Global Briefing

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Women Are Winning
If there were ever a signal that women are ascending in corporate America, it came this month when Patricia Russo, above, left the heir apparent's office at Kodak to return to troubled Lucent Technologies as its CEO and rescuer in chief. Surveys show that more women are reaching the top rungs of the executive ladder than ever before: the number of FORTUNE 500 companies with female board members has jumped 25.8% since 1993. Sure, a few CEOs have had a hard time lately. But, ironically, that's just another sign of progress. As Julie Weeks, research director at the Washington-based Center for Women's Business Research, points out, "We've reached a level where a Jill Barad (ex of Mattel) or a Carly Fiorina (Hewlett-Packard's embattled CEO) can be in the position to have trouble." New York City research group Catalyst notes that six FORTUNE 500 companies have women CEOs, up from a steady two or three over the past decade. Still, that's just 1.2% of the total. "Is this good news about the glass ceiling?" asks Sheila Wellington, president of Catalyst. "Yes, it is. But does it mean there are chunks of glass lying around executive suites across the nation? Not at all."

Park It Now
The clock is ticking, your flight leaves in 40 minutes for that planning meeting in Washington, and you're still circling the airport parking lot in search of that ever-elusive space. Smart Park aims to put that nightmare to rest. Distributed by Signal-Park USA of Tempe, Ariz., the new system tells frantic business travelers exactly where the spots are. Electronic signs announce the available spaces in each row. As you're driving by, just watch for the brightly lighted LED--a green arrow if the spot is vacant, a red X if not. The secret is a sensor that detects occupancy. Used in parking lots from Barcelona to Seoul, Smart Park is now a welcome addition to lots at Baltimore-Washington International and Jacksonville International airports. Watch for more.

BUSINESS NOVEL
CONSULTANT TO THE MOB
Jonah Eastman, a Washington pollster, was a top Republican image meister in his better days. But his reputation is down, and he's just about out when he is summoned by a Philadelphia Mafia don who makes him an offer he can't refuse: Improve my image. The mobster, Mario Vanni, wants enough legitimacy to win a big casino license. Conflicted, Eastman obliges, and Money Wanders (St. Martin's) becomes a riotous parody of Internet players, journalists, politicians and pollsters alike. Eastman finds himself surrounded by Atlantic City wise guys, including some who regard the "Ivory League" graduate as a threat to their turf. As he fends them off, Eastman engineers a campaign of phony Internet postings, staged videos and even a U.S. Senate appearance. This is author Eric Dezenhall's debut novel, and the former Reagan White House staffer and co-founder of a crisis-management firm knows his stuff. His superb eye and ear at times call to mind such masters of the journalistic novel as Tom Wolfe. This is one for the carry-on bag.

Go for the Gold
Does kiwi leave you conflicted? Do you dig the flavor but detest the tartness? Is its hirsute surface just a little off-putting? Well, take heart. A sweet, hairless relative of the original, named Zespri Gold for its bright yellow interior, will soon become available year-round at a store near you. Designed to please Asian palates, this quaint kiwi is catching on also in North America, where 1,750 tons of the fruit were sold last year. Zespri International, the New Zealand firm that developed it, expects a record volume of the fruit in stores this June. Next up: unscented Durian fruit?

Payback Time for Airlines?
Call it the revenge of the stranded and bleary-eyed. Under a law proposed by the European Commission earlier this month, passengers bumped off overbooked flights will be entitled to at least $670 in compensation--five times as much as today's victims receive. Anyone bumped from flights of 2,190 miles or more will be entitled to a whopping $1,340. Arguing that the practice helps control costs and allows more flexibility in their reservations systems, many airlines purposely sell more seats than are available to account for passengers who simply don't turn up. The Commission estimates that some 250,000 passengers were left to while away the hours at European airports in 1999 because their flights had been intentionally overbooked. Predictably, industry officials are livid. They contend the Commission had agreed to forgo such damages as a gesture of support in the wake of the September terrorist attacks in the U.S. The airlines will have an opportunity to officially argue their case before the ruling becomes law. Still, the issue in Brussels is likely to spread to Washington, where it will fuel the ongoing battle for more accountability among all airlines.

Laid Off? Get Health Insurance Online
Since 1986, the most popular way for the recently unemployed to stay insured has been through COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act). The government-mandated program keeps any former employee's corporate health-insurance plan active for 18 months. Now the Internet enables comparison shopping for health insurance, and there are cheaper alternatives to COBRA. Websites like eHealthInsurance.com allow an evaluation of various health plans in any given ZIP code. Gary Lauer, eHealthInsurance's chief executive, says a family of four can usually find an online deal that's better than COBRA's average $600 per month premium, although prices vary by state. "Most people don't realize that it's so easy to compare," he says. But with the national unemployment rate at 5.8%, more folks may start.