Analyst’s Take: Uber’s Corporate Culture, Whole Foods’ Relevance

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This past week has truly been epic.  It will take a long time to mentally process both the Uber report and Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods. There are many takeaways from the Uber story that are relevant to anyone who cares about business. I think it’s worth taking the time to read the 13-page report that Covington & Burling did on Uber. Clearly many, many people, including investors and senior executives, knew that the company had principles and engaged in practices that were likely to lead to, shall I say, negative outcomes that might even jeopardize the company’s viability, but somehow everyone looked the other way for a long time. Maybe they thought everything that was going on was acceptable, which is certainly a depressing thought. Perhaps—perhaps—we should find this heartening, as means that good research and investigation can discover things that have not yet played out. 

Here’s what I think is the most shocking paragraph from the report (it was somewhat hard to choose):

Uber should reformulate its written cultural values because it is vital that they reflect more inclusive and positive behaviors. To achieve this reformulation of the values, there are several steps Uber should undertake: work with an established and respected organization that is experienced in organizational change to restate the values with significant input from employees; consider further defining the values in a manner more accessible to and more easily understood by employees; adopt values that are more inclusive and contribute to a collaborative environment, including emphasizing teamwork and mutual respect, and incorporating diversity and inclusiveness as a key cultural value, not just as an end in itself, but as a fundamental aspect of doing good business; reduce the overall number of values, and eliminate those values which have been identified as redundant or as having been used to justify poor behavior, including Let Builders Build, Always Be Hustlin’, Meritocracy and Toe-Stepping, and Principled Confrontation; and encourage senior leaders to exhibit the values on a daily basis and to model a more collaborative and inclusive Uber culture. Leaders who embody these values should be part of the process of redefining Uber’s values and should be role models for other leaders within the company. All of Uber’s senior leaders should be responsible for embracing and communicating the reformulated values to employees.  

Re Amazon/Whole Foods,  in the past few months I’ve had more conversations on Whole Foods than just about any other company. My bottom line has been that Whole Foods’ reason for being has become increasingly questionable. Trader Joe’s has great, and less expensive, packaged food, as well as a much more fun shopping experience, and every supermarket has organic produce. I don’t know what the future holds, but there’s no doubt that Whole Foods is going to look a lot different very soon. Veteran retail banker Richard Kestenbaum has some insights on the deal, which he shares here.

On the non time-sensitive front, here’s an article on a trend and business opportunity that’s been talked about for at least 15 years, but that I think is still misunderstood: fat women. Yes, that’s the term. As the article states about the woman profiled: “Throughout, Stanley repeatedly refers to herself as ‘fat’, a word more whispered behind backs than posted in public. She wears the term with pride, using it nonchalantly, humorously, and with a near sense of endearment. ‘Fat has become synonymous with being dumb, unworthy, ugly, lazy, it’s almost like a profanity,’ Stanley says of modern society’s use of the description. Stanley’s repeated use of ‘fat’ is an effort to reclaim a word she believes undeserving of its attached negative attributes.”

While there are quite a few apparel startups, such such as Eloquii and Gwynnie Bee, targeting the market, I think that many investors do not understand the nuances of this constituency. “Fat-shaming” has, fortunately, become unacceptable in many places, but the places where investors live and work may be lagging on this this front.

Faye Landes, co-founder and general partner of Back to the Future Ventures, advises emerging consumer and retail companies on strategy, branding and fundraising. She was one of Wall Street’s leading consumer and retail analysts for over 20 years and was widely recognized for her ability to anticipate sweeping trends, such as the widespread adoption of activewear. She has frequently appeared on CNBC, Bloomberg TV and other media outlets and has presented at industry conferences all over the world. Read her “Analyst’s Take” column here weekly. Contact her at faye@backtothefutureventures.com.


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