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    Published on: January 4, 2022

    by Michael Sansolo

    The essence of good management is probably more important today than ever, given the incredible shortage of workers and the competition for top performers. Every manager should remember the time-honored insight that workers rarely quit companies; rather they quit their manager.

    Losing good people is a terrible strategy anytime, but especially right now when it is so hard to replace anyone.

    Consider a recent lesson on leadership from the world of professional football. One of the great elements of sports is that success is so obvious - measured clearly in wins and losses. And for that reason it seems incredibly easy to determine the relative success of players and coaches based on how their teams perform.

    But sometimes, great insights lie inside those very obvious measures, such as the traits of truly successful coaches, even in the face of poor results on the field.

    A recent column in the Washington Post examined the leadership styles of two football coaches in the wake of one highly publicized firing to show how collaborative leadership can produce real authority, long-term results and team wide trust, even in the face of problems.

    The focus of the column was Urban Meyer, a highly successful collegiate coach who flamed out quickly as coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars at the professional level. The insights are clearly applicable to any leader - current or aspiring.

    Meyer, as it was widely reported, was widely dismissive of both his players and assistant coaches, calling many losers or worse and truth be told, his team really isn’t any good. However, his behavior fits a pattern found in management everywhere. One great dividing point between good and poor leaders is that the latter point fingers everywhere but themselves when things go poorly.

    The same Post column details a very different approach employed by John Harbaugh, coach of the Baltimore Ravens. Thanks to a live microphone, Harbaugh was caught in a critical moment of a recent game, asking for his players’ input on a crucial decision and clearly listening to their input.

    Even more importantly, when the decision led to a failed play and a loss for the team, Harbaugh took all the incoming flack. He didn’t blame the players he consulted, didn’t blame the weather, Covid, his coaches or anything else. He stood up, took the blame and shielded his team.

    The column quickly leaves the world of sports to examine the elements of leadership in any field, even going back to ancient times and tribes on the hunt. Leadership (and, more importantly, authority), as the writer makes clear, is earned through collaboration, cooperation and decision-making, not through belittling those around us.

    Management isn’t easy or simple. More than ever it requires skilled communication and the ability to understand the different ways of motivating the most diverse teams ever. 

    So sure it’s hard, but as one of my favorite managers, the fictional Jimmy Duggan from A League Of Their Own, says at the end of the movie, “It’s the hard that makes it great. If it was easy, everyone would do it.” Duggan is referring to playing baseball, but he might as well be talking about any type of success.

    Management is really hard, but if it weren’t hard everyone would do. Clearly everyone can’t. 

    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: January 4, 2022

    The resurgence of Schenectady, New York, isn't just a story of urban renewal and aspirations.  It also is one that reflect's a retailer's deep commitment to a community's values and value, and, KC suggests, to the stuff that Shakespeare once said are what "dreams are made on."

    To find out more about or order your copy of "Metrofix: The Combative Comeback of a Company Town," click here.

    Published on: January 4, 2022

    by Kevin Coupe

    Yesterday, MNB took note of a New York Times piece that focused on the "end of certainty," and how for a variety of reasons - largely connected to the Covid-19 pandemic  - business leaders have had to embrace current circumstances and make the most of them.

    Late in the day, I was reading the "Schneider on Loyalty" newsletter from Howard Schneider,  in which he wrote something I wish I'd written.  And so, I want to share it with you:

    Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. I’m tempted to paraphrase for today: The only thing we can be certain of is uncertainty itself.

    That may seem a rather fatalistic view, and I know most people are, in fact, afraid of uncertainty. But we’ll all be better off (or at least better adjusted) if we embrace the fact of life that nothing is certain. 

    The solution is not to seek certainty, but to embrace agility. To be open to challenges we cannot even imagine. There is a principle often applied to momentous world events, called, 'failure of imagination.' We know what we know, but we cannot imagine what has never happened before.

    Two huge examples: Before December 7, 1941, no military planner believed a seaborne aerial attack of that scale was possible. Before September 11, 2001, no one believed a ragtag group of terrorists would use airliners as missiles.

    But of course not all unanticipated events are dark ones like those. Most of us could not have imagined, a few decades ago, the world we live in today: a world of near- instant gratification even as we fight a global pandemic; a world in which marketers not only deliver what we ask, but anticipate our needs before we know them; a world in which consumers would have so much power, so many choices.

    Some daring entrepreneurs did have the vision to imagine such a world. But most critical to their success wasn’t a certainty that their vision would work, but the openness to test and learn, to analyze and adjust, to try – and to fail on their way to success.

    Exactly.  And an Eye-Opener.

    Published on: January 4, 2022

    The International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA), the global trade association representing the entire fresh produce and floral supply chains and the result of a merger between the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) and the United Fresh Produce Association, has begun operations in the new year.

    IFPA is taking the position that the new organization is "transformational," not just a combination of two trade groups:  "IFPA will serve to advocate nationally and globally for the fresh supply chains through government advocacy and leadership especially in the North American Market. The association will also continue to grow connections within the industry and between the industry and the world for the better outcomes of both.  They will also guide the industry and partners with unmatched expertise both on the IFPA team and through volunteer leaders."

    “The challenges we are facing today span the entire consumption continuum from food insecurity on one end to food waste on the other,” said IFPA Co-CEO Cathy Burns. “From changing climate patterns to shifting geo-political environments, we understand that the stakes have never been so high not only for the livelihood of our industry – but for the world. The Fresh produce industry offers solutions to almost every major global health and economic challenge, and we are looking forward to welcoming others to join our efforts.”

    “Our association is not only for our members, but it is also driven by the engaged leadership of our volunteer leaders as well,” said IFPA Co-CEO, Tom Stenzel. “We were thrilled to receive over 1000 applications from volunteers across the industry, a sign of support for our association, but also an indication of the enthusiasm and urgency that our industry feels about the role we have to play in today’s global environment."

    KC's View:

    Tough time to be in the trade association business … the pandemic has not been kind to most of their business models … and so "transformational" is not just the bottom line in terms of goals, but has to be the bare minimum in terms of expectations.

    Here's the good news.  Over the years, I've been involved with hundreds of speeches and presentations, and two of the more memorable - having very little to do with me - were at conferences run by PMA and United Fresh.  In the former case, I was onstage with actor/singer Leslie Odom, who compellingly connected the creative impulses behind his work to that of people in the food business;  in the latter, I moderated a live (trust me, there was no safety net!) focus group of consumers (who I met about 15 minutes before we went on stage) talking about their purchasing habits and preferences.  In both cases, the constructs were unorthodox and outside traditional lines … and I think reflected a willingness of the two organizations to think and act differently.

    Will one plus one equal three?  Time will tell.  But if fortune indeed favors the bold, I like their chances.

    Published on: January 4, 2022

    The Denver Post reports that local members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) have voted to authorize a strike against Kroger-owned King Soopers, as the union looks at a contract that expires at the end of this week.

    The story points out that "King Soopers and City Market, both owned by Cincinnati-based Kroger Co., and Albertsons, which owns Albertsons and Safeway stores in Colorado, are negotiating new contracts with the UFCW Local 7. Kim Cordova, union president, has said both grocery chains have proposed unacceptable concessions, especially at a time when the grocery chains have posted huge profits and employees have risked their health working through the coronavirus pandemic."

    The Post writes that "King Soopers’ proposals opposed by the union include capping the amount of sick leave employees can take in a year to 48 hours and the amount of sick leave they can accrue to 96 hours over a lifetime. Another proposal would pay overtime for more than 40 hours a week rather than the current policy of paying overtime for more than eight hours a day.

    "Other issues are pay, what the union says is inadequate staffing and safety. Last week, King Soopers proposed new spending on wages, health care and pensions plans, including $145 million in pay increases over four years.

    "The union rejected the proposal, saying the company’s statement to employees and media on the investments didn’t mention the concessions, such as higher health care premiums, that employees would have to accept."

    Published on: January 4, 2022

    CNN reports that Sweetgreen, the fast food salad chain, is getting into the subscription business.

    With a new offering called Sweetpass, the company is giving "customers as much as 30% off each purchase. With a $10 subscription, a customer will get $3 off every $9.95 purchase (or more) on one order per day that's completed on its app or website."

    According to the story, "A Sweetpass can be purchased from Monday until January 16 and are valid from 30 days after the initial purchase. The discount can't be applied on third-party apps, like UberEats or DoorDash, but can be used at all of its 140 US locations.

    "Sweetgreen scrapped its loyalty program in 2020, which previously gave customers $9 off when their total spend amounted to $99."

    Daniel Schlossman, Sweetgreen's senior vice president of digital and growth, tells CNN that the new program is "part of a broader evolution of loyalty and what that means for Sweetgreen."

    KC's View:

    I may be wrong about this, but it sounds to me like Sweetgreen is trying to be a little bit pregnant.

    I totally believe in subscription models - I believe they can foster real, not illusory, loyalty, and, properly used, can offer retailers a ton of data with which they can revolutionize their businesses and customer relationships.

    But I get the sense that Sweetgreen doesn't really believe, and so it isn't really committing.  But commitment is an absolute requirement for companies looking to change things up.  The CNN story points out that "between a slumping stock price (shares are down 40% since its November debut) and an uncertain future of when workers head back to the office as Omicron spreads, the chain hopes Sweetpass attracts new customers or makes it prices more affordable for its fervent fans."

    I'm not sure that hope is enough.

    Published on: January 4, 2022

    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, there now have been 57,131,187 total cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 848,885 deaths and 41,722,468 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 293,165,271 total cases, with 5,467,961 fatalities and 255,497,961 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  Bloomberg reports this morning that "more than 1 million people in the U.S. were diagnosed with Covid-19 on Monday as a tsunami of omicron swamps every aspect of daily American life.

    "The highly mutated variant drove U.S. cases to a record, the most -- by a large margin -- that any country has ever reported. Monday’s number is almost double the previous record of about 590,000 set just four days ago in the U.S., which itself was a doubling from the prior week. 

    "It is also more than twice the case count seen anywhere else at any time since the pandemic began more than two years ago. The highest number outside the U.S. came during India’s delta surge, when more than 414,000 people were diagnosed on May 7, 2021."

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 78 percent of the US population age five and older, and 73.3 percent of the total US population have received at least one dose of vaccine, with 65.9 percent of the five-and-older population and 62 percent of the total population being fully vaccinated.

    The CDC also says that 36.3 percent of the US population 18 and older and 33.4 percent of the total population have received vaccine booster shots.

    •  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "Covid-19 infections continued to soar far above previous peaks across the U.S., as students returned to classrooms while some workers remained home after contracting or being exposed to the virus.

    "The seven-day average of daily reported Covid-19 cases in the U.S. reached a pandemic record 403,385 on Sunday, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. The fresh peak arrived even as most states paused reporting during the New Year’s holiday weekend. Reporting delays will likely lead to spikes in reports of cases this week as states catch up. While Covid-19 tests remain in short supply in much of the U.S., Covid-19 testing was less robust last year, complicating comparisons between pandemic surges.

    "Hospitalizations for confirmed or suspected Covid-19 reached a seven-day average of 97,855 on Monday, according to data posted by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. That is up 41% in the past two weeks but below both the pandemic peak of 137,510 on Jan. 10, 2021, and the smaller peak of 102,967 on Sept. 4, 2021, during the Delta surge."

    •  From the Washington Post:

    "The United States is heading into the third year of the coronavirus pandemic with the extremely contagious omicron variant poised to ignite a firestorm of infection across the Southeast after exploding through the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.

    "Lower vaccination rates and fewer mask and vaccine mandates have created a much different environment for the omicron variant to spread in the South, leaving experts unsure whether outbreaks will end up deadlier than in the North.

    "Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi are among the states experiencing the sharpest increases in covid-19 hospitalizations since Christmas, according to data tracked by the Washington Post. And the situation may only get worse, as initial outbreaks in metropolitan areas spread to more poorly vaccinated rural regions.

    "Georgia has shattered records, with nearly 1 in 3 tests coming back positive in the last week of December — and in metro Atlanta, nearly half of tests were positive. New daily infections in Florida have hit an average of about 43,000 — far above the peak of 23,000 reached during the delta variant surge in the summer. Louisiana also has eclipsed daily infection records set during its summer surge, with 12,500 cases reported Thursday, which state officials said was nearly twice the record, established in August."

    •  The Associated Press reports that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now is "allowing extra Pfizer shots for children as young as 12.

    "Boosters already are recommended for everyone 16 and older, and federal regulators on Monday decided they’re also warranted for 12- to 15-year-olds once enough time has passed since their last dose.

    "But the move, coming as classes restart after the holidays, isn’t the final step. A panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to decide later this week whether to recommend boosters for the younger teens with a final decision by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director … The FDA also said everyone 12 and older who’s eligible for a Pfizer booster can get one as early as five months after their last dose rather than six months."

    •  Reuters reports that Walmart "temporarily shut almost 60 U.S. stores in COVID-19 hotspots in December to sanitize them against the virus, in a sign the new Omicron variant is disrupting the retail industry."  The closures generally lasted for two days, the company said, so that it could offer "a safe and clean in-store environment for our associates and customers."

    •  Bloomberg reports that Starbucks has decreed that "its U.S. employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing by Feb. 9.

    "The new rules, which are in line with government standards for large employers, apply to staff in cafes, offices, plants and distribution centers, according to a message to employees dated Dec. 27 from Starbucks North America President John Culver. The company is also requiring U.S. workers to disclose their vaccination status by Jan. 10.

    "The Seattle-based company is one of the first restaurant operators to come forward with a strategy to implement new federal rules that require employees to either get the vaccine or test weekly. Starbucks is requiring workers to pay for their own tests, should they choose not to vaccinate."

    Published on: January 4, 2022

    •  Axios reports that "this past holiday season saw 3.4 billion parcels shipped, as more and more Americans chose to stay home and do their shopping online. Now unprecedented online ordering is turning into unprecedented online returning … UPS projects it’ll process a whopping 60 million returns by Jan. 22.

    "And that’s just one carrier."

    The story notes that, "although return rates are about 10% for all purchases, they're about 30% or higher when looking only at online purchases.

    "Supply chain disruptions and labor shortages are driving up shipping costs, which means returning a $50 item is expected to cost an average of $33, up 59% from 2020."

    •  Reuters reports that " Inc failed to persuade an Illinois federal judge to toss a lawsuit accusing the company of unlawfully collecting 'facial geometry' scans of employees at fulfillment warehouses as part of COVID-19 wellness checks.

    "U.S. District Judge Mary Rowland in Chicago declined to dismiss the proposed class action on Monday, in which a former employee alleged the e-commerce company collected his facial and other data without proper consent under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA).

    "Amazon is among the many businesses that have been sued under the Illinois law, which is recognized as one of the strictest in the U.S. addressing biometric privacy."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports today that AT&T and Verizon have agreed to delay for two weeks the start of a rollout of 5G service, bowing to a federal government request because of concerns that the technology could impact ground-to-aircraft communications.

    Some context from the Journal story:

    "U.S. airlines have complained that their operations would face significant disruption if the Federal Aviation Administration imposes flight restrictions to address the agency’s safety concerns. The FAA and aviation groups worry the new 5G signals, frequencies known as the C-band, could interfere with key cockpit safety systems.

    "On Sunday, the cellphone carriers offered their own counterproposal modeled after France’s approach to address wireless safety concerns. The U.S. carriers said they would dim the power of their new 5G service for six months, beyond levels the companies had previously offered to assuage the FAA’s concerns."

    •  CNBC has a story about how Bed Bath & Beyond's market share of the wedding registry business has fallen several percentage points to 30 percent … and the company that seems to be picking up the business is - go figure - Amazon, which has grown to a 45 percent market share.

    Bed Bath & Beyond is in second place, but Target seems to be moving up fast on the outside, with a third place position at 26 percent.  Crate & Barrel and Williams-Sonoma both have 15% listing penetration, the story says.

    Published on: January 4, 2022

    •  The Los Angeles Times reports that the federal government is blocking all tomato shipments into the US by a pair of Mexican agribusinesses - Agropecuarios Tom and Horticola Tom - that are accused of withholding wages from workers and subjecting them to abusive working and living conditions.

    The Times notes that the two companies exported tens of millions of pounds of tomatoes to the US last year.

    According to the story, "The unprecedented move by the administration blocks only a small portion of Mexican tomato exports in an industry with hundreds of producers but signals a more aggressive approach toward labor rights enforcement against U.S. trading partners. This summer the administration also slapped trade restrictions on a Chinese manufacturer of silica-based products accused of forced labor abuses against ethnic Uyghur workers."

    •  The Asbury Park Press reports that "Saker ShopRites, the Jersey Shore's largest supermarket operator, has extended its reach in Ocean County with the acquisition of seven ShopRite stores … Saker ShopRites, which now owns 39 ShopRites across New Jersey, and Perlmart Inc. said they have completed Saker's purchase of Perlmart’s cluster of supermarkets. The stores, formerly owned and operated by Michael Perlmutter, are in Toms River on Fischer Boulevard, Lacey, Berkeley, Manchester, Jackson, Waretown and Stafford."

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    Published on: January 4, 2022

    Yesterday, we took note of a Washington Post report about how the US Department of Agriculture's new labeling rules for genetically modified foods have gone into effect - the big change being that "GMO" is out, and “bioengineered" is in.  But it isn't that simple - there are a ton of caveats and loopholes and contingencies.

    One MNB reader responded:

    I read through this article until my eyes glazed over then moved on with the thought “that certainly clears that up”.  Wow.  Rules with as many exceptions as these have, are a good example of muddling the issue in the name of clarifying it.

    I commented, in part, yesterday:

    My position over the years, I think, has generally been consistent, though, to be honest, I've been writing about this for so damned long I'm not even sure what I was saying at the beginning.

    I like labels. I think the more transparency, the better,  I think information in the hands of consumers, properly and contextually communicated, can be a powerful and positive thing.  I generally think that loopholes end up being black holes of disinformation and deception, because the people and companies that exploit them usually have the means and motivation to avoid transparency.

    And I think that about pretty much everything, not just bioengineered foods.  I'll acknowledge that there are exceptions, like national security.  But making sure that people understand what they are eating and where it came from?  That ought to be low-hanging fruit (whether it is organic, bioengineered or some other kind).

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    As is often the case, I agree with you – and we have been talking about this forever! However, while the thirst for transparency is seemingly infinite, the space on a physical package is not. This is where SmartLabel or some other digital solution should take over.


    One of the byproducts of the pandemic is that we're all a lot more used to QR codes, which can serve as a way for companies to provide a ton of information to consumers who want to use it.

    On the subject of Kroger's planned stock buyback, one MNB reader wrote:

    Here is my take on the Kroger "corporate speak" touting their $1 billion stock repurchase program.  If Kroger used that cash to pay stockholder dividends, the high income corporate executives with huge Kroger share holdings would be paying federal income tax (as well as state income tax) on that income.  Whereas a stock repurchase program is expected to increase the value of the remaining Kroger shares there is no income tax due unless and until those shares are sold.  Moreover any such shares left unsold when they pass away get a stepped up basis at death which means no income tax, federal or state, on those shares.   While this repurchase program may benefit ordinary shareholders to some degree, it can benefit large shareholders (such as Kroger executives) to a greater extent.   

    The things I never would've thought about…

    We reported yesterday that Hy-Vee announced that it is creating what is being called the Hy-Vee Retail Security team, which eventually will see officers deployed in all of its retail stores during operating hours "to ensure the health and safety of both its customers and employees."

    One MNB reader responded:

    A sad commentary on society when retailers have to deploy security in all their stores.  Maybe we should send this article to Elizabeth Warren so she can better understand higher prices due to increased retailer costs. Makes me wonder 1) if this a preemptive action by Hy-Vee or based on increased criminal activity and 2) Have any of the communities that Hy-Vee operates in reduced police budgets in support of defund the police movements?   Maybe it’s time for law abiding citizens to assert their rights rather than merely allow lawlessness…

    Another MNB reader had a somewhat less jaundiced response, especially in view of my suggestion that these security guards could enforce mask mandates:

    I think this is a great idea, I work in a high volume store in Exeter, NH and the town has mandated masks for everyone for a three month period, going back a few weeks now.

    We were told not to say anything to those who still won't wear a mask, unless ANOTHER customer complains about it, in which case we are to get the store manager involved.

    From another reader:

    Steal what you want, just make sure you are wearing a mask.

    Hy-Vee certainly didn't say that.  I don't think I suggested that.  So I'm not sure what your agenda is when you suggest that anyone did take that position.

    Yesterday we had a piece referencing a Boston Globe story about a new mobile app called To Good To Go, described as one that "connects consumers with surplus from restaurants, bakeries, cafes and grocery stores at the end of each business day, ensuring that unsold food doesn’t go to waste. The app, which already operates in Boston, just launched in the Providence market."

    MNB reader Jeanette Coulson responded:

    Wow, what a great idea!


    On another subject, from MNB reader Monte Stowell:

    Regarding Amazon building a new facility in Arkansas, in Walmart’s backyard.  I am sure this quote has been used before in MNB about Amazon, but if it has been used, it is more apropos than ever. “Resistance is Futile, You Will Be Assimilated.” The Borg is alive and still growing. Not saying Walmart will be assimilated, but nothing is going to stop Amazon from being more dominant in the retailing arena. 

    The thing is, to use another science fiction metaphor, identifying the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire sort of depends on where you are standing.  Amazon probably thinks of itself as being part of the rebellion against Walmart … 

    Finally, I got a lot of emails yesterday about my FaceTime video with Barry and Buckeye, the two Guiding Eyes puppies that we were socializing over the holiday.

    MNB reader David Spawn wrote:

    Great to see the good start you are providing for those puppies!!  It’s great work and greatly appreciated!

    My brother & sister-in-law have worked with the Guide Dog Foundation on Long Island for years to provide the 13-month training regimen for service dogs (at least 8 that I can remember).  Thanks for the puppy video!!

    We raised a puppy for Guiding Eyes a number of years ago … we had Fan for more than 18 months, and though it was hard to give her up, it was enormously gratifying to hear from the blind woman some time later, telling us how Fan had saved her life.

    From another reader:

    While catching up on my 2022-too news Kevin, I only can say that Barry & Buckeye deserve a continued cameo on FaceTime. Because you’re right, nothing is better than puppies.

    And from another:

    We're giving you two thumbs and two paws up.

    And another:

    What a great way to start my day, watching you with Barry and Buckeye. Keep giving us updates with your two new furry friends. 

    I'm afraid that I'll have no more updates about Barry and Buckeye … we only had them for about five days, and now they're off to another family.

    We miss them, though I'm not sure our dogs - Spenser and Zazu (who, by the way, are Guiding Eyes dogs who did not make the cut, and now belong to us) - feel the same way … witness this one photo from the weekend:

    Published on: January 4, 2022

    In Monday Night Football action, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Cleveland Browns 37-10.