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    Published on: January 29, 2019

    by Michael Sansolo

    It’s a business maxim that probably all of us have heard: dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

    In other words, aspire!

    It’s a bit of advice that even the smallest companies need to think about these days, especially as we see constant stories of the mega companies like Walmart, Albertsons and Kroger lining up unusual partners to deal with future issues. The reality is that Microsoft and others aren’t lining up to partner with a group of two-store operators to create futuristic stores, but that doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t aspire.

    Or certainly keep your eyes on what the big guys are doing because it is going to matter to you.

    A friend who happens to be a New Jersey-based independent operator sent me a link recently to an article in Ohio’s Dayton Daily News detailing comments from Kroger’s CEO, Rodney McMullen, and his vision of a technologically enabled future. As my friend said, “I like to keep an eye on what Kroger is doing.”

    Now think about that for a moment. First, Kroger doesn’t have a division in New Jersey and second, there is little that Kroger is doing that my friend can mimic. But he’s absolutely right to gaze in Kroger’s direction.

    All operators, no matter what their size or operating realities, need to keep an eye on Kroger, Walmart, Amazon, Aldi and more, including many companies that don’t run supermarkets such as Disney, Netflix and Apple. Because what those companies are doing - and sometimes, even the mistakes they are making - will impact shoppers’ experiences and expectations going forward.

    So sure, you may never pilot a cutting edge, technology-laden store like Microsoft is trying to do with Kroger or Albertsons, but you had better keep an eye on that. Because what those two companies do together might change what retail is going to look like in the very near future.

    Happily, I have promising news to report on this front. I have the pleasant duty annually of hosting the Creative Choice awards for outstanding marketing and merchandising at the National Grocers Association (NGA) convention, taking place in San Diego at the end of February. Thanks to the help of a fantastic group of volunteer judges, we have just completed a review of the 500-plus entries and in those numbers there is wonderful news.

    First, continuing a trend in recent years, the number of entries has never been larger and more importantly, the caliber of those entries have vastly improved as well. I won’t give away any details or the identity of winners here because I want a huge audience at the event in San Diego. But I can disclose this: based on those entries independent operators of all sizes are aspiring and succeeding at doing better.

    The entries showed great examples of creativity in every department of the store. We also saw great examples of independents aggressively using social media and other technologies including homegrown apps to connect with shoppers, to authenticate their messaging and to engage shoppers with greater experiences than ever.

    What’s so encouraging about this competition is none of the companies involved have the resources of a Kroger or Walmart, but they demonstrate how to produce great results with modest means. It strikes me that such thinking will be more necessary than ever in years to come.

    It is critical not to run your store for the shoppers you used to have, but rather for the shoppers you wish to have.

    It is a six step process…

    Aspire. Experiment. Innovate. Implement. Evaluate. Repeat. (Quickly.)

    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.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 29, 2019

    by Kevin Coupe

    Interesting piece the other day in the Wall Street Journal about how some New York City restaurants, faced with unsustainable rent increases, are abandoning the traditional restaurant model and embracing the food hall concept as a place they can continue to operate and grow their brands. In some cases, “it has become an increasingly common strategy for well-established restaurants looking to expand their footprint. In such cases, they aren’t shutting down their original locations, but simply building upon them with food-hall satellites.”

    This approach, the Journal suggests, “marks a radical rethinking of the food hall, a dining concept that, at least in its infancy a few years ago, focused on upstart brands looking to introduce themselves to New Yorkers without initially committing to opening a storefront location. The food hall was, in effect, a food incubator. Now, the food hall is increasingly about operators who have already built their brands.”

    I’m intrigued by this, in part because I think that terrific supermarkets can actually use the food hall concept as a creative touchstone as they develop their own fresh food footprints.

    We’ve seen this approach developing for a long time. In a lot of ways, the food truck outposts that we see in so many cities are nothing if not outdoor food halls, offering a broad range of options that can entice and delight patrons.

