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Published Feb. 28, 2006

The Wal-Mart Effect

By Charles Fishman

Penguin Press, 304 pages, $25.95

In The Wal-Mart Effect, Charles Fishman chronicles the rise of the world's biggest retailer and how it has transformed the U.S. economy. His even-handed tale includes lively examples of the positive impact Wal-Mart has had in wringing out inefficiencies in nearly every consumer market in America. Some even argue its power to lower prices has almost single-handedly kept inflation in check.

Fishman also explains the epic push-and-pull the giant retailer has in what is now a global economy, pointing out that Wal-Mart is only part - albeit a big part - of larger trends. Fishman offers plenty of examples, too, of the havoc this biggest of big-box stores can wreak. Particularly noteworthy is Wal-Mart's mesmerizing effect on its suppliers, some of which go out of business slashing prices in their scramble to keep selling pickles or other goods to their largest single buyer.


Executive comings and goings in the past week:


+ Larry Brilliant, former high-tech executive and doctor specializing in global health issues, as head of Google Inc.'s philanthropic arm.

+ Fumio Ohtsubo, senior managing director of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., as the new president of the company, whose brands include Panasonic, a leading maker of plasma-display televisions.

+ Ken Constable, Provide Commerce Inc. senior vice president, as the new president and chief executive of online retailer RedEnvelope Inc.


+ Roger Ferguson, as Federal Reserve Board vice chairman, after being considered a strong candidate to replace Alan Greenspan but losing out to Ben Bernanke.

+ David Edmonson, as chief executive of Radio Shack Corp., after admitting that he lied about his academic credentials.

+ Mark Bucknall, as co-head of global investment banking at HSBC Holdings PLC, retiring after a shakeup of the firm's investment banking unit.

+ Peter Golob, a senior banker at Merrill Lynch & Co., as a nonexecutive member of the board at Portugal Telecom SA, which Merrill is helping defend against an unsolicited takeover bid.

+ Lehman Brothers, as a Montgomery County, Md., mortgage lender, after a subsidiary of the Wall Street bank pulled out of the business because of what it described as flaws in a county ordinance designed to reduce predatory lending.


The term: BlackBerry

+ In biology, according to Webster's, any of the various black or dark purple, seedy and sweet to somewhat-bitter edible berries.

+ Any of the various trailing or erect prickly brambles of the genus Rubus that bear blackberries.

+ In technology, a handheld e-mail device that has become an addiction for many busy business folk.

+ Currently, a great source of anxiety for addicts who fear a lawsuit against the manufacturer, Research In Motion, could lead to a sudden shutdown of millions of the devices.

+ To NTP, the potential source of a lucrative settlement. NTP successfully sued RIM for infringing on its patents. The companies reached a tentative $450-million deal last year, but that deal fell apart.

+ At least for now, a still viable device. A federal judge on Friday stopped short of ordering an immediate shutdown of BlackBerrys but indicated he could still issue such an injunction sometime soon. RIM, for its part, has said it has a software work-around that could avoid service disruption, even after an injunction.