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    Published on: September 29, 2010

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It was the stories that got me, here the Network of Executive Women (NEW) annual Leadership Summit.

    Some were told from the stage. Like Michelle Gloeckler, senior vice president of merchandise execution at Walmart, explaining how her mom had labored for years as a sales representative for Wrigley, serving as a role model and sounding board as she pursued her own career, first on the manufacturing side (with Hershey) and then with the world’s biggest biggest retailer.

    Or Lt. Col. Consuelo Kickbusch (retired), who left the Army after a distinguished career and founded, among other things, an organization that helps poor and immigrant youths to find their way...a subject she knows well since she was herself born in a barrio in Laredo, Texas. (Had she been born a half-century later, Kickbusch might have been referred to as an “anchor baby,” but instead she is known as a the highest ranking Hispanic woman ever to serve in the combat support branch ... a fact she made abundantly clear.)

    Or Dr. Evelyn C. Paschal, a senior manager at Accenture, who was sharply funny as she described the challenges of managing - and understanding - younger generations of employees, and noting that “the new normal means always having a Plan B, always having a backup plan,” because circumstances can change so quickly and unexpectedly.

    Or Rachael Vegas, a divisional sourcing manager for Target Corp., who chided the audience (quite correctly) that with all the attention to the different learning and working styles of various generations, it is critical to remember that “you manage people, not generations,” and that people of all generations have to be treated as unique entities.

    These were the public stories, told with passion and anecdotes and reflection - and a shared reality - by accomplished women who have made their way in a world still dominated by men, told without a shred of self-pity and yet with a fair amount of irony and good humor.

    But there were other stories, which could be gleaned from a cell phone conversation overheard here and there, illustrating another shared reality.

    “How much did you throw up?” I heard one mom say into her phone. She listened intently, and then instructed the child to clean up the mess, throw the towels in the washing machine, and take medicine from the pink bottle that could be found in the bathroom.

    At another moment, one mom gently reminded her child that if she brought her cell phone to school, she had to remember to turn it off because otherwise it would be confiscated by the teacher.

    There were dozens of these kinds of moments, highlighting the reality that many accomplished professional women face as they deal with parallel universes on a daily, perhaps hourly basis. And while the world has changed to the point where “liberation” and “gender equality” are phrases you don;t even hear a lot anymore, the simple truth is that you would not hear these same conversations at a conference attended mostly by men.

    And so these moments made me wonder, not just about the fact that many men don’t seem to live these stories, but if men even understand these parallel universes, these compelling stories with both big and small moments, in any sort of internalized way. Is our understanding of these women’s personal and professional lives more intellectual and academic, and therefore inadequate to the task of serving their interests?

    As various women of differing backgrounds and accomplishments made their way to the stage and told their stories, it was hard for a man not to think that however well-meaning our efforts, their remains a chasm that needs to be bridged. It starts with listening, but won’t end until pay equity and management parity is achieved ... which, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO)study noted here on MNB yesterday, remains more aspiration than reality.

    Then again, if the day began with stories about past accomplishments and future aspirations, it ended with the news that when Campbell Soup Co. gets a new CEO next July, it will be a woman. (See our story below.)

    As Linda Ellerbee, another prominent woman, used to end her broadcasts, “And so it goes.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 29, 2010

    It is a story that has gotten a fair amount of attention this week, in part because it is simply dripping with irony.

    Jimi Heselden, 62, the multi-millionaire owner of the Segway company that manufactured the high-tech, gyroscope-controlled two-wheeled “personal transport” vehicle, died this week when the Segway he was driving on his British estate plunged off a cliff and into a river.

    To this point, foul play is not suspected. Authorities are still trying to figure out whether the accident was caused by mechanical problem or user error.

    The Atlantic reports that Heselden was an interesting individual: “A former coal miner who lost his job following the 1984-85 miners' strike that affected much of the British coal industry, Heselden took his redundancy, or layoff, money and invented Hesco bastion, a collapsible wire mesh and fabric container that is used for military fortification and flood control.

    “The product has done so well over the past couple of decades, that Heselden was able to purchase Segway in late 2009 and also to donate millions of his personal fortune to charity. When he died this past weekend, Heselden was worth more than $250 million.”

    The metaphor seems obvious. Often, we think we are completely in control of our circumstances. We think we have the power, and that resolve and strength of will can see us through virtually any circumstance.

    But, as John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens when you are making other plans.” So is death.

    Whether flying high or enduring low points, it is critical to respect the fact that there is such a thing as circumstances beyond our control. We do the best we can, but remember that this may not always be enough. And sometimes it doesn’t matter.

    The Atlantic adds to the irony, noting that while the Segway was not invented by Heselden (Dean Kamen did that, promoting it as “the future of transportation” when he unveiled it in 2001), there are at least nine cases in history in which prominent inventors were killed while using heir own creations.

    My favorite: Otto Lilienthal, the German aviation pioneer who invented the hang glider, who died in 1896 after taking more than 2,000 glider flights, “after snapping his spine when his glider lost its lift and he fell from about 50 feet.”

    It’s like the line from Bull Durham: “You have to play this game with fear and arrogance.”

    And that’s my (unusually philosophical) Wednesday Eye-Opener.

    - Kevin Coupe
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 29, 2010

    The Seattle Times has a piece about how North Carolina has a kind of “honey police force,” that is wandering the state enforcing new standards for what “pure honey” means.

    The problem is that there apparently are a number of people and companies out there that like to dilute their “pure honey” with corn syrup or other additives. This annoys beekeepers and scrupulous honey producers, who are going state-by-state trying to raise standards even while hoping for national regulations saying that any product labeled as “pure honey” actually has to be pure honey.

    According to the story, “Florida was the first state to adopt such standards in 2009. It's since been followed by California, Wisconsin and North Carolina. Similar efforts have been proposed in at least 12 other states, including North and South Dakota, the nation's largest producers of honey, together accounting for roughly one-third of U.S. output.”
    KC's View:
    This story is a little reminiscent of the recent controversy about extra virgin olive oil, when a study came out suggesting that some EVOO wasn’t living up to the moniker.

    What’s amazing to me, at some level, is the notion that we need new rules covering honey.

    May I make a simple suggestion for a new law that would cover every product manufactured or sold in the US? It would straightforward, short and to the point, and would say the following:

    If you make or sell something, it has to be what you say it is. “Pure” means pure. “100 percent” means 100 percent. “Organic” means organic. If you say something is one thing and it is something else, and it is proven that you did it deliberately, your fine will be 100 percent of the profits you made selling that product while deceiving the shopper.

    And that would be it. No debating about whether 90 percent is as good as 100 percent. No lobbying to water down the notion of pure. Just simple common sense and understandable, enforceable standards.

    Published on: September 29, 2010

    The Conference Board yesterday released its September Consumer Confidence Index, saying it stood at 48.5, down from the revised 53.2 in August.

    In addition, the Business Roundtable is out with a survey of US CEOs, saying that only 66 percent expect their sales to grow, vs. 79 percent who said they expected growth in June. Fewer than one in three CEOs said they expect to boost payrolls over the next six months - which matched up with a Conference Board finding that people “saying jobs are ‘hard to get’ rose to 46.1% from 45.5%, while those stating jobs are ‘plentiful’ decreased to 3.8% from 4%.”
    KC's View:
    If there are enough people standing on street corners yelling that the sky is falling, pretty soon the majority of people start believing them.

    One of the interesting things about the new movie Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (which I will review on Friday) is that it takes place during the financial meltdown of 2008, and features clips from a wide range of news and financial shows - including both Fox and CNBC - in which it is abundantly clear how close the economy was seen as being to the precipice of disaster. Which, through the efforts of two administrations - one Republican and one Democratic - was avoided. We didn’t go off the cliff.

    Now, we’re still close to the cliff. The systemic problems weren’t fixed. And there are a lot of people who are still hurting, many of whom may never recover.

    I may be a cynic, but I refuse to be a pessimist. American exceptionalism is the result of daily hard work and at least some level of optimism...it isn’t a birthright.

    Frankly, I’m more worried about the pessimism than anything else.

    Published on: September 29, 2010

    The New York Times reports that “bar codes, the tiny black and white boxes that have been popping up in magazines, on posters and on some billboards, are arriving on television. From the comfort of their sofas, mobile-phone users can scan a bar code embedded in commercials on certain evening shows on Bravo and instantly obtain additional information about a product and a discount to buy it.”

    According to the story, bar codes have been seen on TV in Asia and Europe for some time, but the emergence of smart phone technology here in the US means that viewers could see a lot more of this technique before too long.

    Michael Becker, managing director for North America of the Mobile Marketing Association, tells the Times that bar codes would become more common because “they are simple and quick to use ... and they trigger a richer, quicker and more interactive experience for the user.”
    KC's View:
    When you think about, this simply reflects the broader reality - that there is no limitation on the amount of information and level of transparency that can be provided to consumers. The technology is there...all we need is the will.

    However, when you think about the existence of this technology in a world where government officials still say things like “you can’t label genetically modified foods as such because that will scare people,” there is a clear disconnect.

    Tell people everything. Keep the information in context. Let the consumer decide.

    Published on: September 29, 2010

    Crain’s Chicago Business reports that Safeway-owned Dominick’s has a “new digital discount program (that) could be the grocer's most powerful weapon yet in a brutal pricing war with its mass-merchant and club-store rivals.” The program, “dubbed Just for U, offers shoppers personalized savings on items they've purchased in the past.” It “also is giving hyper-competitive discounts on items customers are likely buying elsewhere from a growing list of competitors such Target, Wal-Mart and Jewel-Osco stores.

    “Dominick's can analyze purchases made with the chain's loyalty card and spot missed sales opportunities. For example, a regular shopper might buy baby food and formula, but not diapers. The system will assume that the shopper is getting diapers elsewhere and will automatically offer a deal that beats the competition.”

    These discounts are instant, and kick in when the shopper uses his or her frequent shopper card.

    “We'll sacrifice a bit of gross margin on certain items to bring those people in our stores, but the additional sales will more than offset that,” division president Don Keprta tells Crain’s. “There's a selfish motive here. We want to continue to grow our business. We want to expand our base in Chicago.”

    The goal, he says, is simple: “To get a competitive advantage against everybody in the marketplace.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 29, 2010

    The New York Times takes note of a new study sounding a familiar refrain: that Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables.

    “Despite two decades of public health initiatives, stricter government dietary guidelines, record growth of farmers’ markets and the ease of products like salad in a bag, Americans still aren’t eating enough vegetables.

    “This month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a comprehensive nationwide behavioral study of fruit and vegetable consumption. Only 26 percent of the nation’s adults eat vegetables three or more times a day, it concluded. (And no, that does not include French fries.)

    “These results fell far short of health objectives set by the federal government a decade ago. The amount of vegetables Americans eat is less than half of what public health officials had hoped. Worse, it has barely budged since 2000.”

    The problem is that nobody seems to know how to solve it. There has been no dearth of new stories, TV commercials, promotional campaigns, convenience packaging and new approaches to fruits and veggies - none of which seem to have worked.

    “Before we want health, we want taste, we want convenience and we want low cost,” says Harry Balzer of the NPD Group. Fresh produce rarely is seen as fitting this bill.
    KC's View:
    Stephen Colbert had a funny line about this the other day. He said that the best way to solve the migrant labor problem in this country is to stop eating the fruits and vegetables that so many of them pick. But, he noted, the nation’s growing obesity rate suggests that this already has happened.

    Published on: September 29, 2010

    Campbell Soup Co. Douglas Conant said yesterday that after almost a decade of leading the company, he plans to retire in July 2011.

    His successor is expected to be Denise Morrison, president of Campbell’s North American soup, sauces and beverages business. She was named COO and appointed to the board of directors yesterday, moves that presage her expected promotion.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 29, 2010

    • The Wall Street Journal reports thatSouth Africa’s largest labor organization, Western Cape provincial arm of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, is objecting to Walmart’s proposed $4.6 billion acquisition of Massmart Holdings, which would give the famously union-ambivalent a toehold in Africa.

    "We will oppose the setting up of any Wal-Mart stores in the Western Cape," said the group, known as Cosatu. "These companies are notoriously antiunion and antiworkers' rights."

    Doug McMillon, president and chief executive of Wal-Mart International, responded, "We respect and honor pre-existing union relationships and are committed to abiding by South African labor laws.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 29, 2010

    • The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and US Department of Labor are investigating “consulting contracts with the Service Employees International Union, including the role of former SEIU chief Andy Stern, according to a labor official who said he was interviewed.

    “The official said he was asked about a consulting contract the SEIU gave to Alejandro Stephens, the former head of one of its locals in California, as well as about several contracts the SEIU granted to people or companies with ties to the union. Mr. Stephens was sentenced under a plea deal with prosecutors earlier this month to four months in jail for defrauding a nonprofit voter-outreach program of $52,000.”

    Stern says he has “no reason to believe” that he is the subject of a federal probe.

    • The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday issued warnings to Johnson & Johnson, CVS Caremark, and Walgreen, telling the companies to stop marketing mouthwashes with claims that they reduce plaque or promote healthy gums. The FDA says that tests indicate that there are no such benefits, and ordered the companies to immediately change their ad claims.

    • Somebody appears to be expecting a good holiday season. The Los Angeles Times reports that Toys R Us plans to “bulk up its workforce by hiring about 45,000 seasonal workers nationwide, more than it has hired during each of the last three Christmas seasons.”

    The company said that “35,000 of this year's seasonal hires would staff the company's 587 traditional Toys R Us stores and that 10,000 of the temporary employees would work at the Toys R Us Express pop-up locations,” according to the Times. “Seasonal workers will also be hired to work in the company's nine distribution centers across the country.”

    • In California’s Central Valley, KMPH News reports that Save Mart is closing stores in the communities of Sanger and Kerman, blaming tough competition and a failing economy.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 29, 2010

    ...will return.
    KC's View: