Staples’s Wayne-Based Safety Guru Bob Risk: Most Businesses Are Not Prepared for Emergencies

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Careful, people of Wayne. You may be putting yourself at risk!  Is your town unsafe?

It would appear to be the case. Especially if all you did for a living was consider safety. And that’s the dilemma faced by Bob Risk. He’s the national safety, health and wellness manager at Staples (a client of mine). Poor Bob. And no, in case you were wondering, he didn’t earn that position just because of his name. He has decades of experience selling safety-related products and services. And everywhere he looks he sees safety concerns. Even in beautiful Wayne, which also happens to be his beloved hometown of more than 30 years.

“I walk up North Wayne Avenue and see business owners who I’ve known for years who just don’t really understand all the hazards they face,” Risk recently told me. “It concerns me.”

Are we in danger by shopping and eating there? No, not really. But Wayne is no different than anywhere else.

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The Confidence Gap: Do Women Lack Confidence, or Does the World Lack Confidence in Women?

Photo |Shutterstock.com

Photo |Shutterstock.com

Women lack confidence —  so says a piece in The Atlantic called “The Confidence Gap,” written by two women with impressive careers at ABC World News and BBC America. Confidence, they say, is just as important as competence in getting ahead, and many women suffer from self-doubt. But the confidence gap between men and women doesn’t necessarily reflect the lack of confidence women have for themselves. Perhaps it’s about a lack of confidence the world places in women.

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The Most Powerful Man in Philadelphia

Brian Roberts Comcast

Photography by Adam Jones

The last time we ranked the most powerful people in Philadelphia, in November 2009, Brian Roberts came in at a solid but not spectacular number 11. The book on Roberts was that he used his clout to run his company and not necessarily to influence life in the city.

So what’s happened in four and a half years that’s vaulted him to the top of our list? Simple: Comcast is vastly larger, more powerful and more ambitious than it was then — a reflection of Roberts’s growing vision for the company.

Since acquiring control of NBC Universal in 2011, Comcast has become one of the world’s most prominent and profitable media conglomerates, with interests in everything from Internet service and home security to movies, TV production and theme parks. And its momentum shows no sign of stopping. In February the company announced its intention to buy Time Warner Cable, which — if the sale is approved by the FCC and the Justice ­Dep­artment — would give it control of 30 percent of all U.S. cable and Internet markets. Perhaps more importantly for Philadelphia, the company also announced plans to build a second office tower in Center City — this one designed by renowned architect Norman Foster. (Ground will be broken this summer on the new building, which will bring 6,300 temporary construction jobs and 2,800 permanent positions to Center City.)

Philly Mag editor Tom McGrath talked with Roberts, 54, about the state of the company, plans for the new building, and how Philadelphia’s fate is now entwined with that of its most high-profile corporation.

With the focus on innovation and technology, your new building seems to be a statement about where Comcast is headed as well as a major commitment to Philadelphia. Does it feel that way to you? It does. Initially the project was started by simply … we’re out of space, which is hard to imagine. We’re always careful not to get ahead of ourselves, but we have a thousand employees who work in downtown Philadelphia who don’t have an office in the Comcast Center. And so the project began purely out of space needs. Once we started to discuss what we would build, that’s when I felt we should try to think about what the company’s needs are going to be. Where is the growth coming from? And a lot of that growth is around innovation and technology.

And that raised the question: Should we build that in Philadelphia? And the answer is, we think we can successfully recruit and attract the talent, and retain the talent, and do something that perhaps no one is doing anywhere in the country — build a vertical campus, and have the newest part of the campus be completely different from the last building and give it its own personality and sense of purpose.

Ten years ago, Comcast was mostly a cable company. After the NBC Universal acquisition, you became a cable and content company. How do you see yourselves going forward? We’ve thought about that question a lot, and with the help of [chief communications officer] D’Arcy Rudnay, we have a real definition. We view ourselves uniquely at the crossroads of media and technology. We are helping to create news, entertainment, sports, broadband, connectivity for homes and businesses, new advertising platforms. There are other news and sports and media companies, and there are other cable companies, and there are people who only focus on phone and wireless. Our company has the opportunity to touch all of those spaces here and, hopefully in the future, around the world.

Steel Magnolia

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Furnaces and fireworks for the Fourth of July. Photography by Jonathan Davies

John Callahan, a 44-year-old natural salesman turned preternatural politician, looks down at the small plate of tuna crudo on the table. Fork poised, he considers the unlikelihood that he would be sampling such a dish in a swank new Italian restaurant on the main drag of the traditionally working-class ethnic enclave called the South Side in his hometown of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

“Who’da thunk it,” he says, with a rapid-fire wheezy chuckle. He spears an olive-oil-drenched nubbin of raw fish. “I often tell people: This is not your grandfather’s — hell, it’s not your father’s — town of Bethlehem.”

If he walked out the front door of Molinari Mangia, Callahan, who recently ended a decade as Bethlehem’s mayor, could peer toward the hulking 20-story blast furnaces that were once the hot heart of Bethlehem Steel, a premier industrial powerhouse of the last century. For much of that century, into the 1990s, those belching furnaces — “convoluted structures that look like smoke-stained dinosaurs snorting into the sky,” in the words of one writer — delivered a daily reassuring signal to the city of 75,000. As long as what locals called “The Steel” was working, so was Bethlehem.

But The Steel, reeling from foreign competition, plagued by myopic management and hamstrung by its unions, shut down the furnaces in 1995. The company spiraled into bankruptcy and finally dissolution. The city lost its namesake company, and a fifth of its taxable land devolved into an unused brownfield site, transformed almost overnight into a Rust Belt relic facing an existential crisis: What do you do with a huge plot (picture downtown Philly, Market to Spruce, river to river) of polluted land littered with industrial-era detritus?

More than 10 years after The Steel’s bankruptcy, the emerging answer gives John Callahan a story to tell. One day he showed up at daybreak at those big blast furnaces, which have been preserved and repurposed (complete with a glowing LED light treatment) as the city’s largest art installation. In the shadow of the furnaces now are two sleek modernist glass, steel and concrete cubes. One houses state-of-the-art studios for the Lehigh Valley’s public television station, WLVT; the other is a multi-level visual and performing arts center called ArtsQuest, with several chic performance spaces (one is an amalgam of Philly’s World Cafe Live and New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Center) and a two-screen art-house cinema. On a landscaped plot of grass hard against the furnaces is a concert pavilion designed by Philly architecture firm WRT; it looks like an unfolding piece of origami. The whole area is called SteelStacks, and it’s just a short walk from Bethlehem’s real game changer: a nearly $1 billion casino, hotel, shopping mall and events complex that began operating five years ago as the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem.

“This one Sunday,” Callahan recalls, “we were having sunrise yoga under what they called an ‘earth harp.’” He lets out his characteristic chuckle. “The harp was these giant bands that came off the ArtsQuest building. Someone was playing it by jumping up and grabbing onto them.

“So I’m kicking off the show, doing a little welcoming speech. And I couldn’t help but imagine a rigger working up on those blast furnaces, looking down and saying, ‘What the fuck kind of nonsense is going on down there?’ How could that kind of person ever imagine a day when there’d be people doing sunrise yoga underneath an earth harp at an arts center called SteelStacks?

“Wow,” he says, “what a change!”

Report: Big Companies Aren’t Paying PA Taxes

Ten Fortune 500 companies paid no Pennsylvania taxes at all during a five-year span from 2008-2012, a think tank reported Thursday afternoon.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center said that of 269 Fortune 500 companies doing business in the state, 90 paid no state income tax during at least one year of the study.  “When profitable corporations don’t pay taxes, other businesses and the rest of us pay more,” said Sharon Ward, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.

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Philly Benefits From Energy Boom. But Is It Safe?

A series of stories today that paint a big and complex picture: Philadelphia is benefitting from an “energy boom”—refineries in danger of being shuttered a couple of years ago are now back at work. But getting the raw materials here—oil and gas—remains a tricky, even scary proposition.

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