Posts Tagged ‘business’

I dream of Malden

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

Lately, Malden, Massachusetts has entered my consciousness. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because a few of my Yelp friends from Boston have told me this is the “in” place for Ethiopian, Sri Lankan or Moroccan food. Maybe it’s because Business Week has made noise about Malden being a great place for kids to grow because of its diversity. Maybe it’s because a member of my family has some political responsibilities there? Or perhaps I’m just tired or organizing business communities in India, Latin America and Europe and want to come home in the evening?

I don’t yet know how to fit all the pieces in the co-creation puzzle, but I’m eager to figure it out. My typical gig involves finding a central business player eager to orchestrate the development of a mini-economy around itself: a large business, a bank, sometimes a public entity (although a profit-seeking business with a community bent provides the best anchor). Maybe Eastern Bank or one of the local savings banks could play that role? Banks – community banks in particular – can become great community co-creators since they make money by attracting local savings and lending that money back to mortgage customers and businesses. By connecting all the parties with each other around local growth and utilizing the physical branch as a local meeting place, one can drain a lot more savings and generate a lot more loans, often at below market rates, simply because people are passionate about making their community a better place. I have done that in Saint-Etienne, France and Guadalajara, Mexico, for example. Why not Malden? Eastern Bank, you look like a supersized community bank with a great community bent. I’ll bet we could significantly increase the income of your savings and your lending business in your Malden branch if we could make you the center of Malden’s renewal.

On the business front, Malden does not have a lot of manufacturing businesses, but has great ethnic food restaurants that could grow and become anchor points for local employment. Could Malden become the food capital of New England? Could it engender the development of an ethnic food supply chain with ethnic grocery stores and perhaps some local manufacturing or distribution centers from the mother countries? I dream of Malden as a mini-Ethiopia, mini-Sri Lanka, and mini-Morocco, a diversity showcase attracting hard-core Bostonians to eat and shop there. (Malden has the advantage of having the Orange line connecting it directly to the heart of Boston).

Maybe we could get the young foodies from downtown Boston who already come to Malden for food to help us orchestrate the growth of these communities? Many of them are idealistic Generation X and Millennials generating good incomes from financial services, healthcare or service firms.  Maybe we can have a “Food for Thought” program (one of them suggested that name to me), where these idealistic foodies become business activists who help Habesha scale its outstanding Ethiopian restaurant business, or supports Moroccan Hospitality Restaurant in attracting more passionate people to its tagines?

Beyond the business imperative lies a social one: Malden needs help because the poverty rate there is quite high at 12%.  It’s a  neighborhood not far from where some of Ben Affleck’s and Clint Eastwood’s tough movies take place (the Town, Gone, Baby, Gone, Mystic River). Maybe we could get local boys Ben Affleck or Matt Damon to sponsor our Malden business community program?

I dream of this program as a business proposition, however, not a bleeding heart volunteer activity. There is business to be made at the bottom of the pyramid, and it happens to have positive social outcomes. I want the core business that anchors this program to double its profits, the owners of the Malden restaurants to become affluent and the employees who work there to derive good incomes from the new jobs created. I want the politicians associated with this program to become stars and sell the program as a model for other Massachusetts, New England or US towns. Personally, I want my wife and kids to discover what I do for a living and get to sleep in my bed at night.

Malden is the modern version of the American melting pot. It is a microcosm of our future economy, with its huge problems and the opportunity created by its diversity. The future of America does not lie in setting up the right tax rates in Washington, DC. It lies in weaving vibrant business communities at the local level. With politicians, bankers, restaurants, downtown foodies and citizens, let’s go co-create Malden.


Cab drivers, the heart of every nation

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

It is midnight in Mumbai and my cab driver knows two English words. He points to the huge traffic jam around the hotel caused by the festival and says: “shortcut”. I nod my head appreciatively, hoping he can get me to make my 3 am flight back to the US. As we dodge crowds of young children wandering in the shanties, he utters his second word: “tip”. Raised eyebrows tell me we’re now negotiating. For 20%, he gets me to the airport in less than an hour and I make my flight comfortably. This “tip for shortcut” value proposition is as concise as they come. Cabbies are the best small business owners.
It’s the second half of July in Paris. Traffic is slow, a surprise given that many French people are already on vacation. The problem is painters and plumbers, my Rumanian-born cab driver tells me. “They want to go on vacation in August, and in order to generate cash, they start three or four jobs they will finish in the fall, which allows them to collect multiple down-payments before leaving.” As we’re bobbing and weaving through traffic, he points to numerous double-parked vans clogging traffic. Cabbies are the best traffic analysts.
My London taxi driver hears me speak French on the phone. He asks me if I know the Armenian-born singer Charles Aznavour. As I tell him I do, he starts playing Aznavour’s song entitled “Ils Sont Tombés” (They Have Fallen), a stirring description of the Armenians uprising against Turks in the early 20th century. He’s not Armenian himself, but he has tears in his eyes as he barrels down the M4 to Heathrow. Cabbies are the conscience of mankind.
I am in Spain. Real Madrid is playing Manchester City at home tonight in the first game of the Champions League. We don’t have any language in common, yet we can communicate on whether Ronaldo is really sad (he thinks he’s a big baby), whether David Villa the Spaniard should be considered a traitor for playing for Manchester City (he thinks it’s OK because soccer is a global business), and whether Spain should dump the Euro (his position is no because Real Madrid could no longer attract big worldwide stars like Ronaldo, even though he’s a big baby). Cabbies are the best soccer economists.
As I head back home in Boston, my limo driver is Moroccan. He’s got opinions about everything, Obama vs. Romney, the Arab Spring, and the movie that is igniting protests all over the Middle East. “The problem is that there’s not enough American Muslim leadership to act as intermediary between the fanatics and the grassroots Muslim people”, he tells me, talking like a Harvard PhD. “Look how different this is from France or Germany where local imams in those two countries help tamper everything.” He dreams of playing a role like that someday. Cabbies are the best politicians.