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    Published on: October 16, 2015

    by Kevin Coupe

    Two stories popped up on the MacBook this morning that grabbed my attention ... one that struck me as a positive statement about how a company should act toward its employees, and another that was about how a company should not act toward its customers.

    One was about confidence. The other, not so much.

    First, the good news.

    The Washington Post reports that Apple CEO Tim Cook has informed all of the company's employees - even hourly, retail workers - that they are about to get restricted stock award in the company.

    Cook told employees in a memo that "the company was creating a new program that would award restricted stock, or shares that typically vest over a certain period of time, not just to executives or the managers and engineers who build its products but to hourly paid workers ... Before now, Apple employees could buy stock at a discount through a stock-purchase plan, and the company of course offered such awards to executives, as well as to employees in the company's product groups who were selected by their managers. But the new program, Cook wrote, 'effectively [makes] everyone who works at Apple eligible'."

    I think this is a smart and entirely appropriate move by Apple, which seems to understand that the people on the front lines in its retail stores are the face of the company with the closest connection to the consumer. To keep those people engaged, it makes sense to invest in them for the long term ... and there's nothing like ownership in the company to make people feel like they've got skin in the game.

    The bad news...

    The Los Angeles Times reports that Fiat Chrysler has inserted a new clause in agreements signed when its cars are sold using employee, friend and family discounts of a few hundred dollars (which can be extended by dealers even to customers who are not employees, friends or family members). That clause "requires that those using the discount give up their constitutional right to a jury trial," forcing them to agree not to bring a lawsuit against the company for any warranty disputes, and instead agree to arbitration.

    Now, Fiat Chrysler says that it isn't "trying to figure out some diabolical way for people not to sue us." And while I'm willing to concede that it isn't necessarily diabolical, this strikes me as dumb and entirely inappropriate ... since it essentially betrays a lack of confidence in the cars the company is manufacturing.

    To me, this is sort of simple. One is highest-common-denominator management, and the other is lowest-common-denominator management. One shows confidence, one demonstrates insecurity. One is about trust and investment, the other is about skepticism and hedging your bets.

    They're both Eye-Openers ... but only one is good news.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 16, 2015

    The Houston Chronicle reports that Amazon launched its Amazon Prime Now service in Houston this week, "allowing local Amazon Prime members to get one-hour delivery of thousands of items via the company's website or app."

    The story notes that "the move follows by one day the announcement by Wal-Mart Stores that it will offer same-day curbside pickup at seven stores in the region."
    KC's View:
    Expect this battle to play out over and over and over, with plenty of collateral damage.

    It's been interesting to see the pundits talk about how Walmart, with its announcement this week that it expects to have three tough years before things like its e-commerce investments begin to pay off, seems to be taking the same investors-be-damned approach as Amazon. I think that's only true to a point ... because while Amazon's lack of legacy issues frees it up to invest in all sorts of new businesses and technologies, Walmart still has a lot of real estate and existing issues with which it has to grapple.

    Still, as I said earlier this week, this battle is going to get a lot more intense, and Walmart potentially has become a far more dangerous competitor.

    Published on: October 16, 2015

    The Seattle Times reports that "a Delaware bankruptcy court on Thursday approved Haggen’s plan to speedily liquidate or sell the bulk of its stores, ruling that store closing sales are in the best interest of the ailing company and its creditors.

    "The move came despite objections by a union representing most Haggen workers, which argued that the sale process was moving ahead too fast. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) had said that dooming the stores with liquidation sales before thoroughly marketing them around as going concerns was 'putting the cart before the horse'."

    The story says that part of the UFCW's problem with the decision is that while Gelson's, which is buying some stores, has said it will respect the terms of existing employees' union-negotiated contracts, another buyer, Smart & Final, has made no such commitment.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 16, 2015

    Bloomberg reports that 23andMe, which got a lot of attention when it unveiled an at-home DNA testing kit, has "raised $115 million in venture-capital financing as it prepares to introduce a new consumer product and expands its drug-discovery arm."

    The story notes that 23andMe "named for the 23 pairs of chromosomes in human cells, currently provides reports on consumers' ancestry." It pulled back from offering tests that allow people to use DNA testing to determine genetic susceptibility to certain diseases when the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that the marketing was getting ahead of the science, but 23andMe now says that it expects to have a revamped and approved version available for sale before the end of the year.

    The company also is "building a research lab for the therapeutics team and a sequencing laboratory that will be used both for the consumer product and for research efforts," the story says.
    KC's View:
    I think this is a fascinating story, because the whole notion of DNA testing that will allow people to address genetically predisposed disease states is one that could have enormous impact for the food industry. Diet is one of the ways in which people can work to prevent disease, and if you have some idea of what you;re going to get before you get it, food can be a powerful weapon.

    This is technology that the industry should embrace wholeheartedly. Hell, if I were programming an industry conference, I'd get someone from 23andMe on the agenda as soon as possible ... because this has real implications for how food is sold and consumed.

    Published on: October 16, 2015

    The Seattle Times reports that there may be life in La Boulange yet.

    La Boulange, you may recall, is the chain of 23 French-inspired bakeries that Starbucks acquired from founder Pascal Rigo for $100 million in 2012. Starbucks wanted the La Boulange expertise as a way of improving its own food offerings, but it closed all the La Boulange locations this past summer.

    Now, Rigo reportedly has reacquired five of those locations and is reopening them under the name La Boulangerie.

    Rigo did not comment on the story, but Starbucks spokeswoman Holly Hart Shafer
    told the Times, “Though we can’t speak to Pascal’s next endeavor, we are thrilled for him and the community and wish him all the best."
    KC's View:
    I felt bad when Starbucks closed La Boulange down just seemed like a shame, even though it was hardly unexpected. So I'm glad that it will rise again, even if under a slightly different name.

    Published on: October 16, 2015

    CNBC reports that "perception of the McDonald's brand hit its highest point in two years, according to YouGov BrandIndex, a consumer research firm that keeps tabs on the fast-food chain."

    The reason? McDonald's much-publicized decision to serve breakfast all day.

    According to the story, "McDonald's all-day-breakfast marks its biggest initiative in years — a move aimed both at answering consumer demand for breakfast throughout the day and helping boost traffic at the massive, struggling chain ... People who love breakfast at fast-food chains were clearly drawn to McDonald's big move. Among adults over the age of 18 who eat breakfast at a restaurant at least once a month, some 46 percent of them say they might eat at McD's for their next meal. That's up from 39 percent in July."
    KC's View:
    Even as someone who has roundly criticized McDonald's for years, I have to say that I think this is a great idea ... on those rare times when I stop at a Mickey D's when on the road and it is the only option, I'm sure I'll be choosing Egg McMuffins.

    Published on: October 16, 2015

    The New Yorker has an interesting little story about this year's "update to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans," which "inform all of the federal government’s nutrition initiatives and food-assistance programs, including school lunches and breakfasts," and are "estimated to affect one in every four meals consumed in this country."

    Of course, the problem is that it is difficult to determine what is accurate "in a field that has long been mired in ambiguity."

    Take a look. You can read it here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 16, 2015

    • In the UK, the reports that Tesco has sold 14 sites that it previously wanted to build on, as a way of reducing its financial exposure at a time when "underlying profits for the first half of the financial year ... more than halved."

    The story notes that the sale is worth more than the equivalent of $380 million (US), the story says, and follows a decision last January when "Tesco walked away from 49 large supermarkets, some of which had already been built and closed 43 unprofitable stores."
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 16, 2015

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 16, 2015

    In the fifth game of the National League Divisional Series, the New York Mets defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2, clinching the best-of-five series and moving on to face the Chicago Cubs in the NL Championship Series that begins this Saturday.

    And, in Thursday Night Football, the New Orleans Saints defeated the Atlanta Falcons 31-21.
    KC's View:
    et's go, Mets!!

    Last night's game was a thriller and a nail-biter ... and it should be said that second baseman Daniel Murphy practically beat the Dodgers all by himself. He is capable of bonehead base running mistakes, but last night Murphy proved with his feet and his bat that he is quite the ballplayer. (And he probably just added several million dollars to the free agent contract he is likely to sign with some team other than the Mets over the winter.)

    Published on: October 16, 2015

    The greatest pleasure in The Martian - among many - is seeing smart people being smart. Oddly enough, that doesn't happen all that much in the movies. (Always in movies written by Aaron Sorkin, but they are the exception to the rule.) But in The Martian, the extraordinary and riveting new movies directed by 77-year-old Ridley Scott with the verve and energy of a director half his age, and written by Drew Goddard based on a novel by Andy Weir, it seems like pretty much everybody in the movie is intelligent, fearlessly wielding their brainpower and delighting in the opportunities to solve even the most perplexing problems.

    The Martian is the story of an astronaut, Mark Watney, who is stranded on Mars when his crew mates presume him dead after an accident created by a devastating storm; they leave for a years-long return to Earth, and Watney must figure out to survive on a planet until another crew arrives in four years, with no food and no water (this was made before recent discoveries of water on Mars).

    Two things are going for Watney. First, he's a botanist, which positions him perfectly to deal with these challenges. Second, he's played by Matt Damon, who is capable of communicating both humor and intelligence while never losing his everyman persona. When he goes to work solving the problem of surviving on Mars, he explains his every decision in a video log that serves as the narrative backbone of the movie.

    This is no one-man show, though. At home, once they've figured out that Watney has survived, NASA scientists - played by estimable actors including Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean and Chiwetel Ejiofor - also try to figure out how to rescue the stranded astronaut. And the crew that accidentally abandoned him - played by Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Kate Mara and Sebastian Stan - has to decide whether to return for him or not, even though it could put the entire mission at risk. And the whole enterprise is thrilling to watch, gorgeous to look at, and great, entertaining fun.

    I heard a piece on NPR the other day in which they asked why NASA had cooperated with The Martian to such a great degree. The reason is simple - tons of the people now working at NASA fell in love with the idea of the space program because of "Star Trek," and they know that The Martian could do the same thing for the next generation of scientists and astronauts.

    I hope it does. It certainly made me want to venture into the final frontier. And I think it'll be the same for you.

    I spent some time in Denver this week, and can recommend two restaurants at which I had wonderful meals.

    First, at a place called Euclid Hall, I enjoyed something they call Kermit Cakes, which essentially are crab cakes made with frog legs. Delicious. And I also ate what they call an Itsy Bitsy Fishwich, which is tempura halibut, served on a potato bun, jalapeño aioli. Yummy. Washed it all down with a cold and refreshing Howdy Beer all American Pilsner, from Colorado's Post Brewing Co. Outstanding. (See picture above.)

    Then, another evening, I went to Osteria Marco,where I enjoyed amazing meatball sliders, and a creamy vegetable risotto, along with a 2013 La Calonica Sangiovese from Tuscany, which was outstanding.

    It was a good week.

    That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.


    KC's View: