Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Pet sounds

Episode 12 of Annette Verschuren’s Bet On Me podcast (“Prioritizing Purpose with Profits: Getting to know Ikdeep Singh, Regional President of Mars Pet Nutrition“) would have put me to sleep entirely had it not, at times, managed to annoy me so deeply.

Her guest’s connection to Cape Breton is real enough — Singh followed his sister here in 1994 to do a two-year engineering diploma at what was then UCCB (and having crapped all over business schools in the last episode, CBU Chancellor Verschuren heaps a little praise on the engineering program in this one.)

Ikdeep Singh LinkedIn

Singh’s sister is still here, she runs the Breton Ability Centre, and his parents live here now too, and he owns a house here and visits at least once a year and plans to retire here and join Annette and CBU President Dave Dingwall and Screaming Eagles/Cambridge Suites owner Irwin Simon and Cabot Cape Breton’s Ben Cowan-Dewar (all of whom were name-checked during this discussion) in making their various “visions” for our island come true. It will be like hiring five competitive, ambitious interior decorators to do the kitchen and I don’t know what the economic development equivalent of five sinks and no stove is, but we may find out.

Singh, like all Verschuren’s guests, is inspiring and hard-working and a leader — actually, she introduces a new category for him, he’s a “leader/servant” — who has done wonderful things in top roles at Procter & Gamble and L’Oréal and is now regional president at MARS Petcare, based either in New York or Franklin, Tennessee, depending on whether you believe his LinkedIn profile or Verschuren’s introduction. (Possibly he’s returned to New York since the interview was recorded?)

His career at P&G began straight out of engineering school at Dal, when he was recruited into their marketing department by someone who recognized his “leadership potential.” He started in Toronto, then moved to the company’s HQ in Cincinnati, then to the UK, Germany, Taiwan and China. He “failed so many times” and “made mistakes” but blossomed thanks to the “kindness and giving nature of managers” at P&G. He left in 2014 because the company was going through what he termed a “downsizing” or a “kind of streamlining” and there were “no top jobs” to be had.

At this point, I searched “P&G layoffs” (using the less polite word for “streamlining” and “downsizing”) and here’s just a little sampling of the headlines I found, all of which coincide with his 2000-2014 stint at the company:

2001

P&G to Focus on Marketing; Slashes 17,400 Jobs Worldwide

Procter & Gamble, the world’s largest advertiser, yesterday announced draconian job cuts across its global payroll, propelling its cost-cutting strategy into warp mode.

President/ceo A G Lafley played down the move as “phase two” of the company’s existing restructuring program. This will add a further 9,600 jobs to the 7,800 already sacrificed on the altar of shareholder value, in addition to the 15,000 jobs that disappeared after phase one in 1999.

2006

Over 50% of P&G layoffs in year were at Gillette

Procter & Gamble Co. has eliminated 2,800 positions over the past fiscal year, with more than half coming from Gillette, as a result of P&G’s takeover of the Boston shaving firm. P&G’s $54 billion acquisition of Gillette is expected to result in an estimated 5,000 job cuts from the combined workforce of about 140,000. Already, Boston has lost about 400 Gillette jobs due to attrition and consolidation.

2012

P&G To Lay Off 1,600 After Discovering It’s Free To Advertise On Facebook

P&G said it would lay off 1,600 staffers, including marketers, as part of a cost-cutting exercise. More interestingly, CEO Robert McDonald finally seems to have woken up to the fact that he cannot keep increasing P&G’s ad budget forever, regardless of what happens to its sales.

2014

P&G downsizing in order to grow

The world’s largest maker of consumer products is preparing to downsize.

Tide and Pampers stay but the smaller brands are going.

Cincinnati based Procter and Gamble says it’s streamlining its portfolio by cutting back to only 70 to 80 brands accounting for 90 percent of the company’s sales.

Just before he arrived at the company, a 1998 Baltimore Sun article said of P&G:

As one of the first U.S. businesses to downsize at a time when it was doing well, the company became a symbol of something less benign: a ruthlessness by American companies that has touched off a national debate about workers’ security and economic values.

And in case you are afraid the tradition may have died since Singh left, the Washington Post included P&G in a 2020 article about big American companies that are “flourishing during the pandemic” and yet still “putting thousands of people out of work.”

Clearly, hanging in there for 14 years was no easy feat. And credit where credit is due, Singh’s final role at P&G, “Director for Greater China Hair,” sounds like one hell of a responsibility.

He went to L’Oréal because he ran into some of the company’s executives at a panel discussion or a board meeting and they said to him, “You’re so entrepreneurial, why don’t you come?” He accepted their offer, provided he could move home to Canada, to be near his family, and so he ended it up in Montreal but then went to New York (I realized, from something he said later in the discussion, that he considers anywhere in North America “close” to Cape Breton).

At L’Oréal , according to his LinkedIn, he:

…delivered accelerated revenue and profit growth at industry-leading rates while modernizing portfolios, accelerating consumer-centric innovation, and upgrading digital capabilities to leadership levels. All this while driving employee engagement to all time highs.

They let him “try something in luxury goods,” giving him “Giorgio Armani, which was their Chanel” (I know that isn’t quite like calling Thunderbird the Cadillac of cars, but it’s close). Then, out of the blue, while he was minding his own business accelerating consumer-centric innovation, he was head-hunted by MARS and his wife — a former McKinsey consultant  who had “served” MARS for “six years in China” — said it was such a good company she would be willing to leave New York if he got the job.

I took another break at this point to see what McKinsey was up to these days (bread price-fixing, anyone?) and this is what I found on its home page as of Thursday afternoon:

The author, an army veteran who served five tours of duty overseas between 2003 and 2010, compares going back to the office after working from home to “returning to the US from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Yes, just the same — what with the IEDs on the basement stairs and the ever-present possibility that you must kill or be killed.

Okay, so back to our story — Singh gets the MARS job and is now either in New York or Franklin, Tennessee, and if you’ve been waiting breathlessly to discover how, exactly, he’s been “prioritizing purpose with profits” (a completely meaningless phrase Verschuren has concocted because she knows if she says “prioritizing profits over purpose” she’s describing every corporation on the planet and if she says “prioritizing purpose over profits” her pants will catch fire), wait no more. Twenty minutes into the discussion and a couple of decades into his career all is made clear: MARS — which not only claims a huge share of the world pet food market but is also buying up vet clinics — ran an online promotion during the pandemic to help people adopt pets over Zoom. Because MARS wants to “make the world a better place for pets.” Singh actually says that during the interview but it turns out it’s a (trademarked) advertising tagline:

MARS tagline

At this point Verschuren says:

You now run an organization that has amazing brand names. CESAR’s is one, IAMs is another.

Singh: Sheba, Pedigree…

And readers, for one glorious moment I thought they were going to take turns listing all the MARS pet food brands, “Whiskas, Greenies, Nutro, Royal Canin, Temptations…” But instead, the conversation took an even battier turn:

Verschuren: [T]he pandemic did tough things on some areas but wonderful things in others and I would think that the whole pet industry went through the roof during the pandemic.

Singh: Yeah, well, I think first, I would just say, you know, the pandemic overall is a human tragedy.

Verschuren: It is.

Singh: Three million people dead, so…

Verschuren: Terrible.

Singh: We still haven’t got out of it totally, there are countries still…facing a lot of pain, I would say and yes, what has happened is, as people have stayed at home, pets do help with loneliness…

And from there, they’re off to the races, talking about all the good MARS has done for “pet parents” (a phrase that I would bet a bag of chicken-flavored Temptations never crossed his lips when he was heading Armani).

They end with the usual exchange of over-the-top compliments, leaving behind a sense of smug, self-satisfaction so thick, I had to clean it off my glasses.

One more episode to go.

The things I do for you people.

 

Bitcoin

Have you seen that Matt Damon crypto ad?

The one where he compares buying crypto currency to climbing Mount Everest or space exploration?

I don’t know how long it’s been playing in Canada — apparently it’s been airing in the US since October — but I saw it for the first time last weekend and I think I’d have written it off as a bad dream had I not found a bunch of news articles mocking him for it. Here it is, courtesy of YouTube:

The comments under the video are really funny — especially those pointing out that one of the most famous invocations of “Fortune favors the brave” was that of Pliny the Elder, who said it just before he sailed to Pompeii and died in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

But before I get too pleased with myself, I have a confession to make — I bought a Bitcoin back in 2012. I was curious about the technology and I was (as I often am) annoyed by something the bank had done to me.

My Bitcoin promptly lost about 75% of its value and I chalked it up as a lesson learned and forgot about it.

A few years later, when it suddenly shot up in value, I sold half of it for much more than I’d paid for the entire thing. (And yes, I paid taxes on it, although it took me the better part of a day to figure out how.)

And then I forgot about it again, until it really shot up last year, at which point I realized I’d lost the password to my wallet. And that was the end of my career as a cryptocurrency speculator. But by last year, I was feeling really uncomfortable about the whole adventure anyway, having learned that the small amount of good crypto does — it can allow people to transfer money without paying bank fees, which can be useful for migrant workers sending money home to their families — in no way outweighs the bad, starting with the environmental implications and ending with the fact that the whole thing seems to be a big fat scam.

I recommend this episode of the Tech Won’t Save Us podcast, in which host Paris Marx speaks to Jacob Silverman, a staff writer at The New Republic who “writes about crypto with the actor Ben McKenzie.”

Tech Won't Save Us LogoSilverman’s main argument is that for all the shortcomings of our existing financial system — and they are legion — a system based on cryptocurrency would be far worse. He goes into detail about the kind of manipulation to which the cryptocurrency market, supposedly decentralized and impossible to manipulate, is subject and he explains how this supposedly “democratic” and decentralized currency is controlled by a few big players.

But he and McKenzie reserve a special contempt for celebrities — like Damon — who encourage us plebs to invest in cryptocurrency. Writing in Slate back in October they said:

The Hollywoodization of crypto is a moral disaster. And for celebrities’ fans, who likely have far less money to lose, it’s potentially a financial one, too. These rich and famous entertainers might as well be pushing payday loans or seating their audience at a rigged blackjack table.

This applies equally to another strange investment vehicle, the non-fungible token or NFT. If you’ve seen Paris Hilton talking to Jimmy Fallon about them, or read that Justin Bieber is bullish on them, be warned: they’re being paid to talk the investment up.

Silverman thinks there’s a “Crypto Winter” coming — whether due to interest rate hikes and regulation or simply implosion — and warns that it will be the retail (regular) investors who suffer, not the big players.

As for me, despite the financial return, I tend to rank my Bitcoin investment as a misstep — right up there with bowl haircuts and my first laptop, which cost a fortune, weighed 15 pounds, had no optical drive and lost its connection to the internet every six minutes.

Live and learn, right?

 

Erin, We Hardly Knew Ye

Lots of ink is being spilled about the ousting of federal Conservative leader Erin O’Toole today, but I think I learned everything I needed to know about the post-Harper CPC from the 2017 leadership race, the results of which looked like this:

2017 CPC Leadership Race results

 

Maxime Bernier came within a hair’s breadth of taking it.

What more do you need to know?

 

Visual aids

Dalhousie and CBU researchers have studied the impact of the pandemic on the homeless in Halifax and CBRM and have presented their findings in the form of an animated video you can view on YouTube.

While both municipalities are given credit for initiatives introduced to help the homeless — CBRM’s warming centers, which gave people access to showers, toilets and laundry facilities, are mentioned approvingly — the overall message is that the pandemic, combined with the housing crisis, exacerbated a situation that was already a “disaster.” One that we, as a society, must do much more to rectify.