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    Published on: November 29, 2018

    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 and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    One of technology’s savviest observers and analysts is Kara Swisher, who has written for the Wall Street Journal, Re/code (which she co-founded), and, lately, the New York Times.

    The other day - not surprisingly, because we’ve all been commenting on the story in one way or another - Swisher wrote an excellent piece for the Times in which she talked about Facebook’s trust and transparency issues, and specifically about COO Sheryl Sandberg.

    Sandberg, of course, is more than just the COO of Facebook. She’s also the author of ‘Lean In,” which focused on women in management and leadership and helped to make her a feminist icon as well as cementing her reputation as a corporate and cultural leader.

    But now, with Facebook experiencing significant criticism over how it has handled a variety of privacy and security issues, Sandberg - who has admitted, with some apparent reluctance, a degree of complicity - is facing some calls for her removal from company leadership.

    That may, in fact, be appropriate. I’m not sure. In fact, neither is Kara Swisher. But she is sure of one thing - that Sandberg is vulnerable because she’s been cast in the role of the professional manager/leader, while CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t seem to be facing calls for his removal. “And yet he is the one with the power at Facebook. He is its top executive, its visionary founder and, most of all, its controlling shareholder,” Swisher writes. “No matter his responsibility, he is unkillable, unfireable and untouchable.”

    She notes that one of “the key lessons to learn here about the tech industry today: Everyone expects so little from the male leaders who are often seen as the fulcrum of the digital worlds they create, while the female leaders … are held to a tougher line.”

    Keep in mind that this is a company where a top executive, Andy Rubin, got a $90 million severance payment as he left the company because of sexual misconduct issues.

    Swisher doesn’t argue that Sandberg - or any other woman executive - should escape responsibility and culpability because of gender. Just that it should be equally shared. And I agree with that … gender shouldn’t matter.

    Which shouldn’t be a radical notion. But I think it is.

    What is often true in tech,” she writes, “is that men are seen as the key players, and women are just not seen as crucial to a company's success. That inequity has become a theme of a wide range of employment issues across Silicon Valley of late, including the phenomenon of ‘underleveling’ — hiring women and people of color at a lower level than they deserve.”

    And I have to say, I wonder how much this is happening in other industries … especially as a lot of white males feel threatened in business and culture by the demographic shifts taking place in the country.

    There was another passage from her column that I found compelling, in which she quoted Stephanie Parker, a former Google employee, as saying to a group of women tech employees, “Where do you think Google got that $90 million they used to pay out Andy Rubin? They got it from every time you worked late. Every promotion you didn’t get because they said there’s not enough budget, you have to wait. It’s from every contractor who came to work sick because they have no paid time off. These are conscious decisions that the company is making, and abusers are getting rich off of our hard work. It’s just not fair, and they completely know what they’re doing.”

    Y’know something? That’s not just a tech issue. It is an issue at every company where senior executives feather their own nests while making budget cuts that affect people on the front lines, who do not believe that, especially in the 21st century, the companies with sustainable business models are likely to be the ones that everybody feels they have skin in the game, where they feel invested in the business and where the business invests in everybody.

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

    KC's View:

    Published on: November 29, 2018

    by Kevin Coupe

    This was inevitable.

    Axios reports that “Marijuana delivery service Eaze is in the process of closing $65 million in venture capital funding that would give it a valuation in excess of $300 million … This is basically Uber for pot, except the actual delivery workers are legally required to be W-2 employees. And, like Uber in the early days, it's beginning to raise big money.”

    The story goes on to say that the “San Francisco-based company only currently delivers within California, but did recently launch a marketplace for shipping cannabidiol products to 41 states and Washington, D.C.

    “A source close to the deal says he expects Eaze to primarily focus its on-the-ground expansion to states that have legalized recreational marijuana, as that's viewed as a much larger long-term market than medicinal. In California it does both.”

    Big business, high hopes, and definitely an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 29, 2018

    CVS Health yesterday closed on its $70 billion acquisition of insurer Aetna, creating a new construct with the potential to reshape the health care continuum.

    CNBC writes that “the merger combines CVS' pharmacies with Aetna's insurance business, blurring traditionally distinct lines in hopes of lowering costs. CVS also has one of largest pharmacy benefits managers through CVS Caremark and a major Medicare Part D plan sponsor through its SilverScript unit … CVS will now need to integrate Aetna and start trying to accomplish its three main priorities: making health care local and accessible, simplifying how consumers access care and lowering costs.”

