“No One Has the Stomach to Challenge the Status Quo”

(p. B14) Before precision-scheduled railroading, or PSR, locomotives had been run the same way for more than a century. Trains waited for cargo at the rail yard, then left when customers brought their shipments and loaded them up. It was an unreliable business with plenty of inefficiencies. But that started to change early this decade, when Mr. Harrison teamed up with William Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital to take control at Canadian Pacific Railway.

“No one has the stomach to challenge the status quo,” Mr. Harrison, who started his railroad career as a 19-year-old laborer in 1963, said several years ago.

Rather than leave the departure times up to clients such as factories, farms and mines, Mr. Harrison demanded they be ready or miss their trips, much like airline passengers. This didn’t win many friends among clients, but after successfully implementing the model in Canada, Mr. Harrison moved on to take the helm of Jacksonville, Fla.-based CSX in 2017. Tragically, his tenure this time was short-lived. Mr. Harrison died just a short time after joining the company.

For the full story, see:

Lauren Silva Laughlin. “Late Railroad Guru’s Legacy Is Losing Steam.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019): B14.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 23, 2019, and has the title “Hunter Harrison’s Train Overhaul Starts Running Out of Steam.”)

Amazon Has 30,000 Open Permanent Jobs, and Half “Are Tech Oriented”

(p. A1) SEATTLE — Engineers in the Bay Area. Advertising managers in Chicago. Freight specialists in Arizona. The job listings keep piling up at Amazon, a company that is growing in many directions amid one of the tightest labor markets in memory.

On Monday [Sept. 9, 2019], Amazon said it had 30,000 open positions in the United States, including full- and part-time jobs at headquarters offices, technology hubs and warehouses.

Although the company has positions to fill across the country, Amazon’s job boards list many more openings in the Seattle area and California and by its new campus near Washington, D.C., than it does anywhere else.

The vacancies, which Amazon said it hoped to fill by early next year, are permanent jobs and do not include seasonal positions for the warehouse workers and drivers that the company typically hires to handle the spike in orders it gets around Christmas. More than half the jobs are tech oriented, and roughly a quarter are for warehouse work, the company said.

For the full story, see:

Karen Weise. “Amazon’s Work Force Has 30,000-Job Hole.” The New York Times (Tuesday, September 10, 2019): B3.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date September 9, 2019, and has the title “Amazon Has 30,000 Open Jobs. Yes, You Read That Right.”)

California Anti-Gig-Worker Regulations Have “Unintended Victims”

(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO — After months of bickering over who would be covered by a landmark bill meant to protect workers, California legislators passed legislation on Wednesday [Sept. 11, 2019] that could help hundreds of thousands of independent contractors become employees and earn a minimum wage, overtime pay and other benefits.

. . .

In California, religious groups said they feared that small churches and synagogues would not be able to afford making pastors and rabbis employees. Winemakers and franchise owners said they were worried they could be ensnared by the law, too. Even some of the contractors for the app-based businesses that have been at the center of this debate said the change could hurt them if companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash decided to restrict how often they could work or cut them off entirely.

. . .

(p. B4) Small vineyard owners are concerned that they could be forced to directly employ the independent truckers they use to haul their harvests and become responsible for providing insurance and workers’ compensation. Currently, truckers operate as contractors, with their own rigs and insurance, and serve several vineyards, said Michael Miiller, director of government relations at the California Association of Winegrape Growers.

“Our members are growers, not trucking companies,” Mr. Miiller said. “The target of legislators is Uber and Lyft, but the unintended victims are small, independent vineyards on the coast of California.”

Saunda Kitchen owns a Mr. Rooter plumbing business in Sonoma County that has 30 employees, for whom she pays payroll taxes and provides the various mandated benefits. But Ms. Kitchen said she believed that she herself would have to become an employee of Mr. Rooter under the new law, which could cause the parent company to pull out of the state.

“I wouldn’t have access to new technology, training, help with marketing,” said Ms. Kitchen, who planned to talk with Mr. Rooter officials on Thursday [Sept. 12, 2019] about how to proceed.

For the full story, see:

Kate Conger and Noam Scheiber. “Gig-Worker Law Sows Confusion and Defiance.” The New York Times (Thursday, September 12, 2019): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed dates, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 11, 2019, and has the title “California’s Contractor Law Stirs Confusion Beyond the Gig Economy.”)

Start-Up Is Building Largest Greenhouse in U.S., Creating 285 Jobs in Kentucky

(p. B6) MOREHEAD, Ky. — Proximity to big markets is crucial for the fresh produce business.

So when AppHarvest, a two-year-old start-up, was looking for a site for a greenhouse, it picked a 366-acre field in Rowan County just outside Morehead, a university town in eastern Kentucky.

The greenhouse, the largest in the United States, will be just a day’s drive from almost 70 percent of American consumers, including those who love fresh tomatoes.

Next summer, when AppHarvest begins production at its $97 million building, 285 employees will start shipping 45 million pounds of fresh produce annually, primarily tomatoes, to grocery stores from Atlanta to New York, and as far west as Chicago and St. Louis.

For the greenhouse to be cost-effective, size was as important as location. The 60-acre, 2.76-million-square-foot building will be big enough to lower costs on materials, production and distribution.

“I asked the engineers, ‘How big can we possibly be to operate efficiently and effectively?’” said Jonathan Webb, AppHarvest’s 34-year-old founder and chief executive. “We have to compete with produce coming from 2,000 miles away.” Continue reading “Start-Up Is Building Largest Greenhouse in U.S., Creating 285 Jobs in Kentucky”

Netflix’s Reed Hastings Was Blunt for the Sake of the Project

(p. B1) SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — Long before binge-watching, the streaming wars and “Netflix and chill,” there were two guys barreling down Highway 17 — the California roadway that connects Santa Cruz to Silicon Valley — trying to come up with the next big thing.

One was Marc Randolph, an entrepreneur and marketing specialist who had co-founded a start-up, Integrity QA. The other was Reed Hastings, then the head of the software company Pure Atria.

It was 1997. Mr. Randolph, whose start-up had been acquired by Pure Atria, did most of the pitching. Customized dog food, customized baseball bats, customized shampoo — all sold over the internet and delivered by mail.

Mr. Hastings was the one with the cash and the ability to shoot down ideas without worrying about hurt feelings.

They flirted with the notion of challenging Blockbuster Video with a mail-order videocassette business, only to decide that mailing VHS tapes would cost too much. Finally, they thought they had something: DVDs, sold and rented online and delivered to customers by mail.

Although few people had DVD players at the time, they forged ahead, with Mr. Randolph as the chief executive and Mr. Hastings (p. B5) as the chairman backing the operation.

. . .

Mr. Randolph describes an evening in 1998 when he got a big dose of Netflix’s radical honesty. It happened after a botched investor pitch and a promotion deal with Sony that went horribly wrong. Mr. Hastings asked to see Mr. Randolph alone and subjected him to a PowerPoint presentation detailing the reasons he was no longer fit to remain chief executive.

In the book, Mr. Randolph describes what he said in reaction to the surprise presentation: “‘There is no way I’m sitting here while you pitch me on why I suck.’”

Mr. Hastings closed his Dell laptop. By the end of the talk, Mr. Randolph was bumped down to president, and Mr. Hastings was the new chief executive. As part of the demotion, Mr. Hastings persuaded Mr. Randolph to give up some 650,000 stock shares, which reduced his Netflix stake to 15 percent.

“Doing it with a PowerPoint slide show perhaps wasn’t the most empathetic gesture,” Mr. Randolph said with a laugh. “But he was right.”

The episode, as described in the book, helps form a portrait of Mr. Hastings as someone whose bluntness results more from a sure sense of what a business needs than from an inner ruthlessness.

“What I really want from the book is to paint Reed as a real person,” Mr. Randolph said. “I hope it comes through that I have this tremendous respect and affection for him, as opposed to bitterness. Most people wouldn’t have had the strength to say that. But he recognized it was the right thing for the company.”

For the full review, see:

Nicole Sperling. “Pushing the Red Envelope: A Memoir of Netflix’s Birth.” The New York Times (Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 18, 2019, and has the title “Long Before ‘Netflix and Chill,’ He Was the Netflix C.E.O.”)

The book under review is:

Randolph, Marc. That Will Never Work: The Birth of Netflix and the Amazing Life of an Idea. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2019.

Art Diamond Interviewed on the Small Business Advocate Radio Show

Yesterday morning, Jim Blasingame, the host of his nationally syndicated “The Small Business Advocate” radio show, interviewed me on issues related to my book Openness to Creative Destruction, and “A Disney Story for Young Socialists,” my Oct. 10 op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal. You can click on the links below to listen to each segment of the interview.

Guacamole “Toast-Munching Hipsters” Can Relax: Gene Edited Avocados Would Thrive Under Global Warming

(p. B1) Last month, a team of scientists in the United States and Mexico announced that it had mapped the DNA sequences of several types of avocados, including the popular Hass variety. That research is likely to become the foundation for breeding techniques and genetic modifications designed to produce avocados that can resist disease or survive in drier conditions.

Whether they realize it or not, this could be big news for toast-munching hipsters. Already, rising temperatures are disrupting the avocado supply chain, causing price increases across the United States that have also been exacerbated by trade uncertainty.

“Because of climate change, temperature might not be the same, humidity might not be the same, the soil might be different, new insects will come and diseases will come,” said Luis Herrera-Estrella, a plant genomics professor at Texas Tech University who led the avocado project. “We need to be prepared to contend with all these inevitable challenges.”

. . .

(p. B5) “There are avocados that grow in very hot places with little water, and there are avocados that grow more in rainy places,” Dr. Herrera-Estrella said. “If we can identify genes that confer heat tolerance and drought tolerance, then we can engineer the avocados for the future.”

For the full story, see:

David Yaffe-Bellany. “Genes Ripe for Editing.” The New York Times (Saturday, September 28, 2019): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was last updated on Sept. 30 [sic], 2019, and has the title “Avocado Toast, Meet Gene Editing.”)