Thursday, November 29
Woman in Charge I: Betsy Bernard
If you are not passionate about your work, you are not going to be successful at it, says Betsy Bernard, 52, a former president of AT&T.
Bernard, who made the Fortune list of the 50 most powerful women in business for three consecutive years, served 18 years at AT&T. She left and in 2001 was called back to take over the consumer division. In the new position she would have more than 50,000 employees in a $27 billion business with 4 million global business customers.
To take that job she had to move from Denver, with her partner, back to New Jersey. “At every level the division was in disarray, particularly emotionally. It had been the strong and proud and successful division, but now morale was low. The ability to turn that situation around at lightning speed, in 12 months, for tens of thousands of employees — that was as much fun as I ever had, and as satisfying.”
Bernard, who left AT&T three years ago and is almost completely happy in retirement, will discuss “The Seven Golden Rules of Leadership” at a reception for the United Ways of New Jersey Women’s Leadership Council on Thursday, November 29, at 5:30 p.m. at the Bridgewater Manor in Bridgewater. The council aims to bring together like-minded women dedicated to philanthropy and community issues, and it prepares women for executive positions on non-profit boards. For reservations call Sharon Washington at 973-242-6726 or E-mail: email@example.com. The seven:
Everybody’s time is valuable. “This is a rule that is important to me, and it was abused in the organizations I have lived in. People who say they won’t be late for the boss but will be late for the people that work for them — they always astounded me. For the boss to be late is a double violation because it wastes people’s time hierarchically. It has such impact on productivity.”
“I grew up in a culture where we were early rather than being late. If we were early to church, we were supposed to make the time in the pew productive, and be praying.”
“Time is the most important thing each of us has. Whether purposeful or not, the lack of respect that being late demonstrates is significant.”
Just say thank you. Appreciate people who support you. “The greatest joy for me always came from supporting other people. It is inspiring to have them feel good about their personal role, to get them excited about the mission. It makes you feel good when everyone around you is feeling good.”
Integrity is everything. Most workers won’t be faced with a six-figure bribe to support an international contract, so Bernard focuses on more down-to-earth examples. “Make sure that you’re really clear as a leader as to where the line is firmly drawn and that absolutely, under no circumstances, is it okay to cross that line,” she has said. “Actions speak as loudly as words, and so you have to make sure that you are modeling in a very loud and public way the ethical climate that you are expecting of the organization.”
If you don’t know, who does. Provide vision for the organization, in every role you have. And be accountable.
“No matter what job I ever had, I always believed I was accountable. I had an opportunity to provide leadership in every role I have played. My advice is to grab it. It is there for the taking.”
“From a career standpoint, you need to make conscious choices and be accountable for them. If an employee doesn’t want to take advantage of free tuition aid, that’s your choice, but you can’t be complaining five years from now why you are being passed over for opportunities.”
Bernard aggressively pursued her opportunities, moving between 18 different jobs at five different companies, in 9 or 10 physical relocations. “There were conscious decisions and tradeoffs, and I loved every one the jobs. How lucky any of us are when we have choices and get to make those kind of tradeoffs.”
Get to the point. “I believe that communication of all sorts is essential to leadership. I have delivered hundreds if not thousands of speeches and listened to hundreds if not thousands of speeches. If you care about your audience you figure out ways to keep them awake, and one of those ways is to be brief. When I first wrote this speech, I had 15 points. Now I have seven.”
Be candid. Develop an ability to gently call people on issues when you observe them.
No temper tantrums. She learned that rule at the knee of her mother, a successful newspaper columnist and television commentator. “My mother was on TV every day, and as a little kid you take all that for granted. Certainly I grew up believing I could do absolutely anything I wanted to.”
In high school in Massachusetts she held the usual kinds of leadership roles. She went to St. Lawrence College in Canton, New York, spending a semester in Kenya and joining AT&T after her graduation in 1977.
Bernard is lucky, she says, that she spent the bulk of her career at AT&T. “In the 1970s AT&T was sued by the federal government on sexual discrimination, signed a consent decree, and made a commitment. It was real easy to make the case against the entire Bell system that women were being discriminated against. It was one of the biggest, most significant cases. By the time I joined in 1977, AT&T was committed to wanting to give women equal opportunity. They paid a lot of money and really tried to change.”
When she was a young woman she did not have first-hand experience with discrimination. “I always believed that I had to and did work twice as hard, make twice as many personal sacrifices, in order to accomplish what I accomplished.” But the concept of “feminism” did not become meaningful until she was in her late 30s. “Then I’m looking around and wondering where all the other women are. When I was 37, looking at the candidates for a particular job and listening to the subtle biases that creep into those conversations. I started to see just how prevalent that subtle discrimination was.”
After 18 years at AT&T Bernard left to be executive vice president of the Denver-based telecommunications company Qwest National Mass Markets, returning for three years starting in 2001. In 2004, at age 49, she retired. But in the past decade she joined the boards of such major companies as United Technologies, Principal Financial Group, Serco Group plc, URS, and BearingPoint. “It was the right time to leave, for me and for the company. AT&T needed to integrate and restructure and consolidate in a big way. We needed to get acquired, and sticking around to do that wasn’t fun. I wasn’t going to add any value.”
After she left she spent a couple of years entertaining other possibilities. “It was like dating. When I was finally on the altar, with a CEO ring about to be put on my finger, I realized, ‘My god, I don’t want to do this any more.”
She was ready to give up the power, influence, and control. “Particularly when you have had an accelerated life and career as I have enjoyed, the mortality thing starts to creep in. You think “Gee if I died tomorrow, would I be pissed that I just worked nonstop for 30 years.’ My 30 year old nephew was a world-ranked swimmer, and I never saw him swim. I can go for a walk in the middle of the day in the beautiful surroundings (near Basking Ridge) where I live. We have a puppy. Simple stuff. It was the right time to depart.”
Bernard has just one regret about retiring. Without an executive job, she is less effective as a gay rights supporter. She is active in lesbian and gay service groups and sits on the board of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD). “When deciding to leave my role, I realized that I was giving up that ability to create a big positive spotlight for other people, to make it OK for others.”
The telecommunications industry has been a leader granting domestic partnership benefits, and Bernard served as a role model for the gay employee population.
Attending corporate events with her partner, Laurie Peter, made a significant statement. “When we walked into board dinners, it was so satisfying when the retired CEO of a Fortune 200 company would approach me to tell me about his daughter and her partner who were starting a business, or doing some other project.” Seeing Bernard so successful helped the older, more conservative executives to affirm their own gay or lesbian children. “It made it OK for them.”
— Barbara Fox
Friday, November 30
Woman in Charge II: Elizabeth Tallett
Elizabeth Tallett sits on the boards of six public companies. She helps the young companies move from early stage to development stage, but her favorite story is about a seventh firm, which does research on drugs for osteoporosis. This company had a good start-out business model, to do tests for other firms to fund its own research. Serendipitously, one of the therapies it developed, which was being tested to try to grow bone, also managed to grow hair. Normal mice turned into hirsute mice. “It turns out to be good for baldness and hair loss after cancer treatment,” says Tallett. The firm got funding to the tune of $20 million.
Tallett, of Hunter Partners, and Robert Hugin, president and COO of Celgene, will be the keynote speakers at the New Jersey Technology Council’s regional commercialization conference on Friday, November 30, at 7:30 a.m., at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab on the Forrestal Campus. The topic: “Tech Transfer to Commercialization: Fueling the Region’s Economic Growth Engine.” Cost: $189. Call 856-787-9700.
Tallett will focus on how great ideas, coming out of universities or private laboratories, can be commercialized, and how patentable ideas attract attention from venture capitalists and emerge into the wider world of real products and real opportunities.
Tallett has 30 years experience at many different levels. She grew up near London, where her father had an accounting company, and majored in math and economics at the University of Nottingham, Class of 1970. She did a three-year stint at a utility before she switched to pharmaceuticals, joining the United Kingdom office of Warner Lambert, where she climbed to be the highest ranking woman. She came to the United States in 1981 and stayed in north Jersey for three years, and worked as head of marketing for the Parke Davis United States pharmaceutical division. In 1987 she joined Centocor, on Philadelphia’s Main Line, and became president of pharmaceuticals, growing the company to 1,000 employees.
In 1993 she joined Transcell, a carbohydrate combinatorial chemistry firm on Cornwall Road, and built the company from the ground up, staying for nearly four years. Now she is a principal with Hunter Partners LLC, a management company for early to mid-stage pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device companies, and she is also CEO of Marshall Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a specialty pharmaceutical company, and of Dioscor Inc. Among the boards on which she sits is Des Moines-based Principal Financial Group, where she sits at the same table as another woman profiled above, Betsy Bernard.
Nearly 15 years ago we asked Tallett the glass ceiling question. At that time, with Transcell, she was one of the few female biotech CEOs in the United States (U.S. 1, November 24, 1993). Back then she said she had not experienced any barriers, but that she had climbed faster in the smaller companies. “I think in the traditional large companies, both in Britain and America, it has been difficult for the women to get to the top,” she said then.
Fast forward to this century, and though she still believes further improvement is needed, “the situation has improved dramatically.”
Though Tallett travels frequently, she manages to spend three weeks out of four at her home in Stockton, and she has one adolescent son and two grown sons. “I have loved being a mum and am lucky to have a great career,” she says.
Regarding the funding challenges for each company stage:
Packaging the idea effectively, Tallett says, is the biggest challenge for early stage companies that seek funds in a range of from $3 million to $5 million. “It is very difficult to flesh out the idea and present it so as to get the opportunity a fair chance,” she says. “There are 101 reasons to be turned down. To put the complete package together takes science, art, and a little luck.”
No one person has the answers, but the package presented to investors must take into account the needs of the scientist and the financier. It must showcase a patentable opportunity. It must position the opportunity in the market and sell the dream.
Finding experienced managers is a requirement for positioning the early stage opportunity. “In the early days, in the 1980s and ‘90s, the investors did not place a high enough regard for management skills,” she says. Now there are more potential CEOs with experience in both business management and technology.
Making a viable prototype is a requirement for a company in the next stage, the development stage. “You have supported the idea with some data, have moved beyond ideas, and are now ready to make a real product.”
If the product is a drug, it must be in clinical trials, and this can take from five to ten years and $100 million. In contrast, medical device or IT firms might need only $20 to $50 million. Venture capitalists are generally ready to invest from $5 million to $45 million. “Once you get past early stage, more funding sources are willing to pick up the bill,” she says. “But the product has to show it can make whatever the norm of your market is before people will invest that kind of money.”
“You need to show the market, the business strategy (licensing, or marketing and selling the product), and the exit strategy, whether you will sell the product yourself or sell to a large company.” In the early days, going public was a popular exit strategy, but no more. Says Tallett: “Now you have to have a product on the market or be close to having a product on the market before your IPO.
Anyone who talks about financing high tech firms in New Jersey ends up talking about Silicon Valley, as will she. “The investing community in Silicon Valley is more willing to put more money into more risky ventures and has a greater openness in dealing with young companies,” she says. To be more like the Silicon Valley, New Jersey’s universities need to be more prolific, “to get used to breeding companies,” as she puts it.
Timing remains the major problem for any stage company, anywhere, says Tallett: “In the recent past people were able to get high returns without taking much risk.” Early stage companies, with a high degree of risk, were less attractive in those days. With the equity markets now in turmoil, the unpredictable growth cycle of a new company may seem less risky. Says Tallett: “I think we are coming back into a cycle where people will be more interested in funding early stage companies.”
— Barbara Fox
Monday, December 3
At Last: A Funny
& Honest Lawyer
‘Lawyers have among the highest rates of divorce; the highest rates of spousal abuse, and the absolute number one odds of being shot by the vice-president.”
“In my family you had three choices – be a doctor, be a lawyer, or be a black sheep. But I’m black, and Jackie Mason is Jewish, and in his clan, he says, ‘if the son is smart, make him a doctor. If he is slow, make him a lawyer.”
Who can stand in front of a group of attorneys and get away with such remarks? Probably only Sean Carter, billed as America’s funniest lawyer. And he is the attorney selected by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education to jovially lecture his peers on the very serious issue of blending honesty into law. Carter’s talk “Legal Ethics & Professionalism,” is Saturday, December 1, at 9:30 a.m. at the Saddle Brook Marriott. Cost: $290. Visit www.njicle.com or call 732-214-8500.
Before he broke the mold, Carter had all the training to make him yet another very dull, very rich attorney. Growing up in Los Angeles, he attended Brown University, graduating with a degree in computer science in l989. Three years later, he emerged from Harvard University, law degree in hand, and went to work as general counsel for a series of large firms. Helping to expand such corporations as GNC, Experian, Safelite Auto Glass, and J. Crew, Carter engineered leveraged buyouts.
“Then, somewhere in 2002, the whole thing felt very pointless. Who was I helping? Where was my fun?” he began asking himself. Carter then left his law position and began a career in stand up comedy. “I got booked in bars telling law jokes to drunks; and in a nutshell, it went very badly,” he says. Then one day a friend from the Institute for Continuing Legal Education invited him to give one of the new legal ethics courses, required for all lawyers. He loved it. The attorneys loved it, and more importantly they got the message. Today, Carter’s only clients are his fellow attorneys whom he meets as he lectures on legal behavior all across the country.
The Carter ethics message is simple: It is the attorney’s job to stand and give truth before power. Also that ethics consists of mainly obeying the 10 commandments.
For Carter, ethics is not some gray scale on which one weighs profit, various benefits, and fear of being caught. Your parents and church taught you what is right. If you have forgotten, the law and state bar tell you what is right. But further, there is a spirit of being an attorney that all lawyers must recapture.
Downtrodden defenders. “Wouldn’t it be nice if President Bush felt he first had to kill all the lawyers, before establishing offshore torture and other schemes?” says Carter. When Shakespeare’s Dick the butcher in “Henry VI” was joining his fellow tradesmen in dubious plots, he cried, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” In Elizabethan times, lawyers were seen as the ones most likely to defend the people against bizarre dictatorial edicts.
That was Elizabethan times. “You still see lawyers taking their historical role today, just not in the United States,” says Carter. “Look at who is leading the revolution for democracy in Pakistan. It’s lawyers and monks. Can you imagine that in America?”
The humorist’s rebuke to his profession seems a bit harsh. The American Civil Liberties Union is populated by attorneys who, for little or no pay, fight desperately for human rights, one individual at a time. Yet, by in large, those in the legal profession are seen as the defenders of tradition, established mores, and of those in power.
“I don’t think Ghengis Khan was as bad as lawyers are pictured today,” says Carter. “But unless we, as a whole, start actively campaigning for public good, we will never get our reputations back.” He points to the Lions Clubs that have become associated with supporting eyecare. Doctors Without Borders has justifiably boosted the entire image of the medical profession. Yet the legal profession has only the ACLU, and that is constantly under attack by attorneys themselves. Law needs a charitable niche toward which a substantial percent in the trade visibly, continually contributes.
Ethics commandments. For Carter, legal ethics is merely a matter of getting back to Biblical basics. Thou shalt not kill. As a lawyer, you are ethically bound to save each life to your utmost ability. This includes those slices of life which might be sacrificed to a prison cell. To do any less is murder. Thou shalt not steal and thou shalt not bear false witness are fairly self-explanatory, says Carter, “and here, the good Lord provided very little wriggle room.”
Concerning thou shalt not commit adultery, Carter provides a broader explanation. “Lawyers are all very sexy. All of them except me, I have been told,” jokes Carter. “But seriously, people come to you at their most vulnerable state, with their most burdensome problems. We must make sure that we never, never take advantage of this vulnerability in any way whatsoever.”
Truth vs. fast track. Beyond giving back to charity, beyond not doing wrong, there exists a spirit of legal service that Carter calls attorneys to reestablish. When hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf area, cries for help went out to the churches, to the press, and the government. “You didn’t hear any of these poor folks saying, ‘Let’s go to the state bar for aid.’ No one was saying ‘Thank heavens we have lawyers to defend our rights and needs,’” says Carter. But this is the image — and the reality — that he believes attorneys could collectively portray.
Instead, lawyers are too often seen as being bulldogs for hire — savage, greed-driven individuals who will leave no meat on our enemies’ bones. Unfortunately, this public perception has spilled over into the profession itself. “Legal civility is going the way of beehive hairdos,” says Carter. “But if we don’t treat each other honorably, we cannot be expected to be seen as honorable people.”
Professional civility and defending truth in the corridors of power seems very noble, but there is a price. The young attorney who battles his firm’s largest client over a contract that circumvents environmental law may be derailing his partnership track. Many a lawyer who has refused to do the dirty deeds his client calls for has found himself clientless.
To those who are wavering, Carter points to the last century’s most renowned and beloved attorneys — Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. “Guaranteed. They are and will be remembered far longer than the lawyer performing the largest leveraged buyout in history. And they never had to worry about who would treat them to their next meal — people lined up to bring each of these lawyers gifts.”
Carter is scarcely calling for all attorneys to shed their wealth, don loin cloths, and devote each waking moment to serving the poor. Rather, he suggests attorneys guide their careers by their own personal integrity.
The young, environmentally minded lawyer should indeed strongly resist his polluting client’s wishes. Yet he can also make himself valued to his firm by searching out and bringing in scores of pro-environmental cases. If successful, he might transform the partnership’s image as a law firm that, among other things, fights for green. “If your firm’s leadership wants no part of your personal beliefs or crusades, then truly you have lost nothing by leaving them,” says Carter. Perhaps that’s some of the best free legal advice any career-oriented individual can ever receive. — Bart Jackson
Borrowers vs. banks, investors vs. brokers, regulators vs. lenders. As the real estate market slows and huge numbers of subprime borrowers begin to default on their loans, fingers are pointing in many directions. Were the banks “too creative” in issuing loans? Did appraisers over-inflate housing appraisals? How much of the blame lies with Wall Street? In the wake of the subprime mortgage meltdown, there may be one thing more sure than death and taxes: everyone is litigating.
New Jersey currently ranks 13th in the nation in foreclosure rates. To help New Jersey attorneys learn more about the many issues of the subprime mortgage fiasco, the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education will hold a seminar, “Navigating the Subprime Mortgage Meltdown: How to Effectively Represent Banks, Mortgage Companies, Financial Institutions, Shareholders, Investors & other Businesses Affected by Subprime Lending.”
The seminar, presented in cooperation with the New Jersey League of Community Bankers, will be Monday, December 3, at 5 p.m. at the New Jersey Law Center, New Brunswick. Cost: $199. Register online at www.njicle.com or call 732-214-8500. Leonard A. Bernstein, an attorney with Reed Smith at Forrestal Village, will be one of several guest speakers at the seminar.
Bernstein, who been with Reed Smith since 1992, founded the firm’s New Jersey office. He is also the founder and chair of Reed Smith’s Financial Services Regulatory Group and concentrates his practice in the representation of banks, thrifts, mortgage bankers, and finance companies in providing consumer credit compliance advice on federal, Pennsylvania and New Jersey laws and regulations. He is a nationally-known expert with the federal Truth-in-Lending Act, Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, and similar laws, and works regularly with federal and state financial services regulators. He went to the University of Pennsylvania and has his law degree from Temple.
Subprime loans are non-traditional loans — high risk loans that usually carry a higher-than-average interest rate. They are designed for people who do not qualify financially for a traditional loan. Many of the loans offered in recent years carried low initial interest rates that increased significantly after two or three years. Other loans offered zero money down or variable interest rates, while still others required little or no documentation of the borrower’s income or ability to repay the loan.
“Banks traditionally sold their mortgages to government-run Fannie May or Freddie Mac,” explains Bernstein. “But in the 1990s and 2000s an even more energetic and robust market began purchasing these loans.” A booming real estate market and relatively cheap credit created a growing demand for more product. “Lenders were encouraged to be aggressive in making non-traditional loans,” i.e. loans with a higher risk factor, and that in turned, “created even more hunger for more product continuing to fuel the fire,” he says.
Many subprime lenders took their companies public. Third-party investors such as commercial banks and other investment institutions also got into the market, and institutional investors purchased the loans in large numbers, pooling them together and selling bonds representing interests in the pool. Some institutional investors also extended credit lines to subprime lenders based upon the lender’s ability to meet certain financial targets, fueling the desire to close even more of these high-risk loans.
About 2.6 percent of U.S. mortgages were categorized as subprime in 2000. In 2006 that number had swollen to 13.5 percent.
But when real estate values dropped, many borrowers found themselves “upside down” on their mortgages, owing more money than their house was worth. In addition, large fees and interest rates that spiked after the first few years kicked in, bringing the number of defaults to record levels. “The engine sputtered to a halt and collapsed as values plummeted,” says Bernstein.
As borrowers struggled, institutional investors pressured the lenders to repurchase the loans. The investors have cut the lenders’ lines of credit and/or stopped purchasing and securitizing the loans, leaving large numbers of subprime lenders filing for bankruptcy protection.
The collapse has left plenty of room for litigation on all sides, says Bernstein. Some of the potential suits involve:
Borrowers vs. Lenders: Subprime borrowers may file individual or class action suits against the lenders, alleging that the lenders failed to disclose, or misrepresented, the terms of the loans, or engaged in predatory lending practices.
Investors vs. Brokers: Many subprime lenders expanded their businesses rapidly and went public, but stock prices for these companies have lost a great deal of value in the past year.
Shareholders are now suing the companies with a variety of claims, including breach of fiduciary duty, violations of state lending lawn, and securities fraud.
Regulators vs. Lenders: Regulatory agencies and state attorneys general may also sue the lenders, either on behalf of the borrowers, claiming misrepresentation, or on behalf of the institution investors, claiming misstatements in public financial statements. The SEC, several state attorneys general, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the New York Stock Exchange have already launched investigations against a number of subprime lenders.
New York State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo announced in November that he is bringing suit against eAppraiseIt, a subsidiary of First American Corporation and one of the largest real estate appraisal management companies in the country. The suit alleges that the appraisal company gave in to pressure from Washington Mutual to use a list of “proven appraisers” who would provide inflated appraisals of residential real estate.
Bankruptcies and Foreclosures: Attorneys are not just lining up on the side of the large institutions. The subprime meltdown has already generated huge numbers of foreclosures by borrowers, and bankruptcies are also expected, said Bernstein. These people also need to be represented.
Lending institutions can protect themselves in a number of ways. “First, they need to be careful in their credit decisions and underwriting. Second, they need to be responsive on servicing these loans,” says Bernstein. “Work with borrowers and be flexible in revising and recasting loans in more affordable terms.”
However, some borrowers may not be able to keep their homes, no matter how much help they receive. “The bank does have a duty to its shareholders, also. Ultimately, there may be no way to help some of these borrowers.”
—Karen Hodges Miller
Soak Up Culture Grants
The New Jersey State Council on the Arts (NJSCA) offers workshops, held statewide, to help arts organizations apply for grants for the fiscal year 2009. The closest workshop will be on Monday, December 3, at the George Street Playhouse. Others are at the Hunterdon Museum of Art on Friday, November 30, and at the state council office in Trenton on Wednesday, December 12. All are at 2:30 p.m. Go to www.njartscouncil.org or call 609-292-6130.
Grants will be made in these categories:
Single arts events.
Support for artists’ careers and commissions for new works.
New or expanded projects that connect the arts to people and communities in a meaningful way.
Projects that identify and address barriers to broadening, deepening, or diversifying arts participation,
Eligible organizations can be private nonprofits, units of local governments, or a college or university. They must have been providing programs for at least two years and be able to show that they serve more than one county. The first deadline, the intent to apply, is December 13. The final application is due on February 13.
Wednesday, December 5
Alain Kornhauser: Safe at Any Speed?
You and your convertible are hurtling down the road toward a T-junction. Smoothly, your car makes way for the bicyclist on the right and veers away from what might a deer in the bushes ahead. Just in time your convertible eases to a halt at the stop sign, waits for another car to pass, and turns left. All this time, you, the driver, have never had your hand on the wheel.
Your lack of attentiveness is made possible by a seeming piece of science fiction — the autonomous auto. And when will such futuristic motoring be possible? Had you been cruising on Nassau Street this fall, such vehicles might have passed you. Those wanting to find out more about PAVE, Princeton Autonomous Vehicle Engineering, and how this undergraduate group fared in the latest DARPA Urban Challenge, can attend a free lunch & learn technology seminar held Wednesday, December 5, at noon at Princeton University’s Frist Center, Multipurpose Room B (www.princeton.edu/-eos/Inl.shtml or call 609-258-2949). Sponsored by Princeton University’s Education & Outreach Services, this seminar features PAVE’s team leader, Alain Kornhauser, professor of operations research and financial engineering.
Kornhauser is a restless soul, ever in search of innovation. Born in France, Kornhauser grew up in Pittsburgh and graduated from Penn State University in l965 with a bachelor’s in aerospace engineering. He came to Princeton University to earn a doctorate and, as he puts it, “has remained here happily and productively for the past 37 years.”
When not guiding his students along the path of engineering innovation, Kornhauser aids his wife, Kathryn, at her company ALK Technologies, Inc., based on Herrontown Road. Modestly labeling itself a freight logistics service, the firm has developed GPS and other guidance systems that can computeristically copilot trucks, giving vehicle operators turn-by-turn directions. “Kathryn is every inch a CEO, and I’m what you might call the company gadfly,” he says.
November 3 was not a good day for the Princeton undergraduate team and its little Ford Escort, Prospect 12. The Princeton students had driven their autonomous auto all the way out to Victorsville, California to compete with 34 other innovative entries in the third annual Urban Challenge, sponsored by the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency. As in previous years, most of the entries were university teams. But this time others had received a hefty amount of corporate juice, with sponsors ranging from General Motors to Red Bull.
When the dust had cleared, and the all-too-human traffic jams and fender benders been fixed up, top honors fell to Carnegie Mellon/GMC’s Tartan Team and its Chevrolet Tahoe. Crossing the line first, but edged into second due to performance values, came Stanford University/ Volkswagen’s Passat. Virginia Tech took third. Alas, Princeton’s Prospect 12 was not even among the 11 qualifiers for the finals.
But for Kornhauser, the real triumph of Princeton’s Prospect 12 came on the drive home. With a team member, he covered the lower 48, using mostly interstate highways. “I’d estimate that I needed to actually pay attention and pilot the car about 10 percent of the time,” said Kornhauser. Without the touch of any driver, Prospect 12 drove itself safely and reliably in mixed traffic. “It could have edged its way into the gas pump automatically,” notes Kornhauser, “but I preferred to trust my own abilities, then.”
How it works. The Prospect 12 is more a product of new applications, rather than hitherto uninvented technology. This standard Ford Escort was refitted with a series of cameras and other visual sensors that pick up cues and send messages back to the auto’s receivers. These messages then spark appropriate computerized responses which are fed into the rewired dash console.
The camera sees a stop sign, sends back a warning and the brake automatically slows the car, also taking into consideration the other auto and pedestrian traffic surrounding the vehicle. Smart car. The manual override demands only a touch of brake, accelerator, or steering wheel. Despite being able to pick up speed limit, Stop and even Yield signs, Prospect 12 is as yet unable to pick up traffic lights. Nevertheless, team members consider this an easy improvement.
Down the road. Kornhauser says that such visual cues are the least expensive and most likely to be used in autonomous systems. Those who envision the NJDOT installing miles of road magnets or curbside laser beams will be disappointed. “Heck, we can’t even fix our existing infrastructure. Look at the New Jersey Turnpike — and don’t get me started on Route 92. No. Changes must come within the car and within our existing highway system,” he says.
The good news is that this auto-only autonomy may speed up the date of commercial delivery. Traditionally it has taken the auto industry about five years to adopt any change. Seatbelts, antilock brakes, cruise control — each demanded years of testing before automakers felt secure enough to install these improvements in millions of cars. And at this point, autonomous vehicles are not quite ready even to be presented to the mainstream makers. During this last DARPA Challenge, there were several traffic jams and one car even slammed into the judge vehicle. “We’re maybe 15 years away,” estimates Kornhauser.
Future uses. Once commercially employed, the potential uses of autonomous vehicles are manifold. “Taxis could become cheaper,” Kornhauser says. “Think of it. The only reason you need a driver in a cab is to take the car to the next fare. After all, you can drive it while you’re in it. Suppose you drove it, then got out, like a Zip Car, then it drove itself to the next pickup spot.”
Long haul truckers who by law must get eight hours of rest for every ten of driving could get that rest while the vehicle is cruising itself down the highway. The 30-hour trip across country could be made with one driver, instead of two. Kornhauser’s work on such guidance systems in the l990s shows that autonomy adapts to 18-wheelers as well as Escorts. For short haul truckers, the addition of autonomous guidance could greatly increase safety. “What’s really going to drive such systems into our cars are the demands for safety, and close behind, comfort and convenience,” says Kornhauser. Undeniably, the American driver wants both.
The concept of the automated car has been in the labs for over 40 years. In the far back acreage of the Sarnoff Center lies a track built in l960 to test automated vehicles. Cruise control grows ever more complex, and currently Toyota has marketed an automatic parallel parking device. It’s nice to take one’s hands off the wheel and catch a break during endless road hours. But even Kornhauser agrees that peace of mind and safety will only come with a person inside, actively monitoring the auto. As always it is that blend of man with his machines that gets the goal accomplished.
— Bart Jackson
Thursday, December 6:
West Trenton Line?
New Jersey Transit wants to spend $219 million to restore passenger rail service on the West Trenton Line, a 27-mile stretch of track to link the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) West Trenton Station in Ewing to NJ Transit’s Raritan Valley Line in Bridgewater. Service on the Raritan Valley Line continues to Newark Penn Station.
This project, as yet unfunded, would require new stations to be built in Ewing, Hopewell Township, Hopewell Borough, Montgomery, and Hillsborough.
A public meeting is set for Thursday, December 6, at the Ewing community/senior center, the former JCC building, 999 Lower Ferry Road. (Another meeting will be Thursday, November 29, 4 to 8 p.m., at the Hillsborough Township Municipal Complex, 379 South Branch Road, Hillsborough.)
For comments E-mail: WestTrentonEA@njtransit.com or send mail to Thomas Clark, Office of Government and Community Relations, NJ TRANSIT, One Penn Plaza East, Newark, 07105-2245. The deadline is January 15.
Princeton Pro Musica, itself a nonprofit organization, will donate 100 percent of the ticket sales for one of its performances for those tickets sold by Habitat for the Humanity- Trenton Area.
To qualify, buy tickets to “Handel’s Messiah” on Sunday, December 2, at 3 p.m., at the Trenton War Memorial, and make this purchase at www.habitatta.org of call 609-393-8009. Pro Musica will be accompanied by a full orchestra.
Shuttle to College Road
Greater Mercer TMA’s Train Link shuttle provides services to employers along College Road East, College Road West, and Forrestal Village.
Train Link can be used by train riders, obviously, but also by those who live within walking or biking distance to the Junction station. Ride the Dinky or ride any number of other bus routes that serve the station, and you can also take the shuttle. Call 609-452-8988 or www.gmtma.org
New on the Train Link sponsor list is Novo Nordisk, which has 600 employees on College Road West and is reportedly thinking about expanding to 1100 Campus Road.
The New Jersey Association of Realtors has created its fifth annual Housing for All Calendar, available for $5 or by calling 732-494-5616. Order forms are also available at www.njar.com. Proceeds go to the NJAR Housing Opportunity Foundation, which helps produce affordable rental and ownership housing units.
The calendar features artwork by students in grades three to six, who drew their ideas of “What equal opportunity in housing means to me” or “Keeping fair housing in mind, what changes would you like to see in your neighborhood.” This year’s calendar has the “best of the best” artwork from the previous four years.
“The Housing for All calendar is a great tool to help educate students about fair housing rights,” says Bill Hanley, NJAR president.