    A couple of years ago, I did a FaceTime piece from Smorgasburg, a wonderful food festival that takes place every Saturday (though not during the winter) in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, right on the banks of the East River. Again, just a food hall without the walls and ceiling.

    Really great food stores - Dorothy Lane Markets, the fresh food sections at Wegmans, for example - have a food hall vibe … they speak of possibility, of adventure, of catering to customers’ gastronomic curiosities. More than ever - especially as competition becomes tougher, and retailers seek ways to compete with business behemoths and online disruptors - I think that celebrating food and mimicking a food hall approach can be a compelling, differentiated and even Eye-Opening approach.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 29, 2019

    Ahold Delhaize-owned Giant Food Stores has announced the opening of what it calls “a new strategic addition to the Giant family of brands, Giant Direct, Powered by Peapod.”

    Giant Direct essentially is a new 38,000 sq. ft. e-commerce hub in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, that serves as both a kind of “dark store” that will provide delivery services to local residents and businesses, but also the ability to allow customers to pick up their online orders, which will be placed by employees in cars that pull up outside.

    The system was developed in partnership with Peapod Digital Labs. The company says that Giant Direct, Powered by Peapod will replace the current branding model of Peapod by Giant.

    The e-commerce hub is part of a $22 million investment in Lancaster County first announced by the company in June 2018.
    KC's View:
    Love it.

    This is precisely the kind of thing that innovative companies do - they challenge traditional business models and try to construct customer-centric operations that will make them more responsive and effective.

    I also think that Ahold Delhaize seems to be making all the right moves to revitalize the Peapod brand, building on its existing strengths and extending its potential.

    I’m looking forward to seeing how fast and nimble they can be in extending this mindset to the rest of the company. Because that’ll be key to its success.

    Published on: January 29, 2019

    A new study from Feedvisor, which describes it self as an “AI-driven … company that helps brands and retailers optimize their e-commerce businesses with Amazon at the core,” suggests that Amazon plays a significant and expanding role in how brands market themselves.

    Excerpts from the study:

    • “Over half of brands (54 percent) are already selling on Amazon today, and nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of brands will be selling on the platform within the next five years. “

    • “For 44 percent of brands selling on Amazon, more than half of their total e-commerce sales come from the platform. One-third of the brands (32 percent) selling on Amazon said it accounts for up to three-quarters of their overall e-commerce sales. It is evident that for the remaining brands, a significant opportunity exists to increase their share and capitalize on the platform’s profit potential.”

    • “A significant majority of brands both selling on Amazon (97 percent) and not currently selling on Amazon (84 percent) agree the most compelling benefit to selling on the platform is acquiring new customers.”

    • “Of the first-party brands surveyed, more than four in five (81 percent) want to expand to Amazon’s third-party channel. The majority of brands (61 percent) interested in evolving their relationships with Amazon said their primary reason is to get in front of a larger audience.”
    KC's View:
    One interesting thing about this story is how it says two-thirds of the brands jumping into bed with Amazon acknowledge its relentless push into private label is causing them some level of pain. But they see no option to working with Amazon to grow their brands and sales … which tell us something.

    Published on: January 29, 2019

    The Wall Street Journal reports on how “retailers that have been turning to robots to handle inventory in warehouses are testing whether machines can handle a new task: detecting when store shelves need restocking.”

    The story goes on: “Keeping track of inventory and doing it quickly has become one of the most pressing supply-chain concerns for merchants as they try to put into place new strategies for selling and delivering goods under the fast-changing demands of e-commerce.

    “Services including rapid home delivery and buy online-pickup in store are pushing retailers to blur the lines between distribution centers and stores—and obscure their view of how many items may be in stock and where the goods are held.

    “The complicated blending of inventories in stores and warehouses has some retailers testing the use of shelf-scanning robots that roam store aisles and send restocking data back through their networks.”

    Walmart, for example, is testing technologies “that use lasers, radar and cameras to navigate store aisles and record which products are out of stock … the data it gathers can help managers target which areas to restock based on profitability and other factors and provides a more accurate snapshot of store inventory than human workers armed with scanners, according to the companies.”
    KC's View:
    Here’s an alarming passage from the story: “More than three-quarters of respondents to a survey released this month by supply-chain software maker JDA Software Group Inc. said they aren’t able to track inventory in real time, and 55% don’t have a single view of product levels across distribution channels.”

    Any out-of-stock is a potential lost sale, and not knowing what you have and where it is strikes me as an enormous problem that has to be addressed.

    Published on: January 29, 2019

    Bloomberg reports on a new study released by the Lancet Commission on Obesity suggesting that Big Food companies are “the new Big Tobacco,” with enormous culpability for not just the global obesity epidemic, but also malnutrition and climate change.

    According to the story, the Commission “blamed a growth-focused sector for a system that gorges populations on empty calories while misusing land, energy and other resources. Without naming companies, the report released late Sunday called for restricting the industry - led by multinationals such as Nestle SA, McDonald’s Corp. and Coca-Cola Co. - from policy-related discussions.”

    Some excerpts from the story:

    • “The global rate of obesity almost tripled in the last four decades, with more than a third of the world’s adults now in a weight range that increases risks of heart disease, cancer and other disorders, according to the WHO. Meanwhile, almost half of children under the age of 5 don’t get needed nutrients -- mostly in low- and middle-income countries -- even as average weight increases.”

    • “The same unsustainable approach to agriculture and food production that feeds both obesity and malnutrition also propels climate change, the Lancet report’s authors said. ‘The coexistence of obesity and stunting in the same children in some countries is an urgent warning signal -- and both will be exacerbated by climate change,’ as changing weather patterns complicate food production, according to the statement.”

    • “The group called for a treaty that would exclude the food and beverage industry from policy development, similar to the WHO’s global conventions on tobacco. And because food production is one of the largest contributors to climate change, $5 trillion in U.S. government subsidies that currently flow toward big agriculture companies and fossil fuels should be directed to sustainable farming and transport instead, according to the report.

    “Taxing red meat to reduce consumption would have benefits across the chain, the panel said, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, opening up more land for sustainable agriculture and potentially leading to healthier diets.”

    Needless to say, there is industry pushback on the Commission’s conclusions and recommendations:

    “The beverage industry has responded and remains committed to the United Nations’ call to improve public health with measures such offering lower- and no-calorie drinks, smaller packaging, and responsible marketing, the Washington-based International Council of Beverages Associations said in an emailed statement … Coca-Cola said it backed the council’s view. A Nestle spokesman said the company has tackled obesity and undernutrition for many years and will continue to do so. McDonald’s representatives declined to comment until they had seen the report.”
    KC's View:
    I’m not sure that I’d equate Big Food with Big Tobacco, if only because the latter has rarely done anything to address the severe health issues (like death!) that all their products cause, and I think many Big Food companies have tried to be more socially conscious and even proactive. They have a long way to go, but I think they’ve learned something from how irresponsible Big Tobacco has been.

    Published on: January 29, 2019

    Peter A. Macgowan, who was the CEO of Safeway from 1979 to 1993, at which point he started a 15-year tenure as Managing General Partner for the San Francisco Giants, has passed away at age 76 after a long battle with cancer.

    Macgowan, who is described in the various obituaries as “charismatic,” “having a heart of gold,” and being intimately involved and dedicated to the well-being of the city where he made his home, also is credited with both preventing a proposed move by the Giants to Florida by organizing a group to buy the team, and will spearheading the replacement of Candlestick Park with what was then called Pac-Bell Park. (It is now called Oracle Park.)

    The San Francisco Chronicle notes that Macgowan’s tenure with the Giants was not without controversy - he was criticized for being one of the owners who did not pay enough attention to the use of performance enhancing drugs by players, and he “later expressed regret for not doing more.” (Macgowan also is the guy who brought Barry Bonds to San Francisco.)
    KC's View:
    One of the best things about Macgowan, I think, was how he liked to sit in the stands and interact with fans rather than sit above it all in luxury suites.

    And you can’t argue with the results of all his efforts - as the Chronicle notes, “He hired the executives who built four World Series teams that garnered three championships, in 2010, ’12 and ’14, and led the franchise and its owners to significant financial success.”

    Published on: January 29, 2019

    The Washington Post reports that The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC) described as “the pension insurer for the U.S. government,” has come out in opposition to Sears Holdings’ chairman Eddie Lampert’s $5.2 billion bid to acquire the bankrupt retailer, citing what it sees as the likelihood that the company’s pensioners will end up getting the short end of the stick.

    “The PBGC often steps in for underfunded pension plans when companies can’t pay,” the story says. “The agency funds itself off of insurance premiums paid by pension funds, not taxpayer money.”

    According to the story, “In papers filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court on Saturday, the PBGC specifically pointed to a $1.7 billion funding gap that, the corporation says, Lampert’s bid doesn’t account for. Plus, bankruptcy experts say Sears could become the latest example among retailers and other companies that, once thrown into bankruptcy, see their pension plans wiped cleaned … To help protect the Sears pension plans, the PBGC negotiated an agreement with Sears that included a stake in the Kenmore and DieHard brands. It said that if Lampert’s bid is approved, the sale would undercut its interests in those brands and their royalty payments.”

    The Post notes that “Lampert’s proposal still has to be approved by the bankruptcy court. A hearing is set for Feb. 4.”
    KC's View:
    The bet here is that if Lampert gets Sears, the pensioners are screwed. Then again, they may be largely screwed anyway … but I’d hate to depend on Lampert for anything.

    Published on: January 29, 2019

    USA Today reports on how many fast feeders are featuring bacon on their menus - sometimes offering it for free - as they look to expand their appeal.


    • “Wendy’s is now offering its Baconator cheeseburger for free through DoorDash along with no delivery free with a $10 order. The deal lasts through Feb. 4.”

    • “Tuesday brings free bacon from McDonald's. The burger chain is being the opposite of piggish between 4-5 p.m. local time at participating restaurants nationwide. During the so-called bacon hour, customers may get free Applewood smoked bacon with any order from a Hot Fudge Sundae to a Filet-O-Fish.”

    • Dunkin;’ is bring back the “Brown Sugar Chipotle Bacon Breakfast Sandwich – egg, cheese, brown sugar chipotle bacon on a croissant.”

    • Sonic now is featuring a “Steakhouse Bacon Cheeseburger – a quarter-pound beef patty, cheese, bacon and grilled onions.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 29, 2019

    • The New York Times reports this morning that, es expected, Tesco announced the layoff of “thousands of employees, an attempt to fend off challenges from discount retailers and a possible Brexit downturn.

    “The chain, which employs more than 440,000 people globally, said that it expected 9,000 jobs in Britain to be affected, but that half of the workers could be moved to other positions. The decision comes more than four years after Tesco started a price-cuts campaign and revamped stores to win back customers.”

    Talk about the power of diminished expectations. Yesterday the speculation was that as many as 15,000 people could get laid off … and so now hearing that maybe just 4,500 people could lose their jobs doesn’t sound so bad. But I still have the question I had yesterday … if the people being laid off have customer-facing, service-centric jobs, will these moves cripple Tesco’s ability to deliver a shopping experience that differentiates it from other retailers, especially Aldi and Lidl? Is this short-term economic thinking that will affect its ability to be long-term competitive?
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 29, 2019

    Responding to yesterday’s story about CVS’s Beauty Mark initiative - which requires the labeling of photos in its cosmetics aisles as “digitally altered”: when they have been so, making it “the first major American company to adopt such a policy in the face of rising concerns about doctored images setting unrealistic ideals of beauty, especially for young women” - MNB reader Alison Kenney Paul, vice chairman of Deloitte, sent me the following email:

    Thanks for the mention of the CVS campaign and agree with you that it is a BIG step in the beauty business and a critical one w/r/t girls.  I am on the National Board of Girls Inc. – with whom CVS is partnering to launch the Beauty Mark campaign.  We are grateful to CVS for their generosity and for drawing attention to every girls’ inner beauty!

    Girls Inc. serves over 150,000 girls each year through educational programming and support to help girls be Strong, Smart & Bold – thank you CVS and thank you to all of our supporters in the Retail and CPG industry!

    We had a story yesterday about how Howard Schultz, the former chairman/CEO of Starbucks, told “60 Minutes” in an interview aired last night that he is “seriously considering” a run for the US presidency - but said if he did so, he will reject the two-part system and run an independent candidacy.

    He said, among other things, that he has “a long history of recognizing, I'm not the smartest person in the room, that in order to make great decisions about complex problems, I have to recruit and attract people who are smarter than me and more experienced, more skilled, and we've got to create an understanding that we need a creative debate in the room to make these kind of decisions.”

    I commented:

    The palpable panic attack that hit a sizable percentage of the country last night was about the fact that an aggressive Schultz campaign could siphon off votes from whoever the Democratic nominee is, thus assuring the re-election of President Trump.

    I’m guessing that Schultz will run … you don’t go on a book tour and on “60 Minutes” only to pull back at the end. It remains to be seen if he will find that the skills that served him in building his business will serve him well when running a campaign, or a country for that matter.

    I’ve long said here that I think that Schultz has a messiah complex … to a certain extent, he’s entitled, based on his history. This doesn’t do anything to change my mind.

    Whatever you think of Schultz, this could be a lot worse. It could be Eddie Lampert running for president.

    MNB reader Andy Casey wrote:

    I think you may find Howard Schultz attractive to moderates (still most people in America, I think) of both parties. Many of the politicians on both sides of the aisle seem so far out of touch with reality that a reasonable alternative might provide a welcome breath of fresh air.

    Maybe. Though I think recent history suggests that momentum favors partisans, not moderates. But we’ll see.

    From another reader:

    Since when does he "have a long history of recognizing I'm not the smartest person in the room"?  If anything it's the opposite, in my opinion.

    Is it possible to have an enormous ego and a Messiah complex and still think that one is not the smartest person in the room?

    MNB took note yesterday of the passing of Albert J. Dunlap, who was known as “Chainsaw Al” for his strategy of cutting thousands of jobs - focusing on efficiency, not effectiveness, and putting the needs of shareholders above those of stakeholders - at age 81.

    After pointing out the Wall Street Journal’s critique of his career and style, I commented:

    I hate to speak ill of the dead, but … from my view, Chainsaw Al represents everything that is wrong with capitalism, though guys like this aren’t about capitalism - they’re about ego and self-aggrandizement and a complete lack of compassion. Innovation and disruption, which are so important to a business’s ability to survive and thrive today, are about addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division … but this always struck me as a guy who only believed in the latter two mathematical functions.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Everyone that was in business at the time knows about chainsaw Al. It’s your forum to make your points but this was not the time…. in my opinion…. and definitely beneath you.

    I’m not sure that there’s all that much beneath me, but I appreciate your confidence.

    I would argue that a sizable percentage of the MNB audience may never have heard of Chainsaw Al … and while it may have been in questionable taste, it struck me as exactly the right time. If not now, when?

    MNB reader Mike Bach wrote:

    Nice to see you’re willing to devote this amount of space to Chainsaw Al’s passing.  

    It will be interesting to see how you handle those who behave just like him.  The list is long. But, at least Al was banned from holding future leadership roles.

    I think a reading of MNB over the past 17 years or so would suggest that I’ve been pretty consistent on this.

    From another reader:

    Your commentary on Chainsaw Al's approach is spot on.  ANYONE can take over a company and subtract (cut jobs) and divide (create chaos).  And while job cuts might be necessary based on the particular circumstances, true executive leaders must also have a plan to reinvent, disrupt, develop, and grow the company.  You can't cut yourself to growth and prosperity.

    On another, but somewhat related, subject, I got the following email from an MNB reader:

    I have personal experience with PE firms in my own business. They serve very narrow purposes in cases for improved liquidity or selling a part of a business to them, but as a family buy-out / recapitalization source for supermarkets, they are dismal and the wrong model. Their approach only sees “assets” they can liquidate to create cashflow and exemplary early returns. Then they leave the operators (never the founders with passion) to try to manage with zero reinvestment as the stores decay, key employees move on, and second tier folk are employed to try to stem the mounting.

    My firm experienced the Marsh debacle first hand and took a blood bath in the process due to ineptness of management who made hollow promises in our attempt to help them in their mess. It was dismal for everyone except Sun Capital. There should be a law against this practice. If they buy, they should have to live with it for ten+ years minimum and reinvest at least as much as the "buy-out" they pay the owners who line their pockets and abandon the (as Max DePree says) “the quiet and indispensable folk who keep things running day in and day out”. Pitiful. Sad.

    Regarding yesterday’s piece about Kraft’s “food porn” ad for its Devour frozen food brand, one MNB reader wrote:

    I guess what seems so peculiar to me is that given the rampant problems that addiction to porn is causing in our society and the recent MeToo movement to eliminate the objectification of women, that Kraft thought this to be “funny” and an approach that would be acceptable in today’s social climate.

    On another subject that comes up here from time to time, from an MNB reader:

    I was listening to NPR about a month ago and they had a report on how in the 1960's, plastic companies and their leaders already knew plastic disposal was going to be an issue. At a plastic makers conference, the question of "How to dispose of plastic?" was discussed. They knew it wouldn't biodegrade and they knew it was going to be a major issue. There was some debate and the deciding thought was (I'm paraphrasing) "That's the consumers problem, not ours.”

    What a sad day. We had a chance to do the right thing and we didn't. We as individuals, neighborhoods, states, and as a nation need to move past this type of short sighted thinking if we are ever to get out of these messes. What's after this plastic issue? Maybe all the batteries we've created for our electric cars? Once renewable energy sources are the mainstream power generation, what does Solar or Wind farm waste look like in the future? Just thinking out loud…

    I cannot speak to the specifics of this example, but our world is replete with examples of people who have the chance and the ability and even the means to do the right thing and do not.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 29, 2019

    From MNB reader Jerome R. Schindler, regarding discounter Aldi and its focus on private label:

    am not a great fan of Aldi - at least not yet.

    Fair or unfair competition?  Looking at the weekly Aldi ad that was with the insert in my Sunday newspaper I noticed that many of their private label products used graphics and colors that basically copied the elements and design of the labels on brand name counterparts.  This is not unusual.  Is this fair?

    As a consumer goods attorney I have reviewed many such cases over the years.  While there have been a few decisions that recognized rights of the name brands to their label graphics and/or the package designs, in general what I deem the "infringer" has been given a pass.  A lot of these cases have essentially ended at the preliminary injunction stage and are not appealed so there is no detailed court opinion explaining that result.   I characterize this as "different day, different judge, different result".  The Brand name companies are loathe to sue main line supermarket private label products over this issue as they fear damaging their relationships with their customers.  Of course that generally is not the situation with Aldi as Aldi is usually not a customer.   Some companies after losing have changed and registered their package shape designs to combat this trade dress copying, examples being Head and Shoulders shampoo and Vaseline Intensive Care body lotion.  The same situation applies to trademarks.

    I cite two examples, brand name was "Cup-A-Soup"  Competitor name was "Cup of Soup".  Judge said Cup of Soup was just generic language, this no infringement.  Brand name was "Country Time".  Competitor was "County Prize". Product labels totally different.  Judge ruled for Country Time" in part based on hand lettered supermarket signs for the latter read "Country Prize".   I was on the winning side of one, the losing side of the other.  This reminds me of the old retiring lawyer who said "I won some cases I should have lost and I lost some cases I should have won so in the end justice was done".   I know in my lifetime I have been fooled more than once by a private label product that looked almost like the brand name product I was intending to purchase.  Fair or unfair?

