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    Published on: January 20, 2012

    What do disparate 2011 movies like The Descendants, Margin Call, Midnight in Paris, and The Muppets have in common?

    They are, along with six other films, winners of the inaugural “Bizzie” Awards, presented to the films of last year that had the best business lessons related to ethical behavior, leadership and progressive management. Michael Sansolo and I decided to create the Bizzies this year as a natural outgrowth of our book, The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies.

    Since publishing the book a little over two years ago, one of the things we’ve found is that some of the best business leaders out there use movies when explaining their vision to their employees, business partners and even customers. Movies are a kind of common mythology to which many people can relate, and so they are a terrific way for business leaders to get people to coalesce around their ideas and goals.

    Ten films are cited this year - not in specific categories, but each offering enduring lessons in business behavior and leadership.

    And the winners are:

    The Company Men follows the shattered lives of associates from a company in the throes of massive downsizing, showing us the pain of the Great Recession along with the reckless personal and business behaviors that led to these economic problems. Every detail in this movie reminds us of the basic business and family values and disciplines that some- how were cast aside when good times seemed to last forever.

    The Descendants turns on whether a Hawaiian lawyer and landowner, played by George Clooney, should sell pristine island land that has been in his family for generations to developers who will turn it into an enormous commercial property. This film, directed by Alexander Payne, poses a question that every business must answer at some point in its existence: Just because you can do something, does that mean that you should do something?

    The Guard, an Irish film written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, starring Brendan Gleeson as an Irish policeman in County Galway. Gleeson finds himself involved in an investigation into murder and drug smuggling, and paired with an American FBI agent played by Don Cheadle. In less expert hands this might have turned into another Rush Hour, but with different ethnicity. But The Guard is much smarter than that, and nothing is quite what it appears. That’s a great lesson for every business – don’t take things at face value, and always allow people to grow beyond expectations.

    Margin Call is a terrific movie about one horrible day in the life of a Lehman Bros.-like firm, but it also is filled with business lessons that go beyond the investment world. You need to discover some of them for yourself, but one thing to look for is the extent to which the people are the top are isolated from or ignorant about how day-to-day business is being conducted. They’ve lost touch with the front lines, so that when a young analyst uncovers the problem, they’re shocked. Then, like executives at so many banks and investment firms, they focus on the short term and their own survival instead of the bigger picture and implications.

    Midnight in Paris is a wonderful fantasy from Woody Allen through which Owen Wilson’s dissatisfied writer is transported from 2011 to 1920s Paris, where he gets to pal around with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, Cole Porter, Salvador Dali and others. The movie reminds us that nostalgia has a place, but that the good old days were never as good as we think. In addition, we see how an outsider’s fresh eyes bring new insight, highlighted when Hemingway uncovers a problem in 2011 that our hero seems unable to see on his own.

    Moneyball is the movie every businessperson needs to see. Based on the best seller by Michael Lewis, it recounts how the Oakland A’s managed to field a winning baseball team while spending far less on salaries than competitors. Brad Pitt, who was the driving force in the making of this film, dominates the screen as general manager Billy Beane, who delivers all the critical lessons including finding a new way to look at an old problem and understanding that the questions a business asks are every bit as important as the answers. Pitt’s scenes with his players and assistants speak volumes about creative business strategies and the need to clearly communicate a plan.

    The Muppets, which features the return of the lovable characters created by the late Jim Henson, is actually loaded with business lessons. Among them: the importance of nurturing valuable assets (which did not happen in real life or in the movie, giving rise to both the plot of the film and the backstory that informed its release to theaters), and the critical role that personal passion plays in any enterprise. This latter theme also played out as both a plot point the film and in real life; writer/star Jason Segel essentially made the movie happen because he loved The Muppets and wanted them to be restored to their former big screen glory.

    War Horse, directed by Steven Spielberg, provides possibly the single best business metaphor of the year. The movie follows the incredible story of a horse named Joey that experiences the horrors of World War I in countless and unimaginable ways. But in the pivotal scene we see what happens when a well-trained cavalry, astride horses and armed with swords, faces off against troops armed with machine guns. That one scene reminds us of the importance of staying current with technological change and the need to fight the current competitive war, not one from the history books. Any business that believes Facebook, Google, Apple or Amazon aren’t potential competitors needs watch that one battle time and again.

    The Way, directed by Emilio Estevez and starring Martin Sheen, illustrates the importance of finishing the job - whatever the “job” happens to be. Sheen plays a California ophthalmologist who learns that his son has died while making a spiritual pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago, a route that takes thousands of people each year from France to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. Compelled by some need that even he does not understand, Sheen decides to complete the pilgrimage himself, to walk the hundreds of miles, carrying his son’s ashes, scattering them along the way, honoring his son’s memory by walking quite literally in his footsteps - a great cautionary note for leaders who think they can understand people and scenarios from afar.

    Win-Win is a small movie with two big lessons. Paul Giamatti plays a small-town lawyer beset with financial troubles who takes an ethical shortcut to save his practice. The plan would work but for the arrival of a troubled teen who forces Giamatti to admit to his misdeed and suffer the consequences, which the lawyer realizes are not as dire as he feared. The teen provides a second great lesson when he joins the woeful high school wrestling team coached by Giamatti and shows the positive impact a single player (or employee) can have. With a new attitude and approach he improves the team’s outlook, performance and effort.

    Each of these movies, Michael and I would argue, can be assigned as a kind of ‘homework’ by business executives looking to impart a relevant lesson to their employees and business partners. They offer a great opportunity for discussion and debate about where businesses are going and how they are getting there. Hopefully, this list of 2011 movies will be the starting point for a lot of great conversations.

    The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies is available from Brigantine Media or from It is also is available as an e-book for Kindle, iBooks or the Nook.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 20, 2012

    Fascinating piece in Scientific American about the importance of the modern food economy, which makes a wide range of foods from all over the globe available virtually year round. While locavores and environmentalists would argue that there is something unnatural about the current state of affairs, the story makes the point that something as simple as the cheeseburger - which did not even exist 100 years ago - could not exist without industrial food production techniques.

    Blogger Waldo Jaquith tells the magazine that “it’s quite impractical—nearly impossible—to make a cheeseburger from scratch. Tomatoes are in season in the late summer. Lettuce is in season in spring and fall. Large mammals are slaughtered in early winter. The process of making such a burger would take nearly a year and would inherently involve omitting some core cheeseburger ingredients. It would be wildly expensive—requiring a trio of cows—and demand many acres of land. There’s just no sense in it.”

    Scientific American frames the dichotomy this way:

    “Thanks to fertilizers, genetically modified crops, concentrated farming operations and global overnight shipping, much of the world was lifted out of starvation (but not malnutrition, ironically enough) because it could finally grow sufficient quantities of food with decreasing labor inputs.

    “But these same advances that allow food to be grown out of season and in all corners of the globe contribute to a whole host of environmental problems, from deforestation and nitrogen loading of water sources (and the resulting dead zones) to the insane quantities of water being consumed.”
    KC's View:
    I find this fascinating, and illustrative of the fact that most people probably don’t really understand where our food comes from, the advantages and repercussions of modern food production technologies, and what the costs are. And a cheeseburger is such a great example, since it is an item that is beloved by so many of us.

    I think this suggests a wonderful opportunity for marketers to really explain things to shoppers ... or at least to those shoppers who are interested in such things. If we accept the premise that at least a percentage of the consumer population makes values judgements as well as value judgements when they make purchases, this is a perfect place to tell people about values and value. Let shoppers set their own priorities, but allow them to make informed decisions.

    Published on: January 20, 2012

    Smart Money reports that while “it's been a rough sled for retail ... the dollar-store business is growing like crazy. The national chains are drawing higher-income shoppers, reporting record profits and opening new stores on a daily basis. Dollar General, with more than 9,800 locations, is now the nation's largest retailer by store count. Middle-class shopping centers used to shun the discounters, says John Tomlinson, an analyst at ITG Investment Research. Today they're courted as one of the few options for filling vacancies.”

    The irony, the story says, is that the dollar store companies concede that they all sell most of their merchandise for more than a buck, no longer specialize in just closeout deals and manufacturers’ seconds, and often cannot beat Walmart on price.

    So why are they successful? Tomlinson tells Smart Money that he believes that “folks are so broke and so busy that they can't afford the gas and time required to shop big-box discounters on the edge of town. Your typical dollar store, meanwhile, is close to home and a tenth the size of your average Wal-Mart. Most shoppers spend just 10 minutes and 10 bucks in the store. In 2012, this is how we prefer to shop.

    “In coming years? The dollar stores plan to double their store count, a sign that economic recovery is far, far away. So go ahead and cry. There's surely a dollar box of single-ply tissues selling at a convenient location near you.”
    KC's View:
    In the end, what dollar stores really offer is a kind of differentiated shopping experience, which is what is really driving their growth. But I have to admit that I’m a little skeptical about the industry doubling its size in coming years; I may be wrong about this, but it strikes me as entirely possible that they could overbuild, and that there will be a lot of empty, decaying, former dollar store locations available around the country in the not-too-distant future.

    Published on: January 20, 2012

    Fortune is out with its annual list of the 100 best places to work in the US, and once again a number of retailers made the list - with Wegmans ranked highest in this segment at number four overall.

    Other retailers on the list include REI (# 8), Zappos (# 11), The Container Store (# 22), Whole Foods (# 32), Nugget Market (# 34), Nordstrom (# 61), QuikTrip (# 66), Starbucks (# 73), and Publix (# 78). Wegmans, REI, Whole Foods, Nordstrom and Publix have been on the list every year since it first ran in 1998.

    Google is ranked atop the list.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 20, 2012

    • The New York Times reports that Apple Inc. has “introduced three free pieces of software revolving around education. It released iBooks 2, a new version of its electronic bookstore, where students can now download textbooks; iBooks Author, a Macintosh program for creating textbooks and other books; and iTunes U, an app for instructors to create digital curriculums and share course materials with students.

    “Digital textbooks made for iBooks,” the story notes, “can display interactive diagrams, audio and video.”

    Forrester Research says that sales of e-textbooks

    Sales of electronic textbooks accounted for only 2.8 percent of the $8 billion domestic textbook market in 2010, according to Forrester Research.
    KC's View:
    On the face of it, they may not seem to be as retailing-oriented story, but I think this is symbolic of the broad digital shift that is influencing how people think and act and acquire ... and as such, is very much a retail story.

    There are a couple of components to this story. As a parent, I’ve long wondered how much damage we’re doing to our kids’ backs, sending them off to school with backpacks loaded down with textbooks. So just from a physical perspective, moving textbooks to iPads is a good idea.

    But even more important, textbooks on tablet computers is a way to create an infrastructure that will allow for constant updating and a degree of interactivity that kids will expect and respond to.

    Published on: January 20, 2012 has announced that William Shatner, who has served as the company’s television pitchman for 14 years - and reportedly made millions of dollars because he took his compensation in stock instead of cash - will go out with a bang this weekend as he appears in his final commercial for the company.

    In the commercial, which will be shown during the football playoffs, Shatner will be shown saving a group of passengers on a bus before plummeting to his death; he reportedly will be replaced by a new spokesman who will show up in the company’s Super Bowl commercial.
    Shatner has noted that this is not the first time one of his characters has been killed off; in Star Trek: Generations, his Captain James T. Kirk also was shown plummeting to his death. (No bus was involved, however. Just a Nexus, a starship and a mad scientist.)

    “"It was a great run," Shatner says. “But if the management says this is the end, this is the end."
    KC's View:
    If the new ad campaign doesn’t work out, you can bet real money that they’ll find a way to revive Shatner and bring him back. They can find him on Broadway, where he’ll be appearing in a new one-man show beginning next month. Or at home, where he probably will be counting all his money.

    Published on: January 20, 2012

    • The San Antonio Business Journal, reports that “H-E-B will invest $20 million to lower prices on fresh produce to encourage more people to eat healthier and has planned a series of activities designed to help people keep their New Year’s resolution to lose the holiday weight ... The San Antonio grocer will also offer special deals on healthy meals. H-E-B will offer two specialty designed Healthy Savings meals each month. Healthy Savings will bundle at least four healthy ingredients that can be used to prepare a meal for a family of four for under $10 with a $4 in-store coupon. The meals will be modeled after the USDA’s new My Plate guidelines, which includes lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or non-fat dairy item.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 20, 2012

    MarketWatch reports that Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. has increased its stake in Tesco Plc from 3.21 percent to 5.08 percent; the company now owns more than 400 million shares in Tesco, or 5.08 percent of the company’s voting rights.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 20, 2012

    Got an email yesterday from a reader who thought I made a mistake in running an internal memo from Target that laid out their growth strategy and supplier plans. Which led another MNB user to write:

    One of the areas Target needs to improve is to allow their medium and smaller vendors the same access (information, key decision makers) as they do the large vendor teams.  The larger vendors provide much of the thought leadership and contribution to Targets scorecard objectives, however, smaller vendors play an important role that isn’t always appreciated as much as it should be by senior levels at Target. Personally, I’m thrilled you posted the letter from Target as it will give all vendors an equal opportunity to information on how to build effective business plans with Target.  It’s in everyone’s interest to “Sell More” and to work on the right business building opportunities. Making public letters like this are a step in the right direction.

    And, regarding complaints about Apple customer service from one MNB reader, MNB user Geoff Harper wrote:

    Stories like that of Craig Espelian get my juices flowing.  In my varied retail management positions, I had many opportunities to answer customer complaints inquiries.  The guideline is simple:  The customer wants to talk to you; the customer is taking their valuable time to do so; take ownership of the issue and resolve it in a reasonable time (as defined by the customer).

    On the flip side, I generally am patient with a rep trying to resolve my issue.  But if I feel that I am getting the runaround, I have a short fuse before I call the president's office.  Should not be necessary, but usually gets results.

    Replying to my comments about the lack of leadership shown by that Italian cruise ship captain, and how it may reflect a broader societal trend, one MNB user wrote:

    I read your article on leadership run aground and I completely agree with your assessment of current leadership.  I think it’s a sad time, and we need real leaders willing step up and do whats right!  I know that that is a little nebulous but I feel everyone is so focused on reporting INCREASED profits to Wall Street that we run aground and begin taking advantage of everyone they possibly can.  That’s why we find production/IT moving to China/India and then wonder why we get such poor product in return.

    What’s wrong with a steady 5% profit year over year, you can only increase profit so much.

    And another MNB user referenced one of my favorite cultural touchstones:

    I think he definitely would have failed the Kobayashi Maru test.

    No kidding.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 20, 2012

    One of the real pleasures of doing MNB is having the opportunity, from time to time, to get together with readers and enjoy some good conversation, great food and adult beverages. We had just such a time this week during the National Retail Federation (NRF) Show in New York, when Balance innovations and WorldPay were kind enough to sponsor a retailer party at the fabulous Beecher’s Cheese in the Flatiron District. We ate what arguably is the best macaroni and cheese on the planet, as well as delicious salmon with lemon risotto and barbecued ribs served with sweet potato mousse. And the wines...unbelievably good, especially the 2009 North Valley Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, which was just delicious. And there was this other wine that completely blew me away - a Gruet Brut that tasted like a really great Italian Prosecco, but actually was from New Mexico! Wow!

    Anyway, thanks to all the wonderful folks who joined us, thanks again to WorldPay and Balance Innovations ... and we’ll plan to do it again soon.

    One other wine I’d like to recommend to you today - the 2010 Felino Vino Corbos Malbec from Argentina ... which only reinforces my opinion that there are few things greater than great Malbec. (Thanks to my wine merchant son, Brian, and the folks from Nicholas Roberts - who power the MNB Wine of the Month Club - for making this recommendation.

    Just a few other quick notes...

    • I’m really glad that “Justified” is back for a third season. The season’s first episode was this week, and it brought us right back into Elmore Leonard’s skewed and enormously entertaining world.

    • If you did not see it this morning, find the Stephen Colbert appearance on “Morning Joe.” Hysterical.

    No movie reviews this week (I think I’ve done enough on movies today with the “Bizzie” awards...) But we’ll have more next week.

    That’s it for this week. have a great weekend, and i’ll see you Monday.

    KC's View: