Sunday Best – February 26, 2017

Posted on February 26, 2017

 Did You Boscov Today?

If you grew up in eastern Pennsylvania, chances are you can’t see those words without beginning to sing the Boscov’s jingle. Sadly, Albert Boscov passed away earlier this month, after leading the company founded by his father for over 50 years. Under his leadership, Boscov’s became the largest family-owned department store chain in America.

Perhaps you do not harbor the same affection for the owners of your hometown department store. Well, let me tell you a little more about Al Boscov and the business he created.

  • On marketing:  “We like to give people a reason for coming to Boscov’s even if they don’t want to buy anything. They enjoy themselves and hopefully we make a friend.”
  • When racial tensions were growing in Reading, he created a Heritage festival, because “knowing is understanding”. Another group he created, Our City Reading, helped over 600 families to own new homes in the city – and he also founded arts centers in both Reading and Wilkes-Barre. Boscov supported domestic violence shelters long before many even acknowledged that such a problem existed.
  • Boscov initially retired in 2006, only to see the company declare bankruptcy two years later as new management overleveraged. In 2009, at age 79, he bought back the company in what many have called a retail fairy tale.
  • Most important, look at the final words of his obituary: “(On family vacations) each morning began with Al singing a good morning song and each night ended with a parade that wound through the dining room and kitchen. Al always put a song in every heart he met, a song whose melody still reaches us – and always will.”

David Brooks and others have highlighted the difference between “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues.” How amazing to witness a life that had plenty of both.

Dear Honeybees, I hope you Boscov today!

 

Photo from Delaware County Daily Times.

Finance Friday – February 24, 2017

Posted on February 24, 2017

89% of asset managers report that they are familiar with sustainable investing.

59% of those who don’t currently offer products in this area say that they will do so within a year.

Of course, the levels of commitment vary, and the “how” of sustainable investing is increasingly more important than the “whether.”

But hey, these reports are pretty interesting.

See the full results of this survey here, with thanks to the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing.

 

 

Sunday Best – February 19, 2017

Posted on February 19, 2017

Good morning, Honeybees!
Sometimes our Sunday Best requires little commentary – such is the case this week. I would only add, perhaps this poem should come before our Valéry reading from earlier this month!  Roots, then wings.

How surely gravity’s law,

strong as an ocean current,

takes hold of even the strongest thing

and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

Each thing –

each stone, blossom, child –

is held in place.

Only we, in our arrogance,

push out beyond what we belong to

for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered

to earth’s intelligence

we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves

in knots of our own making

and struggle, lonely and confused.

So, like children, we begin again

to learn from the things,

because they are in God’s heart;

they have never left him.

This is what the things can teach us:

to fall,

patiently to trust our heaviness.

Even a bird has to do that

before he can fly.

       – Rainer Maria Rilke, Love Poems to God, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

 

Dear Honeybees, I wish you strong roots, and I wish you strong rising.

Finance Friday – February 17, 2017

Posted on February 17, 2017

Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.

    – Warren Buffett

Everyone thinks businesses (and investment portfolios) should be managed for the long term…. until there’s a bad quarter.  The pressures of short termism have been widely noted, but now there is some empirical proof that longer term management really does pay off.

A recent McKinsey report, written with FCLT Global and cited in the Harvard Business Review, found that, for the average company managed with a long-term horizon:

  • Earnings growth over a 15-year period was 36% greater than short-term peers.
  • Revenue growth was 47% greater.
  • R&D was higher during the economic crisis, and revenue and earnings declines were smaller (though share prices, curiously, were hit harder).
  • Economic profit was 81% greater.
  • Market cap increased an additional $7 billion.
  • Job creation was 12,000 higher.

I know, I know, your analytical brains are lighting up with questions, and rightly so!

  • Yes, it was solid methodology (and interesting): they looked at investment levels, earnings quality, margin and earnings growth, and quarterly targets over a 15 year period… all relative to industry peers. This was not a simple sort-the-spreadsheet exercise.
  • Yes, it was a good sample set: altogether the study covered 615 public companies with market caps over $5b, about 60-65% of total US market cap.
  • Yes, these results show correlation, not causality.
  • Yes, there are still lots of questions to explore.

If a company is like a garden, sure, you want some pretty annuals to brighten the current season. But it’s those shade trees that really matter over time.

Here is the summary HBR article and here is the full report from McKinsey.

Sunday Best – February 12, 2017

Posted on February 12, 2017

If you’re asking a question with an answer, chances are you’re asking the wrong question.

This plus many other insights were part of the exchange between Wes Jackson, Wendell Berry, and Mary Berry at this year’s Schumacher Lecture, part of the terrific Schumacher Center for a New Economics. If you are interested in how to cultivate a sense of place, of connection, of homecoming, I can think of no better trio to inspire and enlighten your path.

There is far too much wisdom packed into this conversation for me to recount, so let me just refer you to the full video so you can enjoy the complete context and nuance. I highly recommend accompanying this with selected readings from Berry’s It All Turns on Affection and Jackson’s Nature as Measure.

You can view the delightful library of past Schumacher lectures here, with speakers that include Van Jones, Jane Jacobs, Judy Wicks, Hazel Henderson, Vandana Shiva, Otto Scharmer, Majora Carter, Bill McKibben, and many more.

Knowledge without affection leads us astray every time.     – Wendell Berry

Tell me, Honeybees – where does your knowledge meet your affection?