Category Archives: Communication Planning

Can Supply Chain Visibility Save Lives?

My recent SCN blog post “Focused Brand Management via Supply Chain Visibility” has received nearly 1,000 views since it was posted earlier in the month following my interview with Markus Rosemann, Head of Supply Chain Execution at SAP during the SAPPHIRE Orlando conference.  It is provided here as an abstract to create visibility in non-technical circles so we can all consider if increased supply chain visibility can detect issues before they occur. Or kill. 

Read the full article on SCN under the Business Trends topic for Sustainability and Supply Chain.

Rena Plaza collapse (image courtesy NY Times, Reuters)

In the wake of devastating tragedies in Bangladesh and Paskistan over the past 18 months, OEMs are developing action plans and mitigation strategies to avoid collateral brand damage associated with poorly run and often dangerously unsafe external contract manufacturers.  During my recent podcast for the IXN (Episode IXN002 on iTunes) I was asked what is the top challenge facing global supply chains.  My answer was terrifyingly predictive: brand management and the impact it has on brand sales when a horrific event happens overseas.  Two weeks later, over 1,000 workers (mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers) lost their lives in the building collapse at the Rena Plaza factory in Bangladesh.  While the death toll rose, Disney was one of the first brands to pull out of the country, and the EU developed a memorandum of understanding that many appareland footwear manufacturers were voluntarily adopting.

This week at SAPPHIRE I sat down with Markus Rosemann, Head of Supply Chain Execution, LOB Solution Management, to discuss this problem.  Given the actions of the previous several weeks this issue is top of mind in supply chain operations and risk management functions inside, it was a familiar topic.

Integrated supply chain issues for brand management is a critical success factor because as Rosemann put it, “you cannot lose on this front. How you integrate with your partners is a growing need, not only the process and order level (for example, who was manufacturing on Bangladesh and what percentage of your portfolio), but also the need for the supply network to create visibility.” While this has been an issue for years, the impact on brand management today creates a new need to track and trace supplier activity so companies can protect their brand.

Social and sentiment analysis can also play into that from a demand signal management perspective. Social plug-ins can see the sentiment analysis on brands, platform, and customer preferences. So what does this mean having a true voice of the customer in the wake of a horrific supplier event?  According to Rosemann, “that is finally changing, best margin is not the only driving force” in industries such as apparel and footwear. “This is an area that we see changing in the market place – demand patterns which are changing, and this can all be viewed inside real-time analytics. We see this as a huge opportunity to leverage the power of HANA, for massive data which can be analyzed and understood. From this, information can be pushed onto strategy, supply planning, and then sourced.  This is the real integration and opportunity for a real time supply chain.” I agree and none too soon.



Filed under Audit and Oversight, Big Data, Change Management and Leadership, Communication Planning, Compliance, Global Trade, Information Technology, Marketing and Social Business, Operations, Program Management, Risk Management, Strategy, Supply Chain Management, Sustainability, Technology

Minding the C-Suite Gap: Preliminary Results from CXO Study, Webinar Invitation

Preliminary findings of the CXO Engagement study conducted by Newport Consulting Group and the University of Oregon were released last week during the ISSP National Conference in Chicago. I highlight some of the key points from my exclusive article for Sustainable Industries Magazine.  Join us June 13 at 1PM ET for a full briefing on the study findings, registration is now open.

As we begin to crunch the numbers for our findings of the CXO Engagement Study sponsored by Newport Consulting Group and University of Oregon’s Sustainability Leadership Program, we can now begin to take a step back and gauge where we thought sustainability was falling down inside organizations and what can be done to make sustainability strategies more strategic with the help of the right people inside of the C-suite.

Over 140 organizations responded to our survey which cut across a broad swath of roles, activities, intentions and experiences. Before I get too deep into the analytics, I’d like to offer a personal word of thanks to those of you who took the time and responded. We may yet invite you to serve as interview subjects as we probe a bit deeper into some of the findings and rationale. To our knowledge this is the first time any group or institution has tried to correlate CXO behavior with perceived sustainability performance. We understand and acknowledge we are treading into new waters, and we appreciate you being along for the swim.

First, the high level numbers. There was a predominance of C-suite participants with C-level and vice president titles (38%); directors and managers represented the middle reporting management levels (41%), and the remainder were staff, project team members and consultants (21%). Participant primary job functions were dispersed across a number of areas including management (27%), sustainability/CSR (21%), operations (11%), with areas such as finance, human resources and marketing all represented under 10% levels.

Based on our preliminary findings, we can make some high-level determinations as to what is happening. This will lead over the next several weeks into a clearer picture as to why these things are happening (or not happening) inside organizations.

You can review these trends in my exclusive article for Sustainable Industries Magazine.  Join us June 13 at 1PM ET for a full briefing on the study findings, registration is now open.

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A New Study Examines Engagement of the Entire C-suite in Sustainability Strategy

As a follow-on to my recent article “Why Sustainability isn’t Sticking with the CXO,” Newport Consulting Group colleague Cindy Jennings challenges us to open up to the honest challenge that there is an “engagement gap” with the CXO.  Rather than to simply state the obvious, Cindy calls upon us to ask the brutally honest questions as to why this is so and what can we as both colleagues in the C-suite and as staff members and stakeholders do to change direction.

Many surveys studying the attitudes and leadership of various C-level executives have been conducted over the years. A new CXO Engagement Study conducted by the University of Oregon and Newport Consulting will examine the leadership engagement and influence, motivations and engagement tools of the entire C-suite.  Cindy provides some additional context in her open letter on Sustainable Industries Magazine:

What is driving the CXO “Engagement Gap?” (photo credit:

For years I’ve been reading and quoting surveys about CEOs and chief marketing officers (CMOs) to various clients and those interested enough to listen. More recently, stories and studies about the need for higher-level engagement of chief information officer (CIO) or chief technology officer (CTO) and the chief human resources officer (CHO) are also giving sound reasoning. The Wall Street Journal covered the Deloitte “ReSources 2012” study that outlined opportunities for CIO leadership in energy management systems – one of the most consistently measured performance indicators. Andy Savitz, author of “Talent, Transformation and the Triple Bottom Line: How Companies Can Leverage Human Resources to Achieve Sustainable Growth,” makes the connection for companies on how to leverage their employees — and their HR departments — to achieve their sustainability goals.

There is also speculation that we have reached “peak sustainability” in that chief sustainability officer position creation is on the decline. Within that speculation is whether or not sustainability is starting to be adopted as a standard business strategy that no longer needs a specific champion, or if it is being absorbed by the existing c-Suite. Read the “State of Green Business 2013” for more on that subject.

I agree with my colleague William Newman in his article “3 reasons sustainability isn’t sticking” when he writes “Many [CXOs] are able to ‘talk the talk’ but only a minority are able to ‘walk the walk.’ The survey seeks to help leaders better walk the walk by determining which C-level executive or mix of executives are able to effectively lead and influence triple bottom line strategy for their company, and how they do it.

Visit Sustainable Industries Magazine to read Cindy’s full article.  The survey is live and will run through April 26, 2013. The findings will be shared complimentary with those sharing their own viewpoints on the topic.  You may participate in the study by visiting the University of Oregon survey site.

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How Analytics Shaped an Obama Win, Romney Defeat

The stories are slowly coming out of the election night landscape where an overly confident Governor and an equally confident incumbent President basked in the glow of a hard fought campaign.  As the election results trickled in one thing was becoming clearer by the hour, one candidate had correlated the demographics of the citizen vote particularly in key battleground states – and the other had not.

If 2008 were the election year that President Obama won with a solid push of social media, 2012 could be the year that the incumbent President had a competitive advantage with clear transparency of the voting population based on his use of advanced, cloud-based analytics.  Hosted largely by Amazon Web Services (AWS) as described in this New York Times piece by Steve Lohr, the AWS platform allowed for canvassing, massive phone poling, and real-time forecast projections which painted a very different view particularly of the ground game than what the GOP was predicting based on 2008 demographics.  A completely different ground attack resulting in a largely unpredictable election outcome that even as the key battleground state of Ohio was being called for the President, few Romney supporters would believe the numbers staring in front of them.

This time, the Obama campaign’s data center was mainly Amazon Web Services, the leading supplier of cloud services. The campaign’s engineers built about 200 different programs that ran on the Amazon service including Dashboard, the remote calling tool, the campaign Web site, donation processing and data analytics applications.

These data analytics applications gave the Obama team a clearer vision of the ground game which became painfully obvious in the key state of Ohio:

  • The Obama team had a higher number of voters in their turnout model in the key metropolitan areas surrounding Cleveland, Cincinnati, and the college city of Columbus.  GOP models accounted for a lower overall turnout particularly with historically minority groups.  In short, the Romney camp had too small a denominator for their projections.
  • GOP models also incorrectly accounted for the Libertarian candidate, Governor Gary Johnson, who took most of the 1.6% “other” vote in the Buckeye state.  Conventional thinking in the Romney camp was that these conservatives would “come home” on election night.  They didn’t. Advanced voter forecasting particularly in rural counties where the Governor won overwhelmingly would have showed that the GOP didn’t win “enough” to take the state.

By and large the final embarrassment came on Fox news when a disbelieving election night crew went to confront their own projections room for a final answer on Ohio.  The analysts – realizing they were the messengers about to be shot – sheepishly stood by their projections with “99.95% accuracy” in calling Ohio for the President.  At that point even the Fox News projection room was apparently working with more sophisticated analytics tools than even the Romney campaign had available.

Even national trends escaped the GOP which is cause for much needed reflection.  While the GOP took a larger percentage of the Caucasian vote in 2012 by 2% over 2008, the overall electorate had shifted by nearly 5% of population swing to minority groups, particularly Latinos.  While the Obama camp likely saw this trend emerging, the Romney camp was completely oblivious to the fact that by achieving their own campaign objectives it would cost them 2 million votes.

In the end one could argue that the campaign outcome in the final days would be changed much differently. However the Romney camp, bouyed by its own inaccurate portrayal of the ground game, believed that states like Pennsylvania and Michigan might be in play and diverted much needed funds for advertising and events into those markets.  Romney played the safe “incumbent” role in both Ohio and Virginia since their forecast models showed victories in those states – as well as Florida.  In each case the suburban and urban vote came out strong for the President.  Again, Team Romney was simply working with the wrong denominator.

Much can be said about the candidate profiles and the Republican party will spend months dissecting what went wrong and what should have been.  In the end though, their strategies and ground tactics were flawed due to an inadequate use of available data analytics and forecasting technology which cast a very unrealistic image of what was actually happening in the nation.


Filed under Business Analytics, Change Management and Leadership, Cloud Computing, Cloud Readiness, Communication Planning, Community and Municipal Outreach, Marketing and Social Business, Operations, Technology

Using Social Media for Inbound Strategic Messaging of Sustainability Programs

As part of my exclusive series on social media for sustainability programs for Sustainable Business Forum, I look at the strategic messaging used to promote internal stakeholder adoption, what we call Stage 2 activities.  In Part 1 of the series, we defined an information and program life cycle for social media and social business tool use in sustainability programs.  In Part 2 of the series, we looked at examples of how businesses are using social media platforms to “declare to the world” their objectives and intentions of their sustainability programs.

As social media platforms mature, organizations are looking to leverage social and informal communications internally for business programs.  These social business tools, available now as both extensions to proprietary environments and as open source, stand-alone platforms, create new opportunities for executives and program managers to “hone their strategic message” platform and to gain adoption for sustainability efforts inside the organization.

Relative position of Internal Communications and Marketing – sustainability programs should delineate between the two in terms of purpose and focus. (source: Booz & Company as modified by Newport Consulting Group)

With so many emerging platforms to choose from – everything from internally-focused Facebook groups, YouTube, and Google+ “hang outs” to more sophisticated project based platforms such as Microsoft SharePoint and Jive Software – it’s tough to get a handle on where to begin.  With so many new social business platforms emerging every week,  the question becomes: does the platform work for sustainability programs and is one platform better than another?

Indeed one of the first issues to address is the role of communication inside the organization.  Key to this issue is who is going to own internal communications and who will build this capability, particularly in the area of content creation, for the sustainability program.   This can be tightly integrated with outbound, conventional marketing communications.  Indeed there is a “hand and glove” role between the two – however therein also lies the danger.  “If internal communications starts to sound like it is selling rather than to inform or build consensus, employees may feel as though the sustainability program is ‘green washing’ the company,” explained Newport Consulting Group’s Cindy Jennings, Principal for Sustainability Management services.  “The focus of the sustainability program is to share information and company objectives to build support inside the organization and to select supplier partners.  Leave sales communications for the sales teams.”

Many large corporations, such as Texas Instruments, use internal intranet sites to facilitate sustainability information and program communication. TI’s “INFOLINK” uses standard web-based platforms including polls, blogs and wikis related to their sustainability program.

The importance of getting the employees on-board with sustainability programs should never be under-estimated.  “Our employees are the most important stakeholders in our program since they make our objectives possible,” recounts Lara Hussain, Sustainability Director of Texas Instruments (TI).  Story-telling can be key to the success of internal communications used to promote sustainability programs.  Sustainability teams can provide providing engaging content in blogs, articles or news feeds shared through social business tools.

Hussain recalls that at first the TI approach was simply sharing relevant articles on what was happening in the area of sustainability for education and awareness. “We started with a sustainability website internally, with articles that focused on sustainability use both in the company and at home.  Then we added an open discussion thread on how and why sustainability is important.” Soon this led to animated videos, short and simple, produced internally.  “We experiment every year to find new ways to engage and inspire employees and maintain our focus on sustainability,” explains Hussain.

To read the full story, please visit  Many thanks to Lara Hussain from Texas Instruments who contributed to this article with her outstanding program example.

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CEO Check-list for 2012 | The Return of Big Projects, the Talent Pool, and – again – the Economy

I was reading one of the social blogs earlier today and was struck by the plainness of one opinion of the past year: “2011 was stupid, it sucked and stupid things happened.” One might think that such a chagrined outlook is not what we necessarily write here, but the essence is pretty frank.  2011 was – again – the year things were going to get jump-started and in oh-so-many-ways little materialized.  Residential housing stayed in the trough and the commercial real estate market was so bad that everyone has been ignoring it like the poor little friend-of-a-cousin-whom-you-see-every-five-years-at-Thanksgivingtime who ate too much and complained after the holiday meal.  Then there was that little tsunami episode in Japan where we all learned just how intricate the manufacturing supply chain really was for eight months after the devastation occurred.  As the year drew to a close we found out how important cyber warfare was – and how intrusive it has been all along – when the US Chamber of Commerce disclosed Chinese hackers had infiltrated its systems for over one year before detection.

Fortunately there are some bright spots.  In some areas job growth, buoyed by a resurgence in manufacturing as well as diversification and small business growth, made big head ways.  Earlier this week the Detroit Free Press reported that for the first time since the new millennium there will be positive job growth for the year in the State of Michigan.  Airplanes got bigger – way bigger – as the new massive Boeing Dreamliner 787 entered flight test and Airbus 380 continued deliveries.  We retired the space shuttle while at the same time opened the door for companies like Virgin Galactic to privatize human space travel on a recreational basis.  Apple had another winner – two actually – with its iPhone 4 and 4Gs models, putting pressure on RIM and Motorola and other mobile technology makers to step up or shut up in the exploding device market.  Software maker SAP made a big splash with its high analytic appliance (HANA) platform, showing that – yes, Virginia – you really can run all that batch computing real-time and allow for in-memory and dynamic simulations of critical business information.  Avionics came to the forefront when a coveted stealth drone was captured by Iranian authorities, starting the clock as to how quickly the Iranians, North Koreans, Chinese and even our new World Trade Organization partners – the Russians – can reverse engineer the information contained in that snappy looking fly-by-wire vehicle.

So let’s have a look at what we expected to happen in 2011 and what we do expect to happen in 2012…


#5 – It’s still the economy, stupid. Totally got this one.

Manufacturing is back, but for how long? (Photo from Detroit Free Press)

We are and continue to wait for the convergence of key indicators – particularly consistent sector growth in manufacturing and services – along with a robust savings rate upwards of 10% to really spark the economy.  While most of the conversation is still focused around how consumers spend their money, history has shown that the most economically sustainable recoveries occur when there is adequate savings and reserves.  After years of low – and at times even negative – savings levels, we seem to be plateauing around 6%.  Savings, according to the Bureau of Economic Activity (BEA), includes funds not used in the purchase or investment accounts.

#4 – Sustainability isn’t a fad.  You can either get on the bus now or have it run over you later.  While this is true, mainstream business has yet to catch on.

Most of the work in private business that we see is self-directed at least in the US.  While this is good – I believe it is better for a company to want to change behavior rather than feel it must change behavior (a la compliance and regulations) – we are still waiting for the spark to pick up sustainability beyond more than friendly “green teams” and cost-reduction actions in large publicly-traded companies and private enterprises.  See more on this bending trend, below.

#3 – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  If you don’t have it, break something to make it.  Definitely, as there were some really big winners in 2011.

Business Leaders could learn a lot from dead teenagers. (Photo from FX Network)

I mentioned the mobility game-changers that Apple brought, relegating RIM to third place (depending how you measure) from its once undeniable thrown in the mobile device space.  Small businesses led a lot of innovation this year, and big companies like Volkswagen – now making a pile of vehicles in the US – significantly altered their business models to buy market share in their respective industries.  Even in the motion picture and television industry, this quirky show about ghosts – characters who are not even living according to the script – captured Gen-Z and Millennials in a big way by creating a television series hybrid with American Horror Story.  Talk about out of the box thinking!  Business people need to get into the same disruptive thinking in manufacturing and technology segments.  Learn from dead teenagers how to market to living ones.  One big trend is the continuing decline of email use among Millennials and Gen-Zers.  Social media platforms will continue to be more important for basic electronic communications as well as targeted marketing.

#2 – Don’t just change for change sake – have a plan, stick to it, drive to results.  Crap shoot, some did, many didn’t.

Many companies had excellent plans and great analytics for measuring the performance of those plans going into 2011.  Then the tsunami hit and everything went out the window along with the topical black paint for automotive shops (can you say 10-month back order?)  Risk management has come to the forefront and strategy formulation and organization design are just now re-emerging as approaches that are back on the mind of CEOs particularly in the mid-market.

#1 – Welcome the Mobile Society and Sustainable Mobile Computing Duh, this really was a no-brainer and will be for 2012 as well.

After years of social media experimentation, 2011 showed signs that we are going to get serious – really serious – about mobile computing and make big bets in this arena.  Several aspects to consider.  First in mature markets, the advent of 4G infrastructure and near-field computing (NFC) will eventually make money and currency as we know it obsolete.  Not next year, or maybe the year after, but it will happen.  Smart phones will come with personalized SIM cards which will link to our bank accounts, creating electronic wallets that not only will allow wireless transactions from the device but will also recommend based on buying preferences where the products and services most desired by the consumer might be found.  We saw this in 2011 at an application level, particularly with merchants like Starbucks whose smart phone apps were deadly accurate and screaming fast. Second in developing markets, the mobile device will need to operate like a laptop or home office computer to drive commerce.  Applications with a thin “cloud computing” layer and footprint will enable peer-to-peer transactions so that commerce can exist without a large infrastructure.  Finally, the move to sustainable mobility – such as the Our Mobile Generation program – will create ways in which highly toxic mobile devices of today can be made and used on a more environmentally friendly manner.

So what about 2012?  Some thoughts, ideas and trend-benders:

#5 – The Talent Pool will Continue to Drain.

The talent pool will continue to drain in 2012, particularly in the US market.

While hiring has picked up in many markets, employment stagflation – and along with that the talent development of many decision makers including entry-level management – will create issues.   According to human capital consultants and futurists the Herman Group, employment in the US market will remain at near or even higher than 7.5% in the US market.  Meaning that many positions that would normally be added to back office functions in particular – purchasing, human resources, recruiting, supply chain management – will be working with staff that are over-taxed and in many cases under-qualified to handle workload, position responsibilities, or both.  Working with large corporations will require technology solutions to be explained v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y in the US market in particular in order for very busy, over-burdened and in some cases poorly trained staff to take advantage of business benefits.  Until hiring picks up, for mainstream manufacturing and service industries mediocrity will reign supreme for another year.

#4 – It’s STILL the Economy, Stupid.

Until the magic numbers converge, unemployment will remain high, workers over-tasked, and $2 trillion in capital will remain on the sidelines in the US market.  There is no guarantee that the Obama administration will play nice with the US Chamber and other business groups, resorting to politics and regulation versus business cooperation. However there is also no guarantee that we should expect anything different after the 2012 election.  At the time of this writing the Republicans can’t seem to aim their sites higher than their own foot after stumbling with the employment tax relief vote.  All this means that the economy moves up a notch on this year’s CEO list.  Pray for no natural disasters in 2012 and that the Mayans just ran out of room on their calendar.

#3 – Technology Required – You have it or you don’t.

Don't bother me if you can't cloud...

Second generation cloud computing, where you can combine both on-premises and network based solutions, is now reality.  It isn’t an either-or kind of thing and companies are realizing it is less expensive to have specific functions – such as purchasing or human capital management – or for operations of full subsidiaries to be managed in the cloud.  This can in some ways address the talent pool issues (see #5 above) in some of these functions by automating key processes such as employee benefit self service, purchasing analysis, employee performance management, and some logistics functions.  Security issues have been addressed and now the real hurdle is cultural.  Large companies are looking at software providers expecting these “check-list items” will be provided as options or at least on the future product roadmap.  Even product companies, such as home appliance and automotive  manufacturers, have mobile apps to “check-in” on the performance or maintenance cycles.  Need to start and unlock the car for your husband who locked his keys in the glove box from your smart phone? No problem.  Crazier stuff than that will become not just a fad option, consumers will demand it.

#2 – Innovative companies will make bets, take risks, and claim market share.

I see it in the corporate board rooms and with owners of small to mid-sized companies.  Growth will be a top priority in 2012.  Which will be nice, since that word feel off the radar screen for many executives over the past three years.  In case you missed it the manufacturing recovery will enter its third year according to trends from the Institute of Supply Management (ISM) in 2012.  Mergers and acquisitions will pick up as companies blend both organic and non-organic growth strategies.  I am looking forward to my prediction becoming a reality on this one in particular.

#1 – Big Projects are Back, and they must be Mobile

You knew I had to include mobility in this fray somewhere and here it is.  But the caveat is that mobility at the enterprise level will be a major workstream of larger systems transformation projects.  We saw this trend emerge with our crowd source poll earlier in the year regarding the relative marginal costs compared to the significant increase in project approval rates for systems transformation efforts.  Yes mobility is big.  Really BIG. Mobility also needs to be paid for now that it is proven in the enterprise space.  Doing this as a part of a resurgence in large project activity helps to spread expenses and increases the “cool factor” of each project.

Best to everyone for a prosperous and healthy new year!

For more information on scheduling an initial discovery session or for public speaking events please forward your inquiry via email to or visit our firm website.

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Decompressing … and Learning … from #TEDxFlint

It’s been over a week now since TEDx came to Flint, Michigan a modest hard-working class city best known for what it has lost over the past through years through the lens of producer Michael Moore.  What TEDx attempts to do is to illustrate the possibilities, for a city and community moving into a new age of revitalization such as Flint.

Fellow speakers Tamika Lamison, Catalina Talero and me in the Green Room at TEDxFlint (photo courtesy of C. Talero)

Our approach was to choose the 16th letter – P – as our guidepost and develop an idea or concept or creative expression that would fit the TEDx motif. My offering was a “Personal Model for Sustainability” based on some of the early coaching work I have made with professionals and executives trying to either implement sustainable business practices into their own organizations, or attempting to find the next outlet for their life journey and a balance of mind, body and soul (some relationship either spiritual or with their community) which can allow individual growth and expression.

The discussions and ideas over the course of the day illustrated a number of possibilities (another P word!).  Ranging from “Blaming the Recipe” to a new way of looking at Not-for-Profit organizations (call them “high impact” organizations, thanks Doug!), to the need for all of us to be a “Hero in Waiting.”  We learned how a bounced check and heartbreak can open the door to fulfilling dreams and how education can save your life (thanks Tamika and Catalina).  We were challenged to Stop Discounting People (thanks Terry) and our eyes were opened to the creative movement sweeping the city and the surrounding community.

This for me was an amazing day.  I am so proud of my fellow speakers, the organizers and for my colleagues at Northwood University in Flint for supporting my presentation and those of all others who were able to participate at the University of Michigan – Flint campus and around the world via live internet link and steaming video.

Look for a number of TEDx presentations from Flint over the next several weeks at the TEDxFlint site and on YouTube.

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