Some Workers Seek to Unionize Brooklyn Food Co-op

(p. 29) Had you found yourself with nothing to read at any point this summer, the letters section of The Linewaiters’ Gazette, the bi-weekly newsletter of the Park Slope Food Coop, might have sated a certain narrative hunger. Serving a community of 17,000 members, The Gazette is a forum for news, grievance, debate, inquiry and perhaps above all, the expression of principle.

. . .

Given the seriousness with which the co-op takes matters of equity and justice, it surprised many members to learn that an effort on the part of some paid workers to unionize had not been going smoothly. Member owned and operated since its founding in the 1970s, the co-op permits only those who work a certain number of hours per month (behind the cash register, unloading delivery trucks, stocking oranges and so on) to shop there. It also employs about 75 people, all but 11 or so of whom receive an hourly wage.

How was it possible that these workers in an institution so famously aligned with the left were not already unionized? It was like imagining the Catholic Church without baptism. As one stunned member pointed out in his letter to The Gazette, the co-op is “literally on Union Street.”

Money is not what has motivated the movement. Many workers receive upward of $27 an hour, and health-insurance fees are not deducted from that pay. Instead, as Marc Thompson, who has been behind the effort to organize, told me, the problems have had more to do with strained dynamics between workers and supervisors and poor communication generally.

Another big issue is that the co-op is an “at will” shop, meaning that workers can be let go at any time for any reason, without managers having to offer cause. Although it rarely happens, the notion that such a scenario could play out has troubled certain employees. The last time someone was abruptly fired, it was because of theft, Mr. Holtz explained, and that was three years ago.

. . .

In a letter to The Gazette that appeared in May [2019], a group of workers representing the majority who oppose the union said they had “doubts that the traditional union model is the right fit for our very nontraditional workplace.” They were pro-union as a matter of political belief but thought that the co-op had “a rich history” of solving its own problems. Whatever was wrong could be handled within the family, in essence.

For the full story, see:

Ginia Bellafante. “BIG CITY; A Labor Rights Rift? Say It’s Not So, Park Slope Food Coop!” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, September 22, 2019): 29.

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

(Note: the online version of the story was last updated on Sept. 30 [sic], 2019, and has the title “BIG CITY; They Tried to Unionize the Park Slope Food Coop. Guess What Happened.” Above, I cite the title, section, and page number from my National print edition. Those may have been different in the New York print edition. Where there are differences in wording between the online and print versions, the passages quoted above follow the print version.)

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.

Mott Joined Sloan in Methodically Avoiding Durant’s Entrepreneurial Hunches

(p. A13) Charles Stewart Mott never had his name on an American automobile, but he was on intimate terms with most of the men who did (he was godfather to Walter Chrysler’s daughters). He was also crucial to the rise and success of General Motors.

. . .

By the time Mott, a graduate of Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, had returned from the Spanish-American War, his uncle Fred had added Weston-Mott, a company that manufactured wire bicycle wheels, to the family’s cider and vinegar operations. Charles went to work at Weston-Mott, soon becoming superintendent, just as the bicycle business entered into a sudden eclipse; the automobile had begun its imperial progress. Happily for Weston-Mott, most early cars ran on wire wheels, which Charles Mott supplied—$200,000 worth in 1903—many of them to the Buick Motor Co. of Flint, Mich.

At that time, Buick was in the hands of William Durant, the future founder of General Motors. Cars were being assembled piecemeal, with parts delivered from many far-flung suppliers. Durant didn’t like that, so he asked Mott to move his wheel-building operation to Flint from Utica, N.Y. According to Alfred P. Sloan, who in 1923 became president of GM and whose fortunes would be tied with Mott’s for six decades, the move marked “the first step in the integration of the automobile industry.”

The years to come would see struggles for control of the ever-growing GM, a complex and tangy story that Mr. Renehan recounts with verve and lucidity. “I like to work with Mott,” Sloan wrote of his most valuable lieutenant in his 1941 memoir. “His training had made him methodical. When he was confronted by a problem, he tacked it as I did my own, with engineering care to get the facts. Neither of us ever took any pride in hunches. We left all the glory of that kind of thinking to such men as liked to be labeled ‘genius’ ”—by which Sloan meant Durant.

For the full review, see:

Richard Snow. “BOOKSHELF; Company Man.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Sept. 6, 2019): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 5, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘The Life of Charles Stewart Mott’ Review: Company Man.”)

The book under review is:

Renehan, Edward J., Jr. The Life of Charles Stewart Mott: Industrialist, Philanthropist, Mr. Flint. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan, 2019.

“To Be Profitable, You Have to Have a Purpose”

(p. F2) When a group of the nation’s largest companies said last month that they had changed their mission strictly from making profits to also include benefiting “customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders,” it was generally applauded as an important step in the right direction.

. . .

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in his first public comment on the topic, flatly told me: “I wouldn’t have signed it,” stunning a room of policymakers and business leaders in Washington at last week’s DealBook DC Strategy Forum.

His explanation was nuanced: “To be profitable, you have to have a purpose. I think it’s not as simple as saying we either have a purpose or we have profits. I think the problem with creating a simple answer is it doesn’t fully explore the issues.”

He added: “I do think companies should be long-term oriented. I don’t think companies need to necessarily be focused on quarterly profits and hitting Street earnings numbers. But I think, ultimately, a business’s job is to deploy the capital correctly and to make profits.”

Stephen A. Schwarzman, the co-founder and chairman of Blackstone Group and one of only a handful of members of the Business Roundtable who declined to sign the document, also went public with his explanation in a conversation with me earlier this week: “I know why we’re in business: because people give us money to manage. They want us to earn a lot of money to give them back or else they would give us nothing.”

He said “the idea that business should be concerned” with employees, customers, suppliers and the community should be a given. But, he said, he objected to the idea in the Business Roundtable statement that profits should be listed as simply equal to the other four issues.

“I have trouble managing when I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing,” he said, suggesting the statement gives managers too many masters. “I know what I’m supposed to be doing, which is making good investments, safely, and making a great contribution to these pension funds and regular people.”

For the full commentary, see:

Andrew Ross Sorkin. “Profits or Public Interest?” The New York Times (Thursday, September 19, 2019): F2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 18, 2019, and has the title “Profits or the Public Interest: The Debate Continues.”)

Some Workers Willingly Forego Higher Pay for Greater Flexibility

(p. 11) In a survey of 11,000 workers and 6,500 business leaders by Harvard Business School and Boston Consulting Group, the vast majority said that among the new developments most urgently affecting their businesses were employees’ expectations for flexible, autonomous work; better work-life balance; and remote working. (Just 30 percent, though, said their businesses were prepared.)

Technology is a big reason for the change. The youngest people entering the work force don’t remember a time when people weren’t always reachable, so they don’t see why they would need to sit in an office to work. (They also say they are more practiced than older colleagues at setting boundaries on how much they use their phones, so it doesn’t become overbearing.)

. . .

. . . more young people, recruiters say, are asking for flexibility upfront, and some prioritize it over pay or seniority. Recruiters who visit college campuses say new graduates no longer see it as something to negotiate for, said Marcee Harris Schwartz, the national director of diversity and inclusion at BDO, the accounting firm: “It’s just assumed it’s part of the deal.”

“Years ago, the interview was, for lack of a better word, a test,” said Kamaj Bailey, who works in recruiting at Con Edison, the power company. “Now it’s a conversation. Yes, I want to show that I’m a good candidate, but I’m also seeing if I’m going to get what I expect.”

John Paul Graff, 34, is a pathologist, as was his father, who worked in private practice at least 12 hours a day. Dr. Graff decided to work in academic medicine, and the No. 1 reason was for work-life balance. He estimated that he gave up about $100,000 a year but said it’s worth it to work 40 hours a week.

For the full story, see:

Claire Cain Miller and Sanam Yar. “Can I Work When I Want?” The New York Times, SundayStyles Section (Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019): 1 & 10-11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 20, 2019, and has the title “Young People Are Going to Save Us All From Office Life.”)

Big, Frequent Meetings Are Unproductive and Crowd Out Deep Thought

(p. 7) To figure out why the workers in Microsoft’s device unit were so dissatisfied with their work-life balance, the organizational analytics team examined the metadata from their emails and calendar appointments. The team divided the business unit into smaller groups and looked for differences in the patterns between those where people were satisfied and those where they were unhappy.

It seemed as if the problem would involve something about after-hours work. But no matter how Ms. Klinghoffer and Mr. Fuller crunched the data, there weren’t any meaningful correlations to be found between groups that had a lot of tasks to do at odd times and those that were unhappy. Gut instincts about overwork just weren’t supported by the numbers.

The two kept iterating until something emerged in the data. People in Mr. Ostrum’s division were spending an awful lot of time in meetings: an average of 27 hours a week. That wasn’t so much more than the typical team at Microsoft. But what really distinguished those teams with low satisfaction scores from the rest was that their meetings tended to include a lot of people — 10 or 20 bodies arrayed around a conference table coordinating plans, as opposed to two or three people brainstorming ideas.

The issue wasn’t that people had to fly to China or make late-night calls. People who had taken jobs requiring that sort of commitment seemed to accept these things as part of the deal. The issue was that their managers were clogging their schedules with overcrowded meetings, reducing available hours for tasks that rewarded more focused concentration — thinking deeply about trying to solve a problem.

Data alone isn’t insight. But once the Microsoft executives had shaped the data into a form they could understand, they could better question employees about the source of their frustrations. Staffers’ complaints about spending evenings and weekends catching up with more solitary forms of work started to make more sense. Now it was clearer why the first cuts of the data didn’t reveal the problem. An engineer sitting down to do individual work for several hours on a Saturday afternoon probably wouldn’t bother putting it on her calendar, or create digital exhaust in the form of trading emails with colleagues during that time.

Anyone familiar with the office-drone lifestyle might scoff at what it took Microsoft to get here. Does it really take that much analytical firepower, and the acquisition of an entire start-up, to figure out that big meetings make people sad?

For the full story, see:

Neil Irwin. “How to Win at Winner-Take-All.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, June 15, 2019): 1 & 6-7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 15, 2019, and has the title “The Mystery of the Miserable Employees: How to Win in the Winner-Take-All Economy.”)

The article quoted above, is adapted from:

Irwin, Neil. How to Win in a Winner-Take-All World: The Definitive Guide to Adapting and Succeeding in High-Performance Careers. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2019.

Amazon Names “Openness to Creative Destruction” as “#1 New Release in Industrial Management & Leadership”

Art Diamond noticed on Fri., June 28, 2019 that Amazon.com had identified “Openness to Creative Destruction” as “#1 New Release in Industrial Management & Leadership”.