business news in context, analysis with attitude

Responding to yesterday's piece about the Southwest Airlines meltdown and the lessons it teaches every business, one MNB reader wrote:

Your story about Herb and Southwest reminded me of the first time I met Bob Mariano. He is the living example of a hands-on, always-in-the-store, engaged food retail executive.

A friend of mine introduced me to him during the early days of his remarkable run-up with the Mariano’s store concept in Chicago. We met at the newly opened Randolph Street store, occupying several floors on the backside of a loop office tower. To get acquainted we walked the store together. I was struck that he knew all of the store associates by name. As we walked the aisles he explained the various pieces and parts of his concept -- the first time, he said, in his career he had an opportunity to build a store concept from a blank sheet of paper. He carefully dissected the rationale for various departments that, in its early era, were exceptional and forward-thinking for a supermarket.

You could tell he relished being on site, observing the flow of business, tinkering with the features and upgrades in his “experiential” food store. At the end of our tour when I was getting ready to leave, he asked if I had a parking lot ticket and noticed that no one was at the validation desk, so he did it himself. This spoke volumes to me about his service-oriented point of view, reflected in the genuine hospitality and unusual customer service levels I encountered on subsequent visits without the CEO at my side. Amazing. After Bob sold the business to Kroger and moved on, his spirit and imagination went with him.

MNB reader Troy Patterson chimed in:

Enjoyed the snippet on Southwest.  Our organization has had the privilege of listening and reading from James Hunter on Servant Leadership  over the past 15 years.  A  few things James Hunter shared that really resonated to me as a young leader was "he who sweeps the floor should choose the broom."

Here Jim is actually talking about being the type of leader that's willing to having conversations with our associates and really listening to what their needs are.   Would it be correct for me to just select a broom and give to the associate to accomplish their task or actually take some quality time to connect with that associate, have a conversation with that associate and find out which size and style of broom the associate thinks they need to be successful at their task?

The other topic Jim shared that stuck with me is "having the right people on the right seat on the bus".   Just because an associate is the best and most experienced forklift operator in the organization doesn't mean they are the best associate to now be promoted to oversee all the forklift drivers in the organization.  Promoting that associate to that position may put our organization in a place where we just lost our best forklift operator off the floor and perhaps isn't the best leader to lead all the other forklift operators.

Appears Southwest lost touch with whats really important, connecting to their associates that are on the front line and listening intentionally to what their needs are so they can better take care of their guests.

All good points, but I would offer one thought.  If you don't promote the forklift driver because a) he wouldn't be the best manager of other drivers, and b) you don't want to lose the company's best forklift driver, you then have to figure out a way to compensate him so that it makes economic sense for him to stay in that job.  Otherwise, he'll go someplace else for more money … and you lost him anyway.

On another subject, from MNB reader Brian Blank:

The article on the delivery robots tests brought up issues such as uneven sidewalks and streets too wide for the bots to cross in the allotted time (reminds me of an episode of "Grace & Frankie").  There are a few more issues to consider as well, such as snow in the north (clearly the Detroit and Pittsburgh studies were done in warm weather months).  I’m also wondering how they handle crosswalks where the walk light needs to be activated by pushing a button, which are pretty common in the Hartford and New Haven areas—and some of the buttons are not mounted right at the corners, which throws off a human, let alone a robot.

I suppose finding and learning could be programmed, but the physical act of pushing the button would seem to be a barrier that is difficult (or complex and expensive) to surmount.  I also wonder how easy it is for motorists to spot one of these delivery robots crossing in a crosswalk or traversing a parking lot.

We reported yesterday that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized retail pharmacies to offer abortion pills to American consumers.  I commented:

I would expect that this will become a flashpoint in a lot of communities, as the political and philosophical debate over whether these pills should be allowed boils over in a way that puts stores with pharmacies right in the middle, whether they like it or not.

Pro-choice advocates will demand that stores have these pills available, and anti-choice forces will pressure retailers not to carry them.  The debate will rage online, in pulpits and town meetings, probably in parking lots as demonstrations take place, and retailers that just want to take their of their customers may be forced to make decisions they'd rather not make.

It is not going to be pretty.

This prompted one MNB reader to write:

Once again, your progressive bias comes through in your comments on this story.  You label pro-abortion individuals and groups as “Pro-Choice Advocates.”  On the other hand, you give the ominous descriptor of “Anti-Choice Forces” to those that are anti-abortion.  Pro-Life Advocates is the proper descriptor for anti-abortion advocates.

The crux of the debate is the convenience and health of women versus the life and potential of unborn children. It will never be an easy debate as there is so much at stake.  Labeling Pro-Life Advocates as “Anti-Choice Forces” is an attempt to marginalize one side of the debate. 

If you are charging me with having an opinion/bias, I'll plead guilty.  For 21+ years around here, that been the point.  You apparently have a bias, too.

Since this is my soapbox, I can label people any way I want.  If you have a problem with my use of "advocates" vs. "forces," I'm happy to rephrase it as "pro-choice forces" and "anti-choice advocates."  But my sense is that's not your real problem with my characterization.

I choose these terms because I think, in fact, they are more accurate.  I know plenty of people who are pro-choice but would not consider themselves as pro-abortion - they just think that women ought to be able to make their own choices without the government interceding.  There also are a lot of people who would refer to themselves as pro-life, but really only are pro-life when it comes to the abortion issue - they're less dogmatic about the issue when it comes to things like capital punishment.

Which is fine.  People are allowed to have their own opinions, and within reason (meaning I won't let MNB go too far down this particular rabbit hole), I'm happy to encourage agreeable disagreements in this space.  But I think that while "pro-choice" and "anti-choice" may not be a construct that appeals to everybody, it in fact is the most accurate description of the two sides and where they diverge.

Another MNB reader wrote:

As my father use to say; “this country is going to hell in a hand basket."

My father used to say that, too, mostly about things he didn't agree with or didn't understand that reflected the actions, priorities and values of younger generations.  And, I must confess, I occasionally will say the same thing about the actions, priorities and values of people younger than I … though I try to at least be self-aware and mildly ironic when I do so.

And, from another reader:

Yup, it’s not going to be pretty. What I don’t understand though, is why there aren’t free birth control pills.

I don't, either.

And finally, from another MNB reader:

Thanks for the link to the Tacombi menu…when I clicked on it, it was very familiar looking, so I did a little googling, and lo and behold, we actually ate at the location in the Battery back on Labor Day weekend.  Verdict:  I think you’ll enjoy the Westport location when it opens.  (Definitely try the corn esquitas!)

Can't wait.