business news in context, analysis with attitude

We had a story yesterday about how Michelle Obama, the wife of Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois), has resigned from the board of TreeHouse Foods, an Illinois company that sells various food products to Wal-Mart, among other retailers. And we noted that Obama isn’t the only one on the Democratic side with a Wal-Mart relationship to consider. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-New York), the apparent favorite in the race, was a member of Wal-Mart’s board while her husband served as governor of Arkansas. And former vice president Al Gore, while not yet a candidate, has made at least one trip to the retailer’s Bentonville, Arkansas, headquarters to do his “An Inconvenient Truth” presentation; his appearance apparently was triumphant, since Wal-Mart has been public about its endorsement of many of the same environmental initiatives that Gore has been addressing.

In our commentary, we wrote: Who would have guessed that there would be more Democratic presidential aspirants with Wal-Mart connections than Republican hopefuls?

Though we’re guessing that any day now Mitt Romney will put out a statement that he’s bought all his shotguns at Wal-Mart and is proud of it.

To which MNB user Jim Godwin responded:

First off, I've enjoyed your Morning News Beat for the past several years. I read it every morning. I also never get involved in a story so deeply as to bother to respond. Until today. The little ending comment regarding Mitt Romney…leaves me wondering, was this a backhanded slam of gun owners? Or was it a jab directed at Romney?

Bear in mind, your audience is made up of a large number of outdoors enthusiasts. Not every retailer or reader is sitting in a downtown office building harboring liberal thoughts.

I feel like we are getting a little insight in to your beliefs. Please, a little less Michael Moore and bit more Kevin Coupe.

It was actually a joke about all politicians who change their minds when convenient. (Which, I suppose, would be all politicians.) Ms. Obama was making $50,000 a year from being on the board of a company that supplied Wal-Mart, until it got to be politically inconvenient. Sen. Clinton was on the board of said retailer, but now runs away from it because it doesn’t fit the current message. The Romney joke - and that's what it was - simply seemed topical because of his changing/evolving position on certain issues. (And by the way, the last person to fire a broadside at Romney along these lines wasn't Michael Moore. It was John McCain.)

We honestly don't think this joke was out of character for us or the site. We've expressed a consistent and healthy skepticism about politicians and politics over the years...picking on people on both sides of the aisle when it seems appropriate. Could it be considered politically incorrect? Sure...and we suppose there are some risks associated with that. On the other hand, we think what makes MNB different is the willingness to take risks, to be politically incorrect, and even to offend people from time to time in the interest of achieving a kind of sardonic accuracy.

Here we were saying that politicians change like the wind...which doesn't seem so outrageous or outlandish a statement.

By the way, our rather scathing comments about the anti-smoking-in-cars-with-children law in Rockland County have generated some emails suggesting that we’re libertarian, not liberal.

Go figure.

We commented yesterday about a Wall Street Journal piece about Supervalu at its CEO, Jeff Noddle, saying that we liked the way that Noddle, in the days following the company’s acquisition of much of Albertsons, has focused on improving morale and giving stores more autonomy…and understanding that turning Albertsons around isn’t a quick fix.

MNB user Mike Griswold responded:

As a former SVU/ABS associate I agree with your assessment of Noddle. He is personable, approachable, down-to-earth and most importantly he understands retail. It was nice to have a CEO who did not feel the need to have a body guard. That said, SVU’s biggest challenge will be the shift in mindset from a wholesaler to a retailer. Compounding that challenge is the fact that a majority of the thought leadership to drive that change in thinking was expected to come from ABS and many have made the decision to not relocate to Minneapolis.

But another MNB user provided a dissenting voice:

While Noddle is impressive it has not happened at Shaw's. Shaw's has and continues to lose its value.

They must have taken the eye off the ball at Shaw's. Once a good company it now is a shell of its former self. First Larry and Albertsons dismantled it and now its current Albertsons placed leadership has continued to let the company erode. The hope was that Supervalu would better the company, benefits, associate, and management moral in the stores. It has not happened. Sales are flat to negative. Shaw's has become a company micro managed, high priced, driven by shrink control vs. sales. The priority is how you look on an audit or report vs. sales and ever growing six sigma studies.

Add to that poor morale from the packers at the checkout to the department and store managers where it should all happen, in the stores. CYA and audits take up half the day when department and store managers should do what they do best, run and merchandise their stores and make customers happy. Value lost.

We did an interview the other day about Wal-Mart with William H. Marquard, who, as a consultant with Ernst & Young, established and ran Wal-Mart's first-ever strategic planning process. But one MNB user questioned his credibility:

Isn't this the same person who helped bring down the Fleming company? Why should we listen to him?

True, Marquard was at Fleming. We actually considered that before conducting the interview, but figured that a) bringing down Fleming wasn’t a one-man job, and b) he could still have some good insights into Wal-Mart. Which we thought he did, and we thought his book was worth mentioning.

But your point is well-taken.
KC's View: