retail news in context, analysis with attitude

This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either ... they are similar, but not exactly the same. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe. This is FaceTime with the Content Guy, coming to you this morning from the campus of Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. I'm not here for my summer adjunctivity; that starts in about a month or so. Rather, I'm here for this week's 20th annual Executive Forum sponsored by PSU's Center for Retail Leadership, which is always stimulating and educational.

This year, I had the opportunity to moderate one of the more interesting panel discussions with which I've ever been involved. When we started planning it, the goal was to find a subject that everybody would want to talk about - it wasn't going to be about sex or religion or sports ... so we talked about the next best thing.

Money.

The title of the session was "Follow The Money," and our goal was to talk about where the smart money is focused these days, and where the opportunities are.

We had three panelists, and they were all terrific. There was an old friend of mine, Tom Furphy, who helped to create Amazon's CPG business and launched Amazon Fresh, and who now has a venture capital fund, Consumer Equities Partners, which invests in start-up technology companies. We also had Scott Moses, of Sagent Advisors, who has been involved in some of the biggest mergers and acquisitions in the retail sector. And, we had someone I'd never met before - David Howitt of the Meriwether Group, who launched a company called Oregon Chai, sold it, and now invests in and advises entrepreneurial companies such as Voodoo Doughnuts and Stumptown Coffee.

What I found most interesting about the session was that our three panelists, despite the fact that they paint on very different canvases, all voiced a common theme. For each of them, it was all about the "and."

All of them agreed that for any company to be successful, and be worth investing in, the numbers have to be right. There has to be revenue, margins, and profits ... because without all those things, what's the point?

But they also agreed that there has to be an "and."

In the case of Tom Furphy, it is about identifying and helping companies that have the ability to disrupt conventional business models. He knows a lot about that, from his time with Amazon ... companies have to be have a financial unpinning, but they also have to be able to define and exploit a consumer need that nobody else has.

For Scott Moses ... well, he may be an investment banker, but he doesn't fit the stereotype of the financial guy who only wants to plunder the companies with which he is involved for short-term investor gain. No, he said very clearly that while the numbers had to make sense, the "and" for him is making sure that the businesses are sustainable enough that they can lead to growth, more jobs, and long-term economic gains. That's good for the owners, investors, employees and customers. That's a pretty good "and."

David Howitt's view of the investment business is that the entrepreneur is a hero, and that a founder's footprint is to be respected. He fervently believes in companies where the "and" is about making the world a better place. That doesn't make him any less of a tough-minded investor ... he isn't off living in a commune ... but it also means that his "and" is about finding and helping companies that are going to contribute to their communities.

To me, this is incredibly insightful.

We talk all the time on MNB about how companies need to find for themselves advantages that will differentiate them in the marketplace ... that companies find success in the places where they are different, not similar. That's essentially what Tom Furphy, Scott Moses and David Howitt are talking about.

Anybody can make money. But not everyone can do it while focusing on the "and."

As usual, the Center for Retail Leadership's Executive Forum came through with sessions that were stimulating, illuminating and entertaining.

I'm glad we could be part of it.

That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

KC's View: