business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: December 16, 2010

    Now available on iTunes…

    To hear Kevin Coupe’s weekly radio commentary, click on the “MNB Radio” icon on the left hand side of the home page, or just go to:

    Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MNB Radio, available on iTunes and brought to you this week by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.

    MNB readers may recall that about a year ago, my friend and colleague Michael Sansolo got a bunch of columns out of the fact that he had a non-functioning snow blower during a winter in which his part of the country, the Washington, DC, area, got pummeled by a series of blizzards. He used it as a metaphor for business preparation, writing that “we all too often forget one of the great lessons from the Bible: that Noah built the ark before it started raining.”

    I, for one, was paying attention.

    The first week of December, I was talking with Mrs. Content Guy about the fact that we probably ought to get our snow blower tuned up so we’d be ready for winter. We talked about it, I did a little research on the web, and found a place a few miles away where we could take it, and lined up one of my neighbors to help me lift this very heavy piece of equipment into the back of our SUV last Saturday morning.

    Problem was, it didn’t fit. Not even close. So I had to go back to find out if there was someone who might come out to the house and service the snow blower ... and I was looking at the calendar and the weather reports, thinking that if I could even find someone, they’d probably be busy, and that I was probably cutting things a little close. (If you’re thinking that I should have just changed the oil and replaced the spark plugs myself, I should tell you that my repairman abilities begin and end with changing lightbulbs.)

    Now, to be perfectly honest ... Mrs. Content Guy said weeks ago that I ought to find someone to come out to the house. I didn’t listen. To her credit, she didn’t say “I told you so” as I went back to my laptop. (She didn’t have to. She just smiled. I know that smile. I get it a lot.)

    Suddenly, I had an idea. We didn’t actually buy this snow blower. It was given to us by close friends who moved to Florida and didn’t need it anymore ... though they may be sitting down in Orlando this week wondering if that was a hasty decision. But for the first time, I actually took a look to see who made it. And saw that it is a Sears Craftsman.

    So I went to the Sears website, got a toll free number, and made a phone call.

    Within five minutes, I was talking to an actual person. She was incredibly nice. She told me that yes, Sears offers at-home servicing of snow blowers. She checked my location and said that she’d have someone out to the house on Monday afternoon. (This was Saturday morning.) I was, to say the least, surprised. And pleased.

    I was then shocked when I was informed that they had a special going, and that the usual $110 charge was being discounted by 10 percent. (You’d think that early December would be the perfect time to double their prices!)

    The service guy showed up on time, found an enormous mouse nest imbedded in the engine, cleaned and tuned the equipment, and just generally was a pleasure to deal with.

    Over the years, I’ve said a lot of negative things about Sears, Kmart, its ownership and management, and the company’s various missteps. But I have to tell you, I was extremely impressed. Talk about a core value ... This is something that Sears does very, very well ... and while I’m guessing that a lot of you already know this, it is news to me.

    I can safely say that Sears has a very satisfied customer.

    And me, I have an ark. And the rain hasn’t started yet.

    Eat your heart out, Sansolo.

    For MNB Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 16, 2010

    by Kevin Coupe

    Jay Baer, who writes a blog about social media, had an interesting entry this week about New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan’s approach to building teamwork.

    “Unlike most NFL teams, the Jets do not control players’ media access,” Baer wrote. “Any player is free to speak with any reporter at any time. Ryan has just one rule that governs the interactions between players and press:

    In all interviews, players must acknowledge at least two teammates, and one coach.

    Baer adds, “Football is a group exercise, and ensuring that players are talking about other members of the team in addition to themselves drives that point home with clarity and conviction.

    That’s an eye-opening approach to professional sports, where so many athletes seem more concerned with self than they do with their teams.

    And, it is an approach that easily can be integrated into business.

    A corollary to this rule is one of my friend Jim Donald’s leadership tenets - that it is critical to remember that nobody is more important than the people on the front line.

    Spreading the responsibility and the credit can have the effect of spreading the wealth ... because it can lead to business and personal success.

    Here’s how Jay Baer puts it:

    “Quit talking about yourself so much, and talk more about your customers, business partners, employees, and friends. Don’t just tell stories about what your products do, but rather tell the human stories of the people your products help.

    “Learn from Rex Ryan. The more you shine the spotlight on other people, the more they’ll shine that light back on you.”

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 16, 2010

    The New York Times reports that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said yesterday that “about 48 million people a year get sick from tainted food, down from the previous, often-cited estimate of 76 million. The number of deaths estimated to come from food poisoning also went down, to about 3,000 a year from 5,000.

    “The revision means that one in six Americans gets sick each year from tainted food, not one in four, as the old study, conducted in 1999, projected.

    “The estimates were part scientific detective work and part guesswork ... government statisticians extrapolated the number of nationwide illnesses from data on tens of thousands of lab-confirmed illnesses in 10 states. They also used information from telephone surveys.”
    KC's View:
    Here’s the really important part of the story.

    The CDC said that this does not mean that fewer people are contracting food borne illness, just that the government is getting better at making its calculations. And, the CDC said, the statistical adjustment does not mean that the government needs to do less do deal with food safety issues.

    Agreed. We need to do more. That’s good government. And it is good business.

    Published on: December 16, 2010

    Bloomberg reports that Walmart has “won a court order blocking drugstore operator CVS Caremark Corp. from hiring its former executive vice president, Hank Mullany.

    “At a hearing today in Delaware Chancery Court in Wilmington, Judge Travis Laster granted Wal-Mart’s request for a preliminary injunction, barring Mullany’s hiring by CVS until a trial on the issue in early March. Wal-Mart sued CVS, claiming Mullany’s hiring could violate a non-compete agreement.”

    Walmart argues that Mullany had access to confidential information that would put it at a disadvantage if he works for a competitor.

    CVS said in the wake of the decision that the Walmart suit was “nonsensical” and that it is evaluating its options.
    KC's View:
    Walmart is playing hardball ... and this may be a public statement that goes beyond this one specific defection.

    Published on: December 16, 2010

    The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) yesterday “filed a class action lawsuit against McDonald's Corp., aimed at stopping McDonald's use of toys to market directly to children,” according to Advertising Age.

    CSPI threatened the suit earlier this year, saying in a letter to the fast feeder that McDonald's "unfairly and deceptively markets directly to children. When McDonald's bombards children with advertisements or other marketing for Happy Meals with toys, many children will pester their parents to take them to McDonald's. Once there, they are more than likely to receive a meal that is too high in calories, saturated fat, added sugars, and sodium, and devoid of whole grains."

    In the meantime, the city of San Francisco implemented a local rule preventing fast feeders from giving away toys with kids’ meals that do not meet certain nutritional criteria, a move that seemed aimed directly at McDonald’s.

    McDonald’s has promised to defend itself aggressively against the charges.
    KC's View:
    Readers know I am no fan of McDonald’s ... but as a parent, I like to think that I have the strength of character to decide whether or not my kids will eat there, and not allow toys and Happy Meals to dictate the decision. Our rule was always that if the kids whined about getting something, the answer was automatically “no.”

    That stops the whining. And minimizes the impact of advertising. No legislation required.

    Published on: December 16, 2010

    Dannon has come to an agreement with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), promising to “drop claims that probiotics - bacterial cultures that are ingredients in Activia and other products - will help prevent colds or alleviate digestive problems,” according to the Wall Street Journal this morning. The company, the US division of French manufacturer Danone, also agreed to pay $21 million “to settle state and federal investigations into allegations that the company's claims for the health benefits of foods containing probiotics were exaggerated, or not properly supported.”

    Dannon said in a prepared statement that the settlement allows it “to continue to advertise the core benefits of its products, that Activia helps to regulate the digestive system and DanActive helps to support the immune system.”

    The Journal writes that “the FTC action is the latest sign of regulatory trouble for food and beverage companies seeking to capitalize on growing demand for products containing certain strains of live bacteria. In the U.S., the total probiotics market has grown almost 9% over the past five years to about $5 billion a year. About 120 food and beverages were introduced globally over the last year that included probiotics, according to market-research firm Datamonitor PLC, bringing the total number to more than 400.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 16, 2010

    Bloomberg reports that Walmart “raised prices on hundreds of toys this month, squeezing more out of sales during the biggest shopping period of the year.

    “Wal-Mart managers in the U.S. received instructions to mark up an average of 1,800 types of toys per store, according to a company e-mail dated Nov. 30 obtained by Bloomberg News. The e-mail didn’t disclose specific increases. The prices were changed ‘to better enable your store and the company to have a successful financial month,’ according to the e-mail ... The move may help Chief Executive Officer Mike Duke fulfill his October prediction that sales in U.S. stores open at least a year will be positive this quarter, after six straight drops.”

    According to the story, “The price increases were due to temporary discounts on products, including toys, that ended Nov. 30, Ravi Jariwala, a spokesman for Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart, said in an interview. He declined to elaborate on the message’s reference to a successful financial month.”
    KC's View:
    If Walmart has a core value, it is low prices on Main Street. If it is raising prices and margins so it can look good to Wall Street, that violates a covenant it has with shoppers. And to quote my favorite Latin proverb, “Trust, like the soul, never returns once it goes.”

    Published on: December 16, 2010

    Reuters reports that “PepsiCo Inc is ‘very close’ to launching new products that use a mix of sweeteners and flavor modifiers to make low-calorie drinks taste better than ever, its chief executive said on Monday.”

    CEO Indra Nooyi says that “a breakthrough would involve not only sweeteners, but ingredients to balance the impact of those sweeteners. This includes making ‘one teaspoon of sugar taste like four’ or cutting short the taste of a sweetener's flavor, thereby preventing an aftertaste.”

    According to the story, “Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc is also experimenting with low-calorie sweeteners and modifiers. The company's chief executive, Larry Young, said that it was easy to go 90 percent toward creating a great-tasting low-calorie product, but that the final 10 percent of the way was very difficult.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 16, 2010

    • The Kroger Co. has named Sukanya Madlinger to be the new president of its Cincinnati/Dayton Division, succeeding Geoff Covert, who was named Kroger’s senior vice president of retail operations earlier this month.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 16, 2010

    • Bob Feller, the Cleveland Indians pitcher whose blazing fastball made him one of the biggest baseball stars of the thirties and forties and gained him a plaque in the Hall of Fame, died yesterday at age 92.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 16, 2010

    We had an email yesterday from an MNB user talking about the difficulty of calorie counting, and listing all the components of a recent meal ... and I noted that the refried beans included on the menu probably was the real calorie-killer.

    Which led one MNB user to respond:

    Funny that you would pick refried beans as the calorie killer.  Refried beans are pretty healthy (except for the sodium) and low-fat outside of restaurants.  It just goes to show how difficult accurate calorie counting is.

    Here's the info below for both fat free and regular canned varieties.

    Nutrition Facts

    Serving Size 1 cup (252.0 g) 1 tbsp (16.0 g)

    Amount Per Serving
    Calories 237 Calories from Fat 29

    % Daily Value*
    Total Fat 3.2g 5%
    Saturated Fat 1.2g 6%
    Trans Fat 0.1g
    Polyunsaturated Fat 0.4g
    Monounsaturated Fat 1.4g
    Cholesterol 20mg 7%
    Sodium 753mg 31%
    Total Carbohydrates 39.1g 13%
    Dietary Fiber 13.4g 53%
    Sugars 0.6g
    Protein 13.8g

    Vitamin A 0% • Vitamin C 25%

    Calcium 9% • Iron 23%

    Fat-Free Nutrition Facts

    Serving Size: 1 Cup

    Amount per Serving
    Calories 240 Calories from Fat 0

    % Daily Value *
    Total Fat 0g 0%
    Saturated Fat 0g 0%
    Cholesterol 0mg 0%
    Sodium 960mg 40%
    Total Carbohydrate 42g 14%
    Dietary Fiber 14g 56%
    Protein 16g 32%
    Calcium 8%
    Iron 20%

    Est. Percent of Calories from:
    Fat 0.0% Carbs 70.0%

    We had a story yesterday about how baby boomers are working longer, making it harder for some young people to find jobs. Which led one MNB user to write:

    My girlfriends son graduated college 2 years ago, he landed a job with a large commercial real estate company, about the time the economy went under, over the next year and a half he got one paycheck, ( the job was straight commission).  When he finally decided he needed to get another job, or at least a part time job, (partly due to his parents making him do it) he found he was competing with people my age (early fifties) for entry level positions.  The market was flooded with middle aged people who would take anything just to get a paycheck, and the companies who had jobs were hiring these people who would require little or no training and could almost be plugged right in.

    Now, he is in basic training in the Army, and for the first time is earning a steady paycheck at age 24.

    MNB user Elizabeth Archerd wrote:

    The snippet about Older People (OMG that's me now) will probably bring responses about self-centered baby boomers who just won't get out of the way, a refreshing change from the criticism about self-centered baby boomers who are poised to chew up the federal budget because we're we think we should be able to retire early and coast along on Social Security.

    It's kind of a no-win situation for a certain demographic.

    And, from another MNB user:

    This creates an ugly trickle-effect for workers my age. Less people retire, less workers promoted, far less opportunities for mid-level professionals to move up or find higher levels of work at other companies, so on and so on. I’ve been told that the jobs I’m applying for that require 3-5 years experience in my field plus education, there are 10 others with either the same or 10-20 years experience with an MBA.  Even with tech skills, there are only so many jobs to go around. The simple fact is that right now, this is by far the worst job market that we or any baby boomers have seen in our time.  Not to mention most people that currently have jobs haven’t had a raise and/or pay reductions in the last 3 years, reduced benefits, etc. Don’t believe me? My dad raised 4 kids on slightly more than what I make a year, and Mom only did odd jobs for extra cash. We had a nice home in a good neighborhood, always had a home cooked meal, and had new shoes/clothes every school year.  It’s laughable to even fathom me doing that today on my salary if my wife didn’t work.

    I’m not trying to be a cry-baby. That’s one of the problems with my generation. And my wife and I work very hard for what we have. But it is discouraging sometimes. I read an excellent article yesterday about entrepreneurship from young workers that are having trouble finding corporate jobs. It was inspiring and something I will be considering in the near future.

    I read the same article, and sent it to my 24 and 21-year-old sons.

    Heres’ the thing. Nobody has the right to expect anyone else to get out of their way ... and everybody has the responsibility to find ways to be relevant and have differentiated ideas in a tough and competitive economy.


    I’m going to be completely up front here. I debated with myself long and hard after this email came in just before midnight last night, trying to figure out whether I just run it.

    I’ve decided to post it because I think it reflects the opinion of more than just one person when it comes to the debate about child nutrition legislation ... something that I’ve said makes sense for some very specific public policy reasons. This MNB user, who has asked that his name not be used, say the least. Here’s the email:

    Ok here it is. My views are the normal American. You try to present yourself as a unbiased individual. You are not. You post 2 E mails from lunatics on the left. I have talked to thousands on Facebook. We all believe you and your California friends are on the outside. The librarian  in my town is bringing cookies and brownies to school. I told her she is breaking the law. She said all ingredients were bought at Shaws how can that  be? I told her about the law. You know what you and your liberal friends don’t realize is there is many small towns in America that don’t hold your view or your liberal followers. We live in small town America!!!!!!! Why is that so hard for you to understand????? We all know each other, we watch out for each others kids, we protect our life, we protect our autonomy. The librarian said until the police stop me I will do it. You are so far out of touch with the REAL America you might as well jump on the Obama train to socialism and the government dictating what we do. WE WILL NOT BACK DOWN!!!!!!!! Try as you may to break us it will not happen, because rural America will not stand for it. Go ahead and post E mails from liberal states and liberal Democrats, but you will not silence us. You say your not one side or another, but in my opinion you full of (expletive deleted). Iowa, Indiana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, South Carolina, North Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, and so on still believe in hometown America. I work in CT and live in NH. People say are you moving down? I have commuted for 3 years. I stay in a hotel during the week and go home on weekends. Why? I would never raise my children in this liberal state. You don’t get it!!!!!!! You and your liberal government controlling friends ARE NOT MAINSTREAM AMERICA!!!!!!!!!!!!! How do you not get that???? I would love to meet with you and discuss or differences. I would like to express my opinion in person. I work in Cheshire and I am at a hotel Mon-Thurs. Call me anytime and I will meet with you and let you know my views. I will even pay for dinner. I will have to go somewhere with meat of course. Wasn’t the election enough of a wake up call for the liberal government state to understand we have had enough of big brother??????? I don’t get where your coming from. Have you been on Facebook and seen what the real America thinks? I think you have buried your head in the sand. Let’s get together and chat. I promise you I am not dangerous. I am a good law abiding American raising a great family with 3 great boys. I just don’t understand why you would post only liberal views. You demonized me. I said the Obama police in my post and said LOL and you did not include that. Why? All you said was the law has not been passed yet. I know you do not want to believe it but I have a genius IQ. That means nothing to me, but do not make me look like the fringe. I am mainstream and the views expressed by your readers are the fringe, for you just do not see it. Let me know if you want to have dinner sometime. I know you will not take me up on my invitation, but think about it. You could talk to a real mainstream American.

    I appreciate the invitation, but I think I am going to pass.

    What I find interesting is that you seem to think that you are normal, and that I am not.  That you are unbiased, and that I am not. (I cheerfully admit to having biases, by the way. We all have them. The only people kidding themselves are the people who think they do not.) And you suggest that you are a real American, and that I am not.  

    And then you accuse me of trying to demonize you.

    I feel bad about that.  You may indeed have a genius IQ, but I'm afraid your tolerance quotient is a little lacking.

    But here’s what I feel worse about.

    I don’t think you are alone.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 16, 2010

    And, the discussion of great American movies continues...

    One MNB user wrote:

    I am not a movie expert in the least, but I do fall in love with a few camera moves, great edits and in particular a beautifully written line that is delivered by a brilliant actor.

    I’m not really submitting this as my view necessarily, but rather to hear your opinion on a couple of pieces of film work. I realize you may not appreciate me using the term film with regard to these, but it makes me sound smarter. I have no idea if a television series would draw a moan from you, but I’m curious how you would review “Lonesome Dove?” I was pretty captivated by it.

    Another series by A&E was C.S. Forrester’s “Horatio Hornblower” novels. Those were not shot with an extremely high production values... In fact there are moments of footage I cringe a bit. But the stories and the leadership principles in them are incredible. At United Supermarkets we had a lunch group, including one of our owners, who would gather each Wednesday to discuss one of the Hornblower films and what we could learn from both the good and bad leadership examples  in the film we watched that week. I would love to read your review on that series too.

    “Lonesome Dove”....absolutely terrific, and proof that television offers a broader canvas on which artists can work, often surpassing the stuff seen in the movie theaters.

    As for “Horatio Hornblower,” I never saw it. Sorry. (I can’t see everything.)

    MNB user Kurt Kopinski wrote about the whole genesis of the criticism of William Bennett for saying that Independence Day is his idea of the “great American movie.”

    Sorry, I may be repeating something you already have heard or know.  I have been a little busy and picking and choosing what I’ve been reading from MNB.  Anyway, I had a little more time this morning and see that you don’t like Independence Day so much, or you feel it is not as American as other movies.  Granted, it is not my favorite movie by far, and would not be in my top 50 and likely not in my top 100, but I can tell you that when I see it, and hear the President’s speech, it fills me with an emotion and pride of humanity that I rarely feel.  If you don’t recall it, or you haven’t read this recently, here is the quote from IMDB:

    Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. "Mankind." That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can't be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it's fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom... Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution... but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: "We will not go quietly into the night!" We will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on! We're going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!

    First of all, I never said I didn’t like Independence Day. It is a fun, popcorn movie ... just not “the great American movie.”

    And yes, it is a nice speech.

    MNB user Steven Ritchey wrote:

    Two movies I would  have included on your list of 50 movies.

    The Wild Bunch, an aging group of outlaws who’s time is past, they are totally ruthless, but have qualities we can all admire, like sticking together, having each others back, and I will never forget the scene where they walk through the Mexican village to free their partner, knowing they will probably die, but still doing it, together.  Great movie, great acting.

    The Shootist,I think it is the best movie John Wayne did, he played an aging gunfighter who is dying of cancer, along the way he befriends the widow whose house he is boarding at, and teaches her son what it means to be a man and accept responsibility while showing him how small the men he admired really were.  As much as I like True Grit, I think this movie on a whole is better, better all round acting performances.

    Both good movies, I agree.

    I would disagree about how you rank The Shootist ... I think Wayne is better in movies such as The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, though The Shootist does have a lovely elegiac quality because it resonated with Wayne’s own health problems.

    Just as a matter of interest ... I was the movie critic for my college newspaper when The Shootist came out in 1976, and I gave it a very good review - at a time when college students were not sympathetic to Wayne because of his political views.

    Shortly after the review came out - I went to school at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles - I got a very nice note from Wayne in which he thanked me for my comments, said that he’d given his “best efforts” in making the film, and said that he wished that the studios had handled the film better. (How he came to see that review, I’m not sure ... but LMU was and is very well connected in the film industry.)

    I treasure that note. So I’m not entirely objective when it comes to The Shootist.
    KC's View: