Saturday Cup of Joe from Detroit


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Detroit, MI

Week 192 in Detroit. New year. 11 days into the new year already. How was your first full week? Are the resolutions still in place? It still feels like the new year. I’m still getting used to 2020 but it’s amazing how fast that went from being a touch odd (surreal?) to being totally normal. A few lingering “Happy New Years” were still exchanged at a reception on Thursday night. I think the 10th is probably the end of “Happy New Year” for me. On to the regular year! Am I right?

This week my leader provided 5 leadership lessons that she learned from her longtime leader, now the President of the company. I wanted to pass along each one and a short explanation. I hope you find these valuable.

1. Get The Right People on the Bus — to be effective, especially over a long timeframe, leaders must align each person with the team’s work. There’s enough work to go around in most companies. Make sure you have the right people on your bus.

2. Guardians of Standards — identify your team’s principles and then guard them as strongly as you defend your company’s culture. Standards are as simply as minimum expectations to “see something, say something.”

3. Be the CEO of Questioning, Digging and Challenging in your business — ask why, then ask why again and again until it’s clear that everyone understands the purpose of the project or objective. Do not hesitate to question, play devil’s advocate or put your people to the test. If done out of a desire to improve (within trust), it will only make you and your team better.

4. Set the Pace of the Team — I’ve written before that leaders bring the weather. Leaders also dictate what is acceptable on the team. You set the pace for your organization. Just like you must guard the standards you’ve set, you must set the pace. Lead by example. We have an ISM at my company: “Responding with a sense of urgency is the ante to play.” Urgency properly focused creates positive peer pressure to succeed. Create an environment where mediocrity is the outlier.

5. Grow the Team — personal and professional development are inextricably linked. Invest in your team by getting to them personally and individually. Talk about mindset. Be honest. Be vulnerable. Be intentional.

Leadership is so much more than passion. Thank you to Brian Levy for passing along this HBR article on passion as a component of leadership. Passion, alone, is not enough. And certainly do not fake passion for your team or your work, it will be obvious and irreversible. The reality is that not every job requires passion every single day and in every moment. Like anything, the calibration must be right and must be true. Authentic passion can be trusted.

Brian also started a newsletter and website recently. Brian is a good friend and we try to cross paths at different industry events to catch up on everything from work to family to politics to culture. It’s always inspiring. Brian’s “Mortgage Musings” can be found monthly on his mailing list or at Check it out for his informed and thoughtful perspective.

Imagine for a minute you are at your desk answering email and you look down and realize it’s lunchtime. If you don’t go now the next meeting will probably run long and you won’t get to eat at all or you’ll be eating a granola bar from your desk again. You grab your phone, open the whateverSalad App on your phone, reorder the saved order and head for the elevator. Down the elevator to the lobby, a walk down the block and across the street, and you walk into the store under the bright green whateverSalad sign. The room is reminiscent of a coffee shop meets Costco. There are exposed bricks and pipes. Twisted metal modern art on the walls. Bright, clean white arrows directing you across the polished cement floor. At the end of the arrows there is a wall of shelves and on the shelves — salads with white tags. Alphabetical order. Find your name. Already there. Grab it and make the return trip to your desk. Other than delivery by robot to your actual desk, it’s about the most efficient lunch process you’ve experienced.

This is the world Sweetgreens envisions. Sure, this article in the Sunday New York Times Business section talks about “ambassadors” that welcome customers and take the order, eliminating the long line associated with the current process, but let’s be honest: this thing is going to be almost completely automated. Preorder online or order from an iPad and pick up when ready. Done and done.

How many other things will be the same?

Many in consumer electronics, consumer products and consumer finance are counting on the complex products to be excluded from the custom and self-serve approach. Instead, over the last few years, we heard more about “one stop shop” than “made to order.” How does your business fit into this dichotomy?

Ease of ordering, reliable timing and sense of control over the process. Sounds like mortgage process. Sounds like any time sensitive consumer process.

One thing I watch are the consumer apps and services that seem to latch on to something beyond, something larger than just their product. The trope of the “uber of this” or the “uber of that” is only true because uber changed more than just the taxi industry. Uber unlocked dormant resources to respond to immediate customer demand.

Sweetgreens is not unlocking made to order but marrying made to order to offsite preordering.

What can your team learn from salads?

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#4289. Strategic thinking there.

Have you used that Christmas gift card yet? We all got gift cards this year, right? According to surveys approximately 60% of requests were gift cards. In many ways, it is crazy inefficient.

For instance, “Between 2005 and 2015 alone, unredeemed gift card balances amounted to an estimated $45.7B.”

In other ways, the system works. Psychologically cash is not as thoughtful a gift. So the gift card, while financially inefficient, solves for a social norm. I have to (want to) give a gift and don’t want to take too many chances. Or, if it’s not fear of a gift, it’s the value of time. Gift cards are the best last minute gifts. Fair. The monetary inefficiency is the cost of fear.

Fear is, apparently, tangible. We’re spending a lot on gift cards.

The most recent filings of several large corporations show that these unused gift card liabilities often amount to sizeable sums of money:

· Walmart: $1.9B (2019)

· Amazon: $2.8B (2018)

· Starbucks: $1.6B (2018)

· Target: $727m (2018)

Unfortunately we’re also procrastinators. Or forgetful. Or lazy. Or all three.

So not all gift cards are redeemed. Starbucks is the leader in unused gift cards funds. “Only” $105M or so. (!)

I’m guessing one of two things is happening now — you are either trying to remember where that one gift card is right now OR you are questioning the next gift card purchase.


Just remember the unused portion is the cost of convenience or hedging a bad gift.

It all works.

Do you know the difference between private equity and venture capital? VC money is generally higher risk and lower ownership or control expectations. Private equity is looking for more established companies and taking more ownership than risk. Private equity has always been a highly political issue. The movie Wall Street takes on private equity as greed.

McKinsey measures global private equity to be around $6T.

Could be that simply that much money attracts strong opinions. For instance, Vox writes that “The controversy surrounding private equity is that whatever happens to the company acquired, private equity makes money anyway. Firms generally have a 2–20 fee structure, which means they get a 2 percent management fee from their investors and then a 20 percent performance fee on the money they make from their deals.”

Not an explicit indictment given there are companies on the other side taking on the investment partnership.

Yet, critics note that “private equity’s №1 priority isn’t the long-term health of the companies it buys — it’s to make money, and as is the case in so many facets of investing today, to make money fast.”

2020, a Presidential election year, could move financial issues of Main Street versus Wall Street into the mainstream conversation. One to watch.

“The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” — the single family home

Trends over the last year or two have indicated that zoning requirements will need to change to accommodate growing urban populations and more dense, multifamily housing. Despite changes in Minneapolis and Oregon, the country’s “love affair” with single family housing will take a long time to change or adapt.

Yet, at the same time, “Between 2000 and 2015, the U.S. underproduced 7.3 million units of housing, meaning that families across the country are struggling to find housing that is affordable and available. This shortage spanned 22 states and the District of Columbia.”

Clearly something is changing and a conversation is starting around housing but major changes are a long, long way away.

#NextBelt: Detroit as MCity. I am trying to figure out what to do with this alliteration, perhaps you have an idea.

Motor City, soon to be the Mobility City.

Music City. Eminem’s city.

Mortgage City.





All the M’s.

Not sure how to weave this into a story. Finding the connection is level one thinking. Creating the story is the next level. Understanding how it will translate into action is the final level.

What action?

Rebranding the city into a magnet for entrepreneurs, companies and millennials. See, there’s two more — magnet and millennials.

As if I haven’t written enough about Detroit, now I’m just rambling.

Yesterday, I watched a documentary on Netflix called Echo In The Canyon about the music of the 1960s based in Laurel Canyon in LA. The Byrds. The Mamas & The Papas. Buffalo Springfield. The Beach Boys. The film was hosted by Jakob Dylan and the access is incredible. Great interviews, cool music, including compelling covers of those songs by Jakob and his friends.

The most fascinating aspect is the moment in time. 1965–1967 in LA, specifically Laurel Canyon. The idea of these creative artists and poets and storytellers all interacting and sharing and collaborating. A moment in time, in a place, creativity, community and courage driving innovation.

Perhaps, I’m guilty of trying (too hard) to create “a moment.” I don’t believe these historically creative moments in time — 1900s in Vienna, 1930s in Paris, 1950s in Greenwich Village, 1960s in LA and San Francisco, 1980s in Berlin, 2000s in Silicon Valley — are just coincidence. There’s a momentum, a collective courage, that does depend on history and context but also attracts and collects people who simply respond to each other. A few key visionaries, incredible talents, but also just like-minded people pursuing the same dream.

What I sense in Detroit, what I have sensed since day 1, was something different than I had felt or experienced before. What is not “like” the communities I mentioned above is the collective focus on one medium or one industry. What is “like” those moments is that each represented something different. Something outside the conventional wisdom. Something that made other people recognize, even in the moment, that something was happening.

To say that I can claim that for Detroit is co-opting Detroit and is not true. I believe in the people here and the power of the community to attract new people who agree to join but not extort this place. Certainly some would say Detroit has already been extorted in the revitalization. I don’t agree…but I do worry that it is one possible outcome. The idea that the investment, revitalization and opportunity will be narrowly achieved by a small handful of companies and employees of those companies instead of the entire economic ecosystem. I’ve heard Dan Gilbert describe downtown Detroit as the economic heart of the city. The heart must be healthy to pump blood to all the other parts of the body.

Agree or not, Detroit is in a moment to write a new story. To do urban rebirth differently — creative, inclusive, collective and productive — for everyone and not just those that are already in a position to take advantage of it.

Perhaps I write about Detroit so often because we’re in that moment. The moment where it could go either way. There’s a subtle urgency to the city.

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Detroit, MI, USA

Quote: “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” — Jim Greer, Jack Ryan (now playing on Amazon Prime)

Written by

Thinker, curious leader, once an attorney…always trying to answer well.

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