business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB continues to get email responding to last week’s story, commentary and follow up letters about how Walmart CEO Mike Duke finds himself at the center of a cultural storm - accused of being “bigoted and discriminatory” for his support last year of a state initiative preventing same-sex couples from being adoptive or foster parents – generated lots of reaction, most of it negative about what I wrote.

As I noted last week, the story noted that Duke’s support of the initiative became public knowledge when opponents found his signature on a petition calling for a statewide referendum on the issue; it passed in November with 57 percent of the vote.

MNB noted that there seem to be a couple of problems for Duke, who has a reputation within the organization for religious and cultural conservatism. Walmart has been working overtime in recent years to present itself to the world as a more open and accepting employer and corporate citizen, and in some circles, this position appears to run counter to that public relations effort … and creates at least the perception that it is only a public relations effort.

This creates the possibility of a schism between Walmart leadership and the company’s employees – not to mention current and potential customers - who happen to be part of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. And it also seems to put Walmart firmly on one side of the gay rights issue at a time when five states – Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, Massachusetts, and, just this week, Maine – allow gay marriage.

The vast majority of the emails last week criticized me for suggesting that maybe signing the petition wasn’t the best move for Duke…that distancing oneself from customers and employees in such a way might not be the best approach for the CEO of the world’s biggest retailer.

Another MNB user chimes in:

Quoting of Scripture and Corinthians as basis for exclusion of homosexuals (and the others listed) into the kingdom of God is a scary thing. Corinthians also lists anyone who drinks too much (drunkard), has stolen from others (thieves), or ever in life had sex with a person not your husband or wife (fornicator- that is the definition) would exclude most of us … If the kingdom of God would deny entry for any/all of the above, it would be a most exclusive club indeed. One should be careful what they ask for.

Maybe some MNB readers are right. I am going to hell.

Another MNB user wrote:

An employee of a company, CEO’s included, certainly have a right to personal opinions and to take part in the public debate on political issues. There is a difference in supporting a cause versus a candidate. One can distance themselves from a candidate because there won’t be full agreement on all issues but no such distance can be made when supporting a single political issue or cause. Those taking the opposite side of those issues have a right to vote with their pocketbook against the company someone works for if they disagree with those thoughts. This is especially true when the employee is the CEO and the issue is as volatile as gay marriage. Mike Duke is free to express his personal beliefs, but he must be cognizant that they will reflect on his company and that there is no distancing himself from the feedback.

One more point on this issue, if I may. I got a number of emails over the weekend from people who didn’t necessarily want to be quoted, but said they felt sorry for me because I’d found myself in the middle of a contentious debate.

For the record…I didn’t find myself anywhere. I jumped into this with both feet, eyes wide open.

We live in a world of almost total transparency, and so the intersection of private and public lives is more evident than ever…and this is something that corporate leaders have to factor into their behavior. And the debate needs to be had…in this case, in the public forum of MNB.

It isn’t just faith, by the way. Other things become transparent when people do things like sign petitions. For example, when Duke signed that petition, he had to list his home address in Rogers, Arkansas…which is now there for everyone to see on the Internet. Does that leave him personally more vulnerable than his board and shareholders would like him to be? Maybe…or maybe everybody in the area knows where he lives, so it doesn’t matter.

MNB reported the other day about the fact that actress Kirstie Alley, who famously lost 75 pounds a couple of years ago while working as a spokesperson for Jennie Craig, apparently has gained it all back and then some. The reason seems pretty clear: once she lost her endorsement deal, she stopped exercising and started eating things like pasta drenched with butter. Her relapse offers a cautionary note to anyone on a diet…especially because she’s apparently ready to lose the weight all over again…and I said that “while I hate to be cynical, I suspect she’s hoping that there might be a new endorsement deal in the works.”

One MNB user responded:

I do research on food retailing and marketing news. I get your MNB daily and love it. I saw on the news the other day Kirstie Alley’s issues with her weight and I heard them talking about her trying to loose it again during some sort of interview. But instead of getting a sponsorship from a weight loss group she is starting her own. I am not sure if it will consist of meal replacements or exercise or menu ideas or a mix of all they were not specific. But that is why she is all over the news she is garnering publicity for herself, her struggles and then she can promote her new company, one that she owns. She says it will help all. (Thankfully, I wasn't watching it just listening while doing chores so I didn't lose to many brain cells!)

So that may be the most profitable 80 pounds she ever gained…she gets on magazine covers, garners plenty of free publicity for a new business, and then loses the weight again …. But she’ll lose the weight because she has advantages (money, chefs, personal trainers) that most people don't have, and will sell the illusion to people looking for any hope in their personal weight struggles.

What a crock.

I liked her better in “Cheers” and “Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan.”

Got the following inquiry from en MNB user…and I didn’t have an answer:

Do you know what percentage of moms take their kids with them to the grocery store? I’ve searched for the answer with no success.

The question goes to the effectiveness of programs designed to market to kids in the produce department.


I made a quick comment about the Manny Ramirez steroid controversy last Friday, which led one MNB user to write:

To quote you, "I wish that he and A-Rod and all the other steroid users would pack up their needles and get out of my game".

Your game hasn't been a clean game since you were a little kid Kevin. For example, your 1986 Mets were riddled with Cocaine abusers (among other drugs; and not just Straw or Doc, most of the team). So is that team's World Series championship tainted? Yes. Did you care? Probably not (because you didn't know). And did we care back when McGuire and Sosa were chasing home run history in the late 90's? No, we were captivated by the race. No one commented how much bigger Big Mac looked then, versus his 1989 A's team that won the World Series. No one cared. But now we do.

Look, this game hasn't been clean for a very long time. At least the book “Ball Four” started the drug exposure in the game many years ago. And that notice didn't really start up again until Canseco blew the whistle years later (funny how he finally has some credibility).

But it's still a great game, nonetheless! And the point is, we have to take it for what it's worth, pure entertainment. It will get cleaned up, and let's hope that Selig gets even tougher with MLB's drug laws.

I’m okay with tough drug enforcement. I’m okay with draconian drug testing. And I’m okay with people being tossed out of the game when they violate it.

MNB user Tom Devlin had some thoughts about the broader issue:

I was with colleagues this morning and the discussion was on another pathetic example of where we are in society to reach greatness. I could not agree with you more that all steroid users should take their ball and go home. They can take the millions they have made and inject themselves knowingly or unknowingly and get out of our game and let the true athletes entertain us.

I am sure they really don’t care about getting in the Hall of Fame, they are only sorry they got caught. We are building a great Hall of Shame in sports when the top ten current 500 home run hitters consists of seven players who have used or been accused of using steroids. Many represented by Scott Boras their agent. They are all the Bernie Madoff of sports because they have lied, cheated and did everything for their own benefit and without a care for anyone else. At the same time we should salute and admire the great ones even more such as Cal Ripken, Ken Griffey Jr., Derek Jeter, etc… who constantly give back to the community and play the game the way it was meant to be played.

Our society and the parents also get blame as we teach our kids about sports. I am confused with the youth baseball as young kids up to the college level are using the most advanced titanium aluminum bats or actually large golf clubs to hit a ball when at the major league level they use wood bats. Every other major league sport uses the same equipment from development level to the pro’s but baseball. Why are we still doing this? It makes no sense but to see if our kid can look like the next super star but it is really the bat not the kid.

I was at a recent girls U-12 baseball game in Connecticut and this kid hit a soft ball 220 feet over the fence !! Or should I say the bat did it. Good for her and the parents and coaches ego but explain to the kid pitcher in New Jersey last week who as hospitalized after she was hit by a line drive... In girls softball the pitchers mound is only thirty-five feet away from home plate, so we the parents can put all the blame we want on the hall of shame players but we are responsible for putting together all the elite, pre Olympic teams, special camps to get our kid “To The Next Level” thinking our kid is going to be the next Derek Jeter, Tiger Woods or God Forbid..... Manny Ramirez or Mark McGwire........ We all part of the cause…

KC's View: