Do You Need a ‘Text Board of Directors’? Can Costco Keep Charging $4.99 a Chicken? And Is Capitalism Dead?

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SPOTLIGHT

Someone carried boxes of pizza to memorials for four homeless men who had been murdered: “Candles, flowers and handwritten tributes flow onto the sidewalk like surf filling a void in the sand, replacing the body just taken away. Memorials in Chinatown this week marked the spots where four homeless men were killed on Saturday, their heads smashed while they slept by an attacker wielding a metal bar. But something else was left at the sites. Fresh boxes of hot pizza were stacked at each memorial. And with them, a note. ‘I wish with all my heart,’ it read, ‘that I could have been there at that very moment to protect all of you guys.’

“The author added, ‘You know me as the pizza guy.’ Then he revealed something from his own past: ‘As a former homeless man, I know the struggle that all of you guys went through every day.’ The pizzas and notes came from Hakki Akdeniz, a 39-year-old [Kurdish] immigrant who has built a small chain of pizza shops in the city and, with it, something of an unofficial, but solid, support network for the homeless in Manhattan. His visits to the memorials this week, each time lugging a stack of pizzas that reached his chin, follow a remarkable journey even in a city built on rags-to-riches tales.”

MANAGEMENT

Marc Benioff, the billionaire founder of Salesforce, says capitalism is dead: “Skeptical business leaders who say that having a purpose beyond profit hurts the bottom line should look at the facts. Research shows that companies that embrace a broader mission—and, importantly, integrate that purpose into their corporate culture—outperform their peers, grow faster, and deliver higher profits. Salesforce is living proof that new capitalism can thrive and everyone can benefit. We don’t have to choose between doing well and doing good. They’re not mutually exclusive. In fact, since becoming a public company in 2004, Salesforce has delivered a 3,500 percent return to our shareholders. Values create value.”

Women business owners are setting up messaging groups between one another to receive no-nonsense advice: “[Heather] Fernandez, chief executive of fast-growing Solv, a marketplace for connecting consumers to same-day health care, calls it her on-demand ‘text board of directors.’ She and other high-level executive women are increasingly turning to such circles of business leaders for instant advice on everything from product dilemmas and compensation questions to policies on early maternity leave. The women say they see value in weekend retreats for executives, industry dinners and other in-person networking events, but add that text-based advisory groups reflect the reality of how busy professionals must work now. … 

“Texting cuts through the fluff and gets directly to the point, even if it has been months since the previous interaction, Ms. Fernandez says. Although she has developed close in-person relationships with every member of her text advisory board, the messages aren’t always personal. Ms. Fernandez has asked her text board to recommend names for a key executive position. (‘Aggressively hiring for a head of product. I need your three best names.’)”

HUMAN RESOURCES

When it comes to getting performance reviews, there’s a stark gender divide: “In an analysis of more than 200 performance reviews inside a large tech company—part of a broader study of performance evaluations of men and women across three high-tech companies and a professional-services firm—Prof. Correll and her researchers found that 60 percent of developmental feedback linked to business outcomes was given to men; only 40 percent was given to women. Women also tended to receive more fuzzy feedback tied to their communication styles. For example, a manager might simply say, ‘People find you off-putting,’ without any details or suggestions, says Prof. Correll, who adds, ‘What can you do about that aside from worry?’”

The trucking industry’s gender-blind pay structure has attracted an influx of women truckers: “The number of female truckers increased by 68 percent since 2010 to 234,234 in 2018. … ‘There are many different types of driver pay in the industry, including by the mile, per load, hourly, and even salary in some cases,’ says [American Trucking Associations] economist Bob Costello. ‘In all cases, there is no distinction between male or female.’ … The growth in women in the industry comes as demand for transportation workers is high, boosted by the expansion of e-commerce, says Frank Steemers, an economist at the Conference Board, a nonprofit research firm. 

“[S]ome advocates and industry officials say women face obstacles when it comes to joining—and feeling comfortable in—the industry. … A 2017 survey by Women in Trucking asked female drivers how safe they felt at work; the average response was 4.4 out of 10. One of their main concerns is finding a safe, well-lit place to park overnight when there aren’t enough spots.”

MARKETING

Google is losing search share to Amazon, which is No. 2 and growing rapidly: “Amazon’s search business will grow 30 percent in 2019 to $7 billion, making up 13 percent of the total US search market, according to a forecast released Tuesday by eMarketer. … Amazon’s search business is mostly growing thanks to product searches. While product listing ads on Google are still doing well, most product searches now begin on Amazon, according to eMarketer polling. Amazon is the only search engine whose share of ad budgets will grow through 2021, since it’s the only scaled offering besides Google and Microsoft Bing. But other retailers—Walmart, Pinterest, eBay and Targethave search engines that while aren’t as scaled, consumers are nonetheless using to find products at Google’s and Bing’s expense (but not Amazon’s).”

Grace Reynolds, co-owner of Handmaid Cleaning in Washington, put an ad out on Facebook that effectively saved her business: “Handmaid Cleaning employs between 10 and 17 people, depending on the season, and has annual sales of around $500,000. …  [Grace and Kevin] knew how to clean. They didn’t know how to break into the local market. The flyers that had worked in Pittsburgh didn’t generate a single call. One email did come in. ‘It said your business name sucks,’ Kevin says. ‘Good luck, but your business is going to die.’ Down to their last $100surviving on food stampsthe Reynolds used $30 to buy an ad on Facebook. They worked for as little as $5 an hour. From those early jobs they collected dramatic before-and-after photos, which they posted on their Facebook page. ‘It ended up blowing us up out there,’ Kevin says.”

PRICING

Costco lures customers into its stores with its $4.99 rotisserie chicken, but maintaining that price can be challenging: “The chickens have become almost a cult item. 91 million were sold last year, double the number from a decade earlier. They have their own Facebook page with nearly 13,000 followers. So Costco is willing to go to extreme lengths to keep its chickens at $4.99. For the past few years, it’s been recruiting farmers for this moment: The official opening of a sprawling, $450 million poultry complex of its very own in Nebraska. It’s a highly unusual move for one of the world’s largest retailers. Costco will control the production process from farm to store, making key decisions down to the grain chickens eat and the type of eggs hatched. …

“But by getting into the chicken business, it’s wading into a controversial industry with many skeptics, including some who come from Costco’s customer base. Its poultry farm ambitions have sparked backlash among environmentalists and farmers’ advocates in the Fremont area. Opponents of the plant in Fremont like Randy Ruppert, a local activist, worry about the environmental impact of the plant and poultry barns, such as water contamination from runoff, ammonia from chicken feces and other health risks. In neighboring Iowa, poultry operations have been linked to high levels of nitrates in tap water. ‘They are bringing degenerative farming to Nebraska, nothing else,’ said Ruppert, who formed a nonprofit group, Nebraska Communities United, that has led resistance to the company.”

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STARTUPS

Immersive Care out of Akron, Ohio provides virtual reality headset experiences tailored to hospice patients and assisted living facility residents: “[The kit consists of a backpack which] includes VR goggles that can accommodate a user’s glasses, a matching headset for sound, six programs offering relaxation scenarios or visits to favorite spots like the shores of Lake Erie … [Founder Jessica] Benson’s first sale came this summer, when Sandusky-based Stein Hospice completed its evaluation of the system … Recently, Stein has been working with Benson to customize the experiences. In addition to things like a walk in the park or a visit to a beach, patients will be able to revisit their favorite places. Benson and Myers made a special program for a patient who asked if they could visit Kelleys Island one last time, which Immersive Cure worked up as a virtual tour of parts of the island. … As for the business model, Benson said she sells the RoVR! kits for $3,000. They come with a one-year license to six virtual-reality programs, though users can license more if they choose. She and Myers have created a dozen programs so far, but plan many more.”

CYBERSECURITY

Cyberattacks cost small businesses an average of $200,000 and most go out of business shortly afterward: “With 43 percent of online attacks now aimed at small businesses, a favorite target of high-tech villains, yet only 14 percent prepared to defend themselves, owners increasingly need to start making high-tech security a top priority, according to network security leaders. … The frequency with which these attacks are happening is also increasing, with more than half of all small businesses having suffered a breach within the last year and four in 10 having experienced multiple incidents, reveals Hiscox. At the same time, though, according to Keeper Security’s 2019 SMB Cyberthreat Study, 66 percent of senior decision-makers at small businesses still believe they’re unlikely to be targeted by online criminals. Similarly, six in 10 have no digital defense plan in place whatsoever …”

LITIGATION

Attempting to shelter itself from liability, Uber insists that there are no Uber drivers: “Documents and a 2017 deposition related to an Atlanta civil suit, Jessicka Harris v. Uber, viewed by The Washington Post offer a rare glimpse at Uber’s strategies for using drivers’ status as independent contractors as a legal shield. Asked in a document to ‘admit or deny that Uber is in the business of providing transportation,’ the ride-hailing company’s attorneys are steadfast: ‘denied.’

“Over the course of a nearly three-hour deposition in the Harris case, Uber executive Nicholas Valentino, then an operations manager for Atlanta, repeatedly corrected the plaintiff’s attorney when he referred to the contractors as drivers. ‘They are not Uber drivers,’ Valentino said. ‘They’re independent, third-party transportation providers.’ He repeated the claim no fewer than 16 times, to the attorney’s apparent consternation. ‘If you are going to keep saying they are not drivers, we are just going to be fussing about that all afternoon,’ said the attorney, Michael Todd Wheeles.

 “‘That’s okay,’ Valentino said.”

And that’s what’s ahead.

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