Use the Web to save $8,000 a year

This article was originally published by MSN Money on Monday, Jan. 31, 2011.

Smart shoppers use the Internet to save a bundle through comparison sites, coupons and online services. Just be sure you're not wasting time and money to save a buck.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

Savvy Internet users can save nearly $8,000 a year through smarter shopping, online discounts and Web-based services such as bill paying, according to a report compiled for the Internet Innovation Alliance.

Gale Swanson, 53, can attest to the value of an Internet connection. Since her children gave her a computer in 2009, her Web usage has saved her more than $5,000 on gifts, entertainment, food and travel purchased through the Internet -- and ended her weekly trips to Big Lots and Wal-Mart.

"Because I'm on a fixed income and a budget, I have to make sure I don't spend my money frivolously," said Swanson, a retired office manager in Van Nuys, Calif. "The ease of being able to find things that are discounted is great."

Expanding management: The delicate art of sharing control

This article was originally published by on Monday, Jan. 24, 2011.

While the thought of sharing control of your company can be nerve-wracking, those who have been through the transition swear by having a second set of hands. As long as they're the right hands.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

Since founding Secure Enterprise Computing in 1998, chairman Randall Bennett has seen business boom -- and bust. But when the demand for security technology began to crest a couple years ago, he knew that he didn't want to miss the opportunity to grow his company. He also knew that to ride the wave, he'd need to expand his leadership team and share control of the business.

"You can have 100% of nothing or 50% of millions," Bennett says. "I've seen a lot of entrepreneurs fail over the years. They're not able to give up [control]."
The solution: bringing on Robert Pickens as president and chief operating officer of the Morrisville, N.C.-based firm last year. Pickens advocated a narrower strategic focus and implemented quarterly reports and a suite of metrics that give top managers an up-to-date picture of how the business is doing. With Pickens heading up operations, Bennett now has more time to develop new business and serve as the face of the company at community and industry gatherings.
Expanding the leadership team is a natural step when a company's growth outpaces the skill set or capacity of its original founders. Google's Larry Page and Sergey Brin looked to Eric Schmidt when the time was right (The company has entered a new phase, with Page soon taking the CEO reins and Schmidt moving into the executive chairman role.). Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg sought out Sheryl Sandberg. It's a tried and true part of a start-up's growth path, but it's no simple task.
"How do we make sure we preserve the culture and all the wonderful insights and talents that our founding team members were able to inject, while making sure we have a management bench that will maximize our chances of success?" asks Phil Dur, managing director at Investor Growth Capital, an expansion-stage venture firm. "You can have a good product and good market opportunity but if you don't have good management, you don't have much at all."

Reforming Fannie and Freddie: a $6 Trillion Dollar Problem

This article was originally published by the Fiscal Times on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011.

As the administration prepares its proposals for overhauling Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the housing industry and public interest groups are floating ideas of their own.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

As the Obama administration struggles to draft a report to Congress on how best to overhaul Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, industry and public interest groups are promoting plans of their own for the two mortgage giants.

The proposals range from replacing Fannie and Freddie with new, chartered private firms to gradually shrinking and privatizing them. After the housing bubble burst, leading to the worst recession since the Depression, the government stepped in to secure the companies’ $6 trillion worth of U.S. mortgages in order to avoid an even worse financial calamity.

The Treasury faces a Jan. 31 deadline under the Dodd-Frank law to make recommendations on the future of Fannie and Freddie, although the Fiscal Times reported last week that they may miss the deadline because of sharp divisions within the administration. The stakes are high: Economic growth, return of private capital to the housing market, resilience in the event of future crises and continued consumer access to 30-year fixed-rate mortgages all hinge on the right strategy.

Most interested parties agree on the basic outline of a new structure that would divide the functions of Fannie and Freddie between government and the private sector in order to shift the mortgage securities market back to private investors while ensuring Americans' access to affordable housing and credit.

Administration Split Over Fannie Freddie Strategy

This article was originally published by the Fiscal Times on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011.

With a Jan. 31 deadline looming for making recommendations, the Obama administration is badly divided over how to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the financially strapped and controversial mortgage giants.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

The Obama administration is sorely divided over how to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the controversial mortgage giants. Sources familiar with the discussions raise the possibility that the White House will miss its statutory deadline for submitting recommendations to Congress.

The dispute pits White House economic advisers, who favor merely offering lawmakers a menu of possible next steps without committing to a specific direction, against officials at the Treasury and Department of Housing and Urban Development, who want to endorse an explicit federal guarantee for the mortgage companies and throw the administration's support behind it, the sources said.

The controversy is as much over strategy as substance. White House advisers aren’t certain whether going out on a limb with a specific plan will drive reforms of the federal housing finance program in a constructive way, or present an easy target for opponents. Administration officials who object to offering an explicit guarantee so early in the process say it would make it harder to negotiate a compromise. Instead, they argue, the administration would be better off laying out a range of options, to give them maximum flexibility in talks with Democratic and Republican lawmakers and industry officials.

The government currently supports 97 percent of the mortgage market, and the two entities own or guarantee nearly three quarters of that amount, or $6 trillion in debt, which policy experts and stakeholders agree can’t be indefinitely sustained.