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 21, 2023

    Whole Foods Market co-founder John Mackey recently gave a speech in which he reportedly complained that "business is misunderstood by society.  It's hated by the intellectuals, but we are the real value creators in the world … We are the ones that are creating the prosperity that lifts everyone up.  We're not understood but judged and attacked."

    I have some thoughts about this sentiment, including that self-pity isn't a good look for someone worth a reported $75 million (some of which he probably made selling overpriced produce to some intellectuals).

    Published on: March 21, 2023

    Amazon CEO Kevin Jassy said yesterday that the company will lay off 9,000 more employees, on top of the 18,000 layoffs already announced and implemented.

    The new layoffs will affect than 3 percent of Amazon's corporate work force.

    The parts of the company that will be hardest hit, Jassy said, are Amazon Web Services (AWS), People, Experience and Technology (PXT), advertising, and Twitch, Amazon's livestreaming and gaming service.  In addition, Jassy made clear that the cutting may not be done, that some teams have not completed the analyses necessary to make final decisions.  

    The New York Times observes that "the new layoffs, which amount to roughly 3 percent of its corporate work force, will target workers in some of Amazon’s most profitable divisions, which had previously been spared, including Amazon’s cloud computing business and advertising operations. Those two segments of the business are much higher-margin operations than Amazon’s core retail business, according to financial analysts and filings."

    TechCrunch expands upon this:  "On the surface, one of the biggest surprises here is that Amazon’s perennial cash cow AWS has been hit by the layoffs. But while AWS remains in relatively rude health, its growth trajectory of late has not been as precipitous as years gone by, which is reflective of a broader slowdown in cloud infrastructure spending. Put simply, companies are looking to cut costs due to the economic downturn, which translates into fewer dollars spent on things like cloud computing — even though AWS remains a hugely profitable entity for Amazon."

    The Puget Sound Business Journal reports that "the timing is sowing frustration among employees, according to messages on an internal Slack channel viewed by the Business Journal. Last week, Amazon said in a FAQ that it expects employees to relocate to the offices they're assigned to before May 1. The requirement could mean employees having to relocate without yet knowing their job status, workers said."

    The Wall Street Journal notes that "waves of job cuts have roiled the tech industry. Amazon is the latest company to enact more job cuts than previously expected. Last week, Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. said it would cut roughly 10,000 jobs over the coming months, its second wave of mass layoffs."

    Here's the text of Jassy's memo to the Amazon workforce:

    As we’ve just concluded the second phase of our operating plan (“OP2”) this past week, I’m writing to share that we intend to eliminate about 9,000 more positions in the next few weeks — mostly in AWS, PXT, Advertising, and Twitch. This was a difficult decision, but one that we think is best for the company long term.

    Let me share some additional context.

    As part of our annual planning process, leaders across the company work with their teams to decide what investments they want to make for the future, prioritizing what matters most to customers and the long-term health of our businesses. For several years leading up to this one, most of our businesses added a significant amount of headcount. This made sense given what was happening in our businesses and the economy as a whole. However, given the uncertain economy in which we reside, and the uncertainty that exists in the near future, we have chosen to be more streamlined in our costs and headcount. The overriding tenet of our annual planning this year was to be leaner while doing so in a way that enables us to still invest robustly in the key long-term customer experiences that we believe can meaningfully improve customers’ lives and Amazon as a whole.

    As our internal businesses evaluated what customers most care about, they made re-prioritization decisions that sometimes led to role reductions, sometimes led to moving people from one initiative to another, and sometimes led to new openings where we don’t have the right skills match from our existing team members. This initially led us to eliminate 18,000 positions (which we shared in January); and, as we completed the second phase of our planning this month, it led us to these additional 9,000 role reductions (though you will see limited hiring in some of our businesses in strategic areas where we’ve prioritized allocating more resources).

    Some may ask why we didn’t announce these role reductions with the ones we announced a couple months ago. The short answer is that not all of the teams were done with their analyses in the late fall; and rather than rush through these assessments without the appropriate diligence, we chose to share these decisions as we’ve made them so people had the information as soon as possible. The same is true for this note as the impacted teams are not yet finished making final decisions on precisely which roles will be impacted. Once those decisions have been made (our goal is to have this complete by mid to late April), we will communicate with the impacted employees (or where applicable in Europe, with employee representative bodies). We will, of course, support those we have to let go, and will provide packages that include a separation payment, transitional health insurance benefits, and external job placement support.

    If I go back to our tenet - being leaner while doing so in a way that enables us to still invest robustly in the key long-term customer experiences that we believe can meaningfully improve customers’ lives and Amazon as a whole - I believe the result of this year’s planning cycle is a plan that accomplishes this objective. I remain very optimistic about the future and the myriad of opportunities we have, both in our largest businesses, Stores and AWS, and our newer customer experiences and businesses in which we’re investing.

    To those ultimately impacted by these reductions, I want to thank you for the work you have done on behalf of customers and the company. It’s never easy to say goodbye to our teammates, and you will be missed. To those who will continue with us, I look forward to partnering with you as we make life easier for customers every day and relentlessly inventing to do so.


    KC's View:

    It is disconcerting that Amazon now is in the position of making cuts in areas of the company that traditionally have been growth engines.  It may be reflective of a company dealing with new realities, but it also seems to reflect an internal mindset that is different these days.  Less aggressive.  Less ambitious.  More measured and cautious.

    Not that necessarily is a bad thing.  But it is different.  A friend of mine in the tech sector sent me a brief text message after the new layoffs were announced:  "Brutal."

    In its analysis, CNBC writes that "when Amazon announced just over two years ago that founder and then-CEO Jeff Bezos would turn the helm over to former cloud boss Andy Jassy, few investors or analysts reacted with much concern.

    "Jassy, a close confidant of Bezos, was known as an Amazon lifer and a celebrated figure inside the company and across the industry because he launched Amazon Web Services, which became one of the most valuable businesses in the world. Analysts at Wedbush practically yawned at the move, saying the transition would likely be 'seamless and largely inconsequential'."

    Not so much.

    CNBC writes that "since Jassy officially succeeded Bezos in July 2021, Amazon has experienced its most turbulent period since the dot-com crash. Last year marked its slowest year for revenue growth as a public company, and Jassy has been forced to guide Amazon through a series of cost-cutting measures that nobody predicted would be necessary when business was booming through the Covid pandemic … Much of Jassy’s unfortunate circumstance can be attributed to bad timing — historically high inflation pushed the Federal Reserve to raise rates, crippling growth across the U.S. tech sector. But whether it’s bad luck, his own missteps or some combination of the two, Jassy is an unenviable position as only the second CEO in Amazon’s history.

    "Bezos, his predecessor, transformed Amazon from a bookseller into a retail, cloud computing and advertising giant that became known for an inventive, startup-like atmosphere. On Bezos’ watch, the company turned out groundbreaking inventions like the Kindle e-reader and the Echo smart speaker, and invested in new verticals like original content, health care and brick-and-mortar grocery stores.

    "So far, the Jassy era has been all about belt tightening and retrenchment from some of Amazon’s more experimental pursuits."

    All of which is true.  But to me, here are the most important 35 words from the CNBC analysis: 

    "Jassy is under immense pressure to prove he can get expenses under control. But in order to revive the enthusiasm that Bezos drove into Amazon’s culture, he’s eventually got to find new engines for growth."

    There are leaders, and there are managers.  There are people who are good at reviving companies with tenuous finances, and there are people who are good at reviving companies' sense of spirit, energy and values.  But few executives, in my experience, are good at doing both, and I'm not sure that Jassy is one of them.

    Maybe he is.  The opportunity is there for him to prove himself.

    When Bezos was stepping down, he told company employees that "Amazon couldn’t be better positioned for the future.  We are firing on all cylinders, just as the world needs us to. We have things in the pipeline that will continue to astonish.”

    Lately, there only thing that is astonishing is the degree to which some of Amazon's cylinders seem to be misfiring.

    Published on: March 21, 2023

    Starbucks announced yesterday that its "interim" CEO Howard Schultz, who took the job for the third time last April after Kevin Johnson stepped down, has passed the CEO baton to Laxman Narasimhan, who also becomes a member of the company's board.

    This time around, Schultz will remain on the board, pledging to remain involved in the company's operations.  He has said that the reason the company went astray in the past, opening the door to unionization efforts, is because he stepped away from active involvement.

    Bloomberg reports that Narasimhan "began working at the coffee giant in October and has spent the last few months getting to know the operations at more than 30 stores, manufacturing and support facilities. He also earned a barista certification."

    “As I turn Starbucks over to you now, know that you have my utmost confidence, trust and love,” Schultz wrote in a memo to staff. “You all are the future of Starbucks.”

    KC's View:

    Laxman Narasimhan.  So that's what the hell his name is.  (Now that he officially has the job, I'm retiring the joke that I've been using over the past couple of months.)

    Does anyone want to take the over/under on how long it will take Schultz to tell the US Senate labor committee looking into Starbucks' anti-union activities that he's no longer the right guy to testify since he's no longer CEO?  I don't think it will take long.  As willing as Schultz was to take all the credit for the company's new olive oil-infused drinks, he'll also be willing to send Narasimhan to DC to take the committee's heat.  (I hope that if he tries this, the Senate committee rebuffs him.  Schultz has been the main driver and face of Starbucks' anti-union stance, and he ought to be willing to take the witness chair and answer questions under oath.)

    While we're at it, what's the over/under on how long it takes for Schultz to come back a fourth time?

    By the way, I want to be clear here.  I have nothing against Narasimhan, the former CEO of Reckitt Benckiser who also worked as an executive at PepsiCo and McKinsey & Co. - he strikes me as being an executive much in the mold of Albertsons CEO Vivek Sankaran, with whom he shares the PepsiCo-McKinsey pedigree.  And I like Vivek Sankaran a lot.  I'm rooting for a) Narasimhan to succeed and b) not having to write a "Schultz Returns For A Fourth Time" headline.

    When I think of Schultz stepping down, I cannot help but think of King George III singing "You'll Be Back" in "Hamilton:"

    You'll be back, soon, you'll see

    You'll remember you belong to me

    You'll be back, time will tell

    You'll remember that I served you well

    Oceans rise, empires fall

    We have seen each other through it all

    And when push comes to shove

    I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love!

    Published on: March 21, 2023

    Politico reports that the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) "is planning to take action soon on at least three of its half-dozen investigations of Amazon — moves that could lead to a blitz of litigation to rein in the iconic tech-industry giant.

    "The FTC has been investigating the internet titan on multiple fronts dating at least back to 2019, looking into its abuse of power within its online marketplace, as well as potential consumer-privacy violations connected to its Ring cameras and Alexa digital assistant.

    "The agency is also reviewing Amazon’s purchase of robot vacuum maker iRobot."

    The story points out that "any suit against Amazon would be a high-profile move by the agency under chair Lina Khan, a Big Tech skeptic who rose to prominence with a 2017 academic paper specifically identifying Amazon as a modern monopolist needing to be reined in."

    One potential move by the FTC is "a wide-ranging antitrust case targeting Amazon’s retail operations, multiple people with knowledge of the probe said. Though the details of a complaint are not known, it could include the bundling of services through its Prime subscription business and its use of competitor data to out-muscle rival retailers on its platform, according to some of those people. The FTC has been investigating nearly every aspect of the company’s business since 2019, and a lawsuit has long been expected. The Wall Street Journal previously reported that an antitrust case could be filed against Amazon in the coming months.

    "The FTC is pursuing a so-called 'dark pattern' probe into the difficulty customers have unsubscribing from Prime and other services. Dark patterns are deceptive tactics used by websites to trick users into doing things like subscribing to a more expensive service than they intended.

    "It is also conducting a deceptive advertising probe into the 'Amazon Choice' label the company gives certain products on its marketplace. The FTC is investigating how that label is used to promote products that appear in search results, including whether it is pay-to-play. Amazon maintains it is not."

    KC's View:

    Maybe Amazon is laying off more people because it needs to be able to allocate all that money to lawyers' fees.  Because my guess is that the FTC is going to move forward with challenges to Amazon on a number of fronts.

    The Politico story notes that "top enforcement officials in the Biden administration have aggressively gone after corporate mergers and tech firms in the past year. The FTC last year sued to block Microsoft’s $69 billion purchase of Activision, and the Justice Department has two separate lawsuits against Google over its search and advertising businesses in addition to preparing an antitrust case against Apple … the FTC is under immense pressure to bring a successful antitrust case against Amazon — particularly after letting two of the company’s largest deals through without opposition in the past year, according to agency insiders and observers."

    The FTC's unwillingness or inability to go after Amazon's acquisitions of One Medical and MGM may indeed fuel its desire to challenge the company on broader monopolistic grounds.

    I find the potential challenge to the iRobot deal particularly interesting, since, as Politico writes, "FTC staff do not believe that Amazon, the leading online retailer in the U.S., should be allowed to buy the largest maker of a popular product sold on its platform."  I'm neither a lawyer nor a regulator, but I'm not sure that falls into the traditional definition of "monopoly."  (Lawyers in the MNB community will correct me if I'm wrong on this.)

    I'm also not persuaded by the idea that somehow Amazon is unique when it uses sales data to build and then flex its own marketing muscles.  I think that's what every retailer does, using data to do everything from determining which segments deserve a strong private label to figuring out how and where to place products in a store.  A move against Amazon on these grounds would reflect an old world view of what retailers do, a belief that retailers only serve as a repository for other brands, as opposed to being brands themselves.

    Regardless, I think Amazon is going to be facing nine miles of bad road when it comes to the regulatory landscape.  And those miles likely are just around the corner.  As Politico points out, "For the FTC, time is not on their side. With just 19 months until the election and a potential change in administration, it’s in the agency’s interest to move on these cases as quickly as possible, lest priorities change in a new regime."

    Published on: March 21, 2023

    From Axios:

    "Food manufacturers know Americans are snacking more, and they're busy pumping out irresistible new junk — er, snack — foods … An explosion of new products is generating buzz and profits for food makers, and surprise and delight for shoppers — but helping make Americans unhealthier."

    Among the "big trends" cited by Axios:

    "Miniatures proliferate: Frito-Lay introduced fun-sized versions of Doritos, Cheetos and SunChips. Hostess Bouncers are a new line of bite-sized Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Donettes.

    "Heat is hot: The Flamin' Hot Cheetos empire recently expanded with a new flavor called 'tangy chili fusion.'

    "Mashups multiply: The popularity of co-branding has brought us Reese's Dipped Animal Crackers, Cinnamon Toast Crunch Bugles and Morningstar Farms' plant-based Chik'n Fries coated with Pringles.

    "Breakfast all day: CinnaFuego Toast Crunch snack mix, cereal-flavored popcorn and Lucky Charms S'mores.

    "What's next: In case making a grilled cheese is too tough, 'Grilled Cheesies' — a grilled-cheese sandwich made with Kraft Singles that kids (or adults) can microwave for 60 seconds — debuts later this year."

    KC's View:

    The idea that making a grilled cheese sandwich is "too tough" is yet more evidence of the decline of western civilization.

    I'm not saying that everybody ought to be able and/or willing to make a grilled cheese sandwich like in the movie Chef.  But it ain't that tough.

    Published on: March 21, 2023

    •  From the New York Times:

    "One year after its surprise victory at a Staten Island warehouse, the only union in the country representing Amazon workers has endured a series of setbacks and conflicts that have caused longtime supporters to question if it will survive.

    "In interviews, a dozen people who have been closely involved with the Amazon Labor Union said the union had made little progress bringing Amazon to the bargaining table, to say nothing of securing a contract. Many cited lopsided losses at two other warehouses, unstable funding and an internal feud that has made it difficult for the union to alter a strategy that they considered flawed.

    "At the heart of the feud is a dispute between the union’s president, Christian Smalls, and several longtime organizers.

    "Mr. Smalls’s former allies complain that he has pursued elections at other warehouses without strong support from workers or a plan to ensure victory. They say he has focused on travel and public appearances while neglecting the contract fight at the Staten Island warehouse, known as JFK8, where Amazon is still contesting the election result.

    "The critics, who include the union’s former treasurer and its former organizing director, favor an alternative approach: amassing enough supporters to credibly threaten a strike and pressure Amazon to negotiate. The process could take months but could increase the chances of winning a contract and collecting dues, without which the union is dependent on donations from other unions and third parties."

    Published on: March 21, 2023

    •  From Fox News:

    Foot Locker announced Monday that it will close more than 400 low-performing stores in shopping malls by 2026 as it shifts its focus to new concept stores … There are about 1,300 Foot Locker stores in malls in North America … The company said it anticipates closing 25% of its locations in A- and B-rated malls and 50% of its stores in C- and D- rated malls."

    The new concept stores, the story says, are "free-standing shops targeting niche consumers such as sneakerheads, children and higher-income shoppers."

    Published on: March 21, 2023

    Executive Suite is sponsored by Robin Russell Executive Search.

    •  C-store chain Yesway announced that it has promoted Thomas Brown to the role of chief real estate officer.

    Brown will remain in his role as president of Brookwood Financial Partners, the private equity firm that founded Yesway in 2015.

    •  SpartanNash announced the promotion of Ileana McAlary from Senior Vice President to Executive Vice President, Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary.  She also serves as Corporate Secretary of the SpartanNash Board of Directors and President of the SpartanNash Foundation.  

    Published on: March 21, 2023

    The other day we referenced a story from Common Dreams saying that "a progressive coalition of more than 100 unions and consumer advocacy groups from across the United States has come together to build the 'Stop the Merger' campaign, a national and state-level effort to prevent Kroger from acquiring Albertsons and establishing the country's most powerful grocery cartel … In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the coalition writes that if approved, the merger would likely 'lead to store closures, worsen food deserts, increase prices for consumers, and destroy thousands of unionized grocery jobs … This deal is an antitrust travesty and it must be stopped'."

    I commented:

    I don't think there is any question that the FTC as it currently is constituted is going to be more sympathetic to these arguments than at other times.  I'm not sure this adds up to a rejection of the merger.  But I think it may be more complicated than some expect.

    One MNB reader responded:

    I got lost after the “largest cartel” I guess Walmart doesn’t count in the mix? The Bentonville Behemoth would enjoy “higher” prices from the Kroger Cartel, I’m sure.  True, it is likely that some employees are going to lose jobs, but self-checkout is likely more responsible. 

    As to Food Deserts, this is really a function of low community support, security and some local government decisions to raise the shoplifting/minor theft thresholds to the thousand dollar or above level.  Instead of government entities mandating the hiring of armed security guards for retailers… let’s see, three more cashiers on the payroll to aid customers and speed the checkout process or several armed guards?  Retailers paying taxes for police protection and prosecutor’s salaries for what exactly?  Close store down and save a ton of money and headaches?  You get what you will accept. Poor community support all around means food deserts.

    Over the years Kroger has acquired many local and regional grocery operators, some have kept the original name and some not, but I don’t think anyone can say that the “old” stores were better than under Kroger management.  Dillions, for one, comes to mind; in fact, Dillions' former CEO became the Kroger CEO and did a wonderful job for everyone.

    The coalition may gum up the works and add to the cost but it is going to go through and is a good thing in the long run.

    I think that for the most part you're right, but I know people in Chicago who would argue that Mariano's there has not improved under Kroger ownership.  

    I also am not sure how much of this matters when it comes to what the FTC does and doesn't do.  It may be about drawing a line - as in, "this far, and no further" - and seeing which side of the line the Kroger/Albertsons deal falls.

    Yesterday we recommended a New York Times story - I described it as "a really good piece of journalism" - that looks at how homelessness, and the crime that often accompanies it, is overwhelming much of urban America, focusing on a small, family-owned sandwich shop in downtown Phoenix.

    Over the past three years, the Times wrote, "an epidemic of unsheltered homelessness began to overwhelm Phoenix and many other major American downtowns. Cities across the West had been transformed by a housing crisis, a mental health crisis and an opioid epidemic, all of which landed at the doorsteps of small businesses already reaching a breaking point because of the pandemic."

    In Phoenix, "where the number of people living on the street had more than tripled since 2016, businesses had begun hiring private security firms to guard their property and lawyers to file a lawsuit against the city for failing to manage 'a great humanitarian crisis'.

    You can read the entire story here.

    I commented:

    This is a heartbreaking story that underlines the degree to which America's cities have to find a public policy solution that is compassionate to people in trouble and in need, but that remembers that people like Joe Faillace also are citizens with rights, and they ought to be able to run their businesses without feeling like they are trying to survive a war zone.

    I'm sure this will devolve into a political debate, but we ought to be able to find a way to take politics out of the conversation and come up with approaches that don't hasten the unraveling of the social fabric.

    One MNB reader took issue with my observation:

    What a ridiculous comment!  “Politics” is people having different opinions.  Maybe we should just go with yours.

    Well, in the lack of anything better, I'm happy if the world goes with mine.  But I'm not sure that's what I was suggesting.

    When I referred to "politics" in this context, I was referring the blood sport that typifies debate about so many issues, with nuance being replaced by knee-jerk outrage.

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    It is sickening to see those with mental illness who are homeless with little to no help.  The “system” has failed these individuals with many local and regional facilities closed due to Real Estate property values.  In Raleigh NC, Dorothea Dix Hospital was shuttered due to “FUNDING”. So, in return, the city decides to build a multi-use park, retail, and housing.  DD patients were transferred, those I suspect a threat to society sent to maximum security facility. What about those that checked in for less than violent tendencies.  Those individuals with a need for constant monitoring with help in navigating the valleys. These folks were sent to outpatient clinics.  I’m not an expert but when you turn your back on the those in need and it’s not there they tend to give up.

    This shouldn’t be about politics.  However, the incompetencies found within Local and State Controlled government and their health care systems is to blame.  Sending a message to those in need that Real Estate is more important than the wellbeing of men, women, and children is just sickening.  Try to find adolescent mental health programs in your area.  They are slim to nonexistent.  Those specialists’ available drug these poor kids to the point that they have no clue who they are or how to function properly in society. 

    I’m not a naïve person and understand some people don’t want the help.  Who are we to make that decision for them.

    From another MNB reader:

    You are right, It was an amazing piece of journalism on many different levels.

    I hope people much smarter than me are pushed into action by reading this story. I sure hope that it gets the attention that it deserves.

    And from yet another reader:

    It was certainly a heartbreaking read.  Most actions have unintended consequences.  If Phoenix doesn’t have the necessary shelters then people will be forced to live on the street.   Much of this goes back to our immigration policy or lack thereof.  How many of these campers were actually Americans? 

    And finally, several MNB readers responded to yesterday's piece about the Western Michigan University students who were so good at speaking in public.  One MNB reader wrote:

    Spot on about the ability to speak in public. As a fellow Jesuit alum you may recall that at one time the curriculum included completing a course in public speaking.

    And have to give a shout out to Russell Zwanka for all he does with that program !! Outstanding !!

    Agreed.  Russell is doing a terrific job with the WMU program.

    And from MNB reader Melissa Peterman:

    Throughout high school, I was very involved in Junior Achievement.  This was in the late '70s/early '80s, when JA students formed companies, sold stock, produced and sold a product, liquidated the company at the end of the year and wrote an annual report, which we distributed to shareholders, along with a dividend.  I credit JA with leading me toward a career in business, and I could go on and on about  the impact it has had on my life and that of my JA alumni friends.  Professionals from local businesses volunteered to serve as advisors, and I'm still in touch with one of mine.  I urge everyone to volunteer with this great organization.

    In addition to the public speaking opportunities within JA, I was offered a scholarship to take the Dale Carnegie Course in public speaking.  Most of the participants were adults, and each week, everyone in the course gave speeches.  The topics were supposed to draw on our life experience, of which, at the age of 17, I didn't have much!  But I came up with a topic each week and it gave me confidence.

    Public speaking is an important life skill, and especially for those for whom it doesn't come naturally, confidence goes a long way.  I still have the books authored by Dale Carnegie (one was written in the 1930s - I just looked!) that I was given as part of the course, and have moved them all over the country since then.  I can't seem to let them go -- maybe I should take a look at them and see if the techniques still hold up?

    I'm sure a lot of them do.

    Can I tell you a story?

    My dad was a big fan of Dale Carnegie.  He took a couple of the courses, and often suggested that I should take them as well.  I was an acting student when I was young, and spent a lot of time on stage, and so I didn't share his enthusiasm.  But, on reflection, I'm not sure he was wrong.

    My dad was an elementary school teacher and principal, and for various reasons he ended up speaking in front of groups of various sizes.  He always enjoyed it, and took pride in being able to do it.

    Later in his life, when he was in assisted living and dealing with the early stages of dementia, I'd go to visit him and we'd talk about what I was going.  I remember once saying to him that I wouldn't be by to see him for a few days because I had been hired to give a speech somewhere.

    He looked at me and said, "Why do you call it a 'speech'?  When I did it, I always called it a 'talk.'  I think you should call it a 'talk'."

    I looked at my dad, leaned toward him and said, "Dad, they pay you more when you call it a speech."

    He looked at me and with absolute clarity said, "You go give your speech.  I'll see you when you get back."

    I think about that every time I give a speech, and how much pride he took in my being able to make a living doing that.  Several years later, I was in Portland, Oregon, giving a speech.  It was a Friday morning in June, and minutes after stepping offstage I got a call telling me my dad had passed away.  I remember thinking that it was just like my dad to wait until I was finished with my speech before passing away.  That may be fanciful thinking, and may have nothing to do with reality.  But it makes me happy to think of my dad that way.