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    Published on: July 16, 2013

    by Michael Sansolo

    Content Guy's Note: Over the past two weeks, while I was taking some time off, we posted a continuing series called "The MNB Interview," which was 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.

    Well, now that I'm back from vacation, I thought it might be fun to pose the same questions to Michael Sansolo, and let him use his first post-vacation column to provide some answers...

    The MNB Interview...

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

    Michael Sansolo:
    : The importance of listening! I’ve got a terrible weakness in wanting to blurt out the answer as soon as I think I know it. A very good friend urged me years ago to learn to stop, take a second and make sure I was actually listening to everything around me. That one-second pause (and usually longer) and the acknowledgement that I need to listen before I speak can make all the difference. There are so many bright people around us and so many different perspectives to consider that you can only get through listening.

    And it’s a skill I always need to improve—at work or at home.

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

    Michael Sansolo:
    I was promoted to management very early in my career because of skills, not management ability. And I was a horrible manager because I behaved like a cynic and failed to lead. A very honest co-worker urged me one day to accept that I was now the manager and to start acting like one. It was incredibly important advice. Leaders have to lead, they have to make hard decisions and they have to say no. I needed that kick in the pants badly.

    Along with that I learned the importance of passion. If you are cynical or just go through the motions you accomplish nothing and your perceived coolness actually comes off as apathy or worse. Find a way to be passionate about whatever you do and remember that there are no small or unimportant jobs. I’ve seen cart collectors at supermarkets perform their jobs with passion and a sense of difference. Learning to engage and doing so with energy changes the world.

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

    Michael Sansolo:
    This may sound ridiculously self-serving, but it’s writing my column for Here’s why:

    That weekly deadline and my desire to find something new and different to talk about forces me to have my eyes open for all kinds of information. It forces me to read more, to examine issues from new angles and to challenge myself to do something I haven’t done previously. The column even has engaged my family to look for topics that they stumble into that provide interesting and unexpected business lessons.

    That one weekly blog challenges me in ways that keep me on edge and I love that feeling.

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

    Michael Sansolo:
    : I couldn’t live without my smartphone, laptop or 24-speed bicycle, yet the most important tech item I have is my piece of the cloud in Dropbox. I’m constantly on the road with speeches and meetings, yet Dropbox lets me carry around my key files and access them whenever and wherever. It’s an amazing program and a free download that I cannot imagine being without.

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

    Michael Sansolo:
    There are so many—it’s why I wrote a book with Kevin, but a couple stand out. First, In the Heat of the Night always reminds me of the importance of keeping an open mind and not thinking I know it all ever. Like everyone I fall prey to making the facts fit the story the way I want to see it. That one movie is a powerful reminder of what trouble that can cause.

    Second, When Harry Met Sally provides the single best business lesson in the power of word of mouth advertising. I need say nothing more than: “I’ll have what she’s having.” If you didn’t’ get that, go watch the movie. You’ll never forget it.

    Third, my favorite is Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Sometimes we just need to laugh. “Tis but a flesh wound.”

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

    Michael Sansolo:
    Picard all the way. He listens better and utilizes the skills and strengths of his team. Plus he behaves in a consistent manner that helps steady his crew no matter what the circumstances. Even in his absence they are able to perform at top level because he has created such a cohesive environment. Plus, Patrick Stewart embraces his baldness, unlike Shatner. You have to give him points for that.

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

    Michael Sansolo:
    I’m lucky to have so many, starting with my dad (also my first boss) who taught me about hard work and customer service.

    My second great boss was Ina Meyers, my editor at the Mamaroneck Daily Times who helped me mature and learn the importance of details, how to mix creativity into my writing and how to get the job done no matter what the circumstances. She knew when to scare me, when to praise me…and used both well.

    But I was extraordinarily lucky to work with the FMI board, which gave me the opportunity to learn from business giants of the food industry. I never got to attend business school, but getting to work along side people like them was a non-stop master class in business leadership in every way possible.

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

    Michael Sansolo:
    A very good neighbor of mine used to mark his trash bins with two simple words: “I care.” Just by doing that he sent a message about his house, our neighborhood and everything in his life. Caring matters, passion matters and growth is always possible. I have not enjoyed every working day or my life, nor have I liked every person or task I encounter. But I have enjoyed every step in my career, tried to learn something from everything I’ve done and I plan on doing just that for a while to come.

    When it comes to food, what is your greatest pleasure and your greatest weakness?

    Michael Sansolo:
    I’m a native New Yorker, so my greatest pleasure is getting really good New York pizza, folding it properly and chowing down. Trust me, we don’t have the equal in Washington and with all respect to Chicago: it’s not the same. My greatest weakness is that I still need a push to try new foods even though I end up loving them most of the time.

    Most memorable meal?  Where & what & why?

    Michael Sansolo:
    I love baseball and there’s nothing better than a hot dog and beer at the ballpark - and I mean any ballpark. So the most memorable is probably the hot dog I had with my son during game 1 of the 2000 World Series between the Mets and the Yankees. Oh yes, the Mets managed to lose the game and give me heartburn.

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

    Michael Sansolo:
    As soon as I moved to Washington I fell in love with the Bombay Club, a fabulous Indian restaurant one block from the White House. The Tandoori salmon is out of this world and there is no other restaurant on earth my kids prefer. And yes, there was a time someone had to push me to try Indian food and it was life changing. It is my favorite cuisine by far.

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

    Michael Sansolo:
    There are many places I still want to visit, but I really, really want to finally get good at Spanish. I’ve been studying for years, but I still struggle with turning my thoughts into sentences. Someday I will deliver a speech entire in Spanish and hopefully it will be to an audience that actually understands Spanish. Then again, it might go better if they don’t understand Spanish…

    If you had to define the most important aspect of leadership, what would it be and why?  (And, if you are so inclined, could you give an example of this quality in practice?)

    Michael Sansolo:
    I’m going to go back to the same lesson I learned: caring and passion. I’ve watched CEOs of massive companies pick up trash or collect carts in the parking lots of their stores. I’ve seen top executives walk a shopper to a specific product or take a second to talk with a clerk.

    That kind of caring and attention to detail sends a message to everyone they work with. If you care enough to do the small things, you care enough to tackle the large things. It’s something I’ve always tried to do and I hope I never stop trying.

    Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Asking questions is strength, not a weakness.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 16, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    I don't know about you, but I like things that catch me by surprise.

    Whether it is a TV show or a movie, a meal or a shopping experience, I like it when expectations are confounded and the experience takes an unlikely and unforeseen turn. Such a moment can turn the mundane into the memorable...

    I had such a moment the other day when I watched the video at right ... a short film produced for Nerve TV by director David Shane. The set up is familiar - a young man has died too young, and his ghost follows his grieving girlfriend around, hoping to encourage her to move on.

    Watch. Enjoy.

    KC's View:

    Published on: July 16, 2013

    The Los Angeles Times reports that Arden Group, parent company to Gelson's Markets, the upscale 16-unit supermarket chain, is exploring a possible sale of the company.

    Technically, the company is exploring and evaluating "strategic alternatives," but the Times suggests that increased competition, a tough economy, high prices and a sometimes "lackluster" approach to marketing and merchandising may have forced the company's hand.
    KC's View:
    I think there probably are a lot of people who are surprised that it has taken this long for Arden to sell Gelson's. It's tough to compete in the Southern California market, and I'd think that the sale of the company - perhaps to Bristol Farms, which would strike me as an ideal purchaser - would allow those stores to raise their game and be more competitive in their markets.

    Published on: July 16, 2013

    The New York Times reports that 16 Democratic US senators - including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Charles Schumer of New York, and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia - are urging a federal inquiry into a growing practice in the US: paying employees by giving them prepaid ATM cards instead of offering paper paychecks or direct deposit. The trend has come under criticism because, as the Times writes, "in the vast majority of cases, using the cards can generate large fees — 50 cents for a balance inquiry and $2.25 for an out-of-network automated teller machine, for example. For part-time and low wage workers, the fees, which can be difficult to escape, quickly devour much of the money deposited on the cards."

    The Times goes on to report that, "worried about drawing unwanted scrutiny that might threaten their jobs, some employees say they are reluctant to request another option. Other employees say that while there is a choice, they are automatically enrolled in the payroll-card programs. Getting out, these employees say, can be difficult and confusing.

    "Card issuers and employers note that payroll cards are a valuable tool for low-wage workers. They also say the fees on the cards are usually lower than those charged by check-cashing services — often the only other option for people who do not have bank accounts. The card providers and employers also note that there are free ways for employees to gain access to their pay."

    The senators requested the investigation - which would look into what is allowable under federal laws governing electronic fund transfers - in a letter to the US Department of Labor and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
    KC's View:
    The original story about companies paying people with ATM cards gained traction while i was on vacation, and I have to admit that it was one of those stories that made me wish that I was writing each morning.

    I'm sure that there are plenty of reasons and rationales that banks and companies can offer to make this practice seem like a reasonable way to pay people. But I'd be willing to bet that the only real reason it is taking place is because some banks told some companies that they could reduce their costs by switching to such a program, and the banks knew that it could make money by assessing fees, many of them to people who cannot afford them. These kinds of policies aren't instituted because it is good for the employees. That much seems self-evident.

    From my perspective, companies that use such programs are telling their employees that they really don't give a damn about them, that their own bottom lines are more important than the ability of people in the trenches to make a go of it on their salaries. It symbolizes to me the disconnect that often can happen between the tops of organizations and the people on the front lines. It is a shame, and the policy ought to be halted. Now.

    Published on: July 16, 2013

    In Washington State, the News-Tribune reports that a lot of money is being spent on both sides of the GMO labeling issue, as the state's residents prepare to vote this November on I-522, a ballot measure that would, if passed, require the labeling of food products with genetically modified or engineered ingredients.

    Art the federal level, regulators say that there is no significant difference between products containing GMOs and those that do not, and they have declined to require any such labeling. However, the states of Connecticut and Maine have both passed GMO labeling mandates in recent months, though in both cases they only go into effect if enough other states also pass similar requirements.

    Here's how the News-Tribune does the play-by-play on the money game:

    "Money is pouring into the Evergreen State from across the country for and against I-522.

    "As of last week’s filings with the state Public Disclosure Commission, No on I-522 forces had collected nearly $952,000 – with all but $6,700 of it coming from five industry groups. The largest amount was $472,500 from the Grocery Manufacturers Association in Washington, D.C. Another $242,156 was from Monsanto in St. Louis, $171,281 from DuPont Pioneer in Johnson, Iowa, and $29,531 each was from Bayer Cropscience in North Carolina and Dow AgroSciences LLC in Indianapolis.

    "The backers of food labeling say their issue is attracting many small in-state donors — even though more than $1.6 million of the Yes on I-522 campaign’s $2.1 million in funds has come from out-of-state pockets.

    "The Yes on I-522 campaign is relying on out-of-state sources such as Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap from Escondido, Calif., which gave $700,000; Mercola Health Resources of Illinois, which contributed $200,000; Presence Marketing of Illinois, which donated $200,000; and the Center for Food Safety Action Fund in Washington, D.C., which gave $100,000.

    "Dr. Bronner’s also gave $50,000 to Label It Washington, which raised and spent more than $500,000 to collect signatures in 2012 to qualify I-522.

    "A separate Seattle-based group, Organic Consumers Fund Committee to Label GMOs in Washington State, gave $380,000 to the I-522 campaign, most of that also coming from out of state. Nature’s Path Foods USA in Blaine kicked in $100,000 as the largest single in-state donor to either campaign."
    KC's View:
    Almost enough to make you breathless, huh?

    My opinion on this subject is clear: I see no downside in labeling products with GMOs. People then will have the information on which to base their buying decisions, and companies manufacturing such products will have the opportunity to make the case for why the use of GMOs is positive. Transparency wins ... which would be my opinion regardless of whether I were pro-GMOs or against them.

    It was, of course, the subject of my Forbes column about a month ago...which, if you missed it, you can read here, if you're interested.

    Published on: July 16, 2013

    The New York Times reports on "a movement by retailers to gather data about in-store shoppers’ behavior and moods, using video surveillance and signals from their cellphones and apps to learn information as varied as their sex, how many minutes they spend in the candy aisle and how long they look at merchandise before buying it." Among those engaging in such research are retailers as varied as Nordstrom, Family Dollar, and Cabela’s.

    But some customers don't see the efforts as benign: "While consumers seem to have no problem with cookies, profiles and other online tools that let e-commerce sites know who they are and how they shop," the Times writes, "some bristle at the physical version, at a time when government surveillance - of telephone calls, Internet activity and Postal Service deliveries - is front and center because of the leaks by Edward J. Snowden."

    Here's one example cited by the Times:

    "One, RetailNext, uses video footage to study how shoppers navigate, determining, say, that men spend only one minute in the coat department, which may help a store streamline its men’s outerwear layout. It also differentiates men from women, and children from adults.

    "RetailNext, based in San Jose, Calif., adds data from shoppers’ smartphones to deduce even more specific patterns. If a shopper’s phone is set to look for Wi-Fi networks, a store that offers Wi-Fi can pinpoint where the shopper is in the store, within a 10-foot radius, even if the shopper does not connect to the network, said Tim Callan, RetailNext’s chief marketing officer.

    "The store can also recognize returning shoppers, because mobile devices send unique identification codes when they search for networks. That means stores can now tell how repeat customers behave and the average time between visits.
    RetailNext also uses data to map customers’ paths; perhaps the shopper is 70 percent likely to go right immediately, or 14 percent likely to linger at a display, Mr. Callan said."
    KC's View:
    An interesting controversy, especially since so many of us have basically given up on the notion of internet privacy, and - whether we like it or not - are having our actions and purchase behavior tracked 24 hours a day.

    I do think that some of the programs described in the article go beyond what I'm comfortable with, but in the end, most people won't mind (much) if it results in stores that are more targeted, product selections that are more relevant, and services that are more appropriate. However, I also think that retailers will have to be transparent about what they are doing, and why ... or face a backlash.

    Published on: July 16, 2013

    Loblaw Companies, Canada's largest grocer, announced that it will acquire Shoppers Drug Mart, that nation's largest drug store chain, for the equivalent of $11.9 billion (US) in cash and stock.

    Subject to regulatory approval, the deal would create a company that would have an enormous presence in the areas of nutrition, health and wellness. Shoppers would continue operating under its own banner, as a division of Loblaw.

    In Canada, the Financial Post writes that "it’s the biggest deal to date to come from the jostling by Canadian grocers to move into and expand their pharmacy businesses. When former Canadian retail company Zellers went out of business last year, there was a scramble by companies to scoop up its prescription files. The companies that ended up buying those files were telling: Loblaw, Metro Inc. and The Overwaitea Food Group in B.C.

    "It’s simply a matter of demographics. An aging population means that even though costly new drug rules in Canada might curb profits, pharmacies remain a lucrative business opportunity."

    Meanwhile, Sobey's acquisition of Safeway's Canadian business bolsters its presence in the pharmacy business. And both Target and Walmart, which are building stores in Canada, look to be competitive in this segment.
    KC's View:
    Clearly, Loblaw is thinking that the health category is one with a lot of legs. After all, it was just yesterday that we reported that the retailer is creating a new concept called Nutshell Live Life Well, which will be tested in Toronto, and that will cater to health conscious consumers.

    The Shoppers acquisition builds on that ... and I wouldn't be surprised to see some of Loblaw's food offerings spring up in drug stores, as it attempts to broaden the appeal of all its banners.

    Published on: July 16, 2013

    • The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) has announced that Mark Baum has been named senior vice president of industry relations and chief collaboration officer.  In this newly designed function,, FMI says, "Baum will engage retailer, supplier, manufacturer and service provider CEO’s to help raise the bar on industry collaboration at all points of the food retail chain."

    Baum previously served as the president and CEO of the Association of Sales and Marketing Companies (ASMC) and, after leading the merger between ASMC and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), he served as executive vice president of GMA. Later, he was a partner and managing director of the CPG/Retail Practice at Diamond Management & Technology Consultants. Most recently, Baum was the managing partner of MARCAT Group LLC, a leading consulting advisory firm specializing in business, market and customer development.
    KC's View:
    I actually owe Mark an apology on this one. I've known him a long time, and communicated with him via email when the announcement was made of his move to FMI while I was on vacation. But somehow, I forgot that it hadn't been reported on MNB ... and so yesterday, when I returned from vacation, I didn't include it.

    Didn't want Mark to think I'd forgotten him ... so I hope that better late than never.

    Published on: July 16, 2013

    The always insightful David Carr of the New York Times has an excellent column worth perusing, as he looks at why ought to be rooting for Barnes & Noble to survive. It's not just because everyone needs competition to be better ... it's also because Amazon's book business success could be tied to how successful Barnes & Noble is.

    It is worth thinking about if you are on either side of this competitive equation ... and you can read the column here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 16, 2013

    Got the following email from an MNB reader:

    Regarding the Washington, DC “living wage” legislation…there doesn’t seem to be a “right” answer for this.  On the one hand, it seems unfair to only apply the law to certain retailers—and let’s face it, the legislation was probably aimed at one specific retailer, the one that is already playing the 800-pound-crybaby-gorilla card by threatening to stop its planned expansion in the city.   On the other hand, neither would it seem fair to enforce a monetary burden indiscriminately upon smaller businesses, a great many of which do not have the massive resources of a big-box chain.  Now, a cynical person might suggest that the aforementioned crybaby gorilla could transfer funds out of its foreign bribery account to pay the mandated wages, but that might not be fair either, despite the assertion that the gorilla does not even use those funds wink-wink, nudge-nudge.

    And, on the same subject, MNB user Mike Franklin wrote:

    Agree with your point, but, semantically, I wouldn’t call $12.50 an hour a living wage…more of a basic survival wage.

    Yesterday, MNB took note of a Los Angeles Times report 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." The story made clear that these markets want 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."

    I commented:

    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, 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.

    One MNB user responded:

    What in the world is wrong about being "elitist"?  Why is targeting this psychographic segment any worse than positioning against any other segment?  Aren't you just trying to appear elitist by condemning people who are elitist?

    I'm not sure I was condemning anyone. I'm not sure I was saying there I was anything wrong with targeting any segment of the population.

    We had a piece yesterday about how FedEx and UPS may be threatened by companies such as Amazon and Walmart using alternative shipping methods, which led one MNB reader to write:

    Interesting that you posted this today. Just last week, a book I'd ordered from Amazon showed up on my Pittsburgh, PA porch but was not delivered by my usual UPS man but rather by an unbranded white SUV. This had also happened about a month ago.  Are these locally subcontracted delivery folks using their private automobiles?

    For sure, Amazon is using more private courier services when appropriate and efficient. It probably wasn't a private vehicle, unless the local courier allows its drivers to use their own cars.
    KC's View: