The Roemer Report September 1987

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Is Another Liability Crunch Coming?

There are new fears that another liability crunch is coming, maybe six or eight months down the road. Prophesying new trouble for. the industry is Nick A. Verreos, president of the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents. His concern, according to Industry Week, is that more than one-third of the 300 largest liability insurers are being monitored. The number of liability insurer insolvencies is also up sharply in the last three years. There are rumblings, the magazine reported, "that another shake out triggering higher rates may be on the way. "Versos argues that the cause of the impending trouble has been abandonment of sound underwriting principles for "cutthroat rate competition." He calls for more regulation of the industry at the state level. One of his concerns is that market-entry requirements are too low in many states. Another is that regulators don't have the resources to monitor the new risk-retention groups formed following passage of the Risk Retention Act. Although some officials share Verreos' views, others in the industry believe insurance markets are stabilizing. It's one favorable sign that liability insurance has become more available and affordable.

UNCALCULATED TRUCKING COST...COBRA: What's in a name? Some trucking companies are muttering that the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Resolution Act -- called COBRA for short -- couldn't be more aptly dubbed. A dramatic piece of legislation, COBRA tar companies that have more than 20 workers and a group health insurance plan. When an employee quits, retires or is fired for reasons other than misconduct, COBRA forces the employer to offer continued insurance coverage at group rates for up to 18 months. If the employee has a widow,a divorced spouse or other dependents, they are also eligible for coverage - for up to 36 months. COBRA includes private carriers as divisions of parent companies. A total corporate family could lose its federal tax deductions for health care expenses... if just one division is in violation of COBRA. The only exemptions from COBRA are for independent employers with fewer than 20 employees.

A 1980s' ECONOMIC RETROSPECTIVE: While the 1980s look prosperous to some economists, Paul A. Samuelson gives these years mediocre grades on at least two counts. Productivity growth has slowed even in Japan, he argues, and living standards have been almost stagnating in all but a few countries. What's kept living standards up in. the industrialized countries have been wives who stayed in the labor market after marriage. The two paycheck marriage has probably saved us from a sharp drop in living standards, he suggests. With productivity growth on the wane, it's also unlikely that our sons and daughters will live better than we have. The 1980s have been better than the 1970s, which were devastated by two OPEC oil shocks. What gains we've made, however, have involved some gloomy trade-offs. The first quarter of the 1980s was devoted to fighting two-digit inflation, which in Western Europe was traded for two-digit unemployment rates. Meanwhile, the colossal trade made manufacturing jobs abroad while it speeded their demise here, Samuelson says. Liquidity has soared to help fuel a stock market boom while real work opportunities are deteriorating, he maintains.Though the dollar's depreciation has eroded Japanese and German exports, Samuelson doesn't think either country is on the verge of recession. He also gives three to one odds against a U.S. recession before Election Day, November 1988.

THE EXECUTIVE PAYOFF FROM TOUGHINGITOUT: The up-from-the-bottom approach to the top is generating results-driven executives in surprising numbers. Judy Shireman reports in The Wall Street Journal that you would be "amazed at the number" of CEOs, division presidents and senior executives that have reached the highest rungs on the corporate ladder without college degrees. These managers sans sheepskins are simply doers. They are survivors with good track records...records that reveal several common traits. (1) They are down to earth and direct. Self-made executives have little patience forfluffy rhetoric. They are bright, street smart and express themselves in understandable terms...a style that is consistent with everyone from the lowest paid employees to the chairman of the board. (2) They stick with their company in good times and bad.Executives without academic credentials rarely change jobs. A reluctance to always be in the job market causes a constant focus on what it takes to make things better at this company. Every day on the job isn't evaluated as resume filler. As aresult, executives without degrees stick it out during business downturns and become aggressive members of the corporate recovery team...not active participants in the business executive free agent relocation program. It's not that academic success isn't important... just that those without window dressing have nothing to display other than accomplishments, results and a recent trackrecord.

ANATOMY OF A CUSTOMER: Suggesting that the "customer is always right" can be a soft-headed approach that may lead you to keep business at any cost. Being in touch with your customers is really anissue of understanding how they feel, and not just doing what they say. Recent research by Xerox. Learning Systems on customer service highlighted several aspects of customer biology. Also understanding your own behavior as a customer will intuitively suggest ways to approach your customer differently. Here are some specific customer traits: (1) Customers simply do not read.If you expect your communication to be read, communicate in a method and style that is unique. (2) Customers don't accept ownership responsibilities. The monkey is always on your back. (3) Technology and product complexity·make product differentiation difficult. Your product’s unique characteristics must be dearly established and communicated. (4) Low customer confidence and expectations for products are common. Customers often believe that they are not getting their money's worth. When customers get more than they expected, they are memorably impressed. (5) Service and product are inseparable.High-qualityservice is a product attribute. You can get to know and understand your customers better by (a) insisting on customer information collection from primary sources and (b) designing products for the real customer…not a pseudo customer such as distributors, sales staff or othernon-endusers.

THE REBIRTH OFAMERICANINDUSTRY: American manufacturing is not dead. True, it no longer thrives in itstraditional form. But far from dying -- as many doomsayers would have it--manufacturing is in the process of being reborn. According to David L. Birch, director of MIT's Program on Neighborhood and Regional Change, manufacturers are actually becoming some of America's most dynamic corporations.Far from collectively folding under foreign pressures, our industrial sector has turned to its greatest strength: innovation. Let other nations take over what we once did best. Our new niche is producing different products using distinctly different methods. And it is the small manufacturer-- not the Fortune 500 firm-- that figures most prominently in this industrial evolution.Literally thousands of brash young companies are leading the way, willing to stake their futures on new concepts and technologies. But mature firms need not become fossils. Many are redefining themselves on the premise that brains -- not brawn -- will run the factory of the future. Our labor force is rapidly growing more diverse and highly skilled. Although manufacturing will never again be the mass­ employment solution it once was, it will continue to offer career opportunities for those with the courage and creativity to meet tomorrow's economicchallenges.

RECONCEPTUALIZING TOMORROW'S TRUCKING BUSINESS-SCAPE: Change will continue to rearrange and erode man's known experience barriers. The world we know today will not exist tomorrow. Here are a few areas destined for profound shakeup and, as a result, changes in the trucking industry: (1) Manufacturing. The manufacturing population will continue to shrink. The future shrinkage of jobs in this sector will be similar to today's loss of agricultural jobs. Within the next forty years U.S. manufacturing will evolve from mass production to custom production. Flexible manufacturing will very likely place customized products a push button away. The real threat to manufacturing will not be the presence of global competition... but the absence of customer obsession.(2) Education. Training and education will become a priority of action for trucking and all firms, and not just a priority of words. Training will be part and parcel of the actual workweek. Noted futurist Alvin Toffler suggests that increases in productivity are projected to offset additional training costs.(3)Service industry. Service jobs are expected to continue to increase in number and status. The evolving information economy will cause an explosion in service needs. The Japanese have found considerable service opportunities in "specialized delivery". This area of delivery is an area for trucking outfits to watch closely as it emerges.

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