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    Published on: January 13, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    With every generation, there always is discussion of the capabilities of the next generation. Will it measure up? Will it disappoint? Will it surprise?

    You never know. But that's one of the reasons it was such a pleasure to read the Washington Post story over the weekend about Wolf Cukier, a 17-year old high school student from Scarsdale, New York, who was doing an internship last summer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

    It was a pretty good internship, as those things go. Wolf Cukier discovered a new planet.

    It all seems pretty complicated and scientific, and way above my pay grade, but essentially he was reviewing data for NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), and he noticed something out of the ordinary. He brought the information to a research scientist who had never had an intern before, but who enough to pay attention. They spent hours checking and rechecking data, and pretty soon were 99 percent sure that the high school student had made a noteworthy discovery - a single planet, to that point undetected, that was circling two stars.

    "The planet, now known as TOI 1338 b, is nearly seven times as large as Earth and has two stars — one that’s about 10 percent more massive than our sun and another only a third of the sun’s mass and less bright," the Post writes.

    (The only thing I don't understand is why it hasn't been named Wolf 359.)

    In what may be the understatement of the year, Cukier tells the Post that his discovery "definitely colored the rest of the internship. Now, not only was I working on searching for additional planets, I was learning the full verification that goes into verifying a planet when we suspect it to be one."

    It is, I think, a great and Eye-Opening lesson in the importance of empowering young people to try new things, and of listening to them when they come up with unexpected insights.

    The Post writes that "now a high school senior, Cukier has his sights set on colleges such as Princeton University, Stanford University and MIT where he can major in astrophysics or physics."

    Gotta believe that his application essay is going to be killer.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 13, 2020

    The Washington Post reports that new US Labor Department statistics indicated that "for just the second time, women outnumbered men in the U.S. paid workforce, with their new majority buoyed by fast job growth in health care and education over the past year, as well as the tight labor market."

    The story says that "at first glance, the shift is tiny and easy to miss: Women worked 50.04 percent of payroll jobs in December, up from 49.99 percent the prior month."

    But there is a bigger shift at work that suggests something more profound: "Of the 145,000 jobs picked up in December throughout the economy, women won most of them — 139,000."

    The Post points out that "women are dominating sectors that are growing the fastest. Health care in particular was one of a few sectors that added more jobs in 2019 than 2018 … Also, jobs in education and health services outnumber jobs in male-dominated goods production sectors; mining, construction, transportation and warehousing saw a slowdown in hiring last year. And women still dominate service-sector jobs, which is 84 percent of non-farm payroll jobs in the country."
    KC's View:
    It seems to me that this is a positive development. It means that more and more women will be in positions of responsibility and influence, which has to work out better than the alternative, which has gotten us to where we are now.

    The better question is how companies are going to change to not just adapt to this shift, but embrace it. Our next editorial story offers a pretty good example of a company that needs to do just that.

    Published on: January 13, 2020

    Fast Company has a brief but terrific piece about Victoria's Secret, the retail brand that has been in a continuing "downward spiral," with declining same-store sales that are dragging down the stock price of L Brands, its corporate parent.

    "In a way, this is mystifying," Fast Company writes. "Victoria’s Secret sells cute lingerie! It has executed A+ brand awareness, a strong brick-and-mortar presence, and sharp online retailing!"

    But that may not be enough considering that the retailer "continues to display its lovely lingerie exclusively on lily-white waifs who appear underage, and release a catalog that is widely known as masturbatory material for men attracted to jail bait. Millennial and Gen Z women think this is repulsive. (Because it’s repulsive.)"

    But, Fast Company> suggests that the brand can be saved … though it won't be easy.

    First step: "Fix the company’s C-suite problem, and hire women in leadership roles. You know, lady-folk whose ages start with 5- and 6-, with letters like ‘M’ ‘B’ and ‘A’ after their names - such as any of the dozens of highly talented executives running U.S. fashion retailers. Keep hiring until the C-suite overflows with ladies who fully comprehend two important words: 'me too'."

    The second step is an extension of the first step: "Clean house. Multiple executives, including the chairman and CEO of L Brands, Lex Wexner, were heavily intertwined with Jeffrey Epstein. It’s time to realize that women can purchase coverings for their lady bits in numerous ways that will not enrich men implicated with a sex trafficker of underage girls."

    The conclusion is this recommendation to Victoria's Secret: "If you prefer visuals - and we know you do - just consult  your corporate governance page. See that? The giant photo of eight mostly naked high school girls, above eight male executives’ names? That. Fix that. You can do it."
    KC's View:
    All great ideas, and great examples of a clueless retailer that is completely out of step with the times and the national mood.

    The thing is, this stuff isn't complicated. I can come up with the names of a half-dozen really talented women executives off the top of my head who are completely capable of changing the culture at a place like Victoria's Secret. (Start with Shelley Broader. If you need more names, shoot me an email.) But if a company like this isn't willing to confront its issues, then it deserves to die an ignominious death.

    Published on: January 13, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal has an excellent piece about retirement and how it isn't necessarily a panacea for many people … also making the point that this a shift for which many companies have to prepare.

    The main point: "People spend a lot of time wondering if they’ll have the means to retire, often ignoring the equally important calculation: Do they have the will to retire? A job, historically seen as simply a way to make money, is increasingly the source of the types of friendship and stimulation that are hard to find in bingo halls, on beaches or riding a golf cart."

    Since there may well be people entering the workforce now who could live well past 100, people's career and life expectations and aspirations are changing.

    The Journal writes that "a 2018 Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies survey found half of 6,372 workers polled don’t expect to retire at 65, and 13% plan never to retire. The number of people who plan to retire after 65 has increased threefold since 1995, according to Gallup. America’s average retirement age has increased in the past 25 years to 66 or older."

    The story notes that technology in a variety of iterations will make it easier for people to work until they are much older, and there are companies - Patagonia is cited - taking notice. It is, the Journal writes, "among an army of companies analyzing how it will deal with a rising tide of older employees. Dean Carter, the California company’s human-resources chief, says the company is intent on providing a 'glide path' for people nearing retirement who don’t want to simply fall off a 'cliff'."

    You can read the entire story here.
    KC's View:
    I must admit that I found this story particularly intriguing because I'm one of those people who finds it hard to imagine a life in retirement. Somebody recently asked me what my exist strategy from MNB was, and I said that it probably involved keeling over at my laptop some morning, hopefully in the distant future.

    I'm glad there are companies out there that understand the importance of "providing a glide path," and appreciating the fact that there are going to be a lot of older Americans who are not going to stop working. Some of them won't want to, and some of them can't because of economic realities. But I think this offers an enormous opportunity - and challenge - to business leaders that want to take advantage of an extraordinary natural resource.

    Published on: January 13, 2020

    It wasn't a good Sunday night for the Seattle Seahawks and their coach, Pete Carroll, but the New York Times had a story over the weekend about how Carroll is bringing his coaching message to corporate America.

    "As if to prove it," the Times writes, "there Carroll is, suddenly in jeans and a sweater and sneakers, beamed into a digital course on human performance, leading a kind of corporate group therapy discussion about the process of creating a personal philosophy for your life. Tens of thousands of employees at Fortune 500 companies have participated in the training sessions Carroll and his partners have created to help people find purpose and perform better.

    "Carroll, 68, talks later about creating a vision for yourself. A vision is different from a personal philosophy, you see. He can go deep on that, if you want. It’s Carroll, the native Northern Californian, being as Carroll as he can be, asking you to think about what it really means to excel, whether it’s winning a football game or just being a good person, and it goes a long way toward explaining what is going through his mind when he is galloping down the sideline in the middle of January, pumping his fists like a teenager."

    The essential message is this: "that strong, trusting relationships among people who are striving to be the best versions of themselves create something powerful."

    Even if they lose playoff games.

    You can read the story here.
    KC's View:
    My friend Art Turock is a big fan of Pete Carroll and his leadership lessons … and has practically made a career out of chronicling them. You can read more about it here.

    Published on: January 13, 2020

    The New York Times reports that "Taco Bell will soon begin testing a $100,000 annual salary for general managers in select locations in an attempt to attract and retain talent."

    “As we grow the Taco Bell business, we’re really focused on managers,” said Ferril Onyett, senior director of global training and international human resources at Taco Bell. “They have a huge impact on restaurant performance. We hope through this test we can evaluate the effect on not only restaurant performance but team morale, customer experience and recruitment and retention.”

    The test will only be run at select corporate stores and not at franchisee locations, but it could "put pressure on everyone else to follow suit."
    KC's View:
    I presume that this will prompt fast food managers all over the country to say, "¡Yo quiero Taco Bell!"

    Published on: January 13, 2020

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that while Amazon "has been building a business selling ads on its Fire streaming television platform," now it wants to expand and "sell some ads for the first time on other streaming TV systems such as Apple TV and Xbox, according to people familiar with the matter.

    In a new initiative, Amazon is talking with TV app owners about integrating technology to let it sell some of their ad inventory on other streaming TV systems, which would also include PlayStation and Android TV, according to the people."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 13, 2020

    Reuters reports that Walmart "has fired around 50 of its India executives as part of its restructuring in the country … The move underscores the struggles Walmart has faced in expanding its wholesale business in India. The Bentonville, Ark. based company currently operates 28 wholesale stores where it sells goods to small shopkeepers, and not to retail consumers."

    The firings are said to be focused on the company's real estate division, which also is a reflection of the company's expanded emphasis on e-commerce.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 13, 2020

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

    • The San Francisco Business Times reports that "a South San Francisco farming startup is quickly growing its retail roots after landing new distribution deals with two of the area's largest grocers.

    "Vertical agriculture company Plenty will soon stock the produce shelves at a handful of Whole Foods Market and Safeway locations across the Bay Area to mark the beginning of what the startup is hoping will be a widespread push into new retailers and restaurants. Plenty's vegetables first began selling in retail outlets last year and are now available through Good Eggs, Berkeley Bowl, Bi-Rite Market and the robotic burger restaurant, Creator."

    Retail roots aren't the only roots that Plenty is interested in: "Plenty grows its produce hydroponically, meaning it feeds the plant without having it rooted in soil. By cutting water consumption, shortening the supply chain and shrinking the space needed to grow produce, Plenty will be able to deliver more produce at a faster rate."

    • The New York Times reports that the Trump administration has announced new rules that, when they go in effect in March, will mean that "employees of a fast-food franchise like a McDonald’s restaurant … may struggle to win a legal claim against the parent company if a franchisee violates minimum-wage and overtime laws."

    The story notes that the new rule "effectively replaces a more labor-friendly Obama-era approach that the Trump administration withdrew in 2017, one of several departures from the previous administration in the area of employment and labor law."

    • This is an example of how it can pay to be a disruptor.

    From Axios: "Upstart mattress maker Casper filed Friday for an initial public offering … This will be the next public market test of a consumer products company that venture capitalists have arguably valued like a tech company … It has raised over $355 million in venture capital funding, most recently in early 2019 at a valuation just north of $1 billion. Investors include retailer Target."

    Of course, this doesn't mean that Casper actually is showing a profit: "Casper reports a $67 million net loss on $312 million in revenue for the first nine months of 2019, versus a $64 million net loss on $260 million in revenue for the year-earlier period."

    Going public without being profitable? In other words, just like a tech company.

    • This story has nothing to do with retailing. But it is worth reporting nonetheless.

    The 1968 Ford Mustang - a fastback in Highland Green - that was one of two identical cars driven by Steve McQueen in Bullitt (1968) in a classic car chase through the streets and hills of San Francisco, was sold at auction over the weekend for $3.74 million.

    It is, reports say, the most ever spent on a Mustang at auction. The previous record holder was a 1967 Shelby GT500 Super Snake sold last year for $2.2 million.

    The Washington Post reports that " the interior includes remnants of filming equipment still on the body of the car. A coupe with a blacked-out grille and paint worn to a rough patina, its engine was modified to enhance speed and sound with additional camera mounts welded to the metal tubes underneath its body. Film hands cut into the trunk to allow cords to run from the generator to the cameras and lights."

    The buyer's name has not been disclosed.

    Just to put rumors to rest, I can confirm that the buyer was not me. But I can also confirm that this would be my idea of a dream car.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 13, 2020

    • Kenny-family owned Delaware Supermarkets, which operates six ShopRite stores throughout Delaware, announced that Melissa Kenny, the company’s Director of Sales and Marketing, has been promoted to the role of Executive Vice President, responsible for Operations, Finance, Human Resources, Marketing, and Loss Prevention.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 13, 2020

    Last week we had a story about how Safeway is remodeling four Community Market locations - two in Berkeley, one in San Anselmo and one in Los Altos - that used to be called Andronico's as recently as 2016, when the company was bought by Safeway. And now, they're being rebranded. As Andronico's. With the company promising to "make some changes and enhance the customer experience, while creating an eclectic, upbeat neighborhood hub for feeding a healthy lifestyle," and bringing back the specialty foods typical of the banner's legacy.

    One MNB reader responded:

    I wish they had done the same with Genuardi's.

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    Albertsons may already have the format for food a food centric store.  You might consider swinging through Boise on your next trip West to check out the Market Street format stores in Boise and Meridian, if you haven’t already.

    We had a couple of stories last week about how the fast food industry is a terrific training ground for chefs, prompting MNB reader Duane Eaton to write:

    You are right on about the great experience that comes from working in the fast food industry.  In my retirement speech from the Produce Marketing Association I said that the best management training in my 50-year career came during my time managing the Gino’s Drive-In in Towson, MD.  In addition to learning about all of the skills you mentioned I had the opportunity to participate in courses put on by organizations like the American Management Association.  One program I remember to this day was one developed by 3M on creative listening.  For someone barely in their 20s, this was a incredible education.  In my chosen career working for industry trade associations, the content of those programs served me better than that of most of the courses I took in college.  Of course, at that time the hours and pay offered by fast food truly sucked.

    On another subject, from MNB reader Rich Heiland:

    I know you are a Starbucks fan.

    This was on Facebook from our local Starbucks manager 24 hours in advance of what were to be some very, very bad storms potentially…

    I wanted to let Huntsville know that Starbucks will be closed at 8:30 pm tomorrow night. We have a big storm coming in and we want to make sure our partners and customers get home safe. We will open at 5:30 am Saturday morning. Please be safe! Thank you all!

    I bet she’s great to work for and the response on Facebook to her consideration for employees and customers was overwhelmingly positive. It’s the little things…..

    We had a story about how Walmart came to the realization that good enough wasn't good enough anymore, prompting one MNB reader to write:

    The great Vin Scully dropped this line many times over the years.

    "Good is not good when better is expected."
    77 days until Opening Day.

    One thing will always be true. Vin Scully is the font of all wisdom.

    And, from MNB reader Marlin Greenfield:

    This is your now-retired friend from the Skogen-owned Festival Foods stores in WI. One of the first things I heard Dave Skogen say when he hired me 30 years ago as we opened our first Festival was “good enough never is...”. It fit our “fussy” outlook on how important the details are. It’s a phrase that still exists in our culture.

    And finally …

    On Friday, I provided a link to a New York Times story that I thought was an exceptional piece of reporting, arguing "that 'there is a cancer gnawing at the nation' that predates the political warfare that dominates the airwaves, headlines and online news services: "Suicides are at their highest rate since World War II; one child in seven is living with a parent suffering from substance abuse; a baby is born every 15 minutes after prenatal exposure to opioids; America is slipping as a great power.

    "We have deep structural problems that have been a half century in the making, under both political parties, and that are often transmitted from generation to generation. Only in America has life expectancy now fallen three years in a row, for the first time in a century, because of 'deaths of despair'."

    It prompted the following email from an MNB reader:

    I read that NYT article very intently as it greatly resembles my hometown.  

    I grew up in a community in Northern Illinois that until I left it after high school, I did not realize that the town was a defined area of rural poverty, based on Federal income standards.  Our town had 750 residents and its primary employer was the Illinois state prison located at the edge of town.  In my high school class, we started with 96 members in our freshman class and graduated 71 students; a quarter of the class did not complete a high school diploma in four years and most of those folks never completed a GED.  While the same acres of land in the area are being farmed today that existed 40 years ago, technology allows the work to be done by far fewer people and there are few manufacturing jobs existing today that provide what we might consider to be “well-paying jobs”.

    Many of my classmates who have stayed now commute long distances to the exurbs of the Chicago area to find employment and have little saved for retirement.  The village’s population has essentially been stagnant over all this time, except for the fact that they annexed the prison into the village so the prisoners could be counted as residents to allow the village to qualify for greater financial aid from the state of Illinois.

    It makes my heart break to drive around my hometown today.  As a junior-high student, I delivered a daily paper to about half the town and a weekly paper to all the houses in town.   There are virtually no new houses that have been constructed since and LOTS of them have fallen into great disrepair.  Where our community once had a hardware store, two grocery stores, two barbershops, a law firm, a doctor’s office and a farm implement dealership, its retail sector now consists of a single convenience store that sells gas.   Two Wal-Mart stores that were constructed 15 miles away in opposite directions have sucked the town dry.

    This past summer my high school class had a 40-year class reunion and 27 people attended.   While the gathering was very enjoyable, we learned that 18 of our graduated classmates were already deceased----over 25% of the class.   Many of the same reasons they died young that were quoted in the NYT story were true of my class as well…..suicides, opioid abuse, alcoholism, obesity, and poor judgement.  Several of them work at the prison and one of them is on the other side of the bars.  Moreover, out of that class only 12 of us had earned a four-year college degree or more.  I still have many good friends who live in the area and I visit them often.   I can’t help but wonder how my life might have been different had I not left home to put myself through college-----and I am grateful that I did.

    The survival stories only put into starker relief the stories of those who did not and do not.

    As I said on Friday, every once in a while I read something that, regardless of whether it directly concerns the main business of MNB, I think is worth passing along. This Timespiece, in essence, seems to be making the point that as much debate and arguing as taking place in the country, we may be talking about all the wrong stuff, and that we're ignoring the fact that the fabric of our society may be unraveling. Provocative stuff, designed to make you think … and if you didn't check it out Friday, you still can, here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 13, 2020

    It was the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs…

    Minnesota Vikings 10
    San Francisco 49ers 27

    Tennessee Titans 28
    Baltimore Ravens 12

    Houston Texans 31
    Kansas City Chiefs 51

    Seattle Seahawks 23
    Green Bay Packers 28
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 13, 2020

    The nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards were announced this morning…

    Best Picture
    Ford v Ferrari
    The Irishman
    Jojo Rabbit
    Little Women
    Marriage Story
    Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    Actor in a Leading Role
    Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
    Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
    Adam Driver, Marriage Story
    Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
    Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes

    Actress in a Leading Role
    Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
    Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
    Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
    Charlize Theron, Bombshell
    Renée Zellweger, Judy

    Actress in a Supporting Role
    Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell
    Laura Dern, Marriage Story
    Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit
    Florence Pugh, Little Women
    Margot Robbie, Bombshell

    Actor in a Supporting Role
    Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
    Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes
    Al Pacino, The Irishman
    Joe Pesci, The Irishman
    Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    Best Director
    Bong Joon Ho, Parasite
    Sam Mendes, 1917
    Todd Phillips, Joker
    Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
    Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    Adapted Screenplay
    The Irishman
    Jojo Rabbit
    Little Women
    The Two Popes

    Original Screenplay
    Knives Out
    Marriage Story
    Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    International Feature Film
    Corpus Christi (Poland)
    Honeyland (North Macedonia)
    Les Miserables (France)
    Pain and Glory (Spain)
    Parasite (South Korea)
    KC's View: