business news in context, analysis with attitude

Responding to yesterday’s story about CVS’s Beauty Mark initiative - which requires the labeling of photos in its cosmetics aisles as “digitally altered”: when they have been so, making it “the first major American company to adopt such a policy in the face of rising concerns about doctored images setting unrealistic ideals of beauty, especially for young women” - MNB reader Alison Kenney Paul, vice chairman of Deloitte, sent me the following email:

Thanks for the mention of the CVS campaign and agree with you that it is a BIG step in the beauty business and a critical one w/r/t girls.  I am on the National Board of Girls Inc. – with whom CVS is partnering to launch the Beauty Mark campaign.  We are grateful to CVS for their generosity and for drawing attention to every girls’ inner beauty!

Girls Inc. serves over 150,000 girls each year through educational programming and support to help girls be Strong, Smart & Bold – thank you CVS and thank you to all of our supporters in the Retail and CPG industry!

We had a story yesterday about how Howard Schultz, the former chairman/CEO of Starbucks, told “60 Minutes” in an interview aired last night that he is “seriously considering” a run for the US presidency - but said if he did so, he will reject the two-part system and run an independent candidacy.

He said, among other things, that he has “a long history of recognizing, I'm not the smartest person in the room, that in order to make great decisions about complex problems, I have to recruit and attract people who are smarter than me and more experienced, more skilled, and we've got to create an understanding that we need a creative debate in the room to make these kind of decisions.”

I commented:

The palpable panic attack that hit a sizable percentage of the country last night was about the fact that an aggressive Schultz campaign could siphon off votes from whoever the Democratic nominee is, thus assuring the re-election of President Trump.

I’m guessing that Schultz will run … you don’t go on a book tour and on “60 Minutes” only to pull back at the end. It remains to be seen if he will find that the skills that served him in building his business will serve him well when running a campaign, or a country for that matter.

I’ve long said here that I think that Schultz has a messiah complex … to a certain extent, he’s entitled, based on his history. This doesn’t do anything to change my mind.

Whatever you think of Schultz, this could be a lot worse. It could be Eddie Lampert running for president.

MNB reader Andy Casey wrote:

I think you may find Howard Schultz attractive to moderates (still most people in America, I think) of both parties. Many of the politicians on both sides of the aisle seem so far out of touch with reality that a reasonable alternative might provide a welcome breath of fresh air.

Maybe. Though I think recent history suggests that momentum favors partisans, not moderates. But we’ll see.

From another reader:

Since when does he "have a long history of recognizing I'm not the smartest person in the room"?  If anything it's the opposite, in my opinion.

Is it possible to have an enormous ego and a Messiah complex and still think that one is not the smartest person in the room?

MNB took note yesterday of the passing of Albert J. Dunlap, who was known as “Chainsaw Al” for his strategy of cutting thousands of jobs - focusing on efficiency, not effectiveness, and putting the needs of shareholders above those of stakeholders - at age 81.

After pointing out the Wall Street Journal’s critique of his career and style, I commented:

I hate to speak ill of the dead, but … from my view, Chainsaw Al represents everything that is wrong with capitalism, though guys like this aren’t about capitalism - they’re about ego and self-aggrandizement and a complete lack of compassion. Innovation and disruption, which are so important to a business’s ability to survive and thrive today, are about addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division … but this always struck me as a guy who only believed in the latter two mathematical functions.

One MNB reader wrote:

Everyone that was in business at the time knows about chainsaw Al. It’s your forum to make your points but this was not the time…. in my opinion…. and definitely beneath you.

I’m not sure that there’s all that much beneath me, but I appreciate your confidence.

I would argue that a sizable percentage of the MNB audience may never have heard of Chainsaw Al … and while it may have been in questionable taste, it struck me as exactly the right time. If not now, when?

MNB reader Mike Bach wrote:

Nice to see you’re willing to devote this amount of space to Chainsaw Al’s passing.  

It will be interesting to see how you handle those who behave just like him.  The list is long. But, at least Al was banned from holding future leadership roles.

I think a reading of MNB over the past 17 years or so would suggest that I’ve been pretty consistent on this.

From another reader:

Your commentary on Chainsaw Al's approach is spot on.  ANYONE can take over a company and subtract (cut jobs) and divide (create chaos).  And while job cuts might be necessary based on the particular circumstances, true executive leaders must also have a plan to reinvent, disrupt, develop, and grow the company.  You can't cut yourself to growth and prosperity.

On another, but somewhat related, subject, I got the following email from an MNB reader:

I have personal experience with PE firms in my own business. They serve very narrow purposes in cases for improved liquidity or selling a part of a business to them, but as a family buy-out / recapitalization source for supermarkets, they are dismal and the wrong model. Their approach only sees “assets” they can liquidate to create cashflow and exemplary early returns. Then they leave the operators (never the founders with passion) to try to manage with zero reinvestment as the stores decay, key employees move on, and second tier folk are employed to try to stem the mounting.

My firm experienced the Marsh debacle first hand and took a blood bath in the process due to ineptness of management who made hollow promises in our attempt to help them in their mess. It was dismal for everyone except Sun Capital. There should be a law against this practice. If they buy, they should have to live with it for ten+ years minimum and reinvest at least as much as the "buy-out" they pay the owners who line their pockets and abandon the (as Max DePree says) “the quiet and indispensable folk who keep things running day in and day out”. Pitiful. Sad.

Regarding yesterday’s piece about Kraft’s “food porn” ad for its Devour frozen food brand, one MNB reader wrote:

I guess what seems so peculiar to me is that given the rampant problems that addiction to porn is causing in our society and the recent MeToo movement to eliminate the objectification of women, that Kraft thought this to be “funny” and an approach that would be acceptable in today’s social climate.

On another subject that comes up here from time to time, from an MNB reader:

I was listening to NPR about a month ago and they had a report on how in the 1960's, plastic companies and their leaders already knew plastic disposal was going to be an issue. At a plastic makers conference, the question of "How to dispose of plastic?" was discussed. They knew it wouldn't biodegrade and they knew it was going to be a major issue. There was some debate and the deciding thought was (I'm paraphrasing) "That's the consumers problem, not ours.”

What a sad day. We had a chance to do the right thing and we didn't. We as individuals, neighborhoods, states, and as a nation need to move past this type of short sighted thinking if we are ever to get out of these messes. What's after this plastic issue? Maybe all the batteries we've created for our electric cars? Once renewable energy sources are the mainstream power generation, what does Solar or Wind farm waste look like in the future? Just thinking out loud…

I cannot speak to the specifics of this example, but our world is replete with examples of people who have the chance and the ability and even the means to do the right thing and do not.
KC's View: