business news in context, analysis with attitude

I asked the other day how many people remember a time, not that long ago, when Walmart wasn't in the food business, prompting MNB reader Mike Carr to write:

Yes I do remember Walmart before they sold groceries, less than 30 years ago. In 1987 they tested two “Hypermarts” in Dallas, then closed them. But they opened the first Supercenter just outside St. Louis in 1988 and came to Texas just two years later.

As a young staffer with HEB I happened to be in an executive strategic off-site in 1989. In the discussion of new strategies our exec team said - forget about the buildings across the street from our stores – Kroger, Albertsons, Winn-Dixie, and Safeway. Instead they said, we need to worry about the new guy in our business – Walmart. And, at the time they had ZERO Supercenters opened in Texas.

It was then that HEB decided to adjust their strategy to go to EDLP for Center Store and make up the margin in the growing Fresh categories. Of course we now know the rest of the story. Walmart has 350+ Supercenters in Texas alone, and HEB has earned a reputation of being one of the most successful chains to compete with that monster grocer. As I look back……what great foresight that HEB Exec team had.

Here's something else to remember. Walmart and Kmart both decided to get into the supercenter business at around the same time ... and in the beginning, Kmart's version was vastly superior to Walmart's. The difference was that Walmart stayed the course and continued to learn and evolve, and Kmart went off the rails, sunk by its own arrogance and missteps.

Responding to Michael Sansolo's column this week, one MNB user wrote:

There are so many good books out there on how and why our economy is rising, but not all boats are rising with it. I work with many good young people, some going to college, some just out ... Our future management pool is shrinking because these young Turks can’t pay house payment or rent, car payment or repair the beater they drive, student load payment, and then try to save for retirement or even go out for dinner while only making 13 or 14 dollars an hour. On the corporate level I see many IT and business analysis hired and I’m pretty sure they make more than 13 or 14 dollars an hour (this isn’t to say they are not worth it, just a comparison is all). To have these young people start at the store and move up thru the ranks takes time and is quite an investment. I (naturally because  I am up thru the ranks)  feel that when you travel up thru the store rank and file you make a better manager. This is a challenge for all companies, how to keep young talent in the stores? Especially when the corporate offers Monday thru Friday, off weekends and holidays. (mostly) While at the stores, it is days, evenings, weekends and holidays ... Many challenges has we head into the future.

Commenting on a story the other day, I noted that a friend of mine had pointed me to a Politico story about how Donald J. Trump calls global warming "a total hoax" and "pseudoscience," but recently applied for permission from local authorities "to erect a coastal protection works to prevent erosion at his seaside golf resort, . . . That application "explicitly cites global warming and its consequences - increased erosion due to rising sea levels and extreme weather this century - as a chief justification for building the structure." The point of the story was that Trump the CEO behaves differently than Trump the politician.

Prompting one MNB user to write:

Perhaps Trump is sophisticated enough to be able to discriminate between the scientific fact the globe is warming and the arguable hypothesis that humans both are responsible and able to reverse it.  It would seem reasonably intelligent for a company to prepare itself for inevitable changes it has absolutely no control over . . . unless its CEO is a Republican candidate, of course.

One person's management philosophy is another person's hypocritical, cynical political posturing.

I continue to get emails about the subject of millennials. MNB reader Rich Heiland wrote:

A good bit of my work with owners and staffs of small business focuses on generations. We have more generations and generational subsets in the workplace than we ever have had and management and team challenges are immense, though at the same time simple. My goal, to cut to the chase, is to get rid of generational silos within a team and see how everyone contributes, just in a different way.

I have found the subsets to blow up the theory of "a generation." For instance, Boomers are said to be those born between 1946 and 1964. I was born in 1946 so I am the first Boomer. I was in the part of that generation that marched for civil rights, against war, had some damn fine music and tries very hard to remember some of it. Those who came later were more of the "party hearty" and precursor to the Yuppies, yet they get lumped in with Boomers.

In the case of the Millennials I see trends much as the Times article notes. I have found young people tend to want to know the "why" of what they do and as a manager you have to understand that. They also have seen previous generations work like dogs and end up getting laid off before retirement so they are not wedded to the idea of a "career" or a "company."

There also, I think, is a huge difference between urban Millennials and rural ones. While the stereotype of Millennials is they live in 800-square feet, filled with really cool stuff, live near what they love, such as museums, clubs and friends, don't drive (Zip Car in urban areas is the biggest automotive growth industry) and they Uber (another noun-to-verb swing). In a rural area, it's hard to do all that so while there may be some baseline views of the world, how it plays out is different.

And, we are starting to see studies showing that as the first Millennials age, marry and have kids, the home in the suburbs is tempting them away from the  800-square foot apartment near the clubs and museums.

These differences are one key reason why I tell the teams I work with that you can't categorize generations based on work ethic, technological savvy, etc. Do they show up, do they work? Do they care? In my opinion Millennials do. It's not that one generation has a better work ethic than another, it's that they are different.

I know this is too long for publication but I enjoyed your sharing of the Times article, and I plan to share it with some my clients.

Not at all. It was perfect and right on point.

One of our millennial readers also had an observation about how his generation should be categorized:

To add to this conversation you could also call us very generous ... since we will pay into social security our whole lives with no plan to get any significant return when we are eligible.

Maybe we should act our age and start complaining?

Please don't.
KC's View: