Published on: July 13, 2022
Got the following email yesterday regarding my FaceTime video about the value of recognizing companies' histories:
Regarding your FaceTime segment today, the Mets recognizing Tom Seaver and the history of the organization that the new statue brings to the conversation, I have mixed emotions. I’ve been in the grocery business for over 35 years, same company. I’ve seen and experienced a lot of changes over that timeframe. The history of the company is amazing and what a difference so many people have made not only to my company but to the industry itself.
However, today, is a company only as good as it’s current leadership and how well they lead and inspire the workforce? If we want inspiration for upcoming talent, we might have to forget the history of middle aged white guys making all the decisions for the company. With diversity and inclusion throughout the ranks, companies will be better for all customers – today and tomorrow!
I don't think that valuing history - including mistakes - means that companies don't or can't move on in terms of diversification of leadership. Quite the contrary. In all things - not just retail - I believe that understanding the past (including decisions made from ignorance about values that many of us hold dear today) is critical to avoiding those same mistakes and ignorance in the future.
And I say this as someone who used to be a middle aged white guy. (My kids tell me that I can't claim to be middle aged unless I'm planning to live to 130.)
Remember the line from philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Too many people want to censor or ban books that recognize the mistakes of the past and acknowledge moral judgements that have not aged well because they think these things somehow diminish us. I always think that this, in fact, celebrates our ability to grow, to evolve, to be better as a culture. To do otherwise is to put your head in the sand. (Or, in some cases, elsewhere.)
Yesterday we cited a Los Angeles Times report that there is "a new front in California’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions" - five cities in the San Francisco Bay Area have voted to halt the opening of a any new gas stations. And now, there is a move - nascent at the moment, but expected to gain at least some traction - to pass a similar ban in Los Angeles. One advocate said, “L.A.’s enormous and damaging ecological footprint really helped set us on this path … If you have lung cancer, you stop smoking; if your planet’s on fire, you stop pouring gasoline on it."
Which led me to comment:
You'd think. Except the world is filled with lung cancer patients who can't or won't stop smoking, just as it is filled with people who don't acknowledge the existential threat that continued reliance on fossil fuels - by their very nature, a limited resource - may create for the human species.
MNB reader Steven Ritchey responded:
There are many people who don't believe science. I know a few of them. They believe the coronavirus was and is a hoax, at least until someone close to them unfortunately dies from it, all of a sudden they believed it.
We know fossil fuels will run out, but in too many people's minds, it won't be in their lifetimes, so it won't affect them, so they won't get on board with new technology.. I personally am not a new adopter, I want to make sure the technology works and is reliable before I take the plunge. But since my electricity provider has the option, I pay the minuscule amount of extra money to have my electricity generated by green means of generation, wind, solar, all those sorts of things..
Now cigarette smoking, I can kind of understand as I understand nicotine is very, very addictive, and the manufacturers I think deliberately held back information on their addictiveness, and the dangers of smoking. I'm personally just happy I can go to a restaurant or bar and not leave reeking of cigarette smoke, or even a concert or sporting event. It's been a long time since I've smelled a cigarette burning, and I'm glad.
I take your point … it isn't apples to apples. I was just using the lung cancer metaphor to make a larger point … that in a lot of ways we're addicted to fossil fuels.
Regarding the issues that Amazon continues to face, one MNB reader wrote:
I think Amazon is learning that selling food and more importantly making a profit at selling food is not as easy as it may look. They are not going anywhere anytime soon however they will continue to see the issues being profitable in the food business.
But they're learning. They'll get better. And it would be foolish to underestimate Amazon. Remember, it is not all that long ago that some folks thought that Walmart would never be successful selling groceries.
On another subject, from an MNB reader:
Is it just me observing that the spread between the price private labels products and branded is growing? Great time period for private label to expand share, increased retailer margin while providing consumer value.
And finally, responding to Michael Sansolo's column extracting a business lesson from Sen. Chuck Schumer's continuing dedication to visiting all 62 counties in New York State that he represents for the past 23 years, MNB reader Brian Burnam wrote:
Michael, our Senator, Chuck Grassley, has been visiting every county in Iowa for over 42 years. We have 99 of them to visit.
Good for him. The lesson stands - retail leaders should follow their lead and visit as many stores as possible every year. Office time is overrated, and the last two years have proven that you don't need to be at headquarters to get things done.