retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Talk about tone deaf.

There was an exclusive report on CNBC and the Daily Beast yesterday about Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain, who was brought in to run the company in 2007 after “the firm suffered massive losses from investments tied to the depressed real estate market.”

In other words, Thain was hired to help the company survive tough times.

So what did he do last year? He spent $1.2 million to redecorate his office. According to the story, “Big ticket items included $87,000 for an area rug, four pairs of curtains for $28,000, a pair of guest chairs for $87,000 and fabric for a ‘Roman Shade’ for $11,000 … another area rug for $44,000; a ‘mahogany pedestal table’ for $25,000; a ‘19th Century Credenza’ in Thain's office for $68,000; a sofa for $15,000; four pairs of curtains for $28,000; a pair of guest chairs for $87,000; a ‘George IV Desk’ for $18,000; six wall sconces for $2,700; six chairs in his private dining room for $37,000; a mirror in his private dining room for $5,000; a chandelier in the private dining room for $13,000; fabric for a Roman Shade" for $11,000; a ‘custom coffee table’ for $16,000; (and) something called a ‘commode on legs’ for $35,000.”

Here’s another great piece of reporting from the story: “At the time, Thain was preaching the virtues of cost control, telling employees to reduce expenses including car services, entertainment and travel. In addition to the personal expenses on his office, documents show Thain paid his driver $230,000 for one year’s work, which included the driver's $85,000 salary and bonus of $18,000, and another $128,000 in over-time pay. Drivers of top executives are often paid about half that amount.”

While redecorating, Thain managed to find time to engineer the company’s sale to Bank of America…though it seems these days that Bank of America could be regretting that decision since it helped to create a scenario in which it needed to get tens of billions of dollars in bailout funds from the federal government.

It wasn't just because of the tone deaf redecorating, but yesterday Thain “resigned.” Word is he was forced out. He’ll probably get a nice severance package, but if it were up to me, he’d walk away with one thing and only one thing.

The “commode on legs.”



A new study coming out of Finland and Sweden suggests that drinking coffee in middle age can help to stave off – or at least lower the risks – of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Three to five cups per day, according to the study, seemed to reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s by as much as 65 percent.

This is very good news, especially for people like me who consume that much coffee usually between the hours of 5:30 and 9:00 am. Of course, I suspect Mrs. Content Guy would point out that I may very well be in the other 35 percent.

I keep arguing that it isn’t that I’m more forgetful, just that I have a lot more on my mind than I used to have…and that when you are getting by on five hours sleep a night, things tend to slip through the cracks, which themselves may be getting wider.

The other problem I have, of course, is that my sons have gone off to college, and I’m living with my wife and my teenaged daughter, and half the time when they’re talking to each other I have no idea what the hell they are talking about. (And when I ask, they shake their heads and roll their eyes, and I begin to worry that they’re going to leave me at the dog track as soon as they get the opportunity.)

And no amount of coffee can solve this problem.



Obviously this was a remarkable and historic week in the United States, but one industry that seems positively giddy at the inauguration of Barack Obama is the US wine business. President Bush, you see, was a teetotaler, but President Obama apparently has an eclectic and expansive taste in wine…and his Chicago home even has a wine cellar capable of holding 1,000 bottles.

The White House has a long tradition of only serving US wines, so expect to see a number of vineyards competing for that singular honor, and to see at last some attention being paid to wine at the highest levels of the US government.



The week was made when the 2nd season of “Mannix,” the old sixties-era detective series starring Mike Connors, showed up on DVD.

Sure, the show is dated. But I can vividly remember watching “Mannix” when it first aired, and thinking that Mike Connors was about the coolest guy on TV. (Some people liked Rockford, some people liked Baretta, and some people liked Kojak. Me, I was always a Mannix fan.)

One of the great bonuses of these old series coming out on DVD is that you get to relive your youth a bit. Which is what I’ve been doing in dribs and drabs over the past week.

(Possibly another reason Mrs. Content Guy may think I have early-onset dementia…)



My wine of the week is a terrific Italian red, the 2006 Castello di Bolgheri Varvara, which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Petit Verdot. To be honest, after I opened it and enjoyed the smooth finish, I noted that experts say that it is best to hold the wine until 2011.

But since I, unlike Barack Obama, have only a modest wine cellar – actually, it is a basement with wine racks – I have neither the storage space nor the patience to wait.

And I’ll tell you this. This wine is so good now that it is hard to imagine it being any better in 2011.

(I was curious, so I just went down to the basement and counted up how much wine is down there…and was shocked to find that I have 120 bottles of unopened wine! Clearly I’m all set to weather the recession…but I think it is better if we don't tell Mrs. Content Guy exactly how much wine I have…)



That’s it for this week.

Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

Sláinte!!
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