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    Published on: July 15, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    Since the 2013 baseball season is about half over, and we're currently in the All Star Game break, it seems appropriate that the first post-vacation MNB Eye-Opener ought to be on the subject of the National Pastime.

    The story that caught my eye was on the Fast Company website, and concerns an inventor named Grady Phelan who has created a new kind of bat - the ProXR, which tilts the bottom knob of the bat by 23 degrees. By slanting the knob - which has been in its current configuration for more than a century - the bat is designed to help Major league ballplayers avoid hamate fractures, something that happens from time to time when they swing and essentially grind the knob of the bat into their wrists. If it happens enough, and in the wrong way, the bone can crack unexpectedly and put the player on the disabled list for weeks. That costs the player time on the field, and hurts the team that has invested millions of dollars in that player's performance.

    This isn't just a sales pitch for the bat. In fact, Phelan has plenty of scientific evidence to support his claims. But there's a problem ...

    You see, baseball players - even those who have suffered from hamate fractures - have been using the same kind of bats since they began playing baseball as children, and they are loathe to change. And bat manufacturers won;t make the bat if players aren't willing to use it.

    It is, in fact, a classic case of denial ... of people in a particular business being unwilling to change because it's always been done that way.

    In many ways, it makes no sense at all. Golfers will go with the latest technology in golf clubs. Tennis players adopt the newest tennis racquets. But baseball players ... well, they practice a kind of epistemic closure that could hurt them, their careers, and their teams.

    That's some thing that people in every business have to avoid. The way things have always been done, like the knob on a baseball bat, isn't necessarily a core value. It's just something that has been around for a long time, and smart business people have to be able to tell the difference.

    Top paraphrase Crash Davis, it's okay not to believe in quantum physics when it comes to matters of the heart. But when it comes to equipment...

    You can look it up. Here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 15, 2013

    Time has a piece about the move away from loyalty programs by banners owned and operated by Albertsons, as the company decided that a focus on neighborhood stores, with a product mix more specifically tailored to local demographics, was a more efficient and effective way to go to market.

    The move is part of a trend. Here's how Time frames the broader shift:

    "According to a study by the research firm Colloquy, the number of U.S. loyalty program memberships grew by 26.7% from 2010 to 2012. Last year, Americans had a collective total of 2.65 billion loyalty program memberships.

    "But the study reveals that these programs may not be quite as ascendant as they initially appear. 'Even though the average number of loyalty programs per U.S. household has grown to 21.9 (up from 18.4 in 2010), only 9.5 of those memberships – less than half –are currently active,' the report states.

    "What’s more, certain loyalty program categories actually saw a decrease in memberships. In 2012, Americans had 172.4 million supermarket loyalty program memberships, down from 173.7 million in 2010. That’s a decrease of only 1%. But considering that until recently loyalty program totals have generally only gone upward, and that most program categories saw robust growth, any decline in memberships is significant. Combine that with the fact that the percentage of memberships that are active has been falling across the board, and what becomes apparent is that many consumers have grown sick of having to fumble through a pocketbook to find a loyalty card at the grocery store."

    The bottom line seems to be that some companies - not all - have decided that their target consumers were not seeing the benefits of such card programs, and that the expense of running such programs did not justify continued investment.
    KC's View:
    I can't say that this is much of a surprise, in part because I've long felt that the whole concept of loyalty marketing, as practiced by many of the nation's retailers, is misguided - many programs simply are electronic couponing initiatives with little or no effort to demonstrate any loyalty to the shopper; they just wanted to bribe the consumer into coming back, thinking that this was loyalty. The fact that so many people had so many loyalty cards should have been a giveaway.

    Loyalty is hard to achieve and even harder to sustain. The movie producer Samuel Goldwyn once said that he'd "take fifty percent efficiency to get one hundred percent loyalty." But most businesses aren't willing to make that trade ... they're looking for trading efficiency, and are willing to delude themselves that they are getting loyalty.

    If the new Albertsons effort works, then more power to them. Seems to me that effective loyalty marketing should somehow connect the concepts of local and loyal, and while Albertsons may be getting rid of the programs, what they are still seeking is a way to make shoppers more loyal to its banners and stores. If it can prove it is loyal to neighborhoods by making their stores more responsive and relevant, well, that's the end game for most retailers.

    Published on: July 15, 2013

    Reuters reports this morning that as retailers change their approaches to online fulfillment - with Amazon building distribution facilities around the country to satisfy what it sees as a demand for same-day and next-day delivery, and chains such as Walmart and Best Buy test shipping products from local stores - shipping companies such as FedEx and UPS, which have grown to depend on such business, could get hit hard.

    here's one example cited in the story: "Amazon has a growing fleet of delivery trucks, which are already a common sight in its home town of Seattle, where it has been operating an online grocery delivery service for years.

    In 2011, Amazon changed its fulfillment strategy and began building new distribution warehouses closer to large, heavily populated areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.

    In the first quarter of 2013, Amazon's shipping costs were 4.7 percent of revenue, down from 5.1 percent a year earlier."
    KC's View:
    And, it wants that number to get lower, which could be a real problem for UPS. I've heard some reports saying that as much as a third of UPS's business is directly connected to those boxes with the smiles on them ... which can;t make them very happy at UPS.

    Good business lesson here - don't assume that just because you have the business, you're going to keep the business.

    Published on: July 15, 2013

    The Los Angeles Times reports on what seems to be a small-scale trend in Southern California, "as markets catering to environmentally conscious foodies proffer local fare in laid-back settings."

    In downtown Los Angeles, the story says, the new Urban Radish market "reflects the socially conscious views of its Arts District patrons, co-owner Carolyn Paxton said. The former metal warehouse, bedecked with a mural of giant chipmunks, is stocked with fare tailored to the palates of urban foodies. The produce is selected from small farms. The beef — even in the hot dogs — was grass-fed and never saw a feed lot, she said. There is locally produced small-batch ketchup for sale, and even the mustard, mayo and aioli sauce used to make sandwiches is whipped up on the premises." And this does seem to be an isolated development, since "an indoor farmers market is in planning stages at an apartment complex nearby."

    And, to the north in Santa Barbara, "a developer is replacing a Vons supermarket with condominiums above a collection of mini stores selling local artisanal foods ... real estate developer Marge Cafarelli, meanwhile, is aiming to reflect tastes in the prosperous coastal community with a setting that is upscale but not pretentious. Her goal is to create a multi-merchant market that offers exquisite-tasting food at prices competitive with Whole Foods ... Cafarelli's model will differ from traditional food stores' in that it will operate more like the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco or Pike Place Market in Seattle, where multiple merchants ply their wares under one roof."

    And, the story says, Both Urban Radish's owners and Cafarelli are taking pains to bring in goods at a variety of prices and hope to avoid being perceived as elitist. They also strive to please customers who have sophisticated, even lofty, expectations."
    KC's View:
    I'm not sure I'm totally buying this as a "trend." They can say they don't want to be elitist and that they want to be price competitive with Whole Foods, but little about these descriptions sounds anything but elitist,m and I'm not sure competing with Whole Foods on price is setting the bar all that high.

    That said, I'm enough of a foodie to find this intriguing. Anything that is engaged with the idea of getting people to eat better sounds like a reasonably good idea to me.

    Published on: July 15, 2013

    Mashable.com reports that Instacart, the grocery delivery service that allows consumers to order from a variety of retailers - including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Safeway and Costco - and have personal shoppers deliver those items for a fee, has raised $8.5 million in funding that will allow it to expand from California to 10 new markets by the end of 2014.
    KC's View:
    I'm not convinced that this is an internet strategy ... and I'm not sure that this is the most efficient way to deliver an online shopping experience, especially when competing with the highly integrated Amazon Fresh, which this is designed to do. But, hey ... I'm all in favor of entrepreneurs trying lots of alternatives to see what works. Just because I don't "get" it doesn't mean it isn't going to work.

    Published on: July 15, 2013

    In Canada, the Financial Post reports that Loblaw Cos. there "is taking on Whole Foods in a test pilot of a new retail concept called Nutshell Live Life Well, a stand-alone franchise catering to the health-conscious crowd.

    "The first location will open this fall in downtown Toronto ... and will include a broad assortment of prepared, fresh and packaged foods, a prescription pharmacy, natural health and beauty products, vitamins and supplements ... In addition to carrying natural foods and foods from Loblaw’s in-house brands such as PC Organics and Blue Menu, Nutshell Live Life Well will offer professional in-store health and wellness services."

    The announcement comes just weeks after Whole Foods, which currently operates nine stores in Canada, said that it will open 40 or more there as part of its global expansion strategy.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 15, 2013

    • Walmart is threatening to pull out of its plans to build three supercenters in Washington, DC, after the DC Council voted to require large retailers to pay a "living wage" of at least $12.50 per hour. Walmart had planned to build six stores there.

    According to the Christian Science Monitor, "While some cities including San Francisco and Santa Fe, N.M., have approved across-the-board minimum-wage hikes, the bill would make Washington the first city to single out big-box retailers. It applies only to retailers with stores of 75,000 square feet or larger and annual corporate revenues of at least $1 billion.

    "Council members voted 8-5 to approve the measure, setting up a difficult veto decision for Mayor Vincent Gray. The Democratic mayor must balance liberal local politics with his administration's job-creation and economic development goals.

    "While Gray has not said whether he plans a veto, he told the council he has deep reservations about the bill. Two of the stores Wal-Mart says are imperiled by the measure are in predominantly African-American communities east of the Anacostia River, where Gray lives and where unemployment is far higher than elsewhere in the city."
    KC's View:
    I'm all in favor of paying people a living wage, but I have a problem with legislation that creates a bifurcated system, with one set of rules for big box stores and another for everybody else. Just doesn't seem fair. And I have no doubt that Walmart is willing to play hardball with DC, just to prove a point to any other city that might be considering such legislation.

    Published on: July 15, 2013

    • One of the stories that occurred during MNB's time off was the report by This Is Money that former Tesco CEO Ian Lord MacLaurin, accused another former Tesco CEO, Sir Terry Leahy, of leaving a "sad legacy" that has hurt the company's sales and profitability. MacLaurin singled out the Leahy-led Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets adventure in the US as "disastrous."

    Speaking at the company's annual meeting, MacLaurin said: "I think you would probably agree with me that when you judge the performance of a chief executive, you not only judge the performance of his day-to-day operation, but you also have to judge his legacy and I think we're all very sad to see the legacy Sir Terry Leahy has left."

    It was MacLaurin's first appearance at a Tesco annual meeting since he retired from the company in 1997.


    • Philip Clarke, the current CEO of Tesco, can't seem to get a break.

    He's been roasted by analysts and the media for Tesco's sales and profit troubles, especially the US incursion - Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets - that the company now is trying to sell.

    And now, the Sunday Times of London reports that he's been arrested for speeding, and has had his drivers license suspended for six months.

    The company says it won't affect his job - Clarke regularly uses a driver to get from place to place.
    KC's View:
    Regarding the MacLaurin comments ... I interviewed him back in the mid-nineties, and I vividly remembering him saying that there was no way that Tesco should or would go to the US. He's been utterly consistent on this point. And, apparently, right.

    Published on: July 15, 2013

    The Cincinnati Business Courier has a piece about how retail analyst Burt Flickinger III, managing director of the Strategic Resource Group, evaluates the announced $2.5 billion acquisition of Harris Teeter by Kroger.

    Referring to Kroger CEO Dave Dillon, Flickinger says that the deal is "one of the crowning achievements of Dave Dillon’s career,” and says that it further enables Kroger to grow and be, in his words, "one of Wal-Mart’s worst nightmares" by allowing Kroger to extend its geographical reach, achieve cost savings, and gain expertise and access to a service culture that can only help it down the road.
    KC's View:
    No argument here.

    Published on: July 15, 2013

    ...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary...

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in response to pressure from consumer groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and Consumers Union, is proposing "a limit on the amount of arsenic allowed in apple juice, and said it will consider enforcement actions against juice makers that exceed the standard." The proposal could go into effect after a 60-day comment period.

    According to the story, "The FDA's new threshold sets the same the same 10-parts-per-billion standard that the Environmental Protection Agency imposes for drinking water, and aims to limit the number of cancers such as those of the lung, bladder, kidney and skin that may occur in a lifetime." The Juice Products Association, the trade association representing the industry, has promised to "carefully evaluate" the proposal.

    It is on stories like this one that I get totally lost, because common sense suggests that it simply does not seem logical that more arsenic would be allowed in apple juice than in drinking water. And I wonder who made up these regulations to begin with. But maybe that's just me...


    • The Buffalo News reports that Wegmans, which had announced that employees who work fewer than 30 hours a week would not be eligible for employer-funded health insurance because of changes in health care legislation, is saying that it will allow current part-timers to work more hours so they will become eligible for health benefits. The change sin Wegmans program will not take place until 2015.


    • The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that while the demand for organic commodities continues to grow, the US Farm Belt has not kept up, which means that "organic food producers are turning to China and India for organic soybeans, as total U.S. imports of those kinds of beans doubled last year and could surpass $100 million in value this year."

    Some manufacturers are making a point of rejecting foreign organic imports, and there remains real concerns about imports from China, which has had a history of food safety and labeling problems.


    • The Daily Beast reports on a new study from Purdue University saying that "the artificial sweeteners in diet soda can cause weight gain, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and heart disease, adding to mounting research about the potential health risks of diet soft drinks.

    "And that’s not all—the study also found that the artificial sweeteners in diet soda can interfere with your body’s normal response to sugar, deregulating normal blood sugar levels even more than regular soda. That’s because the fake sugar essentially tricks your body into thinking you’re taking in the calories associated with the sweet taste. But that means the body doesn’t know how to process real sugar—and fails to release the hormone that controls blood sugar and blood pressure."

    The American beverage Association (ABA) disagrees, and released a statement saying, in part, that "low-calorie sweeteners are some of the most studied and reviewed ingredients in the food supply today ... They are safe and an effective tool in weight loss and weight management, according to decades of scientific research and regulatory agencies around the globe.”


    • The Associated Press reports that handbag designer Michael Kors is suing Costco, claiming that the retailer "illegally used pictures of its luxury bags in its ads in order to lure in customers without being authorized to sell the designer's wares." The suit says that Costco used pictures of the bags - which normally retail for hundreds of dollars - and an advertised price point of $99 to generate customer traffic, though it did not actually have any bags to sell.


    • In Massachusetts, the Lowell Sun reports that Market Basket CEO Arthur T. Demoulas could be removed from his job by the company's board of directors as a longtime internal family battle gets even more pitched.

    According to the story, dissident family members say they are concerned about spending by the company management, though the response from the company's leadership is that Market Basket has managed to grow sales and profits while maintaining high profit margins, and that any change at the top "would sacrifice customers and employees for higher profit margins and prices."
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 15, 2013

    • Jayne Homco, vp-merchandising for Kroger's Southwest division, has been named president of Kroger’s Michigan Division, succeeding Rick Going, who moves to the presidency of Kroger's new Nashville division.


    • Supervalu announced that Bob Bly, the president of its Shoppers Food & Pharmacy chain, is departing the company "to pursue new career opportunities.

    He will be succeeded on an interim basis by Bob Gleeson, the chain's VP of merchandising, and Mickey Nye, VP of operations, while a search is conducted for a replacement.


    • Ahold USA has named Juan De Paoli, most recently VP-center store program management at Topco, to be senior vice president of brand management and own brands.


    • The Chicago Tribune reports that former Campbell Soup president/CEO Doug Conant has been named to lead the newly formed Kellogg Executive Leadership Institute at Northwestern University, which is designed to "augment and strengthen existing senior-level executive education programs, as well as design new approaches for C-suite leadership development and drive research that explores key issues facing CEOs."


    • Jim Flannery, the longtime Procter & Gamble executive who most recently served as that company's Managing Director - Customer Development for its global operations, has been hired by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) to be its new Senior Executive Vice President, Operations and Industry Affairs.


    • Fairway Group Holdings Corp., parent company of Fairway Market, announced the appointment of two executives - Dan Myers, most recently Executive Vice President of Operations for DeMet's Candy Company, who will serve as Senior Vice President, Production and Distribution Center, and Dennis Tortora, most recently CFO/Treasurers at Balance Bar, who will serve as Controller, Production and Distribution Center. Both men, the announcement said, "will focus on the Company's new production facility which will serve as the state-of-the-art central commissary, bakery, and produce distribution site with the capacity to support approximately 30 stores." Fairway currently operates 13 stores in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, and has been on a fast growth track since its acquisition by a private equity group and subsequent IPO.


    • Peter McGuinness, CEO of advertising agency DDB Chicago, is leaving that company to become chief marketing officer/chief brand officer for Chobani, the Green yogurt company.

    Chobani also has hired David Denholm, until now the chief of Kellogg's breakfast foods division, to be its new president/COO.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 15, 2013

    To begin, let me thank you all for what was the near-unanimous enthusiasm you showed for the series of MNB Interviews that ran over the past couple of weeks while I took some time off. There were a couple of people who wondered where the news and commentary were, but for the most part the emails looked like the following...

    MNB user Tom Murphy wrote:

    Your depiction of Dave Dillon as the definition of “decent” is dead on.  Here is a personal story supporting that.

    In late 1993, I was a young, newly hired VP of IT brought into a large grocery organization with a big business challenge, and probably just as big a technology challenge, at hand.  About midway through my second week, when I had pretty much figured out the elevators and the restroom locations, this fairly young guy (close to my age) walks into my office and introduces himself as Dave.  He casually sits down and asks me about my background, my experiences, and my family as well as my ambitions.  We talk about life, the transportation business (from whence I came), and some of the leaders with whom I had worked, e.g., Fred Smith at FedEx (one of Dave’s favorites) and Alex Mandl at Sea-Land.  He shared his background, his love for the grocery business, and where he thought I could help.  Told me to stop by anytime I had any questions for him or just wanted to chat.

    It was after he walked out of my office, my new administrative assistance ran into my office flustered and asking me if I knew who that was.  “Of course I do, it was Dave”, I said.  Then she gave me more details of which Dave.  Never would have known it…no pretentious attitude, no sense of royalty…in general, it was just two guys sitting down to shoot the breeze.

    This was the beginning of a long friendship and working relationship with Dave Dillon.   Easily one of my top three mentors in life, not just business.  Incidentally, Joe Pichler, who Dave mentioned in your interview, was in that group of three as well.  Being in a room with them talking about the grocery business was like having Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein around to discuss physics.


    From MNB reader Garry Beaty:

    Great set of articles on the leaders in the Industry. I spent many years with Jack Brown of Stater Bros. Markets and ran into Glen Terbeek early in my career there.  We stayed in touch over the years and couldn’t agree more that he had, and continues to have, a lot of insight into the Retail Grocery world.
     
    I also had, and still take, the chance to play a little golf with Glen. I have no doubt that he will achieve the ‘shooting your age’  milestone…. If he just lives long enough….


    MNB user Dave Tuchler:

    Just finished reading installment #3 (with Glen Terbeek). Excellent series, very inspiring - - these very accomplished leaders share at least one important trait - humility.  Too little of that going around.

    Well done.


    Jon Townsend wrote:

    After the first week of questions I must say that I am enjoying them very much; great questions, great leaders, wonderful answers. My hat is off to you for a great idea.

    Anne Klaus wrote:

    Thank you, Kevin, for this interview of Cathy Green Burns.  She is a special leader indeed.

    MNB reader Mark Boyer wrote:

    Really enjoying your interviews. Some industry icons, and is a good peak inside some of the things I would ask them if given the chance.
     
    MNB user Patrick Pitts wrote:

    I worked at Delhaize America for three years and had the pleasure of talking with Cathy Green Burns several times.  She is the epitome of leading by walking alongside her people.  It never seemed unusual, or tense, to run into the president of the company on the elevator, in the parking lot, or at community events. It was just, "Hi, Cathy!"  I once spent about an hour handing out snacks and favors at a community festival right beside Cathy and suddenly realized how much of our conversation had been about me: my family, hobbies, and career. She draws people out because she is genuinely interested in them.  I was so disappointed Food Lion lost her, but excited to see where she goes next.

    From another reader:

    Over the years, I've called on the great people at Price Chopper. After reading today's interview, it's no wonder they are thriving.

    Great article - we need more leaders like Neil Golub in the world.


    And another:

    I am thoroughly enjoying the interviews. I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite so far.
    Brilliant idea!


    And still another:

    Loved the interview series that you posted during your vacation. It was great to hear from so many different perspectives. Overall, it was an awesome idea!

    And yet another:

    Just wanted to say how much I have enjoyed the interviews you have posted this week while you were on a much deserved vacation.

    I have been reading your morning news for many years now and always look forward to the "ping" telling me it is in my inbox.

    These interviews were truly inspiring! I feel like I know most of them from following MNB. What a wonderful gift you have given all of us while you were gone. It tells me that, not only do you love what you are doing, but you care about the people you are writing to everyday.


    I appreciate all the emails I received over the past two weeks. Just so you know, I plan to bring back the series at the end of the summer ... and even now, I'm not quite done...
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 15, 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 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 Brian Woolf, founder of the Retail Strategy Center, author, and a pioneer in the field of loyalty marketing.

    The MNB Interview...

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

    Brian Woolf:
    Today’s peacock is tomorrow’s feather duster. Business can be the noblest quest we ever undertake, creating something better than before. Yet as soon as it is created, the heel-nipping begins, and we slowly realize that all competitive advantage is eventually neutralized. A bigger lesson is that every business has a shelf life and that our challenge as business executives is to elongate its sell-by date by refreshing and reinventing it, all the while adhering to its core values. The average US company has a lifespan of about 30 years. Even the best are not exempt from the scythe: in the latest Fortune 500 listing, released last month, only about 10% of the proud names that populated the original 1955 list remain. It is also sobering to consider the research by John Sexton, the president of NYU, showing that fewer than 30 businesses in history have been in continuous operation for more than 500 years. Sustaining a business for the long-term is not easy.

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

    Brian Woolf:
    When the tools change, the rules change was sage advice about Loyalty Marketing received from Daniel Burrus many years ago. For the past two years the most significant thing I’ve been focusing on is the next evolution of retail loyalty marketing programs. Why? I love to be at the cutting edge of finding ways to help retailers use their programs to better serve their customers and, in turn, reward themselves. And I do see new opportunities coming, especially for the non-giants.

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

    Brian Woolf:
    The technology that I love the most is the screen saver on various computers throughout our home. My wife and I have traveled (and photographed) extensively over many years; seeing snippets of our past appear continuously in random sequence has created an amazing reminder of so much of our lives that would otherwise be lost in the mist of lapsed memory. I feel our lives are so much richer now because the past has become a real-time part of the present … all because of the random juxtaposition of little colorful pieces of life’s jigsaw puzzle.

    What is your favorite movie (and is there a business lesson in it)?

    Brian Woolf:
    The In-Laws (1979) follows the hilarious adventures of the fathers of the bride and groom prior to the upcoming wedding. Peter Falk (a CIA agent) and Alan Arkin (a dentist) always have me rolling on the floor throughout their escapades. Some of the great lines include: “The benefits (of the CIA) are terrific. The trick is not to get killed;” “I was in the jungle for 9 months … I saw things … they have tsetse flies down there the size of eagles!” and (before the firing squad) “We have no blindfolds, señor, we are a poor country.”


    What is your favorite book?

    Brian Woolf:
    My favorite book is "The Lessons of History," by Will and Auriel Durant. [And only $12.16 at Amazon.] This is a brilliant, exceedingly readable, short 100-page book distilling the lessons this wonderful couple learned from their 40+ years researching and writing their 11-volume masterpiece (also extremely readable), "The Story of Civilization." Their 12 lessons range from Morals, Religion, and Character to Biology, Race, and Socialism. They explain, for example, how politics and Governments move like a big pendulum from left to right and back again. They show us that man is still essentially the same in nature and character as 2500 (and many more) years ago. They explain how moral codes adjust, yet still are essential to mankind. It’s a read worth experiencing.

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

    Brian Woolf:
    I was 21 when I joined Tom Ah Chee’s 3-store company. It was New Zealand’s first supermarket company that later grew to be one of the country’s premier retailers. Foodtown was created without Tom even seeing a US supermarket. But he had studied every aspect of this new form of retailing and built an organization we were all proud to be part of. His philosophy was embedded in the plaque cemented in the first store on opening day: Constantly striving to serve you better.

    Tom set a clear level of high expectations that all understood. He seldom raised his voice in anger but we did learn when we deviated from the best of standards. His drive for continued excellence was seen in his openness to new ideas, and his willingness to experiment with new approaches and parallel businesses. His leadership and example created a very profitable company.

    His attention to detail was remarkable; from the weekly ad and competitors’ prices to no burnt-out store ceiling lights. He wanted a first-class company without unnecessary costs: thus, his attention to detail also embraced the minutiae of labor productivity and department and store Profit and Loss statements.

    He was a man with the common touch. No one felt like a stranger. He related so easily with his warmth and sense of humor. He cared about people throughout the whole company. Every one was important. I saw him unobtrusively attend funerals of associates from the top to the bottom of the organization. He and his partner spent a significant part of their time talking of individual associates and their development. My Harvard Business School MBA was something they, not I, initiated (and paid for!)

    Tom heavily influenced my business framework, from ethics to excellence. But, in addition, I learned and enjoyed his depth as a human being. He was one of the very few Renaissance men I have ever met. He was a man of many diverse talents—Entrepreneur. Marketing genius. Business builder. Leader. Artist. Architect. Cook. Gardener. Fisherman. World traveler. Just a few of these would provide a rich life. As time passed we became close friends. Cancer claimed him way too soon. It is said that we are part of all we meet. I hope that a large part of Tom has somehow become part of me.

    Keenest insight (so far) from your life and/or career?

    Brian Woolf:
    Man is an economic animal in search of self-importance. Both when managing a store and structuring a loyalty program I observed this human duality: our underlying motivations are a blend of economics and ego. The blend varies from person to person, and from time to time within each person, but we must recognize and address them, whether dealing with customers or associates.

    Most memorable meal?  Where & what & why?

    Brian Woolf:
    Sunday, October 30, 2011, at The Bowl ryokan (Japanese inn) near Kofu, Yamanashi, about 100 km north of Tokyo. I love Japanese food, especially when prepared and served at a ryokan. What was so special about this meal was that it followed a day of walking in a National Park with Mt Fuji as background. Prior to dinner, my three hosts and I luxuriated in the Japanese bathing ritual where we washed ourselves thoroughly before gently soaking our way through three pools of increasingly hot temperatures. Then, dressed in traditional Japanese clothing (yukata, etc), and seated at a low table in a subtlety decorated, spotless room, we spend the evening enjoying a meal prepared at our table by a demure kimono-adorned woman. There were so many different servings, from well-known sukiyaki and udon noodles to delectable dishes I wish I could pronounce. But what heightened the specialness of our dinner were the sights and sounds. The presentation of the dinner table was stunning. It was pure artistry: from the selection of a few harmoniously colored vegetables sitting in a glass on an autumn leaf on our plates to the final serving of fragrant fresh fruit on lightly-crushed ice and seasonal leaves. Outside, the delicate Japanese lanterns threw reflections off the carp-filled rock pools while Nature provided some background music with soft sounds tinkling from small waterfalls. Then, to make the evening complete, we slept in futons in our tatami-matted rooms. A truly magical memory!

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

    Brian Woolf:
    There’s a nearby low-key Italian restaurant my wife and I frequently visit, where my order is always the same: their garlic-laced warm spinach and scallops salad accompanied by a glass of chianti. Simple. Healthy. Tasty. Relaxing. Repeatable.

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

    Brian Woolf:
    In the coming year, learn to grill the perfect steak. Then, sometime in the coming 10 years, live 4-6 months on a small Greek island (perhaps Ios or Paros), for so many different reasons: the weather, the sparkling Mediterranean, the white-walled homes with their blue doors and trim, the simple food, the Greek warmth, and to re-study and reflect in situ on how a small, rock-strewn land in a short period of history gave mankind so much … medicine, logic, mathematics, art, sculpture, democracy, philosophy, theater, and the Olympics … just for starters.

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

    Brian Woolf:
    See the most influential person, above.


    The MNB Interview series will return...

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    Published on: July 15, 2013

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