Tag Archives: Whole Foods

May 5, 2011 | cwinters | Tagged , , , ,

Can being too successful be bad for your reputation?

It’s earnings season, and despite the daily headlines about the recessionary economy, the earnings reports haven’t been all bad. Today, GM reported that it tripled its profits from last year. Whole Foods reported its best quarter in five years. Goldman Sachs disappointed the street with quarterly earnings of $2.74 billion. MasterCard profits are on the rise. Big oil, same story.

Healthcare, energy, banking and financial services are trending well – something that their investors expect, and appreciate. But how successful is too successful? Particularly when gas and milk are both costing nearly $4 a gallon? When millions of Americans are uninsured or can’t afford their prescriptions because they’ve lost their jobs and can’t afford private healthcare? Do companies run the risk of reputational backlash when their success is perceived as being “on the backs” of their employees, their customers or their communities?

This is a tricky equation. A growing profitable business creates and preserves jobs, provides much needed tax revenue to our communities and fuels growth of our stock markets and our economy. I think the answer to this question is “it depends.” When necessities like food, gas, healthcare and heating your home are viewed as “unaffordable” for many Americans, record earnings growth, big bonuses and other symbols of so-called “corporate greed” can create real reputational challenges. This is where the communications becomes very important…the difference between applause and reputational backlash is all about context. What will the Company do with those record profits? Who will benefit (in addition to the shareholders and leaders of the company)? What new employee programs can be funded? How many people will be hired? What investments will you make in the future?

This is why investor relations and financial communications professionals can no longer just think about their messaging and narrative exclusively through the lenses of Wall Street’s response – management’s commentary and company news spreads through the twitter-verse in minutes. Your financial performance is relevant to consumers, communities, regulators and elected officials. And it is reflected in both your valuation and your reputation.

March 1, 2011 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , , ,

Should Succession Planning Be A Communications Priority?

Succession Planning is a hot topic, with some of America’s Most Admired companies in the thick.

Speculation abounds about Warren Buffett’s successor, with general consensus being that Berkshire Hathaway can succeed in naming a potential new CEO, but that Buffett couldn’t be replaced. The communication about identification of successors, “should Buffett need one” are presumably about Buffett’s age…and perhaps a bit of a reaction to all of the emphasis on succession planning due to recent photos of a frail, thin Steve Jobs (who missed Apple’s annual meeting) entering a cancer clinic.

In contrast, it would seem that discussion of a successor at Apple might, unfortunately, be prudent, in the midst of Steve Jobs third medical leave in seven years. Yet Apple’s shareholders rejected a proposal requiring that Apple detail a succession plan. The company had opposed this proposal from the Laborers International – who has been advocating for succession planning and disclosure of such for the past few years and made similar proposals to Whole Foods and Bank of America.

There is no doubt that succession planning is a Board of Directors’ imperative…but should it be a communications priority? Do your stakeholders need to know about your succession plans, or simply need to know that you have plans in place? This is particularly sticky when your leader is iconic, like Buffett and Jobs.

My two cents: stakeholders need to know that you have a succession plan in place, like Frontier Communications’ innovative board member/potential successor mentor program. Unless that succession is imminent – whether a planned succession like Gates or Welch, or potentially accelerated by a health problem, or scandal, like HP, the specifics of your succession plans need not be disclosed. It undermines the authority of the leader in place, and diminishes his or her relevance.

In a perfect world, a succession is planned with an appropriate transition period…the successor is named, has his or her “tires kicked” by key constituencies, and works closely with the current CEO through a transition period. By the time that transition occurs, it becomes somewhat of a non-event. But we all know that this isn’t a perfect world.

What to do when succession is forced, unexpected or accelerated? This is the time for amped up communications programs to support the new leader…to build trust, engage key stakeholders and create a leadership platform and profile for your new leader. Make the time. Or you may be dealing with another succession sooner than you planned.

November 4, 2010 | cwinters | Tagged ,

What’s LOVE got to do with it?

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey isn’t afraid to speak his mind. And in his latest YouTube missive, he expounds on the ever elusive topic of trust – how to earn it and how to make it part of your culture. At the core of his argument – you need to bring love and care into the workplace in order to achieve trust.

If you are thinking this all sounds a bit kumbaya, you wouldn’t be alone. But a quick Google search of caring for employees (not “love in the workplace – that is for a different kind of blog!) informed me that Mackey isn’t alone. There is a Florida furniture company that offers spiritual care to its employees with Company clergy available at work. People are writing their graduate thesis papers on the advantages of caring in the workplace. And the recruiting section of virtually every company website talks about how the organization cares for its employees.

But is that the same as love? Is there room for love in the workplace? And does it translate into trust?

While the language Mackey chooses in this video sounds a lot like a Sunday School teacher, the concept that people who know that their Company and its leaders legitimately care about them are more likely to trust is grounded in the kinds of lessons we all learned from our Depression era grandparents (or for the youngest members of the workforce, great grandparents). And intuitively that kind of culture would translate into care and concern of customers and communities.

So why don’t I buy it? I am a true believer in some of the underlying concepts here of respect for others, the importance of being passionate and the value of a leader who really speaks his or her mind.

I don’t know much about the culture at Whole Foods – and maybe this video will really resonate with the people who work there. But by posting it on YouTube, it seems Mackey is trying to speak to a broader audience…and for a cynical, spin-sensitive person like me, the saccharine nature of the message makes me suspicious.

The moral of this story? Choose your words carefully. Even when the message is good, the tone still matters.

September 24, 2010 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , ,

Want to be a CEO? Start developing these qualities

MWW Group is hosting a panel on leadership next month at World Business Forum 2010. To prepare for the panel, I’m reading everything I can find on leadership and thinking a lot about the topic.

I came across a list of the Ten Most Influential CEOs. It has the likely cast of characters – Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Oprah, Inda Nooyi and Richard Branson – and a few you might not have expected – John Mackey (Whole Foods), Andrew Witty (GSK) and Mike Duke (Walmart).

It seems the formula for leadership boils down to a few simple qualities:

• Leaders are disruptive…and sometimes contrarian. Mike Duke made Walmart green – and he wasn’t talking about money. He changed (or at least diversified) the conversation about Walmart from labor issues, labor issues and labor issues to how the company is using its reach and influence to save the planet. Virgin’s Richard Branson has made a personal fortune by being disruptive. His latest focus? Finding new ways to fuel airplanes, and the world at the Carbon War Room. Steve Jobs is famous for his disruptiveness, and his temper. But who else can make the product you had to have under the Christmas tree this year obsolete by next Christmas? How many iPods do you have in a drawer?

• Leaders are nimble and open. John Mackey of Whole Foods is perhaps best known for his dismissal of global warming as hysteria. But did you know he became a vegan after a confrontation with an animal rights activist? That’s pretty open. And GSK’s Andrew Witty has made a name for himself by being open and urging the entire pharmaceutical industry to do the same, opening patent pools for HIV drugs.

• Leaders are fearless and take on the unsolvable problems. Oprah brought taboo topics – from incest to Dr. Oz’s health issue du jour – into the mainstream. Her latest campaign to make cars “No Phone Zones” is shining the light on the serious dangers of texting and driving. Bill Gates has declared that we will cure AIDS in Africa.

• Leaders put their money where their mouth is. After all, isn’t that what credibility is all about? Pepsi’s Inda Nooyi, who famously wore a sari on her first job interview because she couldn’t afford a suit, ties 50 percent of her personal bonus to diversity goals. John Mack of Morgan Stanley volunteered to forfeit his own bonus when the company’s performance declined, long before the Big Bank CEOs were paraded before Congress.

I can think of plenty of iconic leaders who didn’t make this list … Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, Lee Iacocca (showing my age, I guess). While your list of leaders may be different, I’ll bet they all have these qualities.