fill out a tracer form," he said. "You have to fill it out from the place it was sent from." "A lot of [the University complaints] won't get attention because they're being sent by the wrong people," he added. Amid the confusion between the post office and the University, students seem to agree on one thing -- they don't care who is at fault, they just want to receive their mail. Students who repeatedly have mail problems have become especially frustrated. "I am lucky when I receive my mail almost a month late, but half the time I don't receive it at all," said College freshman Elizabeth Bernstein. "My parents now only send me anything important by [Federal Express] because that's the only way that I will receive it." Students have also complained about the post office's Priority Mail not coming in the 2 to 3 days which it is usually promised to arrive. "I got a 2-day Priority Mail package after a week and a half," said College freshman Katie Hort. But Marcoveccio warns that students should not be fooled. "Priority mail is the same thing as first class mail -- it's the same price," he said. "I'm not going to sit here and lie to you and say, 'mail Priority Mail' because that's misleading." Marcoveccio added that although Priority Mail "should get there in 2-3 days, there's no guarantee." The only guaranteed mail, he said, is Overnight Express which has its own tracking system. Simeone maintains that her office is doing the best it can to remedy the situation. Last year, after complaints mounted, Simeone, along with University Police Commissioner John Kuprevich and former Vice Provost for University Life Kim Morrisson sent a letter to parents alerting them of the problems with mail delivery. Residential Living also installed windows in the mailrooms to allow for observation, and video cameras were installed to record mailroom activity. "We feel that we have been very up front with students," Simeone said. "This is a problem we're concerned about, and they should be concerned about it too." Manager of Residential Services Rodney Robinson added that the current mailroom staff is comprised of experienced, trustworthy people. "These are people who have been in the post office 30 years and have built their careers around mail," he said. "They're taking a lot of abuse down there." But Wharton and Engineering junior Allen Chen is doubtful. "Screw the mail workers!" he said. Daily Pennsylvanian Staff Writer Gregory Thomas contributed to this article.

U. health educator dead at 42

(09/09/93 9:00am)

By JORDANA HORN Kate Webster, a Student Health educator and women's health advocate whose insight made a great impact on students and faculty from all over Philadelphia, died on July 6 of a heart attack. She was 42. Webster was well known both on and off campus for her devotion to education, whether it was teaching doctors to be more sensitive to the needs of women patients, or teaching students how to listen to and care for one another through her example. "She knew, above everything else, that you treat other people with respect, compassion and dignity," Student Health educator Susan Villari said. "She did it every single day." Webster came to the University two and a half years ago. Prior to that, she worked at the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center for Women, where for 16 years she worked with troubled and abused women, giving them counseling and gynecological treatment. Villari, who was Webster's best friend, said that whenever she went anywhere in Philadelphia with Webster, "someone would run up and say, 'Kate!'" "There were women there who wouldn't trust their bodies to anyone but Kate," Villari said. "Women would just pour their hearts out to her." In 1980, Webster founded Surrogate Patient Education Consultants, an organization developed to teach doctors-to-be how to be sensitive to their gynecological patients and their needs. Through that group, Webster and her associates taught every medical student in Philadelphia. That training is part of the general curriculum for doctors, physicians' assistants and nurse practitioners. Colleagues said they were thrilled when Webster brought her talents in women's health issues to the University. "She was an incredible resource for the Penn community," Penn's Women Center Director Elena DiLapi said yesterday. "She had a special gift that she could relate to a whole range of folks." At the University, Webster worked on the HIV-AIDS Task Force as head of the education committee, and spearheaded the efforts of Facilitating Learning About Sexual Health. "She had a tremendous amount of energy, and did a lot more work than any one person could do," said Assistant Director of Student Life Programs Robert Schoenberg. "She formed very strong connections with students." College junior Aly Cohen, a FLASH peer health educator, is among many students who said they believe Webster is irreplaceable. "She was an absolute comedian, she was terrifically intelligent, she knew her stuff - she was very qualified in every aspect of her job, but she was also a friend," Cohen said. "I've never met anyone so dedicated." Many of Webster's friends said that her sense of humor contributed to her unusual ability to make people feel at home, whether with their bodies or themselves. Villari spoke of Webster teaching a group of "macho" guys at a dorm meeting that even a baseball bat could "wear" a condom. Through making students laugh, Villari said, Webster could also make them listen and feel comfortable. Mary Webster, Kate's sister who worked with her in Student Health, said that Kate "truly believed in how she lived." "She was exactly the same at Penn as she always was with my family," she said. "She was the glue that held the family together." Assistant Health Educator Janet Zinser said Webster's constant caring made her into a "guardian angel" figure for many people. "We're banking that we now have our own guardian angel," Zinser said. "She was while she was here. Now, though, it's a little different." A memorial service open to the University community will be held for Webster on Tuesday, September 21 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the University Museum's Rainey Auditorium. Villari said Student Health encourages students who would like to discuss Webster's death to visit their offices in room 310 of Houston Hall.