    The story notes that “early next year, CVS plans to start testing stores with added health services. These new locations will likely focus on managing common chronic conditions, adding more primary health services at CVS' MinuteClinics, guiding discharged hospital patients through their at-home plans and managing complex conditions.

    “From there, CVS will evaluate and tweak new store formats as necessary before rolling them out broadly.”
    KC's View:
    Being a regular CVS customer, I cannot say that I am wildly optimistic about its ability to achieve short-term transformation … it strikes me that at store level, there are a lot of legacy and execution issues that need to be resolved before it changes the world.

    But I do think the instinct is correct - that the health care business is in need of streamlining and cost reduction, and that some well-place disruption could be a game-changer. Maybe CVS will get it right, but it won’t be easy or painless.

    Published on: November 29, 2018

    Business Insider reports that delivery service Instacart, concerned about competition against Amazon, “has quietly reduced the price of its annual Express membership and non-membership delivery fees … Customers now pay $99 a year rather than $149 for the Express membership, which offers free delivery on orders over $35. Non-Express delivery fee charges have been cut from $5.99 to $3.99.

    “Instacart has also removed the 5% service fee for its Express members, a charge that caused much controversy among customers in the past.”

    While Instacart works with hundreds of companies, one irony of the price cuts has been that in areas where Amazon-owned Whole Foods offers delivery from both Instacart and Amazon, Instacart now is a less expensive alternative.

    Business Insider writes that “these price cuts address a key issue that shoppers have had — why would they pay more for an Instacart membership when an Amazon Prime membership not only costs less, but has more perks? By undercutting Amazon on price, Instacart may now become a more appealing option, at least for Whole Foods delivery.”
    KC's View:
    This is all part of Instacart’s IPO play, as it looks to generate enough customers and traffic to justify a high number when it gets sold or goes public. I’m a cynic on this one, so my guess it that this is not aimed at better customer service.

    Published on: November 29, 2018

    A couple of weeks ago, MNB reported on what we called “an ongoing and pitched battle taking place in Oregon over the legitimacy of a wine brand that claims to be from the Willamette Valley, but is not. Now, federal regulators have ruled in favor of Oregon winemakers seeking to defend their terroir.

    The wines in question were made and bottled by Copper Cane in Rutherford, California, with a label saying that the source of the grapes was “the Willamette region of Oregon’s coastal range.” The clear implication was that this was a pinot noir from the Willamette Valley, which it was at the very least questionable.

    When this claim was questioned by Jim Bernau, founder and principal owner of Willamette Valley Vineyards, Copper Cane owner Joe Wagner’s response was to file a petition “to rescind Willamette Valley Vineyard’s nearly 40-year-old trademark” and claim that Willamette was now “a winemaking region, and were no longer worthy of a trademark.”

    Now, Wine Spectator reports that “Wagner can no longer reference specific Oregon appellations on his Oregon wine labels. That's according to the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which has pulled its earlier label approval for Wagner's Elouan and Willametter Journal Pinot Noirs. The wines, which are made with Oregon grapes but produced in California, have been mired in controversy over their use of Oregon's appellations, or American Viticultural Areas (AVA), on their labels and packaging.”

    The move essentially reinforces federal labeling rules requiring “that a wine must be produced in Oregon in order for it to display one of Oregon's viticultural areas on the label. Wines produced in neighboring states may only use the broader Oregon designation.”

    Bernau is quoted in the story as saying that “this is a big deal,” but the win isn’t as total as he would like. According to Wine Spectator, “Bernau also questions whether the Elouan and Willametter Journal wines were made using 100 percent Oregon grapes, which he says is still being investigated. State law requires that a wine be made entirely from Oregon grapes in order to say it is from Oregon. The state's winemaking regulations are also different from California's, and Bernau has vocally questioned whether Wagner is complying with Oregon rules.”

    Wagner has said he will change the labels on future releases, but will not change how and where he makes his wines.
    KC's View:
    I’m glad that the case turned out this way, mostly because Oregon winemakers I know and like generally regard Wagner with something less than contempt.

    I said it before and I’ll say it again. It seemed clear to me that Wagner is playing games, trying to diminish the importance of provenance, which is the same thing as lowering standards. He is promoting the lack of transparency, hoping that through smoke and noise accuracy will mean less ethically and commercially.

    We have damn few enough standards these days, and I have a real problem with this. Always have. Labels matter. Words matter. Accuracy matters.

    Full disclosure: In addition to having a number of friends who are Willamette Valley winemakers - including Jim Bernau - my love of Oregon and Pinot Noir means that I’ve invested a little bit of money in his Willamette Valley Vineyards. (I always wanted to be a vineyard owner, and this probably is as close as I’m ever going to get.) So, to be clear - I have a horse in this race. But … I’d feel this way even if I’d never been to Oregon, and anybody who has been reading MNB for any period of time won’t be surprised by my take on this.

    Published on: November 29, 2018

    USA Today has a story about how California’s Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. decided “to brew a special beer, Resilience Butte County Proud IPA, and donate all the proceeds to the Sierra Nevada Camp Fire Relief Fund, which it seeded with a $100,000 donation.” The recent Camp Fire in Northern California was the deadliest in the state’s history.

    Sierra Nevada is based in Chico, California, part of Butte County “but west of the areas hardest hit by the fire,” the story says; the company already had “fed first responders and displaced residents during the fire and handed out clothing, too.”

    One Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman decided to make the new beer, he took it one step farther - he asked other US breweries to join in. “We are working with malt, hop and yeast suppliers to provide raw ingredient donations to all participating breweries and are asking those breweries to donate 100 percent of their sales to the fund, as well," he said.

    So far, the story says, “more than 1,000 breweries have pledged to make their own batches of Resilience Butte County Proud IPA.”
    KC's View:
    One of the things that local breweries generally have been good at is establishing ties with their local communities, and being part of the broader brewer community. This doesn’t surprise me, but it does make me happy … and ready to buy a six-pack.

    Published on: November 29, 2018

    The Wall Street Journal has a good story about how local retailers in Long Island City, New York, have greeted the news that Amazon will be dramatically expanded its office space there with half its HQ2 installation.

    They’re worried because rents are likely to go up. They’re happy because suddenly there are going to be 25,000 Amazon employees who they may be able to turn into customers.

    An excerpt:

    “Long Island City is perhaps a harbinger of how the rest of New York might look if mom-and-pop stores continue to shut down. The neighborhood’s commercial strips are jammed with small businesses, but they tend to be service outfits such as restaurants, salons, pilates studios and cappuccino joints. While the neighborhood has seen 18,400 new residential units built since 2006, there are still few stores where you can buy, say, a pair of shoes. Or a blender.”

    You can read the entire story here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 29, 2018

    …with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    Bloomberg has a story about how Goldman Sachs seems to have made out like a bandit with Amazon’s announcement that half its HQ2 installation will take place in New York’s Long Island City, just across the East River from Manhattan in the borough of Queens.

    Not specifically because it had anything to do with the choice, but because “on the very same day the online retailer concluded its long, highly publicized search for a second headquarters … the bank quietly finalized a deal to provide $83 million for a massive new apartment complex less than a mile away, in Hunter’s Point South.”

    The irony - considering that Amazon has been a simmering war with President Donald Trump - is that Goldman Sach’s move was prompted by “generous new tax breaks meant to entice investors to plow money into low-income areas across America designated as ‘opportunity zones.’ Institutions and wealthy investors that build in those areas can defer taxes on past capital gains, and avoid them on the future profits from their projects. Much of Long Island City sits in such a zone.”

    “The timing was an ‘absolute coincidence,’ says Margaret Anadu, the head of Goldman Sachs’s Urban Investment Group, which did the deal. ‘I didn’t think New York was in the running, much less Long Island City’.”

    Sure. It was a coincidence. Right. I may have been born at night, but I wasn’t born last night.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 29, 2018

    …with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    • The Associated Press reports that MillerCoors and Pabst Brewing have settled a lawsuit in which the latter charged that the former was lying about its ability to be a contract brewer as a way of driving it out of business.

    The settlement was described as “amicable,” though details have not yet been provided. It came as the jury in the case ended its second day of deliberations.

    According to the AP, “Since 1999, Chicago-based MillerCoors has made and shipped nearly all of Pabst's beers, which include Pabst Blue Ribbon, Old Milwaukee, Lone Star and Schlitz. Pabst's lawyers argued in the company's 2016 lawsuit that MillerCoors worried that Pabst would cut into its market share and devised a plan to stop brewing for the smaller competitor. MillerCoors' attorneys called Pabst's claim a conspiracy theory and said the company was simply deciding what makes economic sense.”

    • The New York Times reports that “Altria Group, whose fortune was built on traditional cigarette brands like Marlboro, is in talks to buy a minority stake in Juul Labs, the start-up that has captured much of the market for e-cigarettes … The talks highlight how much e-cigarettes and vaping promise to overhaul the business of nicotine products. Sales of traditional cigarettes, while still lucrative, have continued to decline, but sales of e-cigarettes have climbed.”

    The report has drawn criticism from anti-smoking advocates.

    “The combination of Altria’s sordid history of spending billions to entice kids to smoke, and Juul’s breathtaking success at hooking a new generation of children on nicotine, could mark an historic setback for lifesaving tobacco control efforts,” said Nancy Brown, the chief executive of the American Heart Association.

    I’m with Nancy Brown. The circle of hell reserved for tobacco executives continues to widen.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 29, 2018

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Unilever has named Alan Jope, a company “lifer” who currently runs its beauty and personal care business, to succeed CEO Paul Polman, effective January 1.

    The story says that the move is “the latest in a series of high-profile departures of consumer-goods bosses—an unprecedented changing of the guard as the industry faces down a raft of challenges. Among these is a broad-based retreat by consumers in many big western markets from the well-known brands the industry has made and marketed for decades … The industry also is grappling with rising commodity costs, volatile emerging markets and fierce competition from Inc. and discount chains that are increasingly launching own-label products.”

    Under Polman’s leadership, the Journal writes, “Unilever has shifted toward faster-growing segments in personal and home care while jettisoning lagging food businesses like spreads and pasta sauce.” In addition, he had fended off “a $143 billion takeover approach from Kraft Heinz Co. Since then he has launched share buybacks, raised margin targets, further shuffled Unilever’s portfolio and accelerated a restructuring to make the company more agile.”

    However, Polman was seen in some quarters as being “divisive, riling some investors by flying around the world to speak at sustainability conferences and openly deriding the short-termism of the investment community.”

    • C-store chain Sheetz announced that Travis Sheetz, the company’s executive vice president and a nephew of the company’s founder, will take on the role of president/COO. He will be the first COO in the company’s history.

    His brother, Joe Sheetz, remains as CEO.

    Adam Sheetz, grandson of the founder, has been named vice president of operations.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 29, 2018

    Content Guy’s Note: Stories in this section are, in my estimation, important and relevant to business. However, they are relegated to this slot because some MNB readers have made clear that they prefer a politics-free MNB; I can't do that because sometimes the news calls out for coverage and commentary, but at least I can make it easy for folks to skip it if they so desire.

    The Associated Press reports that outdoor gear-and-clothing company Patagonia, which has been progressive in how it has positioned itself on political and environmental issues, has decided to donate the $10 million it saved from the Trump tax cuts to nonprofit environmental organizations.

    According to the story, Patagonia said that “the donation is in addition to 1 percent of sales it gives to environmental groups every year.” And, the company cited in its announcement the recent release of the National Climate Assessment, in which more than a dozen federal agencies - including a team of more than 300 experts and guided by a a 60-member National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee - concluded that the long-term impact of climate change would be environmentally and economically devastating for the planet unless governments and companies take dramatic steps to address the issue.

    President Donald Trump’s reaction to the Assessment: “I don’t believe it.”

    The AP writes that “Patagonia … has joined a flurry of lawsuits challenging Trump’s decision to chop up two large national monuments in Utah. It also endorsed Democratic Sens.-elect Jon Tester of Montana and Jacky Rosen of Nevada, who both won against GOP incumbents. The company described them as champions of public lands and the outdoor industry.”

    “Our government continues to ignore the seriousness and causes of the climate crisis. It is pure evil,” said Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s founder. “We need to double down on renewable energy solutions. We need an agriculture system that supports small family farms and ranches, not one that rewards chemical companies intent on destroying our planet and poisoning our food. And we need to protect our public lands and waters because they are all we have left.”
    KC's View:
    Two things here, if I may.

    First, I see absolutely no risk to Patagonia for taking this stand so publicly. It is absolutely on-brand, and most of its customers, regardless of political affiliation, are sympathetic to its views. Patagonia may lose a few customers, but those losses will be more than compensated for by continued and expanded enthusiasm for the brand by people who do believe.

    Second … I got a few emails after posting our original story about the Assessment and my commentary that business must take the lead in pushing for progressive environmental policies, which pointed out that America’s contribution to global pollution was relatively small and improving. My response to that is that regardless, this actually is a place where American exceptionalism can be demonstrated.

    I’m with Monty Python on this one: :Hope for the best. Expect the worst.”

    And with General Carl Von Clausewitz, who once said, “You need to prepare for what can happen, not what you think will happen.”

    There’s also another Von Clausewitz line that seems appropriate here: “Theory becomes infinitely more difficult as soon as it touches the realm of moral values.”

    Published on: November 29, 2018

    Got the following email about yesterday’s “Innovation Conversation” from MNB reader Frank J Eich:

    Loved the ‘conversation’ w/ Tom Furphy on ‘Supply Chain Conundrum’. 

    IMHO, the topic of the supply chain, from raw material suppliers thru manufacturers/distributors, onto retailers and ultimately to consumers continues to be ripe with opportunity for collaboration, cost reduction and service improvements.  Nice of Tom to note ‘ECR’ (ie Efficient Consumer Response)… industry initiative from the mid 1990’s…..20+ years ago.  Although focused on ‘Fast Moving Consumer Goods’ and in an era of large distribution centers, large stores, full trucks, etc, many of the core elements (efficient promotion, efficient replenishment, efficient new item introductions, efficient assortment, etc) are still applicable in today’s environment.

    The challenge then and the challenge today is for business partners (ie manufacturers/suppliers, retailers, etc), working together, in this ecommerce world, to collaborate/innovate in a way that provides better supply chain results (lower cost, lower inventory, improved service, etc) for the ‘entire’ supply chain through to the consumer.  I’d argue that ECR ultimately enabled only minimal improvements to the supply chain.  Perhaps greater progress can be made now, building on the ECR learnings, as consumer needs continue to evolve.
    I look forward to future ‘conversations’ on this topic.

    I have good news for you. Next Thursday, I’m going to be moderating a panel discussion in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the Venture Cafe Kendall … the subject is Supply Chain, and “Innovating From Raw Materials to Store Shelves.” I believe that much of it is going to be streamed live (I’ll provide a link as we get closer), and I’m hoping that it will be available online for subsequent viewing.

    Here’s a link link to event info, in case you are in the area. I’m really looking forward to it, though I’m also aware that the people with whom I’ll be sharing the stage are a lot smarter than I am … I’ll be fighting way above my weight class.

    Responding to our citing of a New Yorker story about the founder of Panera Bread, MNB reader Howard Schneider wrote:

    The emphasis on short-term profitability has been a problem for U.S. Business for years now. In a broader sense, I believe there are some fields of endeavor that should not be profit-driven: education, armed forces, prisons, healthcare, for example.

    MNB reader Dan Jones wrote:

    It is not the short-term market focus – it is the lack of narrative for most organizations.  Costco, Shake Shack, Amazon, Google:  a few companies off the top of my head that are not fixated on short-term profits and doing quite well, thank you.  The real problem companies like Panera Bread have is that there is no long-term narrative.  What makes Panera so unique that another soup/sandwich shop will not be a threat?  In the absence of a clear, unique, long-term company vision the market looks at immediate results.

    On another subject, from MNB reader Kathleen Ottaviano:

    The Winners, HomeSense and Marshalls ad was spot on!  It’s the reason why retail will not die.  But, as you often say, retail that is undifferentiated, bland and not customer focused will die.

    This commercial was brilliant in reminding me of the charge I get from shopping certain stores.   It’s retail therapy!

    And finally, a thought from MNB reader Bob Vereen about Lowe’s decision to get out of the smart home technology business, though it will continue to sell other companies’ smart home devices; Lowe’s announced that “it will be shutting down its Iris smart home platform to ‘focus on its core home improvement business and improve profitability.’”

    The move away from smart home automation is just another of Lowe’s new CEO’s steps to refocus the company on its basic business in order to restore its profitability. He is exiting Mexico, closing Orchard Supply Hardware and closing unprofitable or marginal stores in the U. S. and Canada. Back to basics!

    I’m always suspicious of back-to-basics initiatives … because they imply that the basics were being ignored, which means that these companies are going to have a hard time with those that are not just getting the basics right, but also are innovating.
    KC's View: