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    Published on: July 10, 2013

    Content Guy's Note: "The MNB Interview" is designed to engage with business thought leaders who I like and respect, and who have something to say. It will run each workday from July 1-12, while I am on holiday, and has a simple format. I posed to each of the interviewees the same 13 questions and requested that they answer at least 10 of them; I told them that their answers could be as short or long as they wished, and as serious or irreverent as they liked. What I was looking for was a window into how they think and feel.

    Today's MNB Interview features Laurie Demeritt, CEO, The Hartman Group.

    One of the things I've always admired about The Hartman Group's approach to research and analysis is its ability to convert insights garnered through an understanding of anthropology, sociology, linguistics and statistics into basic common sense strategies and recommendations. And I've long thought that one of the reasons it is able to do so is because of the leadership of Laurie Demeritt, who is both really smart and totally down to earth. I really like that in a person, and it is especially powerful in someone who is charged with helping people see the real world, not just the world they want to see. And that's why I asked my friend Laurie Demeritt to be part of this series.

    The MNB Interview...

    What's the most important thing you've learned in your career?

    Laurie Demeritt:
    That you have to enjoy what you do and like being around the folks you work with every day.  After seeing numerous colleagues leave what seemed like perfect jobs, it has become very clear to me that I am one of the lucky ones who found a place I love and people I appreciate relatively early in my career.

    What's the biggest - and in retrospect, the most important - mistake that you've ever made, and how did you grow from it?

    Laurie Demeritt:
    My very first serious job interview was a total disaster.  I don’t think I really even knew what the company did.  The interviewer was merciless about my lack of preparation and it made a huge impact on me.  I am now a master of due diligence before I speak to colleagues and I sometimes fear that I know more than I should about potential clients since I’ve been running intel on them for weeks!    

    What is the most significant thing you do each week, and why?

    Laurie Demeritt:
    Practically speaking, it is our weekly financial meeting.  However, closely on the heels of this would be my weekly cleaning of the fish tank.  I think it highlights one of my favorite things about working at a small company – no job is too big or too small for any member of our team.

    What is the most irreplaceable or essential piece of technology you own, and why?

    Laurie Demeritt:
    Although I use my laptop, smartphone, tablet, etc. as much as anyone else, my favorite business tool is actually a piece of non-technology.  It is a leather Day-Timer planner that my father gave me over 20 years ago.  I take it everywhere and I constantly get comments from strangers on planes along the lines of “they still make those?”  I love sitting down at my desk in the morning and opening it up to see my handwritten schedule before I ever even turn on my computer.

    Kirk or Picard?  And why do you prefer one's management/leadership style over the other's?

    Laurie Demeritt:
    Picard.  Calm, cool, collected, decisive.  He epitomizes a saying I appreciate, “Always confident, sometimes wrong.”

    Who has been the most influential person in your business life, and why?

    Laurie Demeritt:
    I have to pick two.  My father, who taught me how to balance a very demanding work life while still being a fantastic parent, and my boss Harvey Hartman, who has showed me how to do great work while still having fun.

    Most memorable meal?  Where & what & why?

    Laurie Demeritt:
    A traditional Swiss dinner of raclette.  The year after I left college, my parents moved to Lausanne and I was feeling extremely homesick so I talked them into letting me visit.  After consuming 3 lbs. of cheese (and lots of white wine), I felt right at home (and found a job nearby for the next year).

    Favorite place to go to eat/drink, not your home?

    Laurie Demeritt:
    A lovely little neighborhood restaurant called Pair in Seattle. It is under the radar so doesn’t appear on many of the “best” lists, but it is comfortable and delicious with an ever-changing, locally sourced menu.

    What is the thing that you haven't yet done that you would most like to do?

    Laurie Demeritt:
    Finally finish the first Spanish language CD I’ve been practicing in my car for the past year.  All 3 of my kids already speak Spanish better than I do...

    If you had to define the most important aspect of leadership, what would it be and why?

    Laurie Demeritt:
    In my experience, the most important aspect of leadership is a leader’s willingness to let others take risks, try new things and thereby, develop their own leadership skills.  I think this aspect is what separates a good manager from a great leader.  Letting go of some measure of control/management while still providing support allows others to achieve their goals.  Our organization has a history of letting employees in all areas of the company pursue potentially “risky” endeavors which has resulted in not just new businesses, but new leaders.

    Thursday: Gerardo "Gerry" Lopez, President/CEO, AMC Entertainment.

    KC's View:

    Published on: July 10, 2013

    The Kroger Co. announced yesterday that it will acquire Harris Teeter Supermarkets, a 212-store chain operating in southeastern and mid-Atlantic markets, in a deal valued at about $2.5 billion. When completed - and it needs to be approved by federal regulators - Harris Teeter will operate as a subsidiary of Kroger and, according to the announcement, "will continue to be led by key members of Harris Teeter's senior management team.  There are no plans to close stores, and associates will continue to have employment opportunities with both companies.  Kroger headquarters will remain in Cincinnati, and Harris Teeter will keep its headquarters in Matthews, NC."

    In making the announcement, the companies noted that Harris Teeter stores "are located primarily in high-growth markets, vacation destinations and university communities in North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, Maryland, Tennessee, Delaware, Florida, Georgia and the District of Columbia," and "had revenues of approximately $4.5 billion for fiscal year 2012." Once completed, Kroger will operate 2,631 supermarkets and employ over 368,300 associates across 34 states and the District of Columbia.

    David Dillon, Kroger chairman/CEO, said in the announcement that "Harris Teeter is an exceptional company with a great brand, friendly and talented associates, and attractive store formats in vibrant markets run by a first-class management team.  They share our customer-centric approach to everything we do – from store format and merchandising to innovative loyalty programs.  This is a financially and strategically compelling transaction and a unique opportunity for our shareholders and associates."

    And Thomas W. Dickson, chairman/CEO of Harris Teeter said: "Harris Teeter has a long track record of creating shareholder value and this merger is the culmination of those efforts over many years."
    KC's View:
    I may be on vacation, but I couldn't wait until next week to comment on this story.

    Several points, if I may...

    I thought it was noteworthy that in the New York Times story, Kroger CEO Dillon is quoted as saying that he wants to make sure that his company learns from Harris Teeter's expertise and success in areas like fresh foods and private-label goods. This strikes me as an intelligent approach to the acquisition, and also not a case of blowing smoke. A lot of CEOs say stuff like that, but don't really mean it ... but that's not the case at Kroger.

    It also strikes me that Kroger's expertise in the area of weaponized data - drilling deep into transaction activity so that effective and relevant consumer-specific promotions can be offered - can only help Harris Teeter be more effective in blunting the impact of more price-driven competitors.

    Finally, the Wall Street Journal notes that the Kroger-Harris Teeter deal occurs after months of speculation that Harris Teeter would be snapped up by a private equity group such as Cerberus Capital Management or Bain Capital. While some may carp that a private equity buyout might have brought it more money in the short term for investors, I think that in the long run, selling to Kroger makes a lot more sense. The combination of the two has the potential to be a lot more powerful competitively, with greater long-term potential for investors. It'll be good for Main Street and Wall Street, I think.