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Are You an HPO?

With dot-coms dropping like flies, old-economy businesses-media outfits like mine or cable companies like yours-might be tempted to think we've all just gained a little breathing room in the race to make our mark in the Internet space.

That's a big mistake none of us can afford to make, and that's the message I learned when I made my way home from our company's winter management meeting, held on the heels of the Western Show.

It's easy and perversely satisfying to sit back and say that the dot-commers finally got what was coming to them as that sector, as a whole, fell off 81 percent from its 52-week high.

Many of us probably just heard that message, since it's the time of year to shlep off to corporate headquarters or a far-away locale to get the skinny on our companies' health and hear all about the corporate agenda for the upcoming year.

Like many of you, I'm fresh back from one of those three-day-long "think-out-of-the box" marathon meetings, an event artfully planned between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when resorts and meeting facilities lure corporations with lower rates.

And I am inspired. Gratefully, our report card is better than it was last year and our mandate remains clear: to continue toward the goal of becoming the premier media-neutral company.

In plain English, that means that we're not just a print product, as many of you who read our daily electronic feeds or subscribe to our electronic-mail product already know.

And you'll see more of that activity come January, when we take the wraps off our vertical Web portal, which has been under construction for months.

But back to corporate America. We-like many of you who attend these corporate meetings-heard a lot about the characteristics of "High-Performance Organizations," and just what it really takes to make the list of America's 10 best companies.

Regretfully, we aren't on it yet. By the way-and equally as regretful-neither are you.

Our head of human resources delivered a telling report about turnover in corporate America. And our company as a whole, like many of those we cover each week, didn't even come close to matching up on the low rate of turnover that HPOs enjoy.

For example, average turnover for an HPO is only 8 percent to12 percent. And the real stars-like Harley-Davidson Inc., to name one-have around a 4 percent turnover rate.

And if I told you the past turnover rate at Cahners Business Information, the parent company of Multichannel News, which I'm not going to do (I'd have to shoot you), I'd hazard to guess it's probably much lower than the average cable MSO, given the unparalleled consolidation in your business.

Suffice it to say, it's easy to find excuses as to why my company-and yours-can't hang on to people. We point to the good economy, low unemployment, poaching from other magazines (in our case) and an overall consolidation in all business sectors as excuses.

You also single out those same factors. And until quite recently, we've all pointed to how well the dot-coms-with their once truly vaulted but now meaningless options-did at attracting or stealing the best people.

The truth of the matter is that corporations really must become places where people want to work. That's not easy, as we all try to build more growth in an economy that may be on the precipice of a slowdown.

Last week, Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan hinted that he would not raise interest rates, pointing to a slowdown in consumer spending and the first signs of rising unemployment.

But the really good news in this time of uncertainly is that there's now a window for traditional companies-like most of us-to lure back some of those dot-com exiles who've been burned since the NASDAQ took its big nosedive last April.

And we should welcome them back into the fold. Maybe they can teach some of us old dogs some new tricks. Now, if only they could learn a little humility.