retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Nancy Reagan was known and remembered for many things, but likely few would have called her a business forecaster. However, according to presidential historian Michael Beschloss, that might be a great way to remember the recently deceased former First Lady.

Writing in the New York Times business section this past weekend, Beschloss offered a very different take on Nancy Reagan, focusing on and crediting her for career counseling skills that helped her husband resurrect his acting career before moving into politics and all the way to the presidency.

Ronald and Nancy Reagan married in 1952, a tumultuous time in the entertainment industry. Ronald Reagan’s star had long been fading, leading the actor who once starred in powerful movies like “King’s Row” to take on far lesser roles such as “Bedtime for Bonzo.” More significantly, television was a fast-rising medium and actors needed to know enough to choose new directions for their careers.

With Nancy’s support and guidance, Ronald Reagan started choosing correctly, saying yes to new opportunities, Beschloss said. He became the host of "General Electric Theater" on television, which proved to be both a financial and career windfall. In a few short years, the show became one of the most watched on television.

That meant a vastly larger presence for Reagan, which certainly helped as he moved on to become governor of California and then President.

As a contrast, Beschloss sites the slow career crumble of William Holden, best man at the Reagans’ wedding and an enormous star in movies such as Stalag 17 and The Bridge on the River Kwai. Holden never jumped to television and although he continued to garner some major movie roles, his star faded through the years.

Ironically, Beschloss reminds us that Holden’s last great role was in Network as a TV news executive grappling with the changes buffeting the television industry. In many ways, that role echoed Holden’s own career challenges. In the end, Reagan chose a path that served him much better.

There’s something in the stories of both Reagan and Holden that likely will ring true for many businesspeople. Making changes - whether radical or evolutionary - always requires a great deal of risk taking. There is rarely a clear choice where the path we choose will guarantee success.

It seems that virtually everyday in MorningNewsBeat we have a story about the current state of choice and change in the industry, especially as companies consider how best to address electronic commerce. Whether it’s the newest announcement from Instacart or MyWebGrocer or new directions from Macys, Sports Authority, et. al., the reality is that hard choices need to get made.

Right now it seems that no one really knows what direction to take or how to best get there and it may take years until we know the real winners and losers. In the meantime it’s all about taking chances and making both changes.

While I might wish to know exactly which direction to suggest, the truth is no one really knows anything beyond this: decisions must be made. It was that way in 1952 just as it is today (and has been so many times in all the years in between).

As Yogi Berra reminded us, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

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 on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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