Category Archives: What’s Going On

9/11 19 Years Later

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No Foodie Friday post today. I try to keep those light and today is not really a day for lightness. I’m reposting something I wrote 9 years ago on the tenth anniversary of a day that changed this country and the world, and not for the better. As I read it again, not much has changed, unfortunately. Take a minute or two today and think about that day and all those who were lost and who’ve been lost since as a result.

 

Today, this isn’t about business. If you want to skip it and come back in a couple of days, I understand. See you Tuesday.

I’m publishing this on 9/11, 10 years after a horrible day changed the world forever. I’ve spent a good part of the day thinking about the subsequent decade and how it was so very different from the 4 others in which I’ve lived that preceded it and I want to use today to share some of those thoughts. I also know we don’t do politics here – I think today we will, although hopefully in a non-partisan way.  So here are a few things I remember most about 9/11/01.

First, how beautiful the weather was that day. My commute brought me into Grand Central Station and as I walked into the sunlight and smelled the air with the smallest traces of Fall in it, I thought about how the weeks after Labor day are the best time to come to NYC. I now think about 9/11 every time it’s a really nice day.

I also thought how nice a day it was going to be for flying. A few work colleagues and I were going to San Francisco that afternoon out of Newark. We were originally going out on a morning flight but realized our meetings were later the next day so we changed flights a week earlier. Spooky.

Finally, the main thing I recall about 9/11 was 9/12.  And 9/13.  And many days thereafter.  It was about how for one of the few times in my life, the entire country came together as one.  No Democrats, no RepublicansAmericans.  I felt it in the emails and calls I received from concerned folks from all around the country and from other countries.  As a New Yorker, you saw it in all the folks who came to help from all over.

That all changed later and was, in retrospect, probably only a Band-Aid on some wounds that began to fester some time in the 90’s.  But MAN, it felt good.

That’s what struck me today – how those wounds have turned gangrenous and how utterly incapable we as a people seem to sit together and discuss how to clean up the economic and social messes around us, much as we cleaned up that other mess 10 years ago.  The memorials today showed me that we still have the ability to unite in a common good under a flag, but only if we stop yelling, start listening, and try to feel what we all felt after the unspeakable horror of that day:  that we have to find a way to clean this up and fix this.  Not as Democrats or Republicans – as Americans.

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Silver Linings?

School is starting this week in many places. Here in North Carolina, counties have a few different options with respect to virtual learning versus in-person learning versus a combination of the two. My county has elected virtual learning to start, as have many other counties around here. Many of the local universities have elected to bring the kids back to campus for in-person education and it’s not going well. So badly, in fact, that they’ve had to curtail classroom work completely while they rethink the situation.

Rethinking is what many educators are doing these days, as are many businesspeople. I find that to be a silver lining in the midst of this horrible pandemic. What strikes me is that much of this same rethinking has been going on for quite some time but it’s taken the pandemic to bring about the changes. Online education isn’t new and it’s been possible to get degrees from accredited schools for years. Shifting public school education to the online environment is new, however. I know there are a lot of reasons why it hasn’t happened until now – teacher unions, the need for working parents to have “daycare” for their kids, food insecurity (kids get fed at school), and many other reasons. The pandemic – a situation in which people are losing their lives – has forced those other reasons to the background. I think education and our communities will come out of this stronger and more accessible as the issues that prevented the evolution of education are handled from a new perspective.

Think about the film industry. There has been a major disruption in the business and I think much of the disruption is permanent. Theaters are closing and the major chains are in deep financial trouble. Major studios’ investments are tied up in films that should have been released months ago. Everyone is still watching movies, but they’re streaming them. Is this new? Of course not, but having the powers that be in the film industry take a look at how they do business is directly attributable to the pandemic.

The most significant change in the entire industry occurred late in July when AMC Theaters and Universal agreed to shorten the theatrical ‘window’ (the length of time that a movie has to play in a theater). Previously, it was 90 days. Obviously, studios will keep their biggest blockbusters in theaters as long as they’re attracting customers. But now, Universal can transfer its less-lucrative films to rental platforms, like iTunes or Amazon, after 17 days. Other studios, like Warner Brothers, are moving some of its titles to digital-only exclusives, while Paramount and Sony are selling off a portion of their movies directly to Netflix and Amazon.

Disney is releasing their live-action “Mulan” via Disney+. You’ll pay $30 to watch it but if you’d have been taken the family to the theater to see it, that’s a bargain, especially since you can re-watch it as often as you like. How much money this generates (“Mulan” was projected to bring in more than $1 billion at the box-office) will be fascinating. There isn’t much doubt in my mind, however, that making films more accessible and less expensive is a silver lining.

Those are just two areas where I find silver linings. You?

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Yanking The Chain

Earlier today I prepped some chicken thighs for dinner. They’re the last of a 10-pound bag which was part of a 40-pound box we bought at the start of the pandemic. It was more of an opportunistic buy than panic buying. Many of the food distributors were getting rid of the boxes they would ordinarily sell to the restaurants which had been forced to close. We have a freezer and who doesn’t love a great deal? No, I’m not cooking 10-pounds of thighs this evening but I’ll admit that it’s been thigh week (bacon-wrapped thighs, chicken and black bean soup, and chicken enchiladas if you are curious as to where the other 8 pounds went) here.

Why do I bring that up this Foodie Friday? Because my opportunity buying was the result of a disruption in the supply chain. At the same time as I was getting chicken thighs, other folks were buying boxes of burgers and pork chops. What was unusual was that the same items we were getting dirt cheap were often unavailable in the supermarkets. That pesky supply chain again.

You’re probably aware of the toilet paper shortages. With people staying home, the paper made for institutions and offices was in lesser demand while people panic-bought the home version. The same thing happened with food and, in fact, is still happening if my trip to the market yesterday was any indication. There was nary a canned vegetable to be found other than the really large cans that might have otherwise gone to a commercial kitchen.

This from Bloomberg:

As consumers cook more at home, driving up grocery store sales, they’re steering clear of restaurants, which has big implications for how suppliers package and sell their meats and produce — and for demand. Restaurant portions are bigger, and meat, cheese, and butter, in particular, are consumed in higher quantities at restaurants, but so are vegetables.  Before the pandemic, Americans spent more than half their food budgets on dining out. Over the next 12 months, 70% of consumers plan to significantly decrease spending on restaurants, according to a Bank of America survey.

How does this apply to your business? It’s a reminder that every business needs to think hard about and prepare for disruption. It means doing things differently. As an example, I would never have considered a 40-pound box of thighs, even at the wholesale food price prior to the pandemic. The great price coupled with the uncertainty of the food supply chain at the time changed my mind.

The funny thing is that the food supply is quite plentiful. The issue is that the distribution system between the producer and demand is out of whack, which is causing massive headaches for every person involved: farmers, packagers, distributors, retailers, and end-users. While it’s the rare business that can bypass that broken system altogether, every business needs to make alternative plans just in case. Backups for your backups, I guess. Make sense?

 

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