retail news in context, analysis with attitude

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: