Sunday, May 5, 2013

'The Almost Crime'

My nephew, the honorable Chris Beyers, wrote a book, and you can read it about it on his blog. Check it out and tell him what you think.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Capital Business: Best Buy's next act?

This column was first published in Capital Business on Aug. 13: 

There was a time when shopping at Best Buy was a special treat.

I’d pile the whole family in the car and as soon as we stepped through the front doors everyone would scatter, the boys to the video games, mom to the CD bins, and me, well, I’d do the whole electronics circuit, slowly.

I spent a small fortune at our local big box until one day I ordered a microwave and somehow the staff just could not seem to get it in my hands. I’d get a call telling me it was in the store, and when I arrived the clerks would tell me it was still in the warehouse. Three times this happened. When the manager acted as if he could care less, I canceled the order and never went back.

So when I heard last week that founder Richard Schulze had offered to take private the struggling electronics retailer, I was curious. After all, electronics have all but become commodities these days, and brick-and-mortar stores seem mere showrooms for the discounters online.

Will Fuentes, however, offered a different take. Will was once a general manager at Best Buy. He now runs an Arlington start-up called Lemur Technologies that has developed software to help retailers move slow-moving inventory.

He argues Best Buy should embrace “showrooming,” and hire knowledgeable salespeople who are prepared to offer price-comparing customers a deal on the spot. The chain should focus on the customer’s experience, and bundle products to make shopping easy.

“They also should leverage the fact that they can sell appliances, computers, cell-phones, TV’s and Geek Squad services and installation and become the only retailer that can truly create the connected home,” he told me by e-mail.

Sure, he said, new gizmos can quickly become commodities these days, but there’s always another innovation right around the corner, beckoning customers to have a look.

And a place like that might just be welcoming enough to get a guy like me to shop again.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Downtown rises

The private sector is stirring.

Whole Foods commits to downtown. The mall talks about turning itself into a "lifestyle center." CA moves forward with park plans. More apartments are headed our way.

And people are still complaining about the lack of parking.

What fun it is to witness the reinvention of suburbia.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Editor's Note: Living in the clouds

Here's my editor's note from the May 7 issue of Capital Business, the Washington Post's local business weekly:

By Dan Beyers

I had a moment of panic last week when my Google Docs account suddenly became part of something called Google Drive.

Google Drive, I gather, is supposed to be the new brand name for the online giant’s file cabinet in the cloud, its answer to Apple’s iCloud, Microsoft’s SkyDrive and independent services such as Dropbox.

I was eager to give it a try. Except when I fired up my account the files I use nearly every day were no longer where I left them. That sent me scurrying through strange menus, praying I had not lost my valuable intellectual property.

I eventually located my errant spreadsheets but the brief helplessness I experienced reminded me of those bad old days when my first hard drive crashed, taking with it many precious bits and bytes.

Will I never learn?!

Few things are more unsettling to me than to have something go missing. In my household, I’m the person everyone calls to find that which is lost. I have a knack for discovery, though truth be told, my secret is that I’m a creature of habit and routine. When something disappears it is inevitably because someone has deviated from the norm.

The thing I’m learning about the online world is that the pattern never stays fixed. One day my files might be in alphabetical order, the next they show up chronologically, or not at all.

And it is not just Google. Facebook and countless other sites can’t seem to stop tinkering with their interfaces, often without much warning to their users.

The stakes are even larger if your business is somehow tied to your interaction with those digital entities. It’s easy to find your enterprise untethered when an update is pushed through, necessitating an urgent call to the IT department: Who broke the Internet?

Some company is going to make a lot of money solving this pain point in the new world of cloud computing.
But until it does, I’m backing up my stuff.

Friday, April 6, 2012


Is it me?

When the preeminent developer of downtown Columbia can't find a tenant for a Frank Gehry building on the lakefront, and the creative ideas for the place include a company headquarters, offices or a "a grocer on the first floor with a fitness center facing the lake below and an event center above" (Columbia Flier: Howard Hughes No Longer in Talks with Whole Foods), that says something about this place.

No one seems to want to be here anymore.

Mrs. Talk and I venture to Clyde's every now and then and it is such a pleasant experience. We never have to worry about finding a parking spot right in the front row by the fountain, and the ambiance around the pond is so .... quiet.

It got me thinking back when I returned to town in the 1990s after going off the college. All my young friends complained about the lack of things to do.

They have all since moved to the city.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Thinking big

This column originally appeared in Capital Business on June 6:

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

That’s a rhetorical question we toss around the house, to inspire our kids to aim high and take chances.
Of course, the difference between being fearless and foolhardy can be small.

I was thinking about that threshold last week while attending an awards banquet for the region’s chief financial officers, hosted by the Northern Virginia Technology Council. (Capital Business was the media sponsor.)

More than other corporate officials, CFOs often have to assess risks and confront difficult choices. The good ones seem to know how to help their companies do the spectacular while avoiding the reckless.

I’m fascinated by how companies manage that push and pull. Executive engagement is often key.
At the NVTC event, Nigel Morris, one of the co-founders of the McLean financial giant Capital One, was honored for his contributions to the region’s technology business community.

“I’ve often wondered,” he said, “how much of Capital One’s success is due to luck and how much is due to being good.”

One piece of good fortune: The former Signet Bank out of Richmond was willing to take a chance on some no-name business strategists who were tinkering with ways data could be used to inform lending decisions.

Morris also credited the business acumen of his co-founding partner Richard D. Fairbank, who started in 1988 and remains the chief executive today.

Fairbank, he said, was a tireless “advocate for the best of human capital.”

And the secret for hiring the best? More than benefits and salaries, Morris said he learned that what most people want is “to be part of something bigger.”

Capital One certainly became that. When Morris retired in 2004, his start-up had become a public company valued at more than $20 billion. He now occupies himself with his family foundation in Alexandria and serves as managing partner of QED Investors, a firm that invests in companies that are trying to “solve a pain point for consumers.”

Morris is no passive bystander in the companies he assists.

“We are operators masquerading as investors,” Morris said.

Pushing them to think big, no doubt.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A graduation story

This column originally appeared in Capital Business on May 30.

It’s graduation season, which explains why I found myself in the stands of the auditorium at the University of Maryland’s Baltimore County campus recently watching a parade of caps and gowns happily clutching their real or faux diplomas.

Graduations can be inspirational stuff, and this one was no different.

One candidate for a master’s degree had to overcome serious affliction to claim her parchment.

Another got hers at the ripe young age of 70.

A third crammed his work into 18 months to get it all paid by the GI Bill, all the while holding down a full-time job and adjusting to life with an infant son.

Then there was one woman who spent eight on-and-off years working toward hers.

She too had a full-time job.

With two kids to raise, and an husband who kept long and unpredictable hours.

She found her education interrupted not once, but twice, by unexpected trips to the hospital. And her pursuit of a degree in Instructional Systems Development represented a shift in career plans from her days as an undergraduate.

But she persevered.

I know a bit about her because she is my wife, Valerie.

The example she set made it difficult for me to slack off in my own work. But more than that, watching her absorb knowledge and then apply it at home or on the job taught me just how magical an educational journey can be.

I seem to know a lot of women like that. My own mother did not get her bachelor’s until after she had given birth to four boys. She steadfastly kept after it until she realized her goal of becoming a teacher.

My mom is like that. She could barely run a lap around the track when I was in high school and ended up a marathoner and triathlete, racing in competitions up and down the East Coast.

It helps to be passionate about what you are doing, as serial entrepreneur Renee Lewis reminds in her interview this week with staff writer Steven Overly.

“Without passion, perseverance is hard to find, and perseverance is key to success.”

There’s a lot a business person can learn from advice like that.