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    Published on: January 27, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    It got a lot of attention last Friday when, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon said that the company plans to enact a new requirement for companies that it take through an IPO - they will have to have at least one "diverse" board candidate.

    "We’re not going to take a company public unless there’s at least one diverse board candidate, with a focus on women,” Solomon told CNBC, saying that the new rule will go into effect on July 1.

    It is, however, only a temporary requirement - as of 2021, Goldman Sachs will require two diverse board members.

    "We might miss some business, but in the long run, this I think is the best advice for companies that want to drive premium returns for their shareholders over time,” Solomon said.

    The New York Times noted that this is becoming a trend, that "money-management firms BlackRock and State Street plan to vote against directors at companies without a female director. And California-based public companies with all-male boards face a $100,000 fine."

    Seems to me that this is an important statement, not just because of the specific changes it will require of companies that want to work with Goldman, which last year was the largest underwriter of US IPOs.  

    It also send a valuable broader message - that companies with a diversity of views will tend to do better in terms of long-term performance.

    There was a story from CNBC late last year that reinforced this message:

    "For every female CEO in the U.S. there were 19 male chief executives, while there were 6.5 male CFOs for every woman in the role at the end of 2018, the report said.

    "In the two years following a new CEO appointment, the stock price for companies that appointed female chief executives outperformed those that appointed men by an average of 20%, the data showed.

    "When women were appointed as chief financial officers (CFOs), companies saw different benefits, the report said … In the 24 months following the appointment of a female CFO, these companies outperformed those with newly-appointed male CFOs by 8% on share price returns, the research said. They also outperformed by 6% on profitability in the same period," because they "drove more value appreciation, better defended profitability moats, and delivered excess risk-adjusted returns for their firms."

    The very definition, I think, of an Eye-Opener.

    Published on: January 27, 2020

    Bloomberg reports that Walmart "is testing out a higher minimum starting wage for certain jobs in hundreds of stores as part of a broader overhaul of roles and responsibilities across its massive U.S. workforce."

    The company said that in about 500 stores, "some associates in the fresh, front-end and replenishment areas will see their hourly pay rise from $11 an hour to $12."

    According to the story, the raises are a test, and "right now the company has no plans to raise its minimum starting wage across the board to its 1.5 million U.S. employees, the biggest private workforce in the nation. The redefined roles carry more responsibility, Walmart has said, which justifies the higher compensation. Still, the move could be Walmart’s first step toward boosting its starting pay, which it last raised in 2018."

    KC's View:

    The story makes the point that Walmart is reclassifying the roles with the higher wages, calling them "team associates," and stressing that they are going to have more responsibilities in their stores.

    I hope it also is a higher recognition that these stores are only going to be as good as the people who manage them and work there.  I'd bet that only a tiny percentage of Walmart shoppers could name anyone in its executive suite, but their experiences are affected by in-store employees every time they  walk in the front door.

    Published on: January 27, 2020

    Bloomberg this morning reports that "more than 350 Amazon.com Inc. employees contributed public statements focused on the company’s climate practices, defying company policy and escalating a feud between management and a coalition of concerned workers."

    The statements were posted on the Medium website, and come just weeks "after it emerged that Amazon had threatened workers who had talked to the Washington Post with disciplinary action or termination if they continued to speak publicly about the company without authorization."

    The employees defying company orders are described as "members of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, an organization that has been campaigning for more than a year to get Amazon to cut ties with fossil fuel companies and commit to limiting its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions."

    In a statement, Amazon says that "while all employees are welcome to engage constructively with any of the many teams inside Amazon that work on sustainability and other topics, we do enforce our external communications policy and will not allow employees to publicly disparage or misrepresent the company or the hard work of their colleagues who are developing solutions to these hard problems."

    Amazon has maintained that it is working hard on environmental issues, with CEO/founder Jeff Bezos announcing "an initiative aimed at making his company a net-zero carbon emitter by 2040."

    KC's View:

    As big a fan and user of Amazon as I am, I would never argue that it is the most sustainability-conscious company out there - so much of its business model is built on actions that run contrary to the things that sustainability activists talk about.  It is all about priorities … and I, like a lot of people, sometimes make selfish choices that prioritize convenience over the environment.

    I don't think Amazon is going to fire anyone, at least not right away.  I hope there are no repercussions.  There would be too much blowback, and Amazon would be seen as not being the kind of company many of us think it is.

