Monday, December 22nd 2014


A Grocery CEO Talks Growth and New Consumer Habits

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Robert ”Bob” Mariano is Chairman and CEO of Roundy’s, a $4 billion grocery retailer with more than 165 stores throughout the Midwest – including brands such as Pick ’n Save, Copps, and most recently, Mariano’s.  The Mariano’s brand, a compelling hybrid that is part Euro Café and part specialty foods grocer, has been taking the Chicago market by storm. It’s a big bet, intended to add a much needed spark to a struggling Roundy’s group of stores. While big-box grocers such as Safeway’s Dominick’s have exited Chicago’s ultra competitive market, Mariano has been growing his new concept at a swift pace. The plan is to defy the odds and grow Mariano’s stores beyond Chicago to other states across the nation.

Over the summer, the straight-talking native Chicagoan paused from his busy rounds to share some impressively candid answers to questions about his growth plan, his approach to customer service and technology. Here are excerpts from our conversation at the Metropolitan Club of Chicago:

1. You are pursuing a rather aggressive growth plan with Mariano’s at a time when a lot of food retailers aren’t growing. So why are you being so aggressive?

Mariano: Well, carpe diem, you have to seize the day. There’s an opportunity in the Chicago market now, and we are working very hard to accomplish all that we want to accomplish. We added 13 stores this year, it’s about 6,000 employees. You have to turn your hearing aid off to Wall Street. The Street wants results in 13 weeks. But you build a business over a long period of time. I submit that if somebody came up with the idea of the 3M Corporation today, it would never be what it is today. Corporations from years ago took time, they had patience, they even made mistakes. You have to have a level of understanding of what the Street is looking for, but at the same time you have to keep your eye on the long-term value. I’ll admit, it does take a bullet-proof vest sometimes.

2. As a leader you have to be able to look out into the horizon. What is your vision for your stores?

Mariano: We’ve got to be totally differentiated from other retailers. I don’t want to look like Walmart, taste like Walmart, feel like Walmart.  Do I want to be aware of what they do? Yes. But I don’t want to do anything like them. (more…)

HP Charts A New Course As Two Separate Companies

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By Kacper Szumiec

Recently, the hard drive on my HP Envy DV6 crashed during what should have been a routine HP software update. But after less than two years of ownership, the computer simply froze up entirely. Every piece of data stored on the hard drive got erased. Customer service was sympathetic and pleasant, but the best they could do was mail me a disk to refresh the drive to its original store-bought status. Any personal data that I didn’t save to the Google cloud was lost forever!

That frustrating experience is why I think HP’s decision to spin off the PC business into a separate company is a good thing. The Silicon Valley computer conglomerate is joining a growing list of companies splitting up in order to produce better products for their customers and to adapt to an evolving marketplace. On October 6, 2014, HP Chairman and CEO Meg Whitman announced a plan to divide the company into what she expects will be two separate Fortune 50 companies. The Printing and Personal Systems division (PCs and tablets) is set to become HP Inc, and the server, storage, networking, services and software units will combine into Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE).

This move will allow HP–whose sales slumped 2.5% from the year prior to $28.4 billion in the fourth quarter reported Nov. 25th–to become more flexible and keep up with competitors such as Dell, Lenovo, and Toshiba on the PC side and with the likes of IBM on the enterprise services side. HP has been losing ground to all of those players in recent quarters. The spin-off process is estimated to take until next October, when Whitman would become CEO of HPE and non-executive chairman at HP Inc. (more…)

Golf and Business: The Value of Networking on the Green

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By Billy Dexter

billy-dexterThe old adage, “My worst day on the golf course still beats my best day in the office,” adorns many a wall in business centers around the country. The opportunity to spend four to five hours outdoors on a beautiful and well-manicured golf course enjoying the great weather, your favorite beverage and a group of friends, colleagues or clients is something many executives daydream about and try to make happen weekly during the golf season. For others, hitting the green is something to be dreaded, because they fear embarrassing themselves with their lack of golf skills and lack of knowledge about the language or etiquette of the game.

Playing a round of golf is often a better setting than a power lunch or boardroom meeting to make great connections. Executives play golf for professional and personal advancement. Golf is more than just a game; it is a skill that any professional person looking to advance his or her career should learn. Golf provides you with an opportunity to get to know people and business associates in a more leisurely way. (more…)

NFL Players Chief Talks Race and Economics in Sports

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DeMaurice (“De”) Smith is the Executive Director of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), the union for professional players in the National Football League (NFL). Under Smith’s leadership, the NFL players negotiated a historic 10-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with NFL owners in August 2011. The new CBA achieves unprecedented benefits for players, including new health and safety protocols in effect throughout the season and into retirement. Prior to his work with the NFLPA, Smith was a trial lawyer and litigation partner in the Washington, D.C. offices of Latham & Watkins and Patton Boggs. Before his tenure in the private sector, Smith served as Counsel to then-Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder (now United States Attorney General) in the U.S. Department of Justice.

On Monday, June 9, 2014, Smith made time for a special visit to participate in a luncheon executive chat at the Chicago law offices of Winston & Strawn. The conversation, which benefited the youth educational programs of LINK Unlimited, was essentially Part II in our discussion on the business of professional football (click NFLPA @ Met Club Chicago to read Part I). After a light lunch, an estimated 75 executive guests enjoyed our ongoing discussion about doing business with the world’s richest sports league, race relations in sports and issues of player health and safety. Here is an edited transcript of Smith’s responses to five major topics of inquiry:

1.) Crockett: Pro basketball has been praised for its no-tolerance policy in the Donald Sterling case. The NFL seems prepared to ban racial slurs on the filed but has been more tolerant of racially insensitivity off the field. How do you feel about how the NFL handles race?

Smith: Yes, the NFL is a $10 billion a year business. It’s commoditized, and sold and packaged. But the essence of why our fans love our sport is for the beauty of sport. When it comes to race relations and tolerance of ideas, it seems to me that what we want to accomplish is that nobody should be in the business of trying to intentionally hurt, harm or slur anyone. (more…)

The Future of Healthcare: How Industry Leaders See It

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The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was touted as a bill for the better—legislative CPR that would breath new life into the American healthcare system for the good of all. The new policy is supposed to extend coverage to those previously without it, increase access to coverage, boost competition among payors, and limit restrictions from insurance companies. However, the rollout has been undermined by computer glitches, missed deadlines, underwhelming enrollment, and intense Congressional opposition. So, is healthcare reform working? How is it impacting business and patients? What innovations in the delivery of care can we anticipate?

I sat with three top industry executives during a panel discussion April, 23rd at the Metropolitan Club of Chicago: Michelle Gaskill, President of Advocate Trinity Hospital on Chicago’s southeast side; Ken Olson, President of Horton Benefit Solutions, which advises large and small employers on healthcare and insurance matters; and Dan Yunker, CEO of Land of Lincoln Health, the first non-profit health insurance company in Illinois governed by its consumers. In the lively discussion, co-sponsored by Heidrick & Strugggles, we dissected the shifting sands of healthcare. Here are edited excerpts:

On whether the ACA is working?

Gaskill: It’s working for some but there are a lot of challenges for some also. From the provider (hospital) perspective there are a number of pressures that we are still trying to figure out. (more…)

Healthcare’s Next Stand: Patients Must Become Consumers

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By J. Todd Phillips

 J. Todd PhillipsYears ago a colleague of mine had a desk plaque that read, “The buck stops…over there.” For too long, this has been the mantra of the unwitting American healthcare consumer. Many Americans do not recognize themselves as consumers when utilizing the healthcare system. We are “patients” – often impatient, of course, but “patients,” nonetheless. We are people who, according to the definition of patients, “receive or are registered to receive medical treatment.” Therein lies the problem: patients “receive”, we are acted upon, we are passive participants in the healthcare process. We pass the buck.

Given all the changes now sweeping across the American healthcare system, this has to change. With the era of healthcare now superimposed on the age of immediate access to information, patients must become consumers. Consumers “purchase goods and services for personal use.” Consumers are active participants, they seek options, they arm themselves with data and they make informed decisions – most often based on value. It seems the U.S. healthcare system has been designed to discourage this typical consumer behavior often seen in other industries. Why don’t Americans purchase healthcare the same way we purchase vacations, vehicles and household appliances? New innovations brought about by both rising healthcare costs and healthcare reform should move the needle on this metric.

Insurance companies are creating innovations aimed at lowering cost, expanding coverage and shifting accountability. In addition to offering plans that comply with the Affordable Care Act, most insurance companies now (or will soon) offer solutions to increase healthy behaviors among consumers. Many also offer web-based tools to help consumers make informed purchasing decisions. For example, logging in to the member portals of some of the national insurance carriers gives consumers access to price comparison tools, provider directories featuring Zagat-style doctor ratings and education on how to prevent illness. These tools truly make it easier for patients to become consumers. (more…)

AT&T’s Networks Guru Talks Cloud Technology and Wireless

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Kris Rinne is Senior Vice President of Network Technologies at AT&T Labs. AT&T has more than 90,000 women working in various capacities all across the globe. But few, if any, are as influential as Rinne. She is responsible for AT&T’s vast network architecture, platforms and performance, plus its radio access roadmap, wireless device requirements, and vendor selection. Previously, she served as Chief Technology Officer for Cingular, the wireless juggernaut created through a joint venture by AT&T and Bell South. Over all, she has more than 30 years experience in the telecom industry, which started when she switched her career aspirations from teaching math to a job working at Bell South.

At heart, Rinne is a down-to-earth Midwestern girl who remains as refreshingly approachable as any big-time exec could be. I was at the ceremony last Fall in San Jose, for instance, where the Wireless History Foundation inducted her into the Wireless Hall of Fame. With AT&T Mobility’s CEO Ralph de la Vega present and a host of other industry stalwarts, Rinne, the only woman among four inductees, was exceedingly humble when accepting her recognition. She might not like to say it, but if you want to know what’s new and cutting edge at AT&T and across the wireless industry, ask Kris Rinne.

It was also late last year that AT&T announced it would begin remodeling its network, tossing out old legacy telecom gear and replacing it with a plethora of smaller but powerful software-driven servers. The goal, dubbed Domain 2.0, is to transform AT&T’s network into a spiffy new data center.

To accomplish that, AT&T plans to open up its network to new software vendors and new ideas from the likes of Silicon Valley engineers and even University researchers. Traditional telecom networks aren’t adaptable, they’re hard to scale up and they aren’t as cost-effective as they could be. Rinne acknowledges that such a network revamp won’t be easy for AT&T, but she and the company are committed to the rebuild in order to remain relevant in the future.

Here are edited excerpts from Rinne’s answers to five questions about AT&T’s business and the wireless world in general. (more…)

Wireless Technology of the Future is Smart and Wearable

IronMan Suit

We are on the cusp of a new technology tipping point. The smartphone era will soon give way to a “wearables” world. We’ll depend on wearable smart-watches, eye glasses, rings, pins, badges (and who knows what other kinds of Iron-Man-esque gear) more than the phones we habitually slide into our pockets and purses today.

After all, despite its intelligence and convenience, the smartphone still causes us some in-convenience: the act of retrieving it from our pocket, swiping and tapping the screen to unveil a desired app, the need to look at the screen to absorb the information. These things pull us away from whatever else we’re doing — in the car, in business meetings, at restaurants. Wearables, however, offer a more seamless digital experience. They allow us to absorb information without being distracted from what we’re focusing on at the time.

According to former Georgia Institute of Technology professor Thad Starner, who is now the director of Google’s Contextual Computing Group and a Technical Lead on Project Glass, if you can’t get to a tool within two seconds your use for it goes down exponentially. Smartphones, often packed away as they are, have trouble meeting that two-second standard. But wearables offer instant access. (more…)

Gear Up With The Coolest New Wireless Devices

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We are nothing if we aren’t wireless these days. Our mobile phones serve as mini computers, jukeboxes, bank tellers … you name it. We can’t do much, personally or professionally, without our mobile technology. Here’s a glimpse at some of the coolest stuff coming to market — by Samsung, Apple, Google and Motorola Solutions — to help you live and work more efficiently:

Samsung Galaxy S5
Move over Apple, Samsung’s handsets have become the hottest and most innovative mobile phones on the market. The Galaxy S5, expected in a few months, updates an already way-cool product. Much of the improvement is packed into the camera. It boasts a 16-megapixel sensor, a step up from the Galaxy S4’s 13-megapixel version. Furthermore, it features a 0.3-second shot speed — finger-snap fast. Another cool addition is what Samsung calls “Selective Focus”, which lets you snap a shot and then re-select a focal point later. Also, an HDR Live mode is included, which conveniently allows you to see how HDR could alter a shot before you take it. Meanwhile, the video capabilities have been improved to allow 4K quality. And, as if to not let Apple get any momentum on the creativity front, Samsung added a fingerprint scanner and embedded it in the Home key, much like Apple iPhone 5s’ fingerprint feature.

iPhone 6
The folks at Apple don’t intend to eat Samsung’s dust for long.  According to analysts in China, the upcoming iPhone 6 will catapult the iPhone into the big screen space. Expect the 6 to have at least a 4.7-inch, scintillating 1,136-pixel-by-640 pixel display — up from the current 4-inch screen size. Some insiders are predicting a screen anywhere from 5.7 inches to 6 inches in size, and boasting a 1920 pixel-by-1080 pixel display. Youza! The overall size of the phone will be bigger, but it will also be considerably sleeker. Among other goodies, the 6 should include an improved 13-16 megapixel camera that rivals Samsung’s. Look for Apple to debut its latest iPhone this Fall. (more…)

Video: Three Simple But Sure-Fire Ways to Spark Innovation

Welcome to my video blog on business, leadership and diversity.

To check it out, click the video below.

To read the transcript, click here. (more…)