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    Published on: February 7, 2022

    CNBC reported over the weekend about how a number of companies are acknowledging that "competitors with more flexible work arrangements may pose a significant risk to their businesses. Amazon, Pinterest, Intel and PayPal all mentioned, for the first time ever, that evolving work environments could impact their ability to attract or retain employees, according to annual filings released in recent days.

    "And it shows, more than two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, big tech companies are still weighing how and whether to bring employees back to the office and the risks associated with getting everyone back under one roof."

    Amazon, for example, has conceded that inflexibility could "negatively impact our ability to hire and retain qualified personnel."

    “I don’t think you’re going to have people coming back to the office 100% of the time the way they did before,” says Amazon CEO Andy Jassy.

    KC's View:

    Obviously, retailers are in a different position than many companies - if you have actual stores, you have to have actual employees working in those stores.

    Without minimizing the collegiality and collaborative advantages that can come from people working together in the same office - which can be considerable - it also is important, I think, to recognize that remote or hybrid working environments can also give some companies an edge.  By not requiring constant attendance in. a single location, retailers actually can gain access to people with specific levels of expertise who live in other places and who may not want to leave.

    People and companies are going to have to find some balance in all this, but I kind of like this new world.

    Which leads me to this reporting in today's Wall Street Journal:

    "Nearly two years after the pandemic sent many white-collar professionals home, bosses are eager to reconvene employees, hoping that in-person interactions will spark new ideas and help to lessen feelings of isolation and Zoom fatigue as Covid-19 drags on. The challenge is figuring out where and how to gather. Some companies ditched offices in recent months, or loosened policies to allow staffers to move away from company locations.

    "That has many executives rethinking the notion of the annual corporate gathering. For years, off-sites were largely a way to get entire companies or teams together to mark milestones such as a sales kickoff, an end-of-year celebration or a product-strategy summit. But as more companies embrace hybrid work models and fully remote teams, increasingly the concept of the off-site—gathering employees periodically—is looking like a way to strengthen company culture and foster connections among colleagues.

    "The fear of losing such connections and the benefits that in-person work can bring is spurring companies to look at nontraditional ways to make this happen. In the nascent stages of using off-sites as the new on-site, some companies are considering short gatherings in which staffers meet at hotels, restaurants, Airbnb mansions—or even in the office—collaborating on work while also reconnecting socially. They are feeling out how often to meet: Many executives say it may be enough for remote employees to now come together in person once a month, and quarterly in the future."

    I think this could be a reflection of where things are going - encouraging proximity in collaboration when and where it makes sense, but also understanding that the lanes to not have to be as tightly drawn as in the past.

    BTW .. I do think that we're seeing the beginning of a resurgence of in-person get-togethers.  I'm getting inquiries to speak at company events that will happen in March and beyond, which I take as a positive sign.  

    My bags are packed (my body's vaxxed), I'm ready to go…

    Published on: February 7, 2022

    The Wall Street Journal has pulled together a compendium of recent comments by C-level executives, made in a variety of forums, as they addressed current business conditions and prospects for the immediate future.

    Some examples…

    •  “There’s specific things that I think we all see in the supply chain where we’re waiting for products. But as far as Amazon is concerned, we did a lot to combat the supply-chain issues we saw in Q4 or anticipated in Q4. We bought a lot of product ahead. We worked with vendors to secure inventory early, in some cases paid earlier, which had a working capital impact.” - Brian Olsavsky, CFO, Amazon

    •  “Supply chain-driven inflationary costs were unexpectedly amplified by Omicron and rapidly accelerated in December.  For the balance of the year, we expect these costs to increase versus our previous estimate. Like most economists, we anticipate supply-chain disruptions will continue for the foreseeable future. We have already taken pricing actions this fiscal year…and we have additional pricing actions planned through the balance of this year.” - Kevin Johnson, CEO, Starbucks

    You can read the entire piece here.

    Published on: February 7, 2022

    CNBC reports that the Distilled Spirits Council of the US (DISCUS) is out with a new report saying that "tequila could soon overtake vodka as America’s favorite liquor, fueled by consumers’ desire for pricey bottles of agave-based spirits.

    "Tequila and mezcal was the second-fastest growing spirits category in 2021, trailing only premixed cocktails. Agave-based spirits saw sales climb 30.1% compared with the prior year to $5.2 billion … It was also the second-largest category by revenue behind No. 1 vodka, which has been the top-selling spirit in the U.S. since the 1970s. At $7.3 billion in revenue, vodka is still selling roughly $2 billion more annually than tequila and mezcal, but agave-based spirits could be on track to outstrip it in just a few years."

    However, the story points out, "Using volume as a measure, vodka still remains king. According to DISCUS, the liquor sold 78.1 million cases in 2021, more than double the volume of the next category: premixed cocktails. Tequila and mezcal scored a distant fourth at 26.8 million cases."

    KC's View:

    I must admit that sipping tequila is not a habit I've adopted to this point, though certainly the pandemic has given me plenty of reason to.  (I think I've pointed out here before that until relatively late in life, I was just a beer and wine drinker, but my adult children have taught me the pleasures of vodka and bourbon.  They're not tequila drinkers either, to my knowledge.)

    Seems to me that retailers that are able to sell hard liquor may be able to use this trend as a marketing tool - for people like me, who don't know one tequila from another, there would be real value in educational efforts.  (Also, depending on where I'm doing the tasting, a Lyft account.)

    Published on: February 7, 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 a total of 78,017,402 cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 926,029 deaths and 47,998,370 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 396,460,207 total cases, with 5,760,329 resultant fatalities and   315,238,297 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 75.6 percent of the total US population has received at least one dose of vaccine … 64.1 percent is fully vaccinated … and 42.2 percent has received a vaccine booster dose.

    •  From the Washington Post this morning:

    "In every U.S. state this past week, daily new coronavirus cases were lower than the previous week. Nationally, cases are down 42 percent week on week, according to a Washington Post tracker. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) said Sunday that the state’s coronavirus positivity rate of 3.5 percent was at its lowest point since omicron was named a variant of concern by the World Health Organization.

    "This has led some Americans to decide that, even with omicron still spreading and hospitals overwhelmed in many states, they will start going back to their pre-pandemic lives. But elsewhere in the world, countries are experiencing surges in cases and hospitalizations, and reintroducing or strengthening restrictions.

    "Russia, facing a record-breaking surge, reported a daily count of new infections that is an increase of 10 times from the month before. South Korea, which successfully controlled the spread of the virus with strict border restrictions and high vaccination coverage, on Sunday crossed the threshold of 1 million cumulative coronavirus cases and extended limits on indoor gatherings and a curfew for businesses. In Hong Kong, authorities reported a record number of daily new cases and new restrictions are expected."

    Published on: February 7, 2022

    •  Kroger late last week announced "the official opening of the Customer Fulfillment Center (CFC) in Forest Park, GA, a city south of Atlanta, powered by Ocado Group, a world leader in technology for grocery e-commerce. This marks an expansion of Kroger's national fulfillment network, providing the region with an e-commerce delivery service that combines vertical integration, machine learning, and robotics with affordable, friendly, and fast delivery of grocery items and fresh food.

    "We're proud to launch Kroger Delivery in metro Atlanta with future expansion plans throughout Georgia and beyond, a true milestone moment further accelerating our ability to provide our customers with fresh food on their doorsteps and create more job opportunities," said Gabriel Arreaga, Kroger's senior vice president and chief supply chain officer.

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Amazon.com Inc. on Friday notched the largest-ever one-day gain in market value for a U.S. company - just a day after Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. suffered the largest-ever loss.

    "The dramatic moves suggest investors are moving quickly to draw distinctions among the growth prospects of some of the biggest U.S. companies as they reassess their valuations in anticipation of higher interest rates."  The story suggests that " investors have shown more faith in the tech companies whose services are seen as staples than in those whose offerings are more elective."

    Published on: February 7, 2022

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "Kohl’s Corp. rejected a $9 billion takeover offer by an activist group for being too low, but said it would review other expressions of interest in the department-store chain.

    "The company also adopted a shareholder-rights plan, also known as a poison pill, that makes it difficult for an activist group to acquire more than 10% of the company. Kohl’s said the plan, which will be in effect for a year, will allow the board to conduct an orderly review of potential offers."

    Published on: February 7, 2022

    •  Advertising Age reports that Ciara Anfield, most recently the vice president of marketing at Sam's Club and before that an executive for more than a dozen years at Walmart, has been named Sam's Club's senior VP and chief membership and marketing officer.  Anfield succeeds Tony Rogers, who is leaving the company.

    •  Costco announced that Ron Vachris, the company's EVP and chief operating officer of merchandising, has been promoted to the role of president and COO.  The move, reports suggest, position Vachris as the potential successor to CEO Craig Jelinek, who until now also held the president's role.

    Published on: February 7, 2022

    Last week, we took note of a New York Times piece reporting that "last January, a team of researchers searching for the coronavirus in New York City’s wastewater spotted something strange in their samples. The viral fragments they found had a unique constellation of mutations that had never been reported before in human patients — a potential sign of a new, previously undetected variant.

    "For the past year, these oddball sequences, or what the scientists call 'cryptic lineages,' have continued to pop up in the city’s wastewater.

    "There is no evidence that the lineages, which have been circulating for at least a year without overtaking Delta or Omicron, pose an elevated health risk to humans. But the researchers, whose findings were published in Nature Communications on Thursday, still have no idea where they came from."

    MNB reader Bill Spoehr responded:

    It’s stories like this that make you a daily read, but also make me grateful that I stayed away from the science buildings in college.

    What leads one to study wastewater???  Just seems like a really sh**y job.

    I know exactly how you feel.

    The last science class I ever took was in 1976, at Loyola Marymount University, and it was essentially about sewage.  (I don't remember the actual title of the class.). I took it because I needed science credits to graduate and was informed (misinformed, actually) that this wouldn't be too hard or too technical.  (This was important - I have no head for science or math.  Is there a science equivalent of dyscalculia?)

    The course was awful.  Meaning, awfully hard.  And incredibly technical.  And boring, at least to me.  There were multiple field trips that were, to say the least, offensively odorous.  (I like unconventional field trips, so you have to work hard to offend me.  I took another class at LMU in "The Philosophy of Death," which included a trip to the Los Angeles City Morgue, which was fascinating … but that's another story that I'll tell you sometime…)

    I'm still bitter about that stupid sewage class.  Based on every other class I took at LMU, I would've graduated summa cum laude, but that one class dropped me back to magna cum laude.  That was more than 45 years ago, and you'd think I'd be over it by now…

    On another subject, from MNB reader Rich Heiland:

    I, too, saw the news of Amazon's Prime price hike almost at the same time I saw the news about Bezos' super-yacht and the Rotterdam bridge. My first thought was that a few pennies of my money went for the bridge dismantling and reassembly. 

    But, would all that cause me to drop Prime? Not even close. I do use Amazon enough for the shipping to be a value. And, I dropped satellite and now do TV through YouTubeTV, YouTube regular, Netflix and Amazon Prime. Break it all out monthly and even with price increases I am still saving something like 40 percent over dish.

    But, given all that is happening in the world, the yacht and the bridge are not a good look. I suspect a lot of us are remaining with Amazon in spite of Bezos, not because of him. But, he did save the Washington Post so I guess that counts for something…

    "A lot of us are remaining with Amazon in spite of Bezos, not because of him."

    That's an interesting sentence.

    I wonder how many Amazon customers know or care that much about Jeff Bezos.  Sure, he gets a lot of personal publicity, but we all pay attention to this stuff … but average folks simply may not give a damn.  They're just interested in the stuff they buy showing up on time.

    I agree about the optics, though, and wonder if maybe he ought to paying more attention to them.  The one thing that Bezos doesn't want to happen is see his personal brand overshadowing Amazon's brand … at least, I think he doesn't want this to happen.  He shouldn't.

    I also agree about his saving the Washington Post.  In the end, as far as I'm concerned, you can put that in the first paragraph of his obituary.

    Finally, I wrote last week about business lessons from the Rooney Rule controversy.  (The Rooney Rule is the NFL's requirement that every team has to interview at least one minority candidate for open head coaching positions.  The rule was implemented to address a clear disparity between the percentage of Black players - roughly two out of three - and the small number of Black head coaches.  Last week, former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a lawsuit, accusing the National Football League and three specific teams - the New York Giants, Denver broncos, and Dolphins - of systemic racism.)

    I commented:

    I don't want to pre-judge the suit, though certainly the paucity of lack head coaches would suggest that Flores is going to be able to make a compelling argument.  And when it comes to both intention and implementation, I think there is a lot to be learned by companies where leadership may not reflect the workforce or the customer base.

    What makes me suspicious is the fact that the NFL instantly responded to the suit by saying that the claims were "without merit."  Seems to me that the league should've actually conducted an investigation before making such a knee-jerk declaration.

    It also is interesting that Flores' move was prompted by a text message sent to him by his former boss, New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, congratulating him for getting the Giants job - a text that Belichick later said was meant for Brian Daboll, who got the Giants job and who apparently was a lock even before Flores interviewed.  I keep thinking that this could be Belichick being Belichick … that he likes nothing better than sowing discord on other teams.

    One MNB reader responded:

    As a follow up, read the release John Mara (one of the owners of the Giants) put out with very specific dates and timelines on the interview process, and Flores' interview specifically, as well as the specific date of the decision to offer the job to Daboll.  That being Jan 28, one day AFTER Flores' interview, which essentially had lasted all day and was conducted with Mara, Steve Tisch, the new GM, a tour of the facilities, etc.etc.  Mara then goes on to offer "additional concrete and objective evidence to substantiate" the decision was made the evening of Jan 28.  He further states that basing Flores' decision to sue the Giants solely on a text exchange with Belichick is irresponsible, and that the text exchange took place one day BEFORE Daboll's interview!  

    As for the Giants sterling reputation, that is relative to so many other teams and executives in the NFL, past or present.  Examples being the Washington Football Team,  The Raiders,  The  Ravens, The Patriots, The Eagles for tanking the last game of the 2020 season, on and on.

    When I made the crack about the Giants' "sterling reputation," I was talking about their on-field record.  (At 4-13, they're as bad as the Jets.  Case closed.  Also, by the way, significantly worse than the 9-8 Miami Dolphins under Brian Flores.)

    I know what John Mara said.  I also know what Brian Flores said, and I don't know enough to believe one or the other.

    (Full disclosure: I went to high school with John Mara, but we were not friends and I don't think I've seen him in the 50 years since our 1972 graduation from Iona Prep.  I am, however, astounded that it has been 50 years since I graduated from high school.  But I digress…)

    As I said, I'm not pre-judging the suit.  That's what discovery is for, and we'll see how it plays out in the courts.  And, for better or worse, the court of public opinion.