    Bezos needs to find a way to embrace these folks, and make them part of the solution … as opposed to treating them like they are part of the problem.  Employees - and customers - expect more of the companies with which they do business, and leaders have to factor that in to how they behave.

    Published on: January 27, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that "hundreds of regional grocery stores in cities from Minneapolis to Seattle are closing or selling pharmacy counters, which have been struggling as consumers make fewer trips to fill prescriptions and big drugstore chains tighten their grip on the U.S. market."

    The regional chains, the story says, "are too small to wrest competitive reimbursement rates on drugs, they aren’t connected to big medical networks or insurers, and they generally lack walk-in clinics and other health services that draw many customers to CVS and Walgreens locations."

    In addition, "Consumers are increasingly getting 90-day supplies of their medicines or getting prescriptions delivered in the mail. Those trends are resulting in a decline in foot traffic to supermarket pharmacies, which were typically located at the back of stores. Meantime, profits are ever harder to come by as the health-care industry consolidates."

    KC's View:

    I totally get the economic motivations for closing down pharmacies.  Even when they were being opened, I remember execs telling me how pharmacies took the longest of store departments to become profitable, but were worth the wait because they created a different kind of bond between shopper and store.

    When stores close down their pharmacies, they need to find new and different ways to create and sustain those bonds.  The prescription for success is better connections and strong differentiation … not just paring away the stuff that doesn't work.

    Published on: January 27, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal this morning has a piece about how retailers' CFOs need to "exercise caution when it comes to investments and expansion, and closely watch the economy," continuing to monitor "freight costs, commodity costs, 'shrink' - also known as theft - and other expenses that could make a dent in profit margins."

    While the economy continues to hum along in a lot of sector, there also have been a number of major retailers that "posted disappointing holiday sales"; in addition, there continue to be retailers that are closing many of their stores.  The fact is, the <i>Journal</i> writes, "global trade conflicts, an upcoming presidential election and mixed signals on consumer spending are painting a murky picture for retail finance chiefs."

    Experts tell the Journal that "as online purchases make up an increasingly large share of total retail sales, CFOs are making company-specific investments to strengthen their top line and to hold their ground against rivals and e-commerce giants. Companies such as Lowe’s Cos . and Target Corp. have been expanding their internal technology teams to build point-of-sale software and inventory-management systems.

    "CFOs will continue to lead initiatives such as loyalty programs, and they will further efforts to allow more shoppers to buy products online and then pick them up in the store."  But they also need to be "especially cautious about expanding their businesses and deciding whether to add or shutter storefronts."

    KC's View:

    One of the things that stood out to be in the story was the analyst who described a world in which there is "a tale of two CFOs" - there is a clear delineation between the companies that have been preparing for the future and are moving forward, and those that are grappling just to stay above water.

    I am also reminded of something that Scott Moses, managing director at PJ Solomon always talks about - the vast and often crippling difference between companies that have access to low-cost capital, and those that do not, and therefore are at an enormous disadvantage.  CFOs at the latter companies may not be sleeping particularly well these days

     The widening gap between retailers running strong franchises and maintaining steady cash flows and those fighting to survive has engendered “a tale of two CFOs."  It reminds me of the Shakespeare line from "Henry IV, Part II" … "We have heard the chimes at midnight"…

    For a lot of these companies, they heard the chimes at midnight because the times were good and the living was easy.  But now, they hear the chimes in a different context, because death looms.

    Published on: January 27, 2020

    The New York Times has a story about sports apparel company Under Armour, which was "once heralded as the next Nike."  Now, however, "Under Armour has faltered, hurt by slumping sales and unflattering revelations about its corporate culture."

    The company, according to the Times, has "faced tough scrutiny, resulting in lawsuits from shareholders, who accuse the company of misleading investors, and media coverage around real estate deals involving the company and (its CEO's) private holdings. Questions have also arisen about a culture that allowed strip club visits to be expensed on corporate credit cards and, more recently, a disclosure by The Wall Street Journal that federal authorities are conducting investigations into accounting practices."

    The Times writes that "there is no one cause of Under Armour’s struggles. Some factors, like the bankruptcies of the retail giants Sports Authority and Sport Chalet in 2016, were out of the company’s control.

    "But interviews with several current and former Under Armour employees as well as competitors, advisers to athletes, and financial analysts also point to a company that tried to do too much too fast. It expanded into sports in which it had little expertise and failed to articulate a strategy for its expensive tech acquisitions. It eschewed the athleisure trend, which has buoyed sales at Nike and Adidas, and struggled to translate its brand to an international audience."

    The story is worth reading here.

    KC's View:
     

    The story quotes CEO Kevin Plank as saying, "The world did not need another competent apparel or footwear manufacturer.  What the customer needs is a dream."

    Which I agree with.  But what he didn't seem to understand is that means matter, not just ends.  And these days, more than ever, customers and investors are able to learn more than they ever knew in the past about not just the performance of a company, but the embedded culture.  These things matter.


    Published on: January 27, 2020

    Clayton M. Christensen, the Harvard Business School professor who wrote "The Innovator’s Dilemma," which cemented his reputation as superstar management guru, has passed away at age 67.  The cause was complications for leukemia.

    An excerpt from the New York Times obituary:

    "The Innovator’s Dilemma" … was published during the technology boom of the late 1990s. It trumpeted Professor Christensen’s assertion that the factors that helped the best companies succeed - listening responsively to customers, investing aggressively in technology products that satisfied customers’ next-generation needs - were the exact same reasons some of these companies failed.

    "These corporate giants were so focused on doing the very things that had been taught for generations at the nation’s top business schools, he wrote, that they were blindsided by small, fast-moving, innovative companies that were able to enter markets nimbly with disruptive products and services and grab large chunks of market share. By laying out a blueprint for how executives could identify and respond to these disruptive forces, Professor Christensen, himself an entrepreneur and former management consultant, struck a chord with high-tech corporate leaders."

    The Times also has this observation about Christensen:

    "On the last day of his management class every semester, he wrote, he asked his students to “turn those theoretical lenses on themselves” and answer three questions:  'First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?'

    "He noted that several former classmates, including Jeffrey Skilling, the former chief executive of Enron, had spent time in prison.  'These were good guys — but something in their lives sent them off in the wrong direction,' he wrote.  Ultimately, the realization that his ideas had generated enormous revenue for companies that used his research left him dissatisfied.  'I know I’ve had substantial impact,' he wrote.  'But as I’ve confronted this disease, it’s been interesting to see how unimportant that impact is on me now. I’ve concluded that the metric by which God will assess my life isn’t dollars but the individual people whose lives I’ve touched.

    "'Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved,' he continued; 'worry about the individuals you have helped become better people'."

    Published on: January 27, 2020

    At its annual Midwinter conference in Arizona, FMI-the Food Industry Association presented a number of Executive Leaderships Awards.

    •  Kevin Davis, president and Co-CEO, Bristol Farms, received the Sidney R. Rabb Award, which recognizes "contributions to the industry, consumers and community."

    •  Mark Skogen, president and CEO, Festival Foods, received the Robert B. Wegman Award, lauded for pushing "for new and innovative in-store experiences to better serve the customers."

    •  Craig Boyan, president, H-E-B, received the Glen P. Woodard, Jr. Award

    for his involvement in public affairs initiatives.

    •  Al Carey, PepsiCo's retired North America CEO, received the William H. Albers Award, "for sparking collaboration between brands and retailers, as well as front-line associates that trickled directly down to the consumer."

    •  Henry Johnson, the retired president of W. Lee Flowers & Co., received the Herbert Hoover Award, for having "embedded his humanitarianism and passion for philanthropy in his leadership."

    •  Natalie Menza-Crowe, RD, MS, director of health and wellness, Wakefern Food Corp, received the Esther Peterson Award for creating "dynamic programs that educate and inspire consumers and associates to embrace the importance of healthy eating to make balanced nutritional decisions."

    Published on: January 27, 2020

    •  The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that "new warehouse construction across North America is expected to outstrip demand over this year and next, according to a new report that suggests a yearslong boom in industrial space fed by e-commerce growth may be shifting in favor of tenants."

    The numbers are clear:  More than 300 million square feet of warehouse space is expected to be opened this year, and another 272 million square feet next year, but tenants are expected to lease only 272 million and 218 million square feet, respectively.

    The Journal writes that "tight space has driven down vacancy rates and driven up rental prices, but companies said last year that the industrial real-estate market was getting closer to a balance between supply and demand."

    Published on: January 27, 2020

    •  USA Today reports that Walmart-owned e-commerce business Hayneedle, which sells specialty home products, has begun a series of layoffs that will result in some 200 people being out of work.  The move comes as Walmart integrates Hayneedle's operations into those of its own website, though it will continue to operate Hayneedle's separate website.

    Published on: January 27, 2020

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

    •  In Oregon, the Malheur Enterprise reports that a federation of Oregon retail employees is circulating a petition that would call for a state ballot initiative that would "limit each grocery store to two of the checkout kiosks."

    According to the story, "The AFL-CIO contends self-checkout kiosks make customers feel socially isolated, particularly elderly people, and that the kiosks let stores rely more on part-time workers and leaves workers “feeling devalued.” They also claim self-checkout stands make it easier for minors to buy alcohol and for people to steal from stores."

    “We have been consistently concerned about the impacts of technology and automation on the livelihoods of working people, especially when they have no voice in how technology is used in their workplaces,” said Graham Trainor, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO. “You can see expansion of self-checkout machines in stores across the country and in Oregon.”

    What a crock.  This likely is less about keeping elderly people connected and keeping people employed (especially at a time of such low unemployment) than it is about helping the AFL-CIO maintain some power and leverage.  But it may pass … Oregon, after all, is one of two states (the other is New Jersey) that doesn't allow people to pump their own gasoline.

    Published on: January 27, 2020

    •  Hy-Vee announced that longtime executive Jay Marshall, the company's EVP and co-COO, has been named vice chairman.

    The company also said thatCraig Clasen, senior vice president of Retail Business Development, and Brett Bremser, executive vice president and CMO, have retired.

    Current Executive Vice President Darren Baty has been named the new CMO.

    Published on: January 27, 2020

    From the Los Angeles Times, about  basketball star Kobe Bryant, who died yesterday in a helicopter crash that also killed his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others:

    "By the end of his 20-year career - all of it spent with the Lakers - Bryant was a five-time world champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist with the U.S. team and 18-time All-Star. He ranks fourth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list; he was surpassed just this weekend by Laker star LeBron James.

    "In a manner befitting both his sophisticated background and the city where he spent his adult life, the 41-year-old had transitioned from athletic stardom to a post-basketball career that included an Oscar for the animated short <i>Dear Basketball</i>, a series of children’s books that became New York Times bestsellers and a growing business empire."

    Magic Johnson called Bryant "the greatest Laker of all time."

    Published on: January 27, 2020

    We had a story the other day about how Delta gave out the equivalent of two months' salary to employees as a bonus, with the CEO saying that they get "all the credit" for the company's superior performance.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Good for Delta and American to achieve record profits and employee bonus payouts. Wish they invested some of that money in offering a better product !…For those of us lucky enough to travel overseas, it is sad 

    that none of the USA airlines rank in Top 10 globally in terms of service and “product”.

    Singapore Air, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad, British Airways etc…….  all “much better”.

    It’s not that USA airlines couldn’t match or surpass other global airlines …..USA airlines choose to focus on profit.

    In many other industries, USA companies are leaders in service and innovation, our airlines are mediocre on the global playing field.

    MNB reader Monte Stowell wrote:

    Being a million miler on Delta Airlines, I would like to recall a wonderful Delta experience.

    I had several years ago. I was flying to Honolulu from Portland, OR, through LAX to Honolulu. This trip was going to earn me this coveted million miler status. About an hour or so, the stewardess came on the inter-com and mentioned that I had just earned the million miler status. They broke out champagne for everyone on the plane, and there was a round of applause from many of the passengers. The stewardess gave me a congratulatory letter from Delta and told me I would be receiving the gold card later in the mail. Customer service at its finest. Small gestures make a big difference, as this story was told by me to many of my fellow employees. Great employees make a big difference to their customer and also to the culture of a company. Count me in for what Delta is doing to share their good fortune.

    I think I saw this in a movie…wasn't Sam Elliott the pilot?

    Published on: January 27, 2020

    Digital strategies aren't just about creating alternatives to the bricks-and-mortar shopping experience.  Done effectively, they can actually bring people back to the store, while also eliminating customer anonymity, creating rich and actionable data, and deepen relationships between the store and consumer in a way that transcends the simple transaction.

    Our newest Retail Tomorrow podcast, which brings together a terrific panel of experts from a wide range of disciplines, was recorded at Google’s New York City offices during the recent National Retail Federation (NRF) Show.  Our guests:

    •  Matt Alexander, co-founder of Neighborhood Goods, an unusual and fascinating take on physical retailing with stores in Dallas and New York.

    •  Patrick Flanagan, senior vice president of digital marketing and strategy for Simon,  which has more than 200 properties in 37 states and Puerto Rico.

    •  Tom Furphy, CEO and Managing Director of Consumer Equity Partners, a member of the Retail Tomorrow podcast family and a regular contributor to "The Innovation Conversation" on MNB.

    •  And Jalna Silverstein, a leader in Ernst & Young’s Transaction Advisory Practice and its Real Estate, Consumer Experience and Retail Strategy.

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    This Retail Tomorrow podcast is sponsored by the Global Market Development Center (GMDC).

    Pictured below are our panel members, from left:  The Content Guy, Matt Alexander, Tom Furphy, Patrick Flanagan, Jalna Silverstein.



    Published on: January 27, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    It got a lot of attention last Friday when, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon said that the company plans to enact a new requirement for companies that it take through an IPO - they will have to have at least one "diverse" board candidate.

    "We’re not going to take a company public unless there’s at least one diverse board candidate, with a focus on women,” Solomon told CNBC, saying that the new rule will go into effect on July 1.

    It is, however, only a temporary requirement - as of 2021, Goldman Sachs will require two diverse board members.

    "We might miss some business, but in the long run, this I think is the best advice for companies that want to drive premium returns for their shareholders over time,” Solomon said.

    The Times noted that this is becoming a trend, that "money-management firms BlackRock and State Street plan to vote against directors at companies without a female director. And California-based public companies with all-male boards face a $100,000 fine."

    Seems to me that this is an important statement, not just because of the specific changes it will require of companies that want to work with Goldman, which last year was the largest underwriter of US IPOs.

    It also send a valuable broader message - that companies with a diversity of views will tend to do better in terms of long-term performance.

    There was a story from CNBC late last year that reinforced this message:

    "For every female CEO in the U.S. there were 19 male chief executives, while there were 6.5 male CFOs for every woman in the role at the end of 2018, the report said.

    "In the two years following a new CEO appointment, the stock price for companies that appointed female chief executives outperformed those that appointed men by an average of 20%, the data showed.

    "When women were appointed as chief financial officers (CFOs), companies saw different benefits, the report said … In the 24 months following the appointment of a female CFO, these companies outperformed those with newly-appointed male CFOs by 8% on share price returns, the research said. They also outperformed by 6% on profitability in the same period," because they "drove more value appreciation, better defended profitability moats, and delivered excess risk-adjusted returns for their firms."

    The very definition, I think, of an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 27, 2020

    Bloomberg reports that Walmart "is testing out a higher minimum starting wage for certain jobs in hundreds of stores as part of a broader overhaul of roles and responsibilities across its massive U.S. workforce."

    The company said that in about 500 stores, "some associates in the fresh, front-end and replenishment areas will see their hourly pay rise from $11 an hour to $12."

    According to the story, the raises are a test, and "right now the company has no plans to raise its minimum starting wage across the board to its 1.5 million U.S. employees, the biggest private workforce in the nation. The redefined roles carry more responsibility, Walmart has said, which justifies the higher compensation. Still, the move could be Walmart’s first step toward boosting its starting pay, which it last raised in 2018."
    KC's View:
    The story makes the point that Walmart is reclassifying the roles with the higher wages, calling them "team associates," and stressing that they are going to have more responsibilities in their stores.

    I hope it also is a higher recognition that these stores are only going to be as good as the people who manage them and work there. I'd bet that only a tiny percentage of Walmart shoppers could name anyone in its executive suite, but their experiences are affected by in-store employees every time they walk in the front door.

    Published on: January 27, 2020

    Bloomberg this morning reports that "more than 350 Amazon.com Inc. employees contributed public statements focused on the company’s climate practices, defying company policy and escalating a feud between management and a coalition of concerned workers."

    The statements were posted on the Medium website, and come just weeks "after it emerged that Amazon had threatened workers who had talked to the Washington Post with disciplinary action or termination if they continued to speak publicly about the company without authorization."

    The employees defying company orders are described as "members of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, an organization that has been campaigning for more than a year to get Amazon to cut ties with fossil fuel companies and commit to limiting its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions."

    In a statement, Amazon says that "while all employees are welcome to engage constructively with any of the many teams inside Amazon that work on sustainability and other topics, we do enforce our external communications policy and will not allow employees to publicly disparage or misrepresent the company or the hard work of their colleagues who are developing solutions to these hard problems."

    Amazon has maintained that it is working hard on environmental issues, with CEO/founder Jeff Bezos announcing "an initiative aimed at making his company a net-zero carbon emitter by 2040."
    KC's View:
    As big a fan and user of Amazon as I am, I would never argue that it is the most sustainability-conscious company out there - so much of its business model is built on actions that run contrary to the things that sustainability activists talk about. It is all about priorities … and I, like a lot of people, sometimes make selfish choices that prioritize convenience over the environment.

    I don't think Amazon is going to fire anyone, at least not right away. I hope there are no repercussions. There would be too much blowback, and Amazon would be seen as not being the kind of company many of us think it is.

    Bezos needs to find a way to embrace these folks, and make them part of the solution … as opposed to treating them like they are part of the problem. Employees - and customers - expect more of the companies with which they do business, and leaders have to factor that in to how they behave.

    Published on: January 27, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that "hundreds of regional grocery stores in cities from Minneapolis to Seattle are closing or selling pharmacy counters, which have been struggling as consumers make fewer trips to fill prescriptions and big drugstore chains tighten their grip on the U.S. market."

    The regional chains, the story says, "are too small to wrest competitive reimbursement rates on drugs, they aren’t connected to big medical networks or insurers, and they generally lack walk-in clinics and other health services that draw many customers to CVS and Walgreens locations."

    In addition, "Consumers are increasingly getting 90-day supplies of their medicines or getting prescriptions delivered in the mail. Those trends are resulting in a decline in foot traffic to supermarket pharmacies, which were typically located at the back of stores. Meantime, profits are ever harder to come by as the health-care industry consolidates."
    KC's View:
    I totally get the economic motivations for closing down pharmacies. Even when they were being opened, I remember execs telling me how pharmacies took the longest of store departments to become profitable, but were worth the wait because they created a different kind of bond between shopper and store.

    When stores close down their pharmacies, they need to find new and different ways to create and sustain those bonds. The prescription for success is better connections and strong differentiation … not just paring away the stuff that doesn't work.

    Published on: January 27, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal this morning has a piece about how retailers' CFOs need to "exercise caution when it comes to investments and expansion, and closely watch the economy," continuing to monitor "freight costs, commodity costs, 'shrink' - also known as theft - and other expenses that could make a dent in profit margins."

    While the economy continues to hum along in a lot of sector, there also have been a number of major retailers that "posted disappointing holiday sales"; in addition, there continue to be retailers that are closing many of their stores. The fact is, the Journal writes, "global trade conflicts, an upcoming presidential election and mixed signals on consumer spending are painting a murky picture for retail finance chiefs."

    Experts tell the Journal that "as online purchases make up an increasingly large share of total retail sales, CFOs are making company-specific investments to strengthen their top line and to hold their ground against rivals and e-commerce giants. Companies such as Lowe’s Cos . and Target Corp. have been expanding their internal technology teams to build point-of-sale software and inventory-management systems.

    "CFOs will continue to lead initiatives such as loyalty programs, and they will further efforts to allow more shoppers to buy products online and then pick them up in the store." But they also need to be "especially cautious about expanding their businesses and deciding whether to add or shutter storefronts."
    KC's View:
    One of the things that stood out to be in the story was the analyst who described a world in which there is "a tale of two CFOs" - there is a clear delineation between the companies that have been preparing for the future and are moving forward, and those that are grappling just to stay above water.

    I am also reminded of something that Scott Moses, managing director at PJ Solomon always talks about - the vast and often crippling difference between companies that have access to low-cost capital, and those that do not, and therefore are at an enormous disadvantage. CFOs at the latter companies may not be sleeping particularly well these days

    The widening gap between retailers running strong franchises and maintaining steady cash flows and those fighting to survive has engendered “a tale of two CFOs." It reminds me of the Shakespeare line from "Henry IV, Part II" … "We have heard the chimes at midnight"…

    For a lot of these companies, they heard the chimes at midnight because the times were good and the living was easy. But now, they hear the chimes in a different context, because death looms.

    Published on: January 27, 2020

    The New York Times has a story about sports apparel company Under Armour, which was "once heralded as the next Nike." Now, however, "Under Armour has faltered, hurt by slumping sales and unflattering revelations about its corporate culture."

    The company, according to the Times, has "faced tough scrutiny, resulting in lawsuits from shareholders, who accuse the company of misleading investors, and media coverage around real estate deals involving the company and (its CEO's) private holdings. Questions have also arisen about a culture that allowed strip club visits to be expensed on corporate credit cards and, more recently, a disclosure by The Wall Street Journal that federal authorities are conducting investigations into accounting practices."

    The Times writes that "there is no one cause of Under Armour’s struggles. Some factors, like the bankruptcies of the retail giants Sports Authority and Sport Chalet in 2016, were out of the company’s control.

    "But interviews with several current and former Under Armour employees as well as competitors, advisers to athletes, and financial analysts also point to a company that tried to do too much too fast. It expanded into sports in which it had little expertise and failed to articulate a strategy for its expensive tech acquisitions. It eschewed the athleisure trend, which has buoyed sales at Nike and Adidas, and struggled to translate its brand to an international audience."

    The story is worth reading here.
    KC's View:
    The story quotes CEO Kevin Plank as saying, "The world did not need another competent apparel or footwear manufacturer. What the customer needs is a dream."

    Which I agree with. But what he didn't seem to understand is that means matter, not just ends. And these days, more than ever, customers and investors are able to learn more than they ever knew in the past about not just the performance of a company, but the embedded culture. These things matter.

    Published on: January 27, 2020

    Clayton M. Christensen, the Harvard Business School professor who wrote "The Innovator’s Dilemma," which cemented his reputation as superstar management guru, has passed away at age 67. The cause was complications for leukemia.

    An excerpt from the New York Times obituary:

    "The Innovator’s Dilemma" … was published during the technology boom of the late 1990s. It trumpeted Professor Christensen’s assertion that the factors that helped the best companies succeed - listening responsively to customers, investing aggressively in technology products that satisfied customers’ next-generation needs - were the exact same reasons some of these companies failed.

    "These corporate giants were so focused on doing the very things that had been taught for generations at the nation’s top business schools, he wrote, that they were blindsided by small, fast-moving, innovative companies that were able to enter markets nimbly with disruptive products and services and grab large chunks of market share. By laying out a blueprint for how executives could identify and respond to these disruptive forces, Professor Christensen, himself an entrepreneur and former management consultant, struck a chord with high-tech corporate leaders."

    The Times also has this observation about Christensen:

    "On the last day of his management class every semester, he wrote, he asked his students to “turn those theoretical lenses on themselves” and answer three questions: 'First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?'

    "He noted that several former classmates, including Jeffrey Skilling, the former chief executive of Enron, had spent time in prison. 'These were good guys — but something in their lives sent them off in the wrong direction,' he wrote. Ultimately, the realization that his ideas had generated enormous revenue for companies that used his research left him dissatisfied. 'I know I’ve had substantial impact,' he wrote. 'But as I’ve confronted this disease, it’s been interesting to see how unimportant that impact is on me now. I’ve concluded that the metric by which God will assess my life isn’t dollars but the individual people whose lives I’ve touched.

    "'Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved,' he continued; 'worry about the individuals you have helped become better people'."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 27, 2020

    At its annual Midwinter conference in Arizona, FMI-the Food Industry Association presented a number of Executive Leaderships Awards.

    • Kevin Davis, president and Co-CEO, Bristol Farms, received the Sidney R. Rabb Award, which recognizes "contributions to the industry, consumers and community."

    • Mark Skogen, president and CEO, Festival Foods, received the Robert B. Wegman Award, lauded for pushing "for new and innovative in-store experiences to better serve the customers."

    • Craig Boyan, president, H-E-B, received the Glen P. Woodard, Jr. Award
    for his involvement in public affairs initiatives.

    • Al Carey, PepsiCo's retired North America CEO, received the William H. Albers Award, "for sparking collaboration between brands and retailers, as well as front-line associates that trickled directly down to the consumer."

    • Henry Johnson, the retired president of W. Lee Flowers & Co., received the Herbert Hoover Award, for having "embedded his humanitarianism and passion for philanthropy in his leadership."

    • Natalie Menza-Crowe, RD, MS, director of health and wellness, Wakefern Food Corp, received the Esther Peterson Award for creating "dynamic programs that educate and inspire consumers and associates to embrace the importance of healthy eating to make balanced nutritional decisions."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 27, 2020

    • The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that "new warehouse construction across North America is expected to outstrip demand over this year and next, according to a new report that suggests a yearslong boom in industrial space fed by e-commerce growth may be shifting in favor of tenants."

    The numbers are clear: More than 300 million square feet of warehouse space is expected to be opened this year, and another 272 million square feet next year, but tenants are expected to lease only 272 million and 218 million square feet, respectively.

    The Journal writes that "tight space has driven down vacancy rates and driven up rental prices, but companies said last year that the industrial real-estate market was getting closer to a balance between supply and demand."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 27, 2020

    USA Today reports that Walmart-owned e-commerce business Hayneedle, which sells specialty home products, has begun a series of layoffs that will result in some 200 people being out of work. The move comes as Walmart integrates Hayneedle's operations into those of its own website, though it will continue to operate Hayneedle's separate website.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 27, 2020

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

    • In Oregon, the Malheur Enterprise reports that a federation of Oregon retail employees is circulating a petition that would call for a state ballot initiative that would "limit each grocery store to two of the checkout kiosks."

    According to the story, "The AFL-CIO contends self-checkout kiosks make customers feel socially isolated, particularly elderly people, and that the kiosks let stores rely more on part-time workers and leaves workers “feeling devalued.” They also claim self-checkout stands make it easier for minors to buy alcohol and for people to steal from stores."

    “We have been consistently concerned about the impacts of technology and automation on the livelihoods of working people, especially when they have no voice in how technology is used in their workplaces,” said Graham Trainor, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO. “You can see expansion of self-checkout machines in stores across the country and in Oregon.”

    What a crock. This likely is less about keeping elderly people connected and keeping people employed (especially at a time of such low unemployment) than it is about helping the AFL-CIO maintain some power and leverage. But it may pass … Oregon, after all, is one of two states (the other is New Jersey) that doesn't allow people to pump their own gasoline.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 27, 2020

    • Hy-Vee announced that longtime executive Jay Marshall, the company's EVP and co-COO, has been named vice chairman.

    The company also said thatCraig Clasen, senior vice president of Retail Business Development, and Brett Bremser, executive vice president and CMO, have retired.

    Current Executive Vice President Darren Baty has been named the new CMO.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 27, 2020

    From the Los Angeles Times, about basketball star Kobe Bryant, who died yesterday in a helicopter crash that also killed his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others:

    "By the end of his 20-year career - all of it spent with the Lakers - Bryant was a five-time world champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist with the U.S. team and 18-time All-Star. He ranks fourth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list; he was surpassed just this weekend by Laker star LeBron James.

    "In a manner befitting both his sophisticated background and the city where he spent his adult life, the 41-year-old had transitioned from athletic stardom to a post-basketball career that included an Oscar for the animated short Dear Basketball, a series of children’s books that became New York Times bestsellers and a growing business empire."

    Magic Johnson called Bryant "the greatest Laker of all time."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 27, 2020

    We had a story the other day about how Delta gave out the equivalent of two months' salary to employees as a bonus, with the CEO saying that they get "all the credit" for the company's superior performance.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Good for Delta and American to achieve record profits and employee bonus payouts. Wish they invested some of that money in offering a better product !…For those of us lucky enough to travel overseas, it is sad
    that none of the USA airlines rank in Top 10 globally in terms of service and “product”.

    Singapore Air, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad, British Airways etc…….  all “much better”.

    It’s not that USA airlines couldn’t match or surpass other global airlines …..USA airlines choose to focus on profit.

    In many other industries, USA companies are leaders in service and innovation, our airlines are mediocre on the global playing field.


    MNB reader Monte Stowell wrote:

    Being a million miler on Delta Airlines, I would like to recall a wonderful Delta experience.

    I had several years ago. I was flying to Honolulu from Portland, OR, through LAX to Honolulu. This trip was going to earn me this coveted million miler status. About an hour or so, the stewardess came on the inter-com and mentioned that I had just earned the million miler status. They broke out champagne for everyone on the plane, and there was a round of applause from many of the passengers. The stewardess gave me a congratulatory letter from Delta and told me I would be receiving the gold card later in the mail. Customer service at its finest. Small gestures make a big difference, as this story was told by me to many of my fellow employees. Great employees make a big difference to their customer and also to the culture of a company. Count me in for what Delta is doing to share their good fortune.


    I think I saw this in a movie…wasn't Sam Elliott the pilot?
    KC's View: