business news in context, analysis with attitude

Responding to yesterday’s piece analyzing whether Jeff Bezos and Amazon really are a “reincarnation of ancient evil,” and trying to put his recent $2 billion commitment to philanthropy in some sort of context, MNB reader Kelly Dean Wiseman wrote:

Two billion dollars out of $150 billion?

Here’s a guy who has a lot of employees on government assistance, and he has to keep piling up his own personal billions?

This is cynical greed, and should be called out rather than admired.

We need to change the tax code so companies pay based on the difference between their lowest and highest paid employees.

Once it reaches a certain point (50X? 100X?) they get dinged hard, and the percentage escalates the greater the gap.

Let the boards justify the crazy pay scales to stockholders with real taxed loss of profit.
This could have a real impact and address the ridiculous hoarding of economic resources by the super-rich.

And from another reader:

My personal view of Amazon is strongly negative. I fear the accumulated power — which as you would acknowledge — will continue to grow. Not only does the organization have enormous influence over millions of households, but hundreds of thousands of workers as well. And it is this area that has drawn the condemnation of the Archbishop of Canterbury as reflective of the gig economy.

The gig economy is a natural outcome of Wall Street driving business decisions — remember the “China Price” predominant at Walmart during the 90s and 00s? Driving cost out of the supply chain at all costs. The impact has been to suck wealth from the general working population and reposition it at the very top. It isn’t big business that is exclusively to blame — as Bezos blithely claims — it is the behaviors of those who run business (both big and small).

My final point concerns the “outsourcing” of policy to billionaires. We now have a group of extremely wealthy people (Gates, Buffet, Zuckerberg) who have pledged to donate their wealth to charity. Admirable, but for two factors: The fact that they have accumulated so much of the world’s wealth and that they decide what causes to donate to. In this last instance they, rather than elected officials decide what is worth pursuing and what is not. And to further complicate this, their actions may give governments a “pass” to ignore issues that are rightly their responsibility.

I would never argue that this ought to give government the ability to sidestep responsibility. I believe in good public policy, rooted in compassion, that helps the sick, homeless, poor and disadvantaged … but I also believe in public-private partnerships.

We had a story the other day about how Jimmy Buffett is licensing out his Coral Reefer brand to Surterra Holdings Inc. for a line of cannabis products including vape pens, gel caps, edibles and lotions. (It seems like we have a cannabis story every couple of days. I’m not that smart, but I think this means something.)

This struck me as a natural combination, completely in synch with Buffett’s image and brand.

MNB reader Mike Bach wrote:

Buffet is also opening 3 new retirement communities in FL and SC. Maybe he'll get a franchise to service the aging parrot heads…. I think you’re right about brand consistency!

I’m actually not sure I entirely agree.

When this business first was reported about a year and a half ago, I argued that it seems to firmly establish Buffett and Margaritaville as an old-person's brand ... and at a certain point, that is likely to make it less attractive to younger consumers.

I wrote:

One of the goals of the leader of any brand - and that's what Jimmy Buffett essentially is - has to be to make sure that the brand outlives them. Hopefully, Buffett will be performing for years to come, keeping the brand alive. While this move into the retirement community business may seem like a smart short-term play, I'm not sure it is the best way to make the brand relevant to the next generation on which it will depend for future growth.

If I'm going to waste away in Margaritaville, I'm going to find a real island and a real beach and order myself an authentic local beer and maybe some conch. But hang out in a senior citizens’ retirement community with a bunch of old people? Not me.

On the subject of giving better treatment to best customers, MN reader Tom DeLuca wrote:

I travel, a lot.  It does feel nice when the #1 Flight Attendant makes his/her way to my seat and says, “thank you for flying with us today Mr. …”

Or when I arrive bleary eyed at a Marriott anywhere and the front-desk attendant looks at their monochrome screen and then acknowledges me by saying, “we appreciate your business. Thank you for being a Platinum member...don’t forget you’ve got access to the super-secret manager’s reception on the 6th floor [along with 50% of guests, but you, you’re going to feel special because you too can join them]”

Seems foolish to not acknowledge your most loyal shoppers and hold onto them tightly.  As if someone is trying to pry them away from you...guess what, they are.

I got an email today from United telling me that as a lifetime Gold member (I’ve flown almost two million miles on the airline over the years), I now get to board with the “number one” group, not the “number two” group. Now, this may just be a trick, but it made me feel better … and it cost them nothing. That’s smart.

Retailers should ask themselves, every day: What did I do today to make my best customers feel good about shopping with us? If you don’t have an answer, then at some level you’ve failed.

And finally, from another MNB reader:

This longtime reader remembers when you bragged about completing a marathon. So it made me wonder why Monday's sports update omitted a new world record in the marathon. Perhaps you were too busy yelling at kids to get off your lawn?

This seems a little harsh.

But first, let’s be clear. I’ve finished two marathons. Not one.

Second … you make an excellent point. I should’ve reported on the fact that this past weekend, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya ran the Berlin Marathon in a record 2:01-39, becoming the first person in history to break 2:02 on a certified course.

Runner’s World notes that this is an average pace per-mile of 4:38.4.


For the record - and I went back to check, just so I could assure accuracy - I ran my first Marine Corps Marathon in 2001 in 5:35:29. (It was just weeks after 9-11, and started in the shadow of the still-smoldering Pentagon. Chilling.) I ran my second Marine Corps Marathon in 2004, just days before I turned 50, in 5:29:03.

Which means that in the time that it took me to run one marathon, Eliud Kipchoge could’ve run almost three.

These days, he could probably run four in the time it would take me to do one … I’ve had meniscus surgeries on both knees, I’m slower than ever, and I’ve given up on the idea of ever running another one.

I can still do 20 miles a week, though. I don’t delude myself that slow and steady wins the race. But slow and steady can finish the race … and a certain point, that becomes its own kind of victory.

But apologies for yesterday’s omission, and congrats to Eliud Kipchoge … who proved that barriers are just temporary, and created the expectation that it won’t be long before someone runs a marathon in less than two hours.
KC's View: