business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: March 25, 2022

    Content Guy's Note:  This week, Indra Nooyi, the former Chairman-CEO of PepsiCo, was a keynote presenter at the Western Michigan University 56th annual Food Marketing Conference.  Nooyi was unable to be in Grand Rapids in person for logistical reasons, and so I was lucky enough to be asked to share the electronic "stage" with her.  We engaged in an extended Zoom conversation that was shown at the WMU event, focusing to a great extent on her terrific memoir - "My Life in Full: Work, Family and Our Future” - as well as on leadership issues of great importance not just to today's workforce, but also to the university students going out into the "real world."

    WMU was kind enough to allow me to use the entire conversation here on MNB, and because of its length, I've edited it into three parts;  part one ran yesterday, and part three will run Monday.

    Today, in Part Two, we talk about advice that she might offer to women - and men - currently in the workforce or about to enter it … her greatest accomplishment and the thing in her business career she regrets the most … the "moonshot" on which she is focused in her post-CEO life, and whether she'd ever consider being a CEO again.

    I hope you enjoy it.

    If you'd like to listen to our conversation as an audio podcast, click and download below.

    Indra Nooyi's “My Life in Full: Work, Family and Our Future” is available on Amazon, the iconic Portland independent bookstore Powell's, on, and wherever books are sold.

    Published on: March 25, 2022

    by Kevin Coupe

    Inc. has a piece about Starbucks once and future CEO, Howard Schultz, who will be back the helm of the company for the third time next month with the retirement of current CEO Kevin Thomas.  Starbucks has some significant issues, including unionization movements and a stock price in decline, and the apparent hope is that Schultz - who for decades personified the brand - will be able to work some old magic on the company's value proposition and image.

    The Inc. piece references Schultz's memoir of a decade ago, "Pour Your Heart Into It," and pulls what it suggests is a "revealing" quote from it about the company's past struggle with unions:

    "If they had faith in me and my motives, they wouldn't need a union."

    Inc. writes: "Schultz may not have known it then, but these 14 words spell out the perennial struggle leaders have with building employee trust. It's not only about building faith in motives -- it's about communicating the priority of (and delivering) concrete benefits that employees need."

    The piece argues that these 14 words are "I-centric" - they are about Schultz's motives, not the real challenges and concerns of employees.  It seems clear that Starbucks' "baristas are feeling overworked, overwhelmed, and burdened by complex orders," not to mention under-appreciated and under-compensated by their employer - and the fact that Starbucks long has had a reputation as a progressive employer doesn't really matter.

    Inc. makes the point that a statement from Schultz, made when the announcement of his return to Starbucks went public, suggests that he understands the world has changed since he wrote his book.  Schultz said:  "I know the company must transform once again to meet a new and exciting future where all of our stakeholders mutually flourish."

    In other words, he's not asking the employees to have faith in his motives.  He's promising to make changes that will allow the company to live up to its core promises, to employees and customers.  (In doing so, the company may be better able to live up to its promises to investors.)

    It is an Eye-Opening shift, I think.

    There are ways for Schultz to do this, I think.

    For one thing - and I've been arguing this for some time - he ought to stop fighting the unionization movement.  Doing so only results in negative energy.  Rather, be positive … and embrace the opportunity to prove to employees that unions aren't necessary to achieve their goals.  He might even want to ban the use of the word "union" by management, and keep the relentless focus on creating a better workplace.

    And second, he ought to spend a ton of time in the stores.  If the pandemic proved anything, it is that business leaders don't have to be in the office to lead.  So get out of Seattle, and maybe enlist other members of the c-suite to do the same thing.

    This is a great lesson for every business leader, I think … especially in retail, where stores and store employees are on the front lines, responsible for any success the company might have.  Positive energy and a consistent presence in the field are critical factors in being successful in the modern marketplace.

    It is critical to know what is important, and what is not.

    The line from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, when offered evacuation by the United States when Russian invaded his country, comes to mind:

    "The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride," Zelensky reportedly said.

    The circumstances were far more dire, which makes the statement even more impressive - it is about knowing what is important.

    Like I said.  An Eye-Opener.

    Published on: March 25, 2022

    The Information reports that one day after Instacart said that it would open mini-warehouses - it calls them "nano-fulfillment centers," and they seem to resemble "dark stores" - that will promise 15-minute delivery services in a number of markets, the company said that "it was cutting its valuation to $24 billion, 38% lower than the $39 billion it achieved in its last private financing in February 2021."

    Instacart described the rationale behind the move as "market turbulence."

    This decision came about two weeks after several of Instacart's investors had marked down the value of their stake in the company by about 18 percent.

    However, The Information points out that while this is "a rare move for a private company," it also could help Instacart "reset investor expectations and allow it to pull off a public listing at a higher price amidst a sharp slowdown in growth last year."

    The story notes that Instacart has "struggled to grow revenue at a similar pace to its publicly-traded rivals. Last year, Instacart grew revenue just 20% to $1.8 billion … By contrast, DoorDash grew revenue by almost 70% in the same time period."

    KC's View:

    As we reported yesterday, Instacart's CEO, Fidji Simo, has described the company as going through a "broader pivot" from its core business "into becoming a platform offered to retailers, incorporating advertising technology, warehouse logistics and data analytics."  

    I continue to believe that client retailers ought to be worried about the pivots being made by Instacart, as it looks to an IPO that will be all about its own brand, not the degree to which it defends and supports the brands of its retail customers.

    Published on: March 25, 2022

    The Wall Street Journal reports that "Uber Technologies Inc. is becoming friends with a former foe.

    "The company has reached an agreement to list all New York City taxis on its app, an alliance that could ease the ride-hailing giant’s driver shortage and temper high fares while directing more business to cabdrivers, whose livelihoods were affected by the emergence of car-sharing apps and the pandemic.

    "While Uber has formed partnerships with some taxi operators overseas, and riders in several U.S. cities can use its app to book taxis if cabdrivers choose to be listed there, the New York City alliance is its first citywide partnership in the U.S. New York, one of Uber’s most lucrative markets, has been a battlefield for the company and the city’s iconic yellow taxis for years."

    The story says that "passengers will pay roughly the same fare for taxi rides as for Uber X rides, according to the company. Uber drivers in New York City receive a minimum time and distance rate set by the TLC. Uber said its drivers typically earn more than that rate. Cabdrivers who agree to take Uber passengers will be paid the same way."

    KC's View:

    This gives a whole new meaning to ride sharing.

    I found this story particularly interesting because I've been watching "Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber" on Showtime, the early episodes of which detail the degree to which Uber founder Travis Kalanick was engaged in pitched warfare against cab companies, as well as taxi and limousine commissions in various cities.  I didn't remember that Uber originally was called Uber Cab, with the name changed so that the company could argue that it should not be regulated like cabs.

    I'm three episodes in, and I find the show to be fascinating … when Uber launched, I remember being enthralled by the disruptive energy it created (though I've always been more of a Lyft customer).  The show has done an excellent job so far of illustrating the toxicity and disruptiveness can go hand in hand, and it is making me feel a little uncomfortable about my previous feelings.  That said, there are four more episodes to go, and I'm in for the entire ride.

    Published on: March 25, 2022

    From the New York Post:

    "Walmart has accused rival discounter BJ’s Wholesale Club of blatantly stealing its self-checkout technology," saying that "BJ’s did little more than change the name and logo of Walmart’s Scan & Go self-checkout mobile app to create its own app, called Express Pay, according to the complaint filed by Walmart and its Sam’s Club warehouse chain.

    "BJ’s began installing its knockoff system at all of its stores at the end of last year, the suit alleges. 

    "Walmart claims its patented technology enables customers to walk through stores scanning items with their phones as they place them in their shopping carts and to check out without standing in line.":

    BJ's says it does not comment on pending litigation.

    Published on: March 25, 2022

    The New York Times this morning has a piece suggesting that the nation's economy may have reached a kind of tipping point where the future may look a lot less like the past than anyone might have thought.

    An excerpt:

    "The pandemic, and now the war in Ukraine, have altered how America’s economy functions. While economists have spent months waiting for conditions to return to normal, they are beginning to wonder what 'normal' will mean.

    "Some of the changes are noticeable in everyday life: Work from home is more popular, burrito bowls and road trips cost more, and buying a car or a couch made overseas is harder.

    "But those are all symptoms of broader changes sweeping the economy — ones that could be a big deal for consumers, businesses and policymakers alike if they linger.

    "Consumer demand has been hot for months now, workers are desperately wanted, wages are climbing at a rapid clip, and prices are rising at the fastest pace in four decades as vigorous buying clashes with roiled supply chains. Interest rates are expected to rise higher than they ever did in the 2010s as the Federal Reserve tries to rein in inflation.

    "History is full of big moments that have changed America’s economic trajectory: The Great Depression of the 1930s, the Great Inflation of the 1970s and the Great Recession of 2008 are examples. It’s too early to know for sure, but the changes happening today could prove to be the next one."

    You can read the entire analysis here.

    Published on: March 25, 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…

    •  Here are the Covid-19 coronavirus numbers for the US:  81,565,957 total cases … 1,002,259 deaths … and 63,824,394 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  478,419,773 total cases … 6,135,114 fatalities … and 413,283,349 reported recoveries.   (Source.)

    Published on: March 25, 2022

    •  Amazon yesterday announced what it is calling a "Welcome Door program," which it describes as "a new initiative to provide refugee and humanitarian-based immigrant employees with additional resources and support, as well as reimbursement for Employment Authorization Document (EAD) fees."

    According to the announcement, which was prompted by the millions of people fleeing war and conflict in countries like Afghanistan and Ukraine, "Amazon’s refugee and humanitarian-based immigrant employees will have access to several new resources, including:  Reimbursement for EAD renewal fees, which on average cost roughly $500 every other year … A new Citizenship Assistance Portal that will fully support U.S. citizenship applications for all eligible employees … Ongoing communications that will highlight policy changes that may impact an employee’s immigration status … Free legal resources to help navigate immigration-related questions and the ability to connect with immigration experts … Access to skills training benefits including free college tuition and English as a Second Language (ESL) proficiency through Amazon’s Career Choice program."

    “At Amazon, we have a variety of jobs and welcome all kinds of people, and we’re proud to offer enhanced support for refugees around the world,” said Ofori Agboka, Amazon’s vice president of People eXperience and Tech for Operations, in a prepared statement.  “Being displaced from your homeland and having to start again somewhere new is challenging and emotional. It is an honor and a privilege to help to make that transition easier and help people start again. Across our entire business and at all levels, we’re working with refugees to secure jobs and get the support they need.”

    Published on: March 25, 2022

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Initial jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs, decreased by 28,000 to a seasonally adjusted 187,000 last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was slightly below a level last seen in December, and the lowest level for initial claims in over 52 years, since September 1969. The four-week average, which smooths out volatility in the numbers, decreased by 11,500 to 211,750."

    •  In Des Moines, KCCI-TV News reports that Hy-Vee has eliminated 121 corporate employees, and laid out the details in a 12-minute internal video.

    According to the story, the video "spells out the number of corporate workers let go and how many were offered a job on the retail side of the company.

    "CEO Randy Edeker and Tina Potthoff, senior vice president of communications, addressed the layoffs and the change in e-commerce for the company in an internal video.

    "In that video, Edeker said 121 positions at the corporate level were eliminated and 102 of those employees were offered jobs in retail. Nineteen workers, all in I.T., were not offered new jobs … Employees who were let go tell KCCI most of the cuts were in the marketing and information technology departments, both remote and in the Helpful Smiles Technology Center in Grimes."

    The story says that Potthoff told the station that "Hy-Vee is still hiring at the corporate office, retail locations and is expanding its footprint in the Des Moines metro and surrounding areas."

    "Hy-Vee is a strong and vibrant company,” Potthoff told KCCI in a written statement.  “Like every company, our employee needs ebb and flow to match our business. In the midst of COVID-19, we had to significantly increase our projects across our business. With those projects launched, we have to make sure we remain focused on our stores and providing the best value and quality to our customers.”

    Published on: March 25, 2022

    •  Kansas City-based Balls Food Stores announced a number of executive changes:

    Scott Bayne, VP of Sales and Marketing, has been promoted to Chief Operating Officer.

    Gregg Frost, former VP of Human Resources and VP of Hen House Markets, has been promoted to Chief Teammate Officer.

    Mike Sullivan has been promoted to VP of Price Chopper Operations.

    Bob Pearson has been promoted to VP of Hen House/Sunfresh/Payless Operations.

    And Pat Rogers has been promoted to Balls Foods Delicatessen Director. 

    Published on: March 25, 2022

    I don't know about where you are, but January and February here in New England seemed particularly brutal.  Maybe I'm just getting old and cranky.  (I'm resisting, however, the impulse to become a cliché and move to Florida.)  Maybe it was because December was relatively mild, and lulled me into complacency.

    Either way, temperatures in the teens and twenties, and wind chills lower than that, conspired to keep me indoors.  It was hard to go running outdoors in the morning (I'm an outdoor runner - I hate treadmills), and difficult to work up much enthusiasm for one of my favorite things - making pizza outdoors on the grill.

    Last weekend, things changed.  The temperatures lifted a bit, flower buds could be seen and chirping birds could be heard, which meant that our patio was once again a hospitable place to spend an early evening.

    Which we did.  I fired up the grill on Saturday night, and my daughter and I set about making fresh pizza:

    We also enjoyed a terrific red wine that I'd like to recommend to you … the 2020 J. Mourat Val de Loire Collection Rouge, which was described to me by my wine guy as a perfect pizza wine.  And boy, did he get that right!  We served it the other night with a fresh pizza made on the grill and it was wonderful … I went right out and bought another couple of bottles for this weekend's pizza night.  Can't wait!

    Life seems full of promise.  Which is an odd thing to say when the world is going to hell around us, but maybe it speaks to the power of fresh pizza and delicious wine.  Or, maybe it speaks to misguided priorities.  Or unjustified optimism.

    It reminds me of a line from "Moby Dick:"

    "Yet is there hope. Time and tide flow wide."

    That's it for this week.  Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.