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    Published on: September 16, 2020

    By Michael Sansolo

    In his terrific interview with famed sportswriter Mike Lupica earlier this week, Kevin asked which coaches Lupica cites as the best. It was hardly surprising that Lupica named Red Auerbach and Bill Parcells.

    After all, Auerbach was the legendary coach and general manager of the Boston Celtics during a period of success that remains unequaled decades later. And Parcells took all three pro football teams he coached to achievements far beyond what was expected. In fact, at one point a major sports magazine called him “God’s coach.”

    Keep in mind though that each man had the good fortune of coaching a player who is still cited as changing his game. Auerbach had Bill Russell and Parcells had Lawrence Taylor.

    Business managers could learn a lot from what Lupica had to say about both coaches, but the odds are that your team doesn’t have a Russell or Taylor, so your challenge is quite different. And for that reason, I want to discuss a manager who appears on no one’s list of greats: Luis Rojas, the first-year manager of the New York Mets. I think you might relate to him more easily.

    By now you have probably learned that the Mets are the favored team of your faithful MNB correspondents. Kevin and I both learned to love them in childhood and despite countless years of heartbreak; we hang in there, loyally rooting for a team almost synonymous with frustrating inconsistency and ownership ineptitude.

    Believe me, no one cheered when Rojas got the job. He was hired when, as could only happen to the Mets, the previous manager was fired before he ever coached a single game thanks to his entanglement in the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal. Rojas it seemed, was who they could find.

    So far, he hasn’t produced success on the order of Auerbach or Parcells. The Mets are lumbering through the Covid-shortened season with their usual mediocrity and mind-numbing problems. 

    Yet a recent article from SNY Sports urged the Mets’ new owner to recognize that his manager is most definitely the man for the job. 

    Rojas took the job facing a number of challenges including a fading star player who is basically the same age as the manager. Baseball insiders questioned whether Rojas could control that star, yet from the start of the season Rojas has made moves that demonstrate he can.

    When the SNY reporter asked people around the team if those moves had damaged Rojas’ relationships, he was told just the very opposite. The players, he was told, love Rojas.

    The reasons are simple. Rojas is great at communicating with players, talking to them individually when there are problems or changes afoot. The manager is also very open and upfront about his own mistakes. And when his players struggled, as many athletes have recently, to grapple with issues tied to social unrest and inequality, Rojas sat and talked about the issues with them.

    The Mets may not yet be winners, but they have cohesion.

    Rojas’ skills - a willingness to listen, to honestly own up to blame and to avoid embarrassing anyone publicly are traits any manager could and should copy.  As a Mets fan I hope it all translates into wins, but as managers we can all learn a lesson from Rojas as much as we can from Parcells or Auerbach.

    Especially when most of us don’t have Bill Russell or Lawrence Taylor on our teams.

    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 here.

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

    Published on: September 16, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    There is a lot of conversation about how the pandemic has affected people young and old.  The young, we say, are losing a year of their lives that is important in their academic and social development.  The old, we say, are losing a year of their lives at a time when there aren't that many years left.

    And so I found this to be heartening and Eye-Opening.

    The Boston Globe reports that when Boston College held its annual (and, this year, virtual) First Year Academic Convocation, the guest speaker was Bruce Springsteen, who came to them via Zoom from his New Jersey home studio.

    Springsteen referred to the students as the “coronial generation," and said, in part:

    “What you’re about to embark on will be the greatest adventure of your young life.  You can waste it, you can half-ass your way through it, or you can absorb every minute of what you’re experiencing, and come out on the other end an individual of expanded vision, of intellectual vigor, of spiritual character and grace, fully prepared to meet the world again on its own terms.”

    Y'know something?

    Not just young people.

    Published on: September 16, 2020

    National Public Radio's Marketplace reports that Walmart has now officially launched "a new subscription program called Walmart Plus. It costs $98 a year, or $12.95 a month, for unlimited shipping and other perks like discounted gas and the ability to pay from your phone when you shop in stores."

    It is Walmart's response to Amazon Prime.  The service had been delayed several times when the coronavirus pandemic created different priorities.

    KC's View:

    I found the story's reference to a Mintel study to be fascinating - that "20% of subscription customers would consider switching to another service if the benefits were more valuable."  Which presumably is a reference to the estimated 150 million Prime members.

    To be honest, I'm dubious about whether Walmart would be able to dislodge 30 million Prime members from Amazon … and there is an interesting quote from Tom Meyvis, professor of consumer behavior at New York University’s Stern School of Business.  He suggests that people who don't may not be motivated as much by loyalty as by laziness:  "“We’re lazy, we don’t want to think too much.  So as long as things are going OK, we tend not to change.”

    Though, to be honest, I probably couldn't change if I wanted to.  I can't even sample Walmart+ … because when I tried to yesterday, this is the response I got:

    That said, Walmart does have to play this game, I think … because Amazon's goal is to be as intertwined in people's lives as possible, there's no question that it had to provide its own alternative to Prime.

    Published on: September 16, 2020

    The New York Times reports that despite pledges by many US corporations to increase the diversity of their boards, on the three thousand largest publicly traded companies these boards "remain overwhelmingly white. Underrepresented ethnic and racial groups make up 40 percent of the U.S. population but just 12.5 percent of board directors, up from 10 percent in 2015, according to a new analysis by the Institutional Shareholder Services’ ESG division."

    The story goes on:  "Black directors make up just 4 percent of the total, up from 3 percent in 2015, while Black women make up just 1.5 percent of the more than 20,000 directors included in the analysis, which goes beyond other surveys that included only the 500 largest public companies."

    Why this matters:  Boards of directors, the Times writes, "make decisions that affect the livelihoods of millions … Board members have a lot of power because they are ultimately responsible for directing companies. A board approves a company’s strategy and most important goals, hires the chief executive and determines how much it will pay senior executives. A special board committee nominates new members and, as a result, has the power to make boards more diverse by seeking out candidates who are not white men."

    The story notes that "a group of 44 executives and organizations last week announced the Board Challenge, a campaign that calls on companies to add a Black director within the next 12 months."  In addition, "the California Legislature recently passed a bill that would require companies with headquarters in the state to have at least one board member from an underrepresented ethnic group, or who identifies as gay, bisexual or transgender, by the end of 2021."  (Gov. Gavin Newsom has not said whether he will sign the bill.)

    Institutional Shareholder Services’ ESG division, the Times notes, " advises investors on how to vote in board elections and on other corporate matters."

    Published on: September 16, 2020

    On CNBC yesterday, John Mackey, CEO of Amazon-owned Whole Foods, said that "we’ve made three significant price reductions since the merger, and we have a fourth that we’re beginning now."

    And, he said, “We’re going to continue to lower our prices over time at Whole Foods.  Cut our costs, lower prices, get more business, lower prices, cut costs, and so I think we’re in a virtuous circle right now."

    KC's View:

    Interesting that Mackey would use the term "virtuous circle."  I know there are many - some of them have sent me emails - who would suggest that it is more of a vicious circle, because the cutting isn't just of excess fat, but also some of the bone that makes up Whole Foods' critical - and differentiating - skeletal infrastructure.

    That said … it has to be noted that when Amazon bought Whole Foods, the company was int rouble because it could not seem to shake a "whole paycheck" image that was inhibiting its growth.

    Published on: September 16, 2020

    Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic and how businesses and various business sectors are trying to recover from it, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  In the United States, we've now crossed a line - there have been 200,197 deaths from the Covid-19 coronavirus, with a total of 6,788,147 total confirmed cases and 4,068,086 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 29,757,889 confirmed coronavirus cases, 939,755 fatalities, and 21,560,131 reported recoveries.

    •  From the Washington Post:

    "It’s unlikely that the world will return to normal 'pre-covid' life before 2022, Soumya Swaminathan, the World Health Organization’s chief science officer, said Tuesday.

    Here's the money quote, from the Post story:

    "'The way that people are picturing it is that in January you have vaccines for the whole world and things will start going back to normal,'" Swaminathan said.  "But that 'is not how it works,' she said, adding that the most realistic timeline places the rollout of a vaccine sometime in the middle of 2021. Even once that happens, she warned, immunizing a significant portion of the world’s population won’t happen overnight, and masking and social distancing will be necessary for quite some time.

    "'Those will have to continue after the vaccine starts getting rolled out, because we need 60 percent to 70 percent of the population to have immunity before you will start seeing a dramatic reduction in transmission of this virus,' Swaminathan said … 'We also don’t know how long these vaccines will protect for — that’s the other big question mark: How long does immunity last? And it’s possible that you will need a booster'."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "New coronavirus cases in the U.S. rose to more than 52,000, the highest daily total in more than a month, as wildfires in some Western states and an approaching hurricane in the Southeast opened potential pathways for the virus to spread further.

    "The wildfires in California, Oregon and Washington state have killed at least 34 people and are part of a wider outbreak that has scorched more than 4.7 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Health experts say the wildfires make it harder for people to take preventive measures against the virus as people are forced to seek shelter."

    •  CNN reports that "since many Florida public schools opened their doors about a month ago, the number of children under 18 who have contracted Covid-19 statewide has jumped 26%, state data show."

    However, the story suggests that the state has been reticent to provide school-level data about infections.  "To deal with this information gap, some school districts have created their own Covid-19 data dashboards or released coronavirus case numbers on social media pages or their websites. While useful in those jurisdictions, the overall result is a patchwork of data that varies in completeness and timeliness by district at a time when students, parents, teachers and administrators are making tough decisions about whether to opt for virtual or in-person learning."

    •  The New York Times reports that "universities across the country have faced daunting challenges in trying to resume in-person instruction. But the disarray at SUNY Oneonta has left university officials scrambling to explain why they did not put in place a strict monitoring system to prevent the virus from gaining a foothold. The oversight of the broader State University of New York system has also been called into question.

    "Students, parents and staff members said they were dismayed that SUNY Oneonta did not require students to have negative virus tests before they arrived. Nor did the university test students once they came to campus. The university also did not closely prevent gatherings in off-campus housing.

    "The fallout has been swift.

    "Next semester, all SUNY schools will be required to develop testing plans, and surveillance testing is now mandatory on every campus, according to the system chancellor, Jim Malatras.

    "SUNY is also conducting a review on 'what went right and what went wrong' at Oneonta, the chancellor said, adding that 'clearly, things went wrong'."

    •  From CNBC:

    "New data from the National Restaurant Association outline how hard the industry has been hit by the pandemic, with an estimated $165 billion in sales lost from March through July and more than 8 million workers either furloughed or laid off at the peak of the outbreak. The industry advocacy group projects that 15% of all eating and drinking places, some 100,000 establishments, are not open for business in any capacity. It remains to be seen how many of these closures become permanent."

    •  The Boston Globe has a story about the degree to which the pandemic has affected the city's North End, where there are m ore than 100 restaurants in just a few square blocks.

    "The troubles of the city’s most celebrated restaurant neighborhood are representative of what eateries throughout the region have experienced," the Globe writes.  "And while it has the advantage of being a dining destination, that has its own drawbacks: Its intimate spaces may become too close for socially distant comfort as the chill sets in. Many eateries have struggled to make their take-out menus stand out in a sea of Italian fare. And as restaurant closures mount throughout the city, everyone wonders just how many will be able to weather the winter. If restaurants in the North End aren’t able to survive, then who can?"

    It tells you something that one of the restaurant owners quoted in the piece has added a new daily ritual - she goes to Mass.  And then she goes to her restaurant, which she says she is keeping open "to give my employees a job.  I keep pouring more and more money of my own into it and pretty soon that’s going to have to stop."

    •  The Washington Post has an update on the Maine wedding that took place in early August, attended by just 65 people.

    Those nuptials, the story says, "began an outbreak now traced to more than 175 reported coronavirus infections and also to the deaths of seven people, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday."

    Here's the kicker:  None of the seven people who died attended the wedding.

    Breaking news from the Washington Post this morning:

    "Just over a month after the Big Ten became the first major conference to postpone the 2020 football season, the league reserved its decision Wednesday and announced plans to begin playing the weekend of Oct. 23-24.

    "The Big Ten will have medical protocols that include daily coronavirus testing and enhanced cardiac screening, the announcement said. The conference’s university presidents and chancellors voted unanimously to resume the season.

    "The four teams participating in this season’s College Football Playoff will be announced Dec. 20. The Big Ten would have eight weeks for regular-season games and then presumably a conference championship held just before the playoff committee’s selection. However, a date for the conference championship game was not included in the Big Ten’s announcement."

    Here's what I want to know.  Will the student athletes be asked or required to sign liability waivers which will absolve the universities or the NCAA of any responsibility if a student who might've gone on to play in the NFL gets sick and no longer can play?  If they are, that'll tell us everything we need to know about this decision.

    Published on: September 16, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The BBC reports that Ocado, having ended its relationship with Waitrose in the UK when it sold a 50 percent share in the company to Marks & Spencer for the equivalent of $967 million (US), has seen strong results, with average basket size increasing by five times.

    Ocado said yesterday that "customers had 'responded positively to the switchover', with 'demand for the new range driving both an increase in the number of products in customer baskets and strong forward demand'," the BBC writes.  The story quotes Ocado as saying that "the weighting of M&S products in the average Ocado basket is higher than Waitrose prior to the switchover, reflecting positive customer reaction to the addition of M&S to the range."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "Christmas came early for FedEx" this year as the delivery company "posted the highest quarterly revenue in its history as the coronavirus pandemic spurred residential-shipment levels normally seen during the holiday season.

    "FedEx shipped 31% more packages a day through its Ground network during the summer months. The extra cargo boosted profit more than 60% for the three months ended Aug. 31.

    "More consumers are buying products such as laptops and toilet paper online because of temporary store closures and pandemic restrictions. That has primarily been a boon to the FedEx Ground business, which handles shipments for chains such as Target Corp. and Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc.  Those retailers reported e-commerce sales more than doubled in their latest quarters.

    "FedEx expects the trend to stick. It now projects an average of 100 million parcels will be shipped daily in the U.S. across all carriers sometime in 2023, compared with its previous forecast of hitting that milestone in 2026."

    •  USA Today reports that Amazon has "unveiled its new shopping page Luxury Stores, where only selected Amazon Prime members can shop for high-end brands.

    "The retail giant's Luxury Stores will be available in the Amazon app by invitation only, according to the company. Prime members that did not yet receive an invitation via email can request one by visiting Luxury Stores will extend invitations to more shoppers in the future.

    "Collections are sold directly from the participating brands. The luxury brands independently make decisions regarding their inventory, selection, and pricing, while Amazon offers the merchandising tools for brands to create and personalize their content."

    I'm feeling a little unappreciated at the moment.  I can't use Walmart+ subscription services, and I wasn't invited by Amazon to shop on its Luxury Stores page.

    Published on: September 16, 2020

    •  Kroger announced that employees in its Dallas division have ratified a new labor agreement between the retailer and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).

    According to the company, the agreement includes "increased wages for all associates, ratification bonuses and retroactive pay for department heads, store leads, high-performing associates and other store positions," and "improved Kroger health benefits including lower associate contributions and lower deductibles."

    The new agreement impacts more than 11,000 associates covered under the Kroger Dallas division collective bargaining agreement with UFCW Local 1000.

    •  From the Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal:

    "A full-service Lunds & Byerlys is coming to the Highland Bridge development on the former Ford site in St. Paul's Highland Park neighborhood.

    "Lund Food Holdings Inc. announced Tuesday it entered into a long-term lease agreement with Ryan Cos., the developer of the 122-acre piece of land which is expected to bring 3,800 housing units, 265,000 square feet of office space and 150,000 square feet of office space.

    "The new 51,000-square-foot grocery store is anticipated to open in 2022 and will include two levels of covered parking. The new store is slated to anchor the first large mixed-use project at Highland Bridge, which also includes 230 apartments.

    "The grocery chain will relocate an existing store on Ford Parkway, currently just outside the redevelopment site."

    •  Fox Business reports that Kraft Heinz has "reached a deal to sell its U.S. natural-cheese business and a mix of other cheese brands in North America and internationally to France’s Groupe Lactalis SA for $3.2 billion."

    The story suggests that the sale is "a sign of the challenges facing food companies whose scale complicated operations as the coronavirus pandemic drove unprecedented demand … The maker of Heinz ketchup and Oscar Mayer deli meats, among many other foods, said the sale is part of its plan to simplify its business and focus on brands that have the best potential to resonate with contemporary consumers."

    •  The Associated Press reports that "Kohl's, whose sales have been hurt by the pandemic, said Tuesday that it will cut 15% of its office workers to save money.

    "The company declined to say how many people will lose their jobs. The layoffs will be at its headquarters in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, as well as offices in New York and Milpitas, California … Kohl's Corp. said cutting the jobs will save it about $65 million a year."

    Published on: September 16, 2020

    •  Ahold Delhaize-owned Retail Business Services announced the retirement of Paul Scorza, Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer.  Scorza reportedly will remain with the company in an advisory role while a successor is sought.

    Published on: September 16, 2020

    William Gates Sr., the father of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, has passed away at 94.  The Seattle Times writes that Bill Gates Jr. had revealed in 2018 that his father had Alzheimer's disease, and committed $100 million to Alzheimer’s research.

    The Times also writes:

    "Gates was a prominent Seattle attorney and the founding partner of one of the region’s best-known law firms. But it was his son’s fortune in the tech field that made the name 'Bill Gates' known the world over. And it launched an entirely different path for the elder Gates when he was nearly 70.

    "That’s when he became one of the guiding forces behind the William H. Gates Foundation — later renamed the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, after his son and daughter-in-law. It is one of the largest private foundations in the world.

    "'Dad lived a long and enormously meaningful life. I never stopped learning from his wisdom, kindness, and humility. Melinda and I owe him a special debt because his commitment to serving the community and the world helped inspire our own philanthropy,' his son said in a statement Tuesday.  'Although he would be the last person to say it, my father’s compassion and generosity will live on in the foundation he helped build. As I’ve said many times before, my dad was the real Bill Gates. He was all the things I strive to be'."

    Published on: September 16, 2020

    The other day we took note of a Washington Post piece speculating about a likely successor to Jeff Bezos at Amazon - Andy Jassy, the 52-year-old head of Amazon Web Services, or AWS, the company’s cloud computing business.

    I commented:

    The only thing I don't get about this admittedly entirely speculative story is how a 56 year old white guy would be looking at a 52 year old white guy as a possible replacement.  Maybe if Bezos gets hit tomorrow by a bus, or by a falling space satellite.  But it seems to me that if Bezos is planning to stick around for another decade or more - and there's no evidence that he's thinking otherwise - then I think it is at least possible that thew net has to be cast wider and more inclusively.

    MNB reader Jeff Weidauer wrote:

    Right on Kevin. I’m a little confused by the WP’s perspective here, especially given its political leanings. Bezos and the Amazon board should be looking at a younger and more diverse set of candidates, and grooming them appropriately. There is no shortage of talent, only shortsightedness in planning. 50-something white guys (like me) aren’t the future.

    For the record, this was a speculative piece in the Post business section, not in the op-ed pages … and so political leanings don't really come into it.

    The same day, responding to our story about Amazon building 100 buildings and hiring 100,000 people, one MNB reader wrote:

    Tell me again why Amazon is valued as a tech stock?

    I would refer you back to the story about Andy Jassy being a possible successor for Jeff Bezos.  Jassy, remember, runs AWS.  And there's this passage from the story that we quoted:

    "Jassy’s Amazon career is defined by his leading Amazon into a wholly new market, cloud computing, a business the company has come to dominate just as aggressively as it leads in the world of e-commerce. And the fact that Jassy is now most likely to succeed Bezos offers insight into Amazon: that the company still values high-risk, high-reward bets and is less defined by online shopping than some might think."

    That's why Amazon is valued as a tech stock.

    We were talking here about whether or not Whole Foods has lost a step since being acquired by Amazon, prompting one MNB reader to write:

    I used to love Whole Foods. When I started working for a grocer after I left my job at a wholesaler, I admired and feared Whole Foods as a formidable competitor to our little stores. Now when I’ve visited since the full Amazon-ing of their stores I feel saddened - the stores in my city have lost their souls. I don’t know of another way to describe it. That ‘it’ thing Whole Foods had is gone. They are now another retailer running head to head with others in town, not leaders. Not special, no romance, no awe, and no fabulousness. And their prepared foods are lackluster at best. They say that when business grow really big, the niches open up. I can tell you that we’re doing our very best to fill those holes in our market. We don’t have the luxury of losing our soul. 

    MNB reader Jill LeBrasseur wrote in about the current movie-going experience:

    The Hubby and I went to see The New Mutants on Wednesday last week at 6:15pm and had the entire theater to ourselves.

    Y'think that had to do with people being concerned about the theater experience, or with The New Mutants?  (From what I hear, it might've been the same had there been no pandemic.)

    Regarding Walmart's diversity efforts, one MNB reader wrote:

    Good business folks and their hearts are right, starting at the top.  They hire good people.

    On another subject, one MNB reader wrote:

    I enjoyed your interview with Mike Lupica. Being an east coast guy I was not surprised by his choice of Bill Parcels/Red Auerbach as the 2 best leaders he knew. As a West Coast guy, I’d like to cast a vote for John Wooden. His coaching record of a winning percentage over 80% and 10 national championships speak for themselves. More importantly he was a leader of young men. I was fortunate to have lunch with Coach Wooden when he was 85. I asked for advice on raising my son who had just had his first birthday. Coach recited a poem “When a Little Fellow Follows Me”. It’s been my most prized possession since he mailed me an autographed copy with a personal inscription.

    Also responding to the Lupica point about Bill Parcells, another MNB reader sent me a Boston Globe column by Dan Shaughnessy from about a year ago in which the now-retired coach talked about the Patriots' ability to hold onto the football.

    "“I don’t think there’s anything more important,’’ Parcells told Shaughnessy.  “The study we used to do back in the Pleistocene Era when dinosaurs were allowed to coach - if you were minus-1, you lost 75 percent of the time. If you were minus-2, you lost 83 percent of the time. And if you were minus-3, you lost 94 percent of the time. I’m sure it’s pretty close to that now.

    "I don’t want to sound like a jerk, but I always said, 'My backs don’t fumble.' If you do fumble, you’ll be somebody else’s back."

    Parcells went on:

    "“I used to have the ‘red zone don’ts.'  No sacks. No penalties. No turnovers. No exotic snap counts. Because exotic snap counts lead to offsides and false starts.

    "So every time we would go to practice in the red zone, we would repeat those things. If throwing the ball away is a good play, then sacks, strip sacks, and interceptions are bad plays. Those are the things I would point to."

    In other words, avoid mistakes and self-inflicted wounds.

    Good lesson.  In business and sports.

    And finally, this reaction to my chosen wardrobe during a FaceTime video this week:

    Just LOVE the Brooklyn Dodgers cap.

    Thanks.  Me, too.

    Published on: September 16, 2020

    ESPN reports that Major League Baseball has confirmed the format and locations for the playoffs this year.

    The Wild Card round will be best-of-three series with all games played at home ballpark of better seeded teams.

    The two best-of-five American League Division Series will be played in San Diego and Los Angeles, while the two best-of-five National League Division Series will be played in Houston and in Arlington, Texas.

    The best-of-seven National League Championship Series will be played in Arlington, while the best-of-seven American League Championship Series will be played in San Diego.

    The best-of-seven World Series will be played in Arlington.