business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB reported yesterday that the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has ruled that when former Wal-Mart vice chairman Thomas Coughlin was sentenced to 27 months of home detention and 33 months of additional probation after pleading guilty to wire fraud, filing a false tax return, and stealing money, merchandise and gift cards from the retailer, the judge in the case was too lenient. According to the new ruling, Coughlin must be resentenced, and the court must pay as much attention to the seriousness of his crimes as to his standing in the community.

I argued that Coughlin probably should serve a little time and pay some sort of fine, but I also think that “maybe the judicial system needs to come up with some sort of innovative sentence for a person like him – someone with obvious talents, albeit someone who has a problem with greed and avarice and who didn’t realize just how privileged he was…Let him teach neglected and poor kids about the power of the entrepreneurial spirit (with enough supervision so that he also doesn’t teach them about the power of skimming a little off the top). Rather than spending the next 28 years in jail, let him spend the next decade learning what the real world is like.”

One MNB user disagreed:

Make no mistake - even prior to the recent sentence revision activity Coughlin sees himself as a victim.

Remorse and feeling chastened or humbled are completely foreign and unwelcome emotions for corporate poobahs like him. And as far as obvious talents - the obvious talents at this executive level usually involve blow hard bullying of underlings and vendors and obsequious sycophancy to those above him in the corporate hierarchy.

Now I could be wrong. It would be interesting to know how many co workers and current or former direct reports rushed to defend "Good Old Tom" in his legal tribulations.

More than likely this is a guy , just like many others at other companies at this level, that sees his own persona as being a cornerstone of the companies success and despite his Sultan pay rate and benefits feels shortchanged, insufficiently praised, and above all - entitled. He probably feels slighted that the trucks weren't repainted to say Coughlin- Mart. And he feels more that a little pained that the company hasn't floundered after his tenure.

The last thing you want is giving guys like this any kind of forum (other than a dunking tank filled with anything other than water) especially with youth or students.

The best thing is making them serve jail time - period.

On the subject of Jim Sinegal and Costco, MNB user Dan Onishuk wrote:

You have to applaud what Jim Sinegal and his management team have accomplished over the years in the retail industry while constantly being scrutinized by the sages of Wall Street. Often "Wall-Streeters" don't necessarily know how the food got to the end of the fork-as long as it gets there and we know it is not that easy. You need a leader like Jim, who has the ability to get the message to every associate without compromise.

If Costco is happy with the results and that translates to higher wages and excellent benefits-you are going to get results and human performance that doesn't always show up on a balance sheet but is the reason the balance sheets look pretty damn good. One number wall street is familiar with is 9 to 4 - that doesn't exist at retail, it is more like 365 and 24-7. Walk in those shoes and if you can, you’re pretty special.

MNB reported yesterday on how Wegmans seems to have become a target for pro-union forces in Maryland, as they work against a shopping center that is scheduled to be anchored by the legendary family grocery company. While the arguments have focused on whether the local infrastructure can handle the traffic Wegmans will generate, the real motivation – to slow down a non-union operation – seems pretty clear.

One MNB user has no problem with that:

As Wegmans gets larger and spreads their wings, they will be a target, much like other grocery retailers are. Wegmans will find it hard to be the company it was 5 years ago. Just because they win a lot of awards and are very respected, doesn't mean that they shouldn't be held accountable for the decisions they make. After all, they import their products from China just like we all do. They are non-union and should face the same scrutiny and challenges that every other non-union retailer faces. I think they slipped past the radar in the past because they were a small family owned company. Now they are a mid sized grocery store chain, emphasis on chain. Welcome to the show...

I would guess – and I’m not privy to any internal conversations at Wegmans – that this is a central discussion point there: how do we maintain the culture of a small family company even as we expand our operations? They are probably painfully aware that they will meet a different level of scrutiny than in the past, but I hope that what makes the company special can survive even these new challenges.

KC's View: