Avis Announces New CEO

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Avis is looking for a new CEO while trying to navigate the changing rental car business. Larry De Shon was appointed to the position in 2016 after ten years with the company. I’m curious why he’s leaving.

News reports, such as a Wall Street Journal article, don’t provide an explanation. The stock has done well, and Avis has made strategic moves, including servicing Waymo’s self-driving cars. As part of its repositioning, Avis now considers itself a “provider of mobility solutions” instead of a car-rental company.

Avis’s news release presents De Shon positively, including his glowing quotes about the company and the board chair’s quote about his success:

“On behalf of the Board and the entire team, I’d like to thank Larry for the many contributions he has made to Avis Budget Group since he joined the Company in 2006, and for his exceptional leadership as CEO for the last four years. Larry has played an instrumental role in positioning Avis Budget for the future of mobility, while navigating through unprecedented industry challenges. Together with our outstanding management team, Larry has built a strong foundation for growth and continued success. We are pleased that we will continue to have access to Larry’s insights.”

Avis is also planning to keep De Shon on until the end of the year for a transition period, which is another sign that he isn’t being forced out.

Car rental image source.

Waymo image source.

Discussion:

  • What do you think is the reason for De Shon’s departure?

  • Should Avis or De Shon say more? Or should I mind my own business?

OpenTable Announces Privacy Changes

An email from OpenTable summarizes changes to the privacy policy and directs readers to the entire policy on the website. The company is using a lighthearted approach to convey what information is shared and how users will have better control over what they are willing to share.

We can view this as a positive message, although it uses some persuasive strategies. Overall, the company is trying to simplify a complex issue—and the email simplifies the far more complex policy.

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Discussion:

  • Analyze the message. Who is the primary audience, and what are the communication objectives? How would you describe the tone and writing style? What organizational strategies are used?

  • What persuasive strategies does the message use?

  • Overall, how effective is the message in meeting its communication objectives? What, if anything, could OpenTable do differently?

United Changes Rewards Program

United Airlines promises more flexibility and better options for reward travel. In an email to loyalty members, the company summarizes changes.

I’m not sure why they focus on the “award chart,” but that probably means more to a frequent traveler who manages points more closely than I do.

Discussion:

  • How clearly and concisely does United communicate the news?

  • What else, if anything, should the company include in the message?

FreshDirect Message to Customers

FreshDirect sent an email to customers in Westchester County, NY, describing new products and services. This is an example of a positive message—and is a good break from the mistakes, apologies, and tragedies over the past couple of weeks.

Dear Laura,

Everything we do at FreshDirect is driven by our mission of making the best-tasting, freshest food easy to get for you, our valued customers. We know that you care deeply about feeding your family the very best food and to make that easier than ever before we're announcing a series of new service enhancements that will provide you with an even better shopping experience.

We work around YOUR schedule

  • Starting March 25, we will offer SAME DAY DELIVERY which enables you to place an order up to 10am, for delivery starting at 5pm the same day. Same day deliveries are also included for free in your DeliveryPass.

  • We are extending the cut-off time in your area to 9pm, allowing you to edit and place your order further into the evening, for deliveries starting 7am or later the next day.

  • We have added significantly more availability to delivery time slots. In fact, if there is a specific delivery time slot that you want that is full, simply call 1 (866) 283-7374 or visit FreshDirect.com to chat with a customer service agent, and we will open one up for you – either in that specific window, or the window immediately before or after.

When we say we'll be there on time, we'll be there on time

  • We have significantly expanded both our delivery fleet and team, so you can count on us to ALWAYS deliver your food on time.

  • We are so confident in our delivery team that if you ever need to contact us about a late delivery, we will credit the delivery fee for that order AND your next order. For DeliveryPass customers we'll extend your DeliveryPass for TWO weeks.

We have a growing selection of the very best food

  • We have added over 400 new items to our offering over the last 2 months.

  • We are adding hundreds of high-quality, specially-sourced new items every month during the spring and summer. In the next month alone, we will be adding your most requested brands like Spindrift, Caulipower and Pampers Pure.

  • Our team of chefs has been busy creating exciting meal solutions including ready-to-heat entrees, meal kits, salads & grain bowls, fresh bakery goods and more, with 5-10 new items available every month. As always, we're committed to sourcing the cleanest possible ingredients for you and your family.

We guarantee our freshness

  • Our new state-of-the-art home enables us to consistently offer and deliver the highest quality food. We believe so strongly in the quality of our food that we're offering a 100% HAPPINESS GUARANTEE – if you receive anything from us that doesn't live up to your expectations, we will refund you or redeliver the same day, no questions asked.

We make it right for you

  • Mistakes happen, and when they do, we want the opportunity to go above and beyond in showing you how much we value you. If an item is missing or damaged, or you are unhappy with the quality of something, we will of course provide a refund, but what we really strive to do instead is get a perfect replacement product back to you that same day. Just call 1 (866) 283-7374 or visit FreshDirect.com to chat with our customer service team and they'll take care of it.

  • We empower our customer service team to go above and beyond to fix any issues you may face, but there are rare occasions when customer service may not be able to resolve things to your total satisfaction. I still want the opportunity to make that right. Please reach out to me at david@freshdirect.com and we'll swarm the issue to quickly find a way to make you happy.

Finally, we want to invite you to a behind-the-scenes tour of our new headquarters, which may be the most amazing food hive in the world. On the tour you'll get to meet our team of food experts, see how your orders come together, and sample some of the best food and drink we have to offer. You'll be hearing more from me about this opportunity to visit us and how to sign up in the coming weeks, but to whet your appetite, here is a short video of a similar event that we recently hosted.

We hope you found this information valuable and we look forward to providing the very best food to you and your family for years to come.

Sincerely,

David McInerney
CEO & Co-Founder of FreshDirect

Discussion:

  • Analyze the message. Who are the primary and secondary audiences? What are the communication objectives? How is the email organized? What is the writing style? How would you describe the tone?

  • What business writing principles are followed?

  • What works best about the message, and what would you suggest that the CEO change?

  • In what ways does this message illustrate integrity?

Instacart Tries to Make Things Right

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Criticized for underpaying shoppers, personal grocery delivery company Instacart is changing its compensation model. Personal shoppers were always paid a minimum for orders, but the company had started including tips in that minimum amount. The company admitted to paying only 80 cents in some cases for someone to pick and deliver a batch of groceries. In a petition, personal shoppers claimed that “customers' tips are essentially being paid to Instacart rather than to the workers ourselves.”

In a blog post, Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta admits “clearly we haven’t always gotten it right.” He announced policy changes to ensure the following:

  • Tips should always be separate from Instacart’s contribution to shopper compensation

  • All batches will have a higher guaranteed compensation floor for shoppers, paid for by Instacart

  • Instacart will retroactively compensate shoppers when tips were included in minimums

Shopper image source.

Discussion:

  • Read Mehta’s entire blog post. What principles of business communication does he follow? What, if anything, can be improved?

  • In what ways does Mehta demonstrate strong leadership character?

  • How could Instacart have avoided this situation, including the negative effects on personal shoppers and the negative publicity?

Starbucks CEO Draws His Own Path

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Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson is identifying his own vision for the company—apart from Howard Schultz’s plan. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Johnson said that the previous plan to open about 1,000 Reserve cafes will be piloted with just a few stores. Reserve stores deliver a higher-end experience, selling artisanal products and cocktails.

The change is one example of how Johnson is distinguishing himself from Schultz, who was the company CEO for about 30 years. According to the article, Johnson often started meetings with, “I’m not Howard. I’m Kevin.” A couple of weeks after Schultz left, Johnson said about the business strategy, “Certainly, I tend to bring a much more disciplined approach to picking the priorities.”

Starbucks Reserve image source.
Kevin Johnson image source.

Discussion:

  • Is it important for Johnson to distinguish himself from Schultz? Why or why not?

  • Read more about Johnson as the new CEO. How well is he handling the transition? What, if anything, should he do differently? He’s in a tough spot, wanting to create his own path but needing to be respectful to the previous leadership.

Google and Facebook Drop Forced Arbitration

Following Google employee walkouts and demands, both Google and Facebook have eliminated the requirement for employees to settle sexual harassment complaints internally. Tech companies Uber, Lyft, and Microsoft made the same change in the past couple of years.

Previously, all of these companies had clauses in their policies, which employees agree to when hired, that forced employees to give up their right to sue the company for sexual harassment.

Critics of forced arbitration say the policy puts victims at a disadvantage. Businesses are more likely to win cases in arbitration than in front of a judge. The internal practice also protects the company from public scrutiny and allows perpetrators to more easily get jobs in other companies, continuing the cycle of harassment.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced Google’s decision and other policy changes in an email to employees, which was posted on the company’s blog:

Hi everyone,

At Google we try hard to build a workplace that supports our employees and empowers them to do their best work. As CEO, I take this responsibility very seriously and I’m committed to making the changes we need to improve. Over the past few weeks Google’s leaders and I have heard your feedback and have been moved by the stories you’ve shared.

We recognize that we have not always gotten everything right in the past and we are sincerely sorry for that. It’s clear we need to make some changes.

Going forward, we will provide more transparency on how we handle concerns. We’ll give better support and care to the people who raise them. And we will double down on our commitment to be a representative, equitable, and respectful workplace.

Today, we’re announcing a comprehensive action plan to make progress. It’s detailed here and I encourage everyone to read it. Here are some of the key changes:

  • We will make arbitration optional for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims. Google has never required confidentiality in the arbitration process and arbitration still may be the best path for a number of reasons (e.g., personal privacy) but, we recognize that choice should be up to you. 

  • We will provide more granularity around sexual harassment investigations and outcomes at the company as part of our Investigations Report.

  • We’re revamping the way we handle and look into your concerns in three ways: We’re overhauling our reporting channels by bringing them together on one dedicated site and including live support. We will enhance the processes we use to handle concerns—including the ability for Googlers to be accompanied by a support person. And we will offer extra care and resources for Googlers during and after the process. This includes extended counseling and career support,

  • We will update and expand our mandatory sexual harassment training. From now on if you don’t complete your training, you’ll receive a one-rating dock in Perf (editor's note: Perf is our performance review system). 

  • We will recommit to our company-wide OKR around diversity, equity and inclusion again in 2019, focused on improving representation—through hiring, progression and retention—and creating a more inclusive culture for everyone. Our Chief Diversity Officer will continue to provide monthly progress updates to me and my leadership team. 

I hope you’ll take the time to read the full range of actions we’re announcing today.

Thank you all for the feedback you’ve shared with us. This is an area where we need to continually make progress and are committed to doing so. We often hear from Googlers that the best part of working here is other Googlers. Even in difficult times, we are encouraged by the commitment of our colleagues to create a better workplace. That’s come through very strongly over the past few weeks.

-Sundar

Image source.

Discussion:

  • Analyze Pichai’s message: the audience, communication objectives, organization, writing style, etc. What works well, and what could be improved?

  • Overall, how well does the message address employees’ concerns?

  • Pichai mentions that privacy may be a reason employees choose the arbitration process, but the Times article says arbitration mostly protects the company’s privacy? Should Pichai have omitted this line?

  • What, if any, downsides do you see of Google responding to employees’ demands in this way?

Teacher Recommendation Letters Influence Harvard Decision

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Details about Harvard’s admissions process are surfacing during the trial about how the university’s “race-conscious” decision policy may adversely affect Asian-Americans. The entire guidebook for admissions decisions in 2014 was entered into evidence.

This week, Harvard revealed that white students typically receive “somewhat stronger” recommendation letters from teachers and guidance counselors than Asian-American students, which affects each group’s “personal rating.” The personal ratings on based on characteristics such as kindness, courage, and leadership. When writing letters, reviewers are asked to assess “consistent testimony of an applicant’s unusual effervescence, charity, maturity, or strength of character.”

Back in 1990, the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights criticized Harvard’s practice of using a personal rating and admissions officers’ stereotypical comments of Asian-American students. The same issue seems to be presented here, with comments from teachers and guidance counselors.

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Discussion:

  • How valuable do you think teacher and guidance counselor letters of recommendation are in the admissions process? How much weight should they carry in the overall decision?

  • By definition, the personal rating includes subjective evaluations. Should universities try to avoid subjectivity in the admissions process? Why or why not?

Facebook's Messaging Over Time

The Wall Street Journal reports how Facebook has repositioned itself since its founding in 2004.

In 2005, at Harvard, founder Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook’s purpose is to ”look people up” and for “connecting to people.” In 2008, Facebooke expands and messages focus on helping people “share information. . . and share parts of their identity with each other.” In 2010, Zuckerberg’s vision enlarged: “People can have instantly social and personalized experiences everywhere that they go.” Soon after, Zuckerberg focused on problem solving.

In 2012, Zuckerberg said, “Our mission isn’t to be a public company. Our mission is to make the world more open and connected.” By 2013, Zuckerberg was seeing Facebook’s role in selecting governments, getting healthcare access—improving people’s lives.

More recently, given concerns about privacy and misinformation, Zuckerberg’s messages focus on responsibility.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • The WSJ video has a negative connotation about Facebook’s changing message, particularly in light of today’s news about shareholder proposals to split Zuckerberg’s roles. Do you agree with this assessment?

  • How well has Zuckerberg handled messages about the evolution of Facebook in the past 14 years? What, if anything, can he do differently now?

  • Do you agree with the proposal to split the CEO and chairman jobs? In other words, does Zuckerberg have too power? Does he need help at this point?

  • How is Facebook’s evolving messaging a potential matter of integrity?

Amazon Loses Favor After Announcing $15 Wage

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Amazon received good press for announcing employees would earn a minimum of $15/hour. But today’s news tells a different story.

Although the hourly wage will increase, Amazon is cutting bonuses and stock options, and employees fear it will cost them thousands of dollars in total compensation. The stock options, according to employees’ online posts, gave them a sense of company ownership. Some proposed walking out on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. Amazon had also granted bonuses for attendance and productivity, called Variable Compensation Plan, or V.C.P.

In response, company leaders said they would look at employees’ total compensation to make sure no one would be worse off after the changes. A spokesperson also released this statement:

"The significant increase in hourly cash wages more than compensates for the phase out of incentive pay and [restrictive stock units]. We can confirm that all hourly Operations and Customer Service employees will see an increase in their total compensation as a result of this announcement. In addition, because it's no longer incentive-based, the compensation will be more immediate and predictable."

Box image source. Cart image source.

Discussion:

  • This is quite possibly a miscommunication or, more to the point, poor communication from Amazon officials to employees. How could the company have done a better job?

  • How well does the statement address the criticism? What else should the company communicate at this point?

  • How is this an issue of integrity for the company?

Amazon Increases Pay to $15/Hour

Starting November 1, Amazon will pay 250,000 and 100,000 seasonal workers at least $15 an hour. A blog post quoted CEO Jeff Bezos:

“We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead. We’re excited about this change and encourage our competitors and other large employers to join us.”

The post include a video, “Amazon associates react to $15 minimum wage announcement”:

The company also they would work to increase the federal minimum wage, which, as an Amazon SVP says, could improve from the “current rate $7.25 [which] was set nearly a decade ago,”

One analyst predicted that, after taxes, Amazon’s operating profit will take a hit of 1 of 2%. But the move is being well received. For example, Senator Bernie Sanders, a former critic, complimented the decision:

“What Mr. Bezos has done today is not only enormously important for Amazon’s hundreds of thousands of employees, it could well be a shot heard around the world. I urge corporate leaders around the country to follow Mr. Bezos’s lead.”

Discussion:

  • Assess Amazon’s blog post and video. How well does the company use the news to improve the company’s image?

  • What’s your view of the move: the right thing to do, a bad financial decision, or something else?

Alibaba's New Chairman and Ma’s Letter

Following Jack Ma’s departure next year, Daniel Zhang will become Alibaba’s new chairman. Referring to himself as a “free and noncooperative person,” Zhang is the presumed choice because he’s been CEO since 2015. Someone who knows Zhang explained why he may have chosen the phrase “free and uncooperative”: “[H]e’s always chasing and seeking—to be free and not tied down to anything.”

A Bloomberg report describes Zhang as a “rising star” who did a great job implementing Ma’s strategy and vision and is “taking the company to the next level.”

A press release on the company website includes a letter from Jack Ma, which expresses confidence in Zhang:

“Daniel has been with Alibaba Group for 11 years. Since he took over as CEO, he has demonstrated his superb talent, business acumen and determined leadership. Under his stewardship, Alibaba has seen consistent and sustainable growth for 13 consecutive quarters. His analytical mind is unparalleled, he holds dear our mission and vision, he embraces responsibility with passion, and he has the guts to innovate and test creative business models. Deservedly, China’s business news media has named him the No.1 CEO in 2018. For these reasons, he and his team have won the trust and support of customers, employees and shareholders. Starting the process of passing the Alibaba torch to Daniel and his team is the right decision at the right time, because I know from working with them that they are ready, and I have complete confidence in our next generation of leaders.”

The letter ends on an emotional note: “The one thing I can promise everyone is this: Alibaba was never about Jack Ma, but Jack Ma will forever belong to Alibaba.”

Discussion:

  • Read the entire press release. Who is the audience? How would you describe the organizational structure?

  • The press release with Ma’s long letter included is unusual. We don’t see a quotation from Zhang; typically, an incoming executive will be quoted. Why do you think this was excluded? What could Zhang have said?

President Trump Criticizes Google

In two tweets, President Trump criticized Google and other technology companies of "suppressing voices of Conservatives and hiding information and news that is good." Calling the situation "very serious" and "very dangerous," he claims that "fake" liberal news is elevated in search engines, while "fair" Republican/Conservative perspectives are suppressed.

The president's evidence is based on searching for "Trump News," which he claims resulted in 96% of stories from "National Left-Wing Media." The data came from Lou Dobbs' reporting on Fox Business Network about an "unscientific study" by PJ Media, a conservative organization.

It's also unclear which news organizations Fox and President Trump put in the "left-wing" category. A Wall Street Journal article explains that the president considers even mainstream media outlets to be "fake news," so what he calls unfair representation may not align with a "statistically neutral news aggregator." 

Yet the article acknowledged that the search engine algorithm for Google News is "opaque." In addition, Facebook was questioned during Congressional Hearings about suppressing conservative views, and several technology companies did recently close accounts belonging to Alex Jones and InfoWars, a conservative organization, for violating terms of agreement. Social media sites (except Twitter, which has retained Jones's account) provide reasons for closing Jones's account such as his claiming that the shooting at Sandy Hooks Elementary School in 2013 was a hoax.

A spokesperson for Google denies biased search results:

"We continually work to improve Google Search and we never rank search results to manipulate political sentiment."

Discussion:

  • Try to find evidence on both sides of this argument: that Google News is unbiased against President Trump and that his claims are unfounded.
  • What's your view about Google Search results? How might your own political perspective factor into your view?
  • How can you ensure that you're getting the most balanced news possible? (Hint: Don't rely on your Facebook feed.)

SodaStream Acquisition Communications

Pepsi will acquire SodaStream, which makes sense given declining sales of sugary drinks and bottled water, and increasing sales of sparkling water.

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As we might expect, the press release focuses on Pepsi's "growing water portfolio" and its goal of "reducing the amount of waste generated." Incoming CEO and President Ramon Laguarta emphasized the strategic match between the two companies:

"SodaStream is highly complementary and incremental to our business, adding to our growing water portfolio, while catalyzing our ability to offer personalized in-home beverage solutions around the world. From breakthrough innovations like Drinkfinity to beverage dispensing technologies like Spire for foodservice and Aquafina water stations for workplaces and colleges, PepsiCo is finding new ways to reach consumers beyond the bottle, and today's announcement is fully in line with that strategy."

A Wall Street Journal article included a clear, simple column chart showing the dramatic increase in seltzer water.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • What is not said in the press release? What, if anything else, should be included?
  • Pepsi's former CEO was Indra Nooyi, one of the few women running Fortune 500 companies, just announced her departure after 12 years. How, if at all, do you think the acquisition timing is relevant?
  • What visual design principles are illustrated in the column chart?

 

CEO Activism

Weber Shandwick's third annual report explores CEO activism, which Brian Moynihan, CEO Bank of America, defines and supports:

“Our jobs as CEOs now include driving what we think is right. It’s not exactly political activism, but it is action on issues beyond business.”

The report found that almost half of Americans "believe CEO activism influences the decisions and actions of government," and almost half of consumers "would be more likely to buy from a company led by a CEO who speaks out on an issue they agree with." Millennials, particularly, prefer CEOs to speak out on issues, and CEOs with more social media accounts have better stock performance for their company.

A Wall Journal Street writer observes that leaders rarely make a business case for issues, even if their company would benefit. Instead, they are speaking to consumers directly to change hearts and minds.

Top issues for CEOs include training, equal pay and sexual harassment, and CEOs are avoiding gun control, nationalism, marijuana legalization, and abortion."

A Forbes article offers this advice for CEOs:

  • Develop an authentic voice and quick actions
  • Connect your customers with your activism efforts
  • Align activism efforts with a company’s mission  
  • Be willing to act against your own self-interest

Discussion:

  • What are the risks and rewards of activism to a CEO and to the company? How does integrity factor in?
  • What examples have you seen of CEOs speaking out? How do you assess the situations? How did you feel about the gestures?
  • Read the Weber PPT deck. What principles of business report writing are followed, and what could be improved?

More Research Support for Gratitude

New research, once again, illustrates the value of writing thank-you letters. A recent study shows that senders underestimate the impact of sending a letter of gratitude, which prevents them from writing one. People also worry that letters will be scrutinized and that receivers will feel awkward, but none of these perceptions align with the reality.

In their study, Amit Kumar and Nicholas Epley, at the University of Chicago, compared how "expressers" felt about writing a letter with how people felt receiving them. Receivers felt more surprised about receiving the letters and about the content, more positive, and less awkward than the senders thought they would be. Most expressers spent less than five minutes writing a letter.

Understandably, writers in the study doubted their own competence. Participants answered questions such as, “To what extent were you able to express your gratitude using words that were just right?” and “After your recipient reads your letter, how articulate do you believe they will think your expression of gratitude is?” People who received messages rated senders as more competent than senders rated themselves.

This study builds on Kumar's earlier work showing that reflecting on experiences rather than on material goods makes people feel better and act more generously toward others.

Discussion:

  • Have you sent a letter of gratitude in the past couple of years? What inspired you to send it? How was it received?
  • Have you thought about sending a letter but did not? What stopped you? Do the findings in this study encourage you now? The authors hope so!

Howard Schultz Steps Down from Starbucks and Speculation Abounds

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Howard Schultz's career may get more interesting. After an incredible 40-year success story with Starbucks, Schultz announced he's stepping down from the company's board of directors.

The Seattle Times reports that Schultz planned the announcement before the controversy about two black men arrested in a Philadelphia store. He waited until the news died down, and now, the time seems right.

Schultz has never shied away from political topics, and this isn't the first time people are speculating about a presidential bid. But this time, Schultz isn't denying the possibility, as he told The New York Times:

“I want to be truthful with you without creating more speculative headlines. For some time now, I have been deeply concerned about our country — the growing division at home and our standing in the world.

“One of the things I want to do in my next chapter is to figure out if there is a role I can play in giving back. I’m not exactly sure what that means yet.”

Schultz also responded to a question about a potential presidential run:

“I intend to think about a range of options, and that could include public service. But I’m a long way from making any decisions about the future.”

He certainly has a simple, nicely designed website with a video introduction. Regardless of his campaign decision, Schultz seems to have some plans for a future. With the multiple ways to provide contact information ("Let's stay in touch!"), the focus is clearly on connecting with people.

See additional communications about the news:

Image source.

Discussion:

  • Assess Schultz's website and video. Who are his primary and secondary audiences, and what are his objectives?
  • Why do you think Schultz emphasizes staying connected? Other than for political reasons, what could be his motivations?
  • Read the company's press release. What are the main points?

Cold Email Examples

The CEO of Mapistry, a start-up software company for storm water compliance, posted and analyzed her past emails to VCs, venture capitalists who could invest in her company. Allie Janoch disputes the claim that you need an introduction to a VC; she has had some success in sending cold emails.

Her first email, Janochs admits, says little about her company and undermines the message with self-deprecation.

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She didn't get a response. Her second email, when her company had more traction, includes a specific subject, focuses on problem solving, uses bullets for important data points, and is personal.

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Discussion:

  • What do you consider the strength's of Janoch's second email?
  • What improvements could she make?
  • How does each email demonstrate humility? The first, as Janoch says, is self-deprecating. What's the potential problem with this approach? How does the second email demonstrate humility as well as confidence? How well does Janoch balance the two?

Starbucks Clarifies Policy

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Following criticism for arresting two black men in a Philadelphia store, Starbucks has set a new policy for bathroom use. Company leaders decided to adopt a more open policy, allowing anyone to use a store bathroom without purchasing products.

But people questioned the effect on Starbucks locations, worrying the policy would invite homeless people and drug users. Customers want space available for themselves. Employees, particularly, complained that the policy didn't have enough guidance for them to know, for example, when to call the police.

The new policy lists the following expectations for people in their stores:

  • Using spaces as intended
  • Being considerate of others
  • Communicating with respect
  • Acting responsibly

The policy also refers to "Addressing Disruptive Behaviors" procedures and clarifies, "If a situation presents an immediate danger or threat to partner or customer safety, Starbucks partners should call 911."

I'm struggling with the term "customer." The policy uses this terminology, and the WSJ article refers to paying and non-paying customers. To me, the latter is an oxymoron, but perhaps it is not given the company's mission to create a "third place."

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Discussion:

  • What benefits and potential downsides do you see from Starbucks' open policy?
  • How could Starbucks further clarify the policy to address customers' and employees' concerns?
  • One point of clarification, if you haven't mentioned it, is about timing. How long should people be permitted to stay without purchasing an item? What are your thoughts about what is fair?
  • What's your view of the term "customer" in this context?

"Can We Use 'I'?"

In an article, "The Soul-Crushing Student Essay," a writing instructor at The New School in New York City laments first-year students' writing. Every semester, he says, students ask, “Do you mean we can write with the word ‘I’?” He says, "Somewhere along the way, these young people were told by teachers that who they are in their writing ought to be divorced from who they are on their phones, or as the writer Grace Paley may have said, with their families and on their streets."

He encourages students to write about their own experience:

First, we need to value more the complete and complex lives of young people: where they come from, how they express themselves. They have already lived lives worthy of our attention and appreciation.

Second, we need to encourage young people to take seriously those lives they’ve lived, even as they come to understand—often through schooling and just as often not—that there’s a whole lot more we’ll expect of them. Through this, we can help them learn to expect more of themselves, too.

I'm sensitive to the topic because several students recently asked me this question about their final assignment—a self-reflection paper.

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Discussion:

  • Were you taught to avoid "I" in writing? What was the reason?
  • What is the value of writing from your own experience?
  • How does using "I" make your writing clearer and more concise?