Today, KC offers some business lessons gleaned from a Seattle Times piece abut Titan Caskets, a rapidly expanding direct-to-consumer company that claims to be "Amazon’s largest casket purveyor and the nation’s largest direct-to-consumer casket-maker."
The Wall Street Journal reports that Steve Easterbrook, the former CEO of McDonald's, has agreed to return $105 million back to the company that was paid to him in severance after he was fired after kit was discovered he'd had a consensual but inappropriate relationship with an employee.
The story says that "the former CEO has returned company stock and cash currently valued at more than $105 million that was allotted to him after he was dismissed in November 2019 when he acknowledged having a consensual relationship with an unnamed employee." A subsequent internal probe revealed "email messages with attachments that contained dozens of nude and sexually explicit photos and videos of Mr. Easterbrook with company employees and other women between late 2018 and early 2019.
"In its lawsuit, McDonald’s said it had concluded that Mr. Easterbrook lied to investigators and its board to cover up relationships with employees to secure the multimillion-dollar severance package. It said Mr. Easterbrook had breached his fiduciary duties as a company officer and committed fraud.
Easterbrook resisted the claw-back efforts, saying that "the company had information about his relationships with other employees when it negotiated his multimillion-dollar severance package." The new agreement avoids legal discovery and a court fight.
The Journal story notes that when he was fired, "Easterbrook’s compensation, benefits and stock were valued at nearly $42 million when issued in 2019." It is the increase in McDonald's stock price since then that accounts for the fact that he has to give back more than double what he was originally paid.
I'm glad he is paying. I assume his c-suite career is over. I hope other people in similar positions take note.
The New York Times had an interview the other day with Ryan Gellert, the CEO of Patagonia, a company that has been aggressive in being pro-conservation and about as anti-consumerism as a company that sells stuff to consumers can be.
There were some interesting quotes from the interview worth pointing out here, specifically about the subject of growth:
"We’re a consumer-goods business that makes apparel people may want and people may like," he says. "But we’re not making stuff that people need to survive. Let’s be ruthlessly honest with ourselves about that. Let’s also be ruthlessly honest about the fact that everything we do as humans has some impact on the planet. You have to constantly wrestle with this. And on behalf of Patagonia, I try to really challenge ourselves on the notion of growth."
Gellert goes on: "There’s the philosophical dimension of this, and there’s the operational dimension. What does it look like to either stop growing or move backward? It’s really complicated. Holding a business flat might be the greatest magic trick in business. I don’t know any example where that’s ever been intentionally done and done successfully. I’m not antigrowth. But I am deeply committed to making sure we’re moving at a pace that we think is appropriate. We’ve walked away from distribution that was pretty meaningful because we just didn’t feel like we could have an impact."
Gellert says that he is "comfortable with the imperfect but consistently committed body of work that Patagonia has delivered. We try to be relentlessly transparent, both internally and externally, about the work we’re doing and our shortcomings.
"My belief is that our biggest contribution has not been the money we’ve given away. It’s not individual issues that we’ve advocated for. It’s not scaling grass-roots environmental activism through different levels of support. It’s operating from the bowels of business and proving that businesses can exist to do more than maximize the wealth of their owners, really consistently proving that in ways big and small over decades."
This is all about relentlessly understanding and being consistent with one's basic value proposition, and never losing touch with the basic values that got you to where you area.
Gellert seems to understand that consumers have every right to be skeptical: “It is absolutely valid and important that people approach what they hear from business with a high level of cynicism," he says.
It is up to business leaders to make sure that people's cynicism never is justified.
Fast Company directs our attention to a short film out of the UK that "explores the terrifying extremes of being unable to unplug from work over the holidays. A perfectly normal family Christmas break is thrown into chaos when Dad gets stuck in a never-ending video meeting."
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 Covid-19 coronavirus numbers: 51,435,652 total cases … 824,520 deaths … and 40,406,796 reported recoveries.
The global numbers: 273,367,130 total cases … 5,356,181 fatalities … and 245,586,063 reported recoveries. (Source.)
• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 76.9 percent of the US population age five and older, and 72.4 percent of the total US population, has received at least one dose of vaccine, while 65.1 percent of the five-and-older population and 61.2 percent of the total US population has been fully vaccinated.
The CDC also says that 30.5 percent of the US population age 18 and older, and 28.1 percent of the total US population has received a vaccine booster dose.
• The Associated Press reports that a panel of advisors to the CDC yesterday recommended that "most Americans should be given the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines instead of the Johnson & Johnson shot that can cause rare but serious blood clots … The strange clotting problem has caused nine confirmed deaths after J&J vaccinations — while the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines don’t come with that risk and also appear to be more effective."
It is now up to the CDC’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, to decide whether to accept the panel’s advice.
The story does put the clotting problem in context: "More than 200 million Americans are fully vaccinated, about 16 million of them with the J&J vaccine. The other two vaccines used in the U.S. -- from Pfizer and Moderna -- are made differently and regulators say they don’t come with this clot risk. And unlike in the spring when vaccine supplies were tight, Pfizer and Moderna shots now are plentiful in the U.S." And, the story notes, "COVID-19 itself can cause potentially deadly blood clots."
• From the New York Times:
"Office workers this week watched as events unfolded that were once familiar and jarring in their persistence: Covid case counts ballooned, and employer plans deflated. The United States is reporting an average of more than 120,000 new Covid cases each day, up 40 percent from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times database. New York City is experiencing a spike in cases larger than any since last winter. Employers that had been growing bolder in their plans — reopening offices, mandating or strongly suggesting that workers report back, promising holiday blowouts — are now scaling back their ambitions for in-person business and socializing."
• USA Today reports that the CDC "this week began distributing free at-home test kits at Minneapolis−Saint Paul International Airport, Miami International Airport, Chicago O'Hare International Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, as first reported by Thrifty Traveler … The CDC did not say how many kits were available through this program, but plans to hand out 'as many of these free test kits as possible.' Free test kits are set to roll out to additional airports 'soon'."
• Monmouth University is out with a new poll concluding that 36 percent of Americans say that they have been "worn out a lot" by the degree to which Covid-19 has disrupted their lives, while 24 percent say that they are :"worn out a little."
The poll also concludes that 36 percent of respondents say that they are both "worn out and angry," while 25 percent say that they are "worn out but not angry," and nine percent say they are "angry but not worn out."
I have questions. Like, who the hell are these people who are not worn out and/or angry, and how have they been spending the past 20+ months? Because, for the record, "worn out" and "angry" don't even begin to cover my emotions in this case. I would characterize myself as being "pissed off" and "exhausted."
• Inside Indiana Business reports that Kroger "is expanding its fulfillment network with a new Indianapolis facility and delivery service. Kroger says the 48,000-square-foot facility will collaborate with its hub in Monroe, Ohio to connect customers with food … After placing an order via Kroger.com or the Kroger app, customers will have their groceries delivered by a Kroger Delivery associate in a temperature-controlled van. The company says the delivery network will also continue to use stores and third-party partners to deliver certain orders."
• Reuters reports that "British online supermarket group Ocado Group Plc said on Monday it had won a patent infringement lawsuit filed by Norwegian robotics company AutoStore Holdings Ltd (AUTO.OL) in the International Trade Commission (ITC).
"AutoStore had filed the lawsuit last year in both the United States and the United Kingdom, saying it was the inventor and rightful owner of certain patents filed by Ocado.
"The ITC's Chief Administrative Law Judge held three of the four AutoStore patents were invalid while the fourth one was not infringed by Ocado, the British company said in a statement. AutoStore abandoned its claim over a fifth patent the night before the trial.
"AutoStore said it plans to challenge the decision before the full commission, which will review the findings and issue a final verdict in April 2022."
• The Spoon reports that a company called Simbe Robotics "has just been issued a patent for spectral imaging of produce and meats and detect how fresh they are.
"The US patent, which is number 11,200,537 and titled 'Method for tracking and characterizing perishable goods in a store,' uses computer vision to record images across a period of time and derive a set of characteristics specific to the type of food. For produce, it can assign a percentage of ripeness, determine whether it is under, over, or at peak ripeness, and determine if there is other biological matter such as a contaminant on the food. It can also determine whether a fruit or vegetable is rotten, damaged, or bruised."
The story says that the computer system also "can access and implement hyper-spectral template histograms or template spectral profiles for 'fresh,' 'rancid,' 'low-fat,' 'moderate-fat,' 'high-fat,' 'low-water content,' 'moderate-water content,' and 'high-water content' for specific varietals of meats or for meats generally."
• Axios reports that delivery platform Gopuff "has raised $1.5 billion in what could be a valuation of up to $40 billion … This suggests that the Philadelphia-based company, which recently launched in London and New York, is preparing for a 2022 IPO."
According to the story, "Gopuff was valued at around $15 billion in a round over the summer."
"The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week despite signs that the US labor market is rebounding from last year’s coronavirus recession.
"Jobless claims rose by 18,000 to 206,000, still low by historical standards. The four-week average, which smooths out week-to-week volatility, fell by 16,000 to less than 204,000, the lowest level since mid-November 1969, according Department of Labor figures released Thursday.
"Altogether, 1.8 million Americans were receiving traditional jobless benefits the week that ended Dec. 4, down by 154,000 from the previous week."
• From the New York Times:
"Kellogg said on Thursday that it had reached a second tentative agreement with a union representing about 1,400 workers at four U.S. cereal plants who have been on strike since early October.
"The tentative accord, which would cover five years, was announced about a week and a half after workers voted down an earlier agreement, prompting the company to announce that it would move ahead with hiring permanent replacements for the workers on strike."
The story goes on: "Under the agreement that was voted down last week, the company would have immediately converted all employees with four or more years at Kellogg to veteran status, then converted an amount equivalent to 3 percent of a plant’s head count in each year of the five-year contract. The rejected agreement would have also given veteran workers a 3 percent wage increase in the first year of the contract and cost-of-living adjustments over the course of the contract. It offered newer hires a progression from the low $20s per hour to just over $28 after their sixth year.
"A company spokeswoman said by email on Thursday that the new tentative agreement did not alter the process for converting newer hires to veteran status but that it 'addresses the union’s request' for cost-of-living adjustments for all employees in each year of the contract."
• C&S Wholesale Grocers said yesterday that it has named Eric Winn, the company's President of Commercial, as Chief Operating Officer. In this newly created position, the company said, "Eric will lead both the Commercial and Supply Chain organizations to create a seamless customer experience. C&S Supply Chain Officer Peter Fiore will remain on the leadership team as a Strategic Advisor until his retirement at the end of 2022."
Watching "Tick, Tick, Boom!" just days after finishing the marathon viewing of "The Beatles: Get Back" documentary ended up being exactly the right choice, since both are deeply concerned with the notion of creativity. Not just the idea of creativity, but its very innards … the people and places and things that can stimulate and stifle creativity, and the compulsions that really creative people feel - not to mention the pressures placed on them by a variety of outside influences, some of them constructive and many of them not.
"Tick, Tick … Boom!" is the story of Jonathan Larson, as told by Jonathan Larson, with considerable assistance from Lin-Manuel Miranda of "Hamilton" fame, who made this the first feature film he has directed. Larson, you may know, is highly regarded in theatrical circles for his "Rent," which won both the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1996. It is not giving anything away - this is mentioned in the first few minutes of "Tick, Tick … Boom!" - to tell you that Larson died the night before "Rent" opened Off-Broadway of an aortic dissection. He was 35.
What's fascinating about the structure of the film is that it is framed by a staged rock monologue - eventually called "Tick, Tick … Boom!" - performed by Larson himself in which he describes himself going through the "Superbia" experience and dealing with self doubt and creative blockages and concerns about aging.
"Tick, Tick … Boom!" made me think a lot about "The Beatles: Get Back" because the latter film spends a lot of time letting us eavesdrop on John, Paul, George and Ringo as they write, rehearse and perform songs for their "Let It Be" album. So much of their development time is spent in loose, improvisational collaboration, playing old songs and even older songs as they loosen up their guitar-and-piano-playing fingers and - most importantly - their imaginations. Larson's labors are largely solitary, his isolation is tangible - the collaboration with musicians and actors comes much later in the process.
I couldn't help but think that there are several lessons here in how to stimulate creativity and imagination in the workplace. There is much to be said for creating an environment in which people are able to mess around a bit, try different things, risk failure without judgement or consequences - though, of course, whether you are writing an album or a Broadway show, it is good to know that you have to deliver and that deadlines have to be taken seriously. But, it also is important to realize that some people are not made for collaboration, that they do better on their own. Business leaders need to be conscious of the differences between these types of people and create environments that nurture them in different ways. You can't create one-size-fits-all creative cultures. Or, rather, you can … but it doesn't make sense.
Finally, the most important lesson comes near the end of the film, as Larson learns that while people like and respect "Superbia," it is not suitable for either Broadway or Off-Broadway. In other words, eight years of his life is pretty much un-produceable.
"So what am I supposed to do now?" he says to his agent, who offers the most important lesson of "Tick, Tick … Boom!"
"You start writing the next one," she says. "And after you finish that one, you start on the next. And on and on, and that’s what it is to be a writer, honey."
I cannot remember ever watching an episode of "Sex and the City" during its original run. There was just nothing about it that intrigued me. But the other night, perhaps out of morbid curiosity - no doubt fueled by the coverage of Peleton's role in the first episode and the resultant fallout - I decided to watch the first two episodes of its sequel series, "And Just Like That…", on HBO Max
(The Peleton role got even more publicity yesterday when Chris Noth, the actor riding the machine in the episode, was accused of sexual harassment. The publicity gods giveth, and then the publicity gods taketh away.)
Anyway … the two episodes reinforced my original judgement that this series and these people hold absolutely no interest for me. I'm not saying that the series isn't any good. or that it is badly written or poorly performed. Far from it. I just found those people somewhat annoying and not worth my time.
(I've just started watching "Succession," which I've somehow missed until now. I find those people to be annoying, too … but also weirdly compelling. I'm sticking with "Succession.")
I bring this up because I've always teased Michael Sansolo about his weird fixation with "Sex and the City" - he wrote a chapter about it in our book, "The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies" - and his unusually deep knowledge about some shoe designer named Manolo Blahnik. When I reported back to him about "And Just Like That…", which he hasn't seen, he mentioned to me that his sister has a theory - that essentially, "Sex and the City" and "The Golden Girls" are the same series, featuring the same sorts of female stereotypes (one is steady, one is more sexually adventurous, etc…), just in different settings.
This got me thinking about something. (Stay with me. I'm actually going to make a business point here.)
When "The Golden Girls" premiered in 1985, star Bea Arthur was 63 years old. When "And Just Like That…" premiered the other night, star Sara Jessica Parker was…56.
Only a seven year difference in ages, and yet I think it is fair to say that the ways in which these two series, and the actresses who star in them, address the issue of age, are universes apart.
Which reflects - amazingly enough, considering the source material - a basic truth about how our culture perceives age (and, for that matter, sexuality, though I'm not going to address the latter issue here). Businesses, and business leaders, that may somehow be operating under the premise that world in which we live, and the people who occupy it, haven't changed all that much or are fundamentally the same as they used to be - in terms of priorities and values and interests and capabilities - are, I think, misguided.
And it isn't just age. People who cannot - or will not - accept that our culture has changed in some essential ways, and in fact define what is "essential" in their lives with radically different priorities - will find themselves marginalized by progress.
And it'll happen … just like that.
I have a terrific wine for you this week - the 2019 Douro by Filipe Ferreira, from Portugal, which is part of the Mary Taylor wine collection. It is a lovely red blend - 60% Touriga Nacional, 25% Tinta Roriz , 15% Touriga France - that is big enough to go with a hefty meat dish but also fresh enough to enjoy by itself while sitting by the fire on a chilly winter evening.
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.