DID YOU HEAR? . . .

"You want to get in bed with the entrepreneurs and be there to write the check for their next idea."

-- Erik Rasmussen, Washington area chief of Aurora Funds Inc., on why venture capitalists should be near their investments.

STANDING SMALL

"Does Size Matter?" That's the headline on a letter to employees from Jim Roche, the Northrop Grumman executive who runs the Linthicum, Md.-based radar division of the aerospace contractor. But in this case, Roche is saying that being small is preferable. Roche is touting the unit's recent win: part of a $275 million, three-year contract to help develop a space-based missile tracking satellite system for the Air Force. Northrop Grumman's agility -- and yes, its smaller size compared with losing competitors Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. -- was a critical to the outcome, Roche says.

The irony, of course, is that a year ago Northrop Grumman was only too happy to agree to a $11.6 billion merger with Bethesda behemoth Lockheed. The Justice Department blocked the deal on antitrust grounds.

-- Tim Smart (smartt@washpost.com)

BECAUSE THEY HAVE SOX APPEAL

Jack Albertine has been a familiar source of economic advice in the capital for two decades as a lobbying executive and consultant. Now, he's about to get more directly involved in the economy again, joining with Ark Capital, a Chicago-based investment fund, to acquire a chain of Midwest shoe stores. The 55 Shoebilee stores, purchased for an undisclosed amount from Elder-Beerman Stores Corp., are mostly located in small towns where they joust with Wal-Mart and Kmart.

Why shoes? Albertine notes that he's had a taste of retailing as former vice chairman of Fruit of the Loom. And, he says, the price and opportunity looked right.

-- Peter Behr

(behrp@washpost.com)

LIP SHTICK

Sephora, the beauty superstore, has opened a large outlet in Georgetown, sparking what could be a local battle for the hair and skin of discount-minded makeup mavens.

The French company has been growing quickly in the United States, threatening department stores that sell some of the same upscale brands. Unlike many cosmetics outlets, Sephora has been able to bring in hot names such as Clinique, Benefit and Clarins.

The cosmetics and perfume retailer, which is known for selling a shade of lipstick "for every day of the year," opened a smaller store earlier this year in Montgomery Mall in Bethesda and has been considering expanding into Tysons Corner Center.

Sephora has made such a splash in part because it has removed much of the intimidation from the beauty buying experience, allowing customers to touch the lipsticks without having to ask for a salesperson's help, analysts have said.

"You can play. You can touch. And no one bothers you," said Diana Espino, Sephora's U.S. marketing director.

-- Stephanie Stoughton (stoughtons@washpost.com)

OIL CHECK

This could be the week that the more than 2,000 Mobil Corp. employees in Fairfax County learn what their fate will be once Mobil's pending merger with Exxon Corp. is approved. The companies are waiting for the Federal Trade Commission to sign off on the merger, but could announce they're going ahead without the approval, to force the FTC's hand, sources say. A decision would end the nail-biting by Mobil employees, who have been rated by managers to to help determine who stays and who goes when the companies are combined

-- Martha Hamilton (hamiltonm@washpost.com)