    On another subject, from MNB reader Karen Shunk:

     I was reading an article on the LA Times regarding the impact of AI on the California market when your newsletter arrived and I read your item on automation.

    The LA Times reports on the regional variations highlighted in a report from the Brookings Institution. The Brookings report includes what amounts to a disruption map for AI showing the average share of tasks susceptible to automation in different metro areas around the country. 

    I find these kinds of visualizations very interesting – will people pay attention to them and rise to meet the challenges (and opportunities)? I don’t really remember this kind of analysis being out there in advance of or during the changes that gutted the so-called rustbelt.

    In any event, I connected this at one end of the spectrum with an article about presidential candidate Pete Buttagieg (buddha-judge), Millenial mayor of South Bend who led the efforts to revitalize his city in what seems to have been a pragmatic, non-partisan manner. At the other end of the spectrum I thought about how companies like Amazon choose to locate their HQs in large cities because of the networking opportunities their workforces have, essentially cutting out smaller cities that otherwise have a lot to offer, but not the critical mass in terms of size of the workforce. I feel like we are at a tipping point in our history with tools like never before – but will we do what’s necessary to make sure we don’t leave large swaths of the country behind in the next round of automation?

    I suggested in my commentary that the impact and implications need to be addressed in a sophisticated and nuanced way by the public and private sectors, which prompted one MNB reader tio write:

    We are in deep trouble. You expect a President trying to resurrect the coal industry to address the affects of automation? And the top states affected are RED. Oh boy

    We had a piece the other day about how colleges are stepping away from teaching things like English and history, and focusing instead on STEM and business courses that, in my view, may be more popular but that do not give students the advantage of a rounded education.

    One MNB reader responded:

    Thank you for your commentary regarding the quality of an education. I never appreciated the humanities while in school (and much of my working career).  It took my son and his education at Berkeley to help me better understand what I had missed and the tremendous value it brings to all aspects of ones life – including one in a business career.

    I applaud you wanting to teach a writing class for business majors/STEM students.  Though calling out “not business writing” may be a bit harsh.

    Perhaps I was just lucky, but I took a grad business writing class at East Carolina University decades ago and it was one of the best, most beneficial classes.  Hard to explain, it was just different than any other writing class (business or otherwise) I ever had.  The professor used his text book which typically had always been a red flag for me.  Not so in this case. It is the only text book I still own, many years later.  Perhaps his first name being Keats had something to do with his ability to help my words make more sense than they ever had. For me, Dr. Keats Sparrow made a difference.

    I love that you remember his name.

    Your email reminded me of a passage from Tom Stoppard’s play, “The Real Thing,” in which his protagonist, a writer, says:

    ““Words... They're innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos … I don't think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you're dead.”

    MNB reader Jeff Totten wrote:

    I agree with your thoughts about the need for a quality education to include the liberal arts. I teaching marketing, which makes use of many disciplines, including history and literature, as it's a "borrowed" discipline.

    I think students today need to be well-rounded in their education and this includes the liberal arts. I'm a little biased, as my mother taught high school English for over 30 years.

    From MNB reader Deborah Faragher:

    I’m saddened by your reporting on the shrinking of humanities programs in universities. I understand that institutions must control budgets and make tough choices and that many students are opting for majors that lead them to the higher paying jobs. But as schools continue to cut programs such as arts, music, physical education in elementary through high school then chip away at the humanities in college, where do some of the soft skills come from that companies want? It reminds me of my department store days when, every time budgets were tight, we were forced to cut sales staff—the very heart of the business. And look where that got us. Thanks, Kevin, as always, for shining a light.

    From MNB reader Joe Jurich:

    I agree wholeheartedly! When we fail to teach history and learn from it, we are prone to repeat the mistakes and horrors of the past.  Events of the past become “mere myths” that lead to denial of the events – especially if they do not suit our viewpoint.  Take, for example, the fact that there are groups today who espouse that the holocaust never happened – that it was simply “invented propaganda.”  Without some grounding in the humanities, we risk becoming what Macbeth bemoaned “a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
    KC's View: