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Thursday, Nov 30, 2023

A Lesson in the Bottom Line

The news this month that DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. is likely to lay off 20 percent of its 2,200 employees was rife with irony – and a not-so-gentle reminder to the new generation of Millennials about the ways of the workplace. Jeffrey Katzenberg’s studio makes meticulous, gorgeous animated features, and its latest release, “Rise of the Guardians,” was no exception. It’s a 3-D computer-animated fantasy pitting good against evil and featuring top-notch Hollywood talent such as Alec Baldwin and Hugh Jackman who voiced characters. Yet for reasons unclear – it seems every Hollywood movie is a roll of the dice – the movie didn’t capture the imaginations of as many people as the studio would have liked. It raked in $298 million at the worldwide box office, but given the expense of making and marketing such films analysts expect a write-down close to $100 million. Ouch. Then, the Glendale studio decided to delay the release of its upcoming movie “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” from Nov. 1 of this year to March 7, 2014, which it considered a more optimal release date. It couldn’t afford another Guardian write-down. That, in turn, required the studio to shelve production of “Me and My Shadow,” which had been slated to hit theaters on March 2014. The result: Hundreds of animators and other workers at the studio literally have nothing to do, and DreamWorks can’t afford to pay them to sit on their hands. So where’s the irony and the not-so-gentle reminder about the ways of the workplace? Consider that previous big news DreamWorks made: a bunch of January headlines about how it was named to Fortune magazine’s best places to work list for the fifth consecutive year. The criteria used by the magazine for rating employers includes such good stuff as low turnover, good benefits, workplace flexibility and diversity among employees. And in awarding the honor to the company, Fortune pointed out some of the extras DreamWorks offers: fresh-juice trucks that visit the campus and hand out free smoothies, an allowance given to employees to personalize their work stations. It’s this kind of stuff employers apparently think they need to attract and retain the latest generation of organic, highly caffeinated and socially networked employees. And, hey, who wouldn’t want to tack up an oversized Hello Kitty on some bland cubicle, and on the company’s dime? It’s enough to lull any workers into complacency, into thinking this employer just can’t do without me, especially a young one who thinks DreamWorks epitomizes the modern workplace. By all accounts, Katzenberg is a genuinely nice guy who really does care about his employees. But in case anyone needs a reminder about the bottom line here it is: when push comes to shove, when the black ink turns red, no one is indispensible, employee-friendly company or not. And even a nice guy like Katzenberg knows that. All that Hello Kitty stuff in the cubicle? It turns out to be window dressing after all. • • • I couldn’t help but notice that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced this month an upgrade of the city’s website– lacity.org – to make it more consumer friendly. It’s also establishing My LA 311, an iPhone and Android app, which will launch March 18. The digital age makeover will allow residents to make timely reports of such annoyances as fallen trees, graffiti and, my favorite, potholes. Apparently the app will even let residents take pictures of the city’s thousands of miles of rutted road and attach them to service requests. That’s all fine and good. No one wants City Hall to reside in the dark ages while the rest of Los Angeles zooms along the information superhighway, to borrow a phrase from a few years back. And I’m not even going to rail against the half-million bucks the mayor said the digital initiative took. Hey, IT guys need to be paid too. But I was surprised to drill into the website and discover that the city goal when it comes to potholes is to “repair these small defects in the street within the next business day to mitigate the damage they may cause.” Of course, that’s laughable. By definition, if they are small, they are not likely to cause damage, and we all know many are very, very large – and lots of them too. In fact, as I noted in my Jan. 21 column, two councilmen had wanted to put a $3 billion bond on the May 21 municipal ballot, the proceeds of which would be to repair the city’s rutted 19th century streets. For now, that plan is on hold, but do City Hall a favor. Don’t send in all those pothole service requests at once and crash the server. That will probably cost another $500,000 for those IT guys to fix. Laurence Darmiento is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at editor@sfvbj.com.

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