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    Published on: October 5, 2021

    A story about how Amazon may be poaching school bus drivers to be package delivery drivers, helping to create one shortage by addressing one of its own, got KC thinking about potential solutions to both issues.

    Published on: October 5, 2021

    by Kevin Coupe

    I was interested to see a new research report from Teradata suggesting that many companies around the globe are hesitant about near-term IT investments because of concerns about fast-shifting market realities.

    According to the study, "In the wake of the pandemic’s economic impact, 87% of companies are reportedly rethinking IT investments for 2022 and beyond, mainly due to the recent, significant shifts in consumer spending and market uncertainty … 93% of respondents agreed that when re-evaluating their IT investments, modernizing cloud architecture, improving data management and analytics were among the top investment areas to accelerate their digital transformation efforts.

    "Although 50% of IT decision-makers reported that their organizations had no plans to increase data governance investments at this stage, 89% felt their organizations should still prioritize data governance/responsibility initiatives more."

    The report goes on to say that "90% of respondents felt that emergent technologies, such as automation, would have a transformational impact on their organization in the next three years … 3 out of 4 IT decision-makers also agreed that their organization’s digital transformation efforts or lack thereof could be a roadblock to realizing the full benefits of key emergent technologies, such as AI and machine learning."

    This strikes me as being an interesting and Eye-Opening problem.  It has become a cliché to talk about the pace of change, especially since we've been living with this gathering, propulsive momentum for years now.  I find myself wondering which is the bigger risk - making the wrong bet, or succumbing to analysis paralysis because the next big transformational thing may come out tomorrow or next week.

    I was curious about how to avoid analysis paralysis, and came upon a blog (FacileThings.com) that suggested something called satisfying, which means "choosing the first option that you have evaluated as reasonable enough … Don’t look for the perfect solution from the start. Focus on the basics and ignore the details, at least at the beginning. Don’t waste your time in things that are likely to change later on anyway … Don’t consider the fact that you are making a big decision, but multiple and smaller decisions. Each decision that you take is not final, you can tinge and correct them with the following decisions you make."

    Though it also occurs to me that this is easier said than done when millions of dollars - and maybe even the future viability of a company - are at stake.

    Published on: October 5, 2021

    The Tampa Bay Times reports that Publix Super Markets has announced its intention to hire 30,000 employees over the next few months, across the seven states in which it operates, to work in stores, warehouses and manufacturing facilities.

    “As we continue to grow, having a dedicated team ready to meet our needs is vitally important,” said Marcy Benton, a vice president for the company said in a statement.

    KC's View:

    A dream is a wish your heart makes, the saying goes.

    Publix is joining a growing club of major retailers that wants to hire hundreds of thousands of people in the coming months, and who well may find themselves disappointed to some degree, which could lead to disappointment for a lot of its shoppers.

    The Wall Street Journal speculated the other day that this won't be resolved easily, that "many economists would welcome a small rise in the unemployment rate" because they are "troubled by the rate’s swift decline from its pandemic peak because it partly reflects a lack of job seekers—effectively limiting the amount of fuel in the economy’s engine."

    And it isn't just because of extended benefits for the unemployed.  As Axios reported the other day, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics recently said that "states that ended federal unemployment benefits earlier this summer saw August job growth at less than half the rate of states that retained the benefits," challenging conventional wisdom about why some folks weren't going back to work.

    All of which is just a long way of getting to the likelihood that Publix may hire a lot of folks in coming months, but may have to be satisfied with fewer, maybe far fewer, than it wants and needs.

    Published on: October 5, 2021

    From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "Facebook Inc.’s services went offline for as much as six hours Monday in an extended outage that disrupted access for users and businesses around the world and left the tech company flailing for a solution.

    "The company apologized for the outage, which affected its core platforms and apps including WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger - and which an outside tracking firm said appeared to be the most widespread in its history. Facebook said the problem was due to networking issues. Outside experts said it appeared to stem from a change the company made to networking instructions for access to its systems.

    "The disruption hobbled communication both essential and mundane, cut off small businesses from customers and slowed e-commerce across myriad countries. Some companies saw their operations and revenues curtailed, while others sent out marketing pitches based on the services going dark, underscoring the extent to which Facebook - despite the many controversies and challenges it faces - is at the center of daily life all over the globe."

    KC's View:

    Jimmy Fallon had a great line on "The Tonight Show," saying that the amazing thing was that when Facebook went down, the entire country went out and got vaccinated.  It was a testament to the role that Facebook has played in terms of spreading disinformation about the vaccines.

    And writer Stephen King commented on Twitter that the Facebook outage led all of the nightly news broadcasts, suggesting that this is "the very essence of addiction."

    This all comes, of course, as Facebook deals with all sorts of bad publicity related to the degree to which its operations are opaque, with internal studies acknowledging that its services can lead to a number of cultural and social problems, such as teenage suicide.  It all seems to be coming to a head as the Journal recently ran a series of investigative pieces about the company's culture and practices, and a whistleblower with damning internal documents went on "60 Minutes" last weekend and will testify before Congress this week.

    Kara Swisher, a technology journalist, suggests that one of Facebook's problems is that it thinks it has an optics problem when it really has a product problem.  That seems pretty persuasive to me.

    By the way, I'm taking it as a sign that I've made good decisions in my use of social media that I didn't know about the outage until I saw news reports about it.  For me, Facebook and its services are virtually irrelevant to how I live my life.

    Published on: October 5, 2021

    Bloomberg has a piece speculating about a possible Walmart acquisition of Home Depot, suggesting that such a move could address "sustained supply-chain bottlenecks" and cut down costs.

    Here's how the promise might play out in the retail landscape:

    "The strategic rationale for a Walmart-Home Depot deal extends beyond that, though. Walmart stores could use a refresh, and as groceries increasingly drive Walmart’s revenue, Home Depot could become the overarching label or overseer of non-grocery items."  If regulators prevent a merger, the argument goes, the two retailers could just establish an alliance.

    You can read the piece here.

    KC's View:

    I share this piece because it offers one line of thinking, not because I necessarily agree with it.

    Part of the problem is that the idea has been generated by a consultant and his public relations firm looking for media coverage;  one has to be careful about giving guys like this too much credence.

    The suggestion that, post-merger, Home Depot could handle all the nonfood retailing for Walmart ignores the fact that there are a lot of nonfood categories (like, say, fashion, which is an enormous category for Walmart) in which Home Depot has absolutely no expertise.

    I just don't see this making much sense.  I'd be far more intrigued by a Walmart move to acquire Instacart or Door Dash, for example, which would seem to propel it in a potentially more accretive direction.  

    But to be clear, this is just me spitballing.  I'm not a consultant, and I don't have a publicist trying to get me into the news.  (And I'll probably be prove wrong in the next 72 hours, when a Walmart-Home Depot merger gets announced…)

    Published on: October 5, 2021

    William Shatner, who played the iconic Capt. James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise in numerous iterations of "Star Trek," will take a ride into space next week, compliments of Jeff Bezos.

    Bezos' Blue Origin spaceflight company is scheduled to take four people to the edge of space in its second manned flight.  Joining Shatner - who, at 90, will be the oldest person to take such a flight - will be Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s vice president of mission and flight operations. Planet Labs co-founder Chris Boshuizen and Medidata Solutions co-founder Glen de Vries are also expected to join the flight. 

    “I’ve heard about space for a long time now,” Shatner said in an atypically understated prepared statement. “I’m taking the opportunity to see it for myself. What a miracle.”

    KC's View:

    I mention this not just because of the Bezos connection (he is a big "Star Trek" fan and clearly has an instinct for how to generate publicity).

    The thing is, I've often written about Shatner and "Star Trek" here, and I went back into the archives to look at a FaceTime I did almost seven years ago after seeing his one-man show and identifying a four-word phrase he used that struck me as a huge business and life lesson:

    Published on: October 5, 2021

    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…

    •  Here are the US totals for the Covid-19 coronavirus:  44,682,835 total cases … 722,268 deaths … and 34,154,777 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  236,273,465 total cases … 4,825,148 fatalities … and 213,332,342 reported recoveries.   (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 75.9 percent of the US population age 12 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 65.5 percent being fully vaccinated.  Eight percent of the US population age 65 and older has received a booster shot of the vaccine.

    •  The Boston Globe this morning reports that Johnson & Johnson asked the Food and Drug Administration this morning "to allow extra shots of its COVID-19 vaccine as the US government moves toward expanding its booster campaign to millions more vaccinated Americans.

    "J&J said it filed a request with the FDA to authorize boosters for people who previously received the company's one-shot vaccine. While the company said it submitted data on several different booster intervals, ranging from two to six months, it did not formally recommend one to regulators."

    •  The New York Times this morning reports that "newer variants of the coronavirus like Alpha and Delta are highly contagious, infecting far more people than the original virus. Two new studies offer a possible explanation: The virus is evolving to spread more efficiently through air.

    "The realization that the coronavirus is airborne indoors transformed efforts to contain the pandemic last year, igniting fiery debates about masks, social distancing and ventilation in public spaces.

    "Most researchers now agree that the coronavirus is mostly transmitted through large droplets that quickly sink to the floor and through much smaller ones, called aerosols, that can float over longer distances indoors and settle directly into the lungs, where the virus is most harmful.

    "The new studies don’t fundamentally change that view. But the findings signal the need for better masks in some situations, and indicate that the virus is changing in ways that make it more formidable."

    •  From the Associated Press:

    "Southwest Airlines on Monday became the latest U.S. airline to require its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

    "The Dallas-based company said its workers must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8 in order to remain at the airline … Southwest said it has to mandate vaccines because of new rules from the Biden administration requiring companies with federal contracts to have vaccinated staffs. Southwest's work for the government includes flying the military in emergencies and carrying mail for the U.S. Postal Service.

    "Last week, rivals American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue told their staff they needed to be vaccinated. United Airlines in August was the first major airline to do so and has since said that more than 97% of its workers have been vaccinated."

    •  The AP also reports that "International tourists won’t be welcomed back to Australia until next year, with the return of skilled migrants and students given higher priority, the prime minister said on Tuesday.

    "Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia was expected to reach the vaccination benchmark on Tuesday at which the country could begin to open up: 80% of the population aged 16 and older having a second shot."

    •  The Boston Globe has a piece about Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, in which he suggests a federal mandate requiring that all airline passengers be vaccinated for the Covid-19 coronavirus.

    According to the story, "Jha broke down his reasoning on Sunday night, sharing his experience taking an overnight flight from Los Angeles to Boston over the weekend.

    The doctor said when he arrived at the gate for the trip, he noticed another passenger with a mask that was 'barely' covering her mouth. He said he moved away from the area, but once he boarded the plane, the woman sat down next to him.

    "'Sitting next to someone who is essentially maskless wasn’t great,' Jha said.  'Truth is, if your nose isn’t covered, you really aren’t wearing a mask. She then started singing to a video on her phone. Really. Her flimsy cloth mask wasn’t doing much at that point'."

    Jha said that "the problem is that there is very little ability to control what happens on planes, spaces where the air is shared by strangers for what can be long periods of time. 

    "Already, flight attendants are 'exhausted' trying to police stricter enforcement of masking, he said.

    "'Asking them to do more is not tenable,' Jha said. 'But vaccine mandates for air travel are. Canada has done it. We should too. Mandate vaccine or negative test for air travel'."

    Jha, to be fair, makes the point that the woman traveling certainly has the right not to be vaccinated.  But he - and the other passengers and crew on the flight - also have the right not to risk a breakthrough infection because of her irresponsible behavior.  He argues that by mandating passengers be mandated, the country has the ability to move the needle on Covid spread … and the numbers at this point suggest that mandates work.

    And I agree.

    Published on: October 5, 2021

    •  Instacart announced that it is partnering with Sunbasket to deliver its "prepared meals, meal kits and grocery add-ons on the Instacart Marketplace across the U.S. Now, customers can order Sunbasket meal options a la carte, on the Sunbasket storefront on Instacart."

    According to the announcement, "Sunbasket's menu is now available through Instacart with the convenient option of a la carte weekly delivery fulfilled by Sunbasket. Through the Sunbasket storefront on Instacart, customers can now order any meal available on the following week's menu at the press of a button. All meals begin at $11.99 per serving and follow Sunbasket's ever-evolving menu of chef-curated meals delivered straight to your door."

    Published on: October 5, 2021

    •  The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) is out with a new retailer member survey saying that "convenience store retailers are bullish about their sales for 2021: Three in four convenience retailers (74%) expect year-end in-store sales to be better than 2020 and 67% expect in-store sales will top sales in 2019 … Only 11% of retailers expect their year-end in-store sales to fall below year-end 2020 sales and 13% say sales will be lower than 2019."

    According to NACS, "The optimism related to 2021 sales is led by the return of the morning customer: 53% of retailers say morning daypart sales increased compared to 2019 and 47% say lunch daypart sales increased. The only time period that did not see a significant increase in sales in compared to 2019 were late night hours; only 24% of retailers say they saw an increase in sales.

    "While retailers are seeing strong sales that have returned to pre-pandemic levels, concerns remain: 75% of retailers are concerned about the labor shortage and finding qualified candidates and 60% are concerned about supply chain shortages."

    Published on: October 5, 2021

    •  Ahold Delhaize announced that it has hired Natalia Wallenberg to be its new Chief Human Resources Officer. 

    According to the announcement, "Wallenberg will join Ahold Delhaize from Syngenta Group, a global agricultural technology business with more than 49,000 associates, working across 90 geographic markets, generating $23 billion in sales. She served Syngenta Group for nearly nine years, most recently working as the Global Head of Human Resources for the Crop Protection division, based in Basel, Switzerland. She also served for three years as Global Head of HR for the Syngenta Seed Division, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Chicago, Illinois. Prior to Syngenta, she served in HR leadership roles at Renaissance Capital and IKEA Real Estate, both located in Moscow, Russia."

    Published on: October 5, 2021

    We had a piece yesterday about a diaper shortage in the US, to which MNB reader Monte Stowell responded:

    I would bet that a big share of your readers might have grown up in cloth diapers. I know as a new father I had to fold diapers, pin them on my two daughters, help my wife putting stinky diapers in a diaper pail, putting them on a clothes line and into a dryer, bringing them inside and helping my wife fold them. I remember when Kimbies and Pampers came into the grocery stores, and my wife and I did not have to wash diapers. I would think that with a diaper shortage, many people would look at a diaper service, or heaven forbid, wash their babies diapers at home.

    I think the vast majority of my audience probably did not grow up in cloth diapers, but I could be wrong on that.

    I remember them, though;  I can recall the diaper service coming to the house when I was a kid, because I had six younger brothers and sisters, and there were a lot of diapers used in our house.

    I do know one thing.  We have three kids, but if we'd had to deal with cloth diapers or wash diapers at home, we might've had just one.  I never minded changing them, but washing them?  A bridge too far, methinks.

    From another reader:

    I am a long time supporter of the Austin Diaper Bank in my hometown, which does amazing work for the community.  1 in 3 families struggle to afford diapers, and diapers/wipes are not eligible for purchase with WIC or Food Stamps.  Most aid organizations do not provide diapers alongside other aid during disasters like recent hurricanes and wildfires, which certainly compounds those emergencies for families with babies.  The Austin Diaper Bank also provides incontinence supplies for the elderly in need and free period supplies in several local middle and high schools.  Excellent work for needs that are not on many people's radar.  

    Stuff I did not know until now.  Thanks.

    Regarding the acquisition of Morrisons in the UK by US private equity group Clayton, Dubilier & Rice (CD&R), MNB reader Tom Murphy writes:

    "CD&R has committed to retaining Morrisons' headquarters in Bradford, northern England, and its existing management team, led by CEO David Potts.  It also says it will execute the supermarket chain's existing strategy, not sell its freehold store estate and maintain staff pay rates.”

    But then the truth drops: "These commitments are not legally binding, however.”

    As a betting man, I would give it 18 months before most of this is reversed.  And if I was using your money to bet, I would say 12 months!  P.T. Barnum got it right…”there is a sucker born every minute!"

    I love how so many of the news stories focus on the advisory role that former Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy has played to CD&R during this process, largely ignoring that a lot of the problems that led to the company's embarrassing foray into the US and the accounting scandal that roiled management can be traced back to his time at the helm.

    Published on: October 5, 2021

    In Monday Night Football action, the Los Angeles Chargers defeated the Las Vegas Raiders 28-14.