Nineteen CEOs Died in Office Last Year
That’s the most since 2010, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The outplacement firm also reported a record 1,914 CEO exits in 2023.
Here are today’s highlights:
Ami Kassar says that after 14 years his business and his life are getting less chaotic.
What would you pay for a nice big tote bag: $30? $50? A well known influencer decided to charge $120.
TikTok may be replacing Craigslist as the place to find an apartment.
In Topeka, Kansas, migrants are more than welcome.
THE ENTREPRENEURIAL LIFE
Much of this Wall Street Journal article is about the stress endured by corporate CEOs, but it applies to CEOs of smaller companies as well: “Nineteen chief executives died in office last year, the most since 2010, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which tracks turnover at U.S. companies. The outplacement firm tallied a record 1,914 CEO exits in 2023, which Senior Vice President Andy Challenger partly attributes to the post-pandemic burnout that many execs feel. In a January survey of 600 C-suite executives by the professional network Chief, 37 percent said avoiding burnout would be a personal challenge this year.”
“Nikki Barua, the 49-year-old co-founder and CEO of the leadership-development firm Beyond Barriers, hit a wall in 2016 while leading a previous venture. She was prediabetic, suffering through ulcers and acid reflux, and dealing with frequent migraines. ‘I’m not the kind of person who could reduce my ambition—that’s just not who I am—but I also knew that if I kept going the way I was going, I would die very young,’ she says.”
“Barua lost 70 pounds over the next 18 months through diet and exercise, and committed to taking regular time off to recharge. She got better at declining personal and professional requests that would stretch her too thin and now follows a strict daily calendar with every meeting, meal, and deep-work session scheduled.”
“Matthew Cooper, 41, knew when he co-founded the financial-technology company EarnUp in 2014 that serving as its CEO would likely harm his health. He did it anyway. ‘Work was a form of addiction,’ he says.”
“When negative self-talk veered to thoughts of suicide in 2020, Cooper stepped down and published an essay about his decision. He remained on the EarnUp board and offered occasional advice to the executive team but took a three-year break from day-to-day responsibilities.” READ MORE
Fourteen years in, Ami Kassar thinks his business may finally be growing up: “It can be non-stop chaos during the first several years of building a business. There’s no work-life balance. There are no vacations. Weeks and weekends blur together. It can be hard to keep both your business and yourself healthy. Every day, you are fighting to survive until tomorrow, and it’s tough to think much further into the future. But then, if you survive the chaos, at some point in your journey, you cross a chasm, and life begins to feel calmer—even though your business is now larger and you have more people dependent on you and more responsibilities on your shoulders. It’s not always clear how to know you are making this transition, but I think I am going through it now.”
“Part of me feels guilty about my new freedom. I catch myself wondering whether I’m doing something wrong. Should I be working harder? Am I missing out on an opportunity? Is it OK to slow down?”
“If I can keep pulling myself out of my day-to-day responsibilities, I’m confident I can empower my team, get physically healthier, and start taking more time for myself.” READ MORE
A popular influencer got flamed for overpricing a tote bag, but the key sentence in this story is the last one: “Picture a tote bag. A really big tote bag, cut extra wide to fit your entire farmer’s market haul, with wide straps to evenly distribute weight while you lug your satsuma mandarins and eggs and the kale you’ll forget about and leave to rot in the bottom drawer of your refrigerator. It’s 100 percent cotton, made in the United States and comes in a ballet pink or a lovely faded olive color. What would you pay for such a bag? $30? $50? (For context, the largest of L.L. Bean’s classic Boat and Tote bags will run you $45.) How about $120?”
“In case you aren’t familiar, [Emily] Mariko is an influencer who burst onto the scene in 2021 teaching millions how to combine salmon, rice, Sriracha, and mayonnaise into a tasty bowl.”
“In the days leading up to the bag going on sale, Ms. Mariko posted teaser videos for her nearly 13 million TikTok followers. The broader reaction, however, may not have been quite what Ms. Mariko anticipated. ‘Your bag is the cost of my eye exam,’ one user commented on one of Ms. Mariko’s videos. ‘This looks like a freebie gift bag with purchase,’ another wrote.”
“Amber Fehrenbacher, a marketing director who lives in Columbia, Mo., also posted a video criticizing Ms. Mariko’s bag. ‘In this economy?!?, she needs to read the room,’ wrote one commenter on Ms. Fehrenbacher’s video. Several others suggested buying similarly sized totes from Ikea for a fraction of the price.”
“The tote bag is currently sold out.” READ MORE
In San Francisco, TikTok is becoming the place to find an apartment: “Renting a home in San Francisco is, to put it gently, a nightmare, littered with Craigslist scams, dozens of tenants competing for places and rushed tours from indifferent property managers. Adriana Popescu, a 20-year-old student at the University of San Francisco, avoided that by going straight to TikTok. In between the never-ending stream of mini-videos featuring people getting down to ‘Get Down on It,’ she started seeing content from The Apartment Plug SF—a TikTok account launched by University of San Francisco MBA student Daisy Hernandez that promotes apartments for rent in the city. In less than two years, The Apartment Plug has grown to more than 50,000 followers.”
“She declined to provide her exact fee, but says that she gets paid for posting an apartment on her feed (much like sponsored content), as well as for doing marketing and showings until the units are rented. She is also paid by TikTok via its creator program.”
“Within the past year, Hernandez said she’s secured over a million dollars in leases for her landlord clientele. During her two-year-long stint on TikTok, she’s rented over 100 homes in San Francisco.”
“[Dave] Chesnosky, 52, initially thought the TikTok user base was too young for his typical clientele. He was convinced to start his account by his wife, an avid user of the platform who also handles the photo and video for his brokerage business.”
“His opinion shifted when he posted an apartment video about a $4,000-a-month Russian Hill rental that got 80,000 views and more than 15 rental inquiries.” READ MORE
Thinking about giving influencer marketing a try? “Small-business owners should start within their own communities, said Katie Stoller, an influencer marketing consultant. Find out who is tagging you or mentioning your business, and engage with that community in real life and on social media. ‘You can build relationships with people that way, to act as local ambassadors, which will lead to more attention and can draw in local influencers (it's not always about follower count),’ Stoller said in an email. ‘The key is to approach it slow and steady — but know you're playing the long game.’”
“The hardest part, experts say, is finding the right influencer with which to partner. It's important to properly vet an influencer before entering into a contract. Take a close look at their engagement, social comments and previous partnerships, and note any potential red flags. Working with an established public relations or influencer agency can help streamline this process and ensure the partnership fits into your overall strategy.”
“‘Start with any influencers who have organically visited or shopped at your business before, as they are already brand loyal. Check the tagged photos of nearby businesses to see who is already active in your neighborhood,’ Pierce said.” READ MORE
Do you realize how strong the U.S. recovery has been? “The United States economy grew faster than any other large advanced economy last year — by a wide margin — and is on track to do so again in 2024. America's outperformance is rooted in its distinctive structural strengths, policy choices, and some luck. It reflects a fundamental resilience in the world's largest economy that is easy to overlook amid the nation's problems. U.S. GDP looks to have grown 2.5 percent in 2023, according to the IMF's hot-off-the-presses World Economic Outlook, the highest among the G7 economies (Japan was second at 1.9 percent).”
“Adam Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, argues that an important part of the story is a U.S. pandemic response that led to more Americans shifting toward higher-productivity work.”
“‘The enormous labor market churn of Covid in 2020-21 had the unintended benefit of moving millions of lower income workers to better jobs, more income security, and/or running their own businesses,’ Posen tells Axios.” READ MORE
Walmart plans to add150 U.S. stores in a five-year expansion drive: “The company said the move, which it announced in a statement on Wednesday, would involve millions of dollars in investment. Walmart employs roughly 1.6 million people in the United States, and said it hires hundreds of people each time it opens a new store. Walmart had just over 4,600 stores nationwide at the end of October, down from more than 4,700 a year earlier. The company has not opened a new U.S. store since late 2021.”
“Most of the stores that Walmart plans to open will be newly built, while others will be conversions of existing locations to new formats. The first two new stores will open in the spring, in Florida and Georgia, and the company is completing construction plans for 12 other stores this year. It also said it would remodel 650 locations.”
“Mr. Johnson said investors might be concerned over how this could affect Walmart’s Sam’s Club stores, which have increasingly moved from a destination for business owners to stock up on supplies to a place where individuals shop for groceries.” READ MORE
In Brooklyn, a bagel shop closed—and then reopened inexplicably: “Peter Eulo has been working in restaurants and bakeries since he was 14. He started Court Street Bagels 20 years ago, making his own bagels in a shop just south of Brooklyn Borough Hall. The neighborhood gentrified, but the shop didn’t change. Glass cases offered muffins and black-and-white cookies; sandwiches were named for friends and employees. Locals lined up on weekends. Then, on Saturday afternoon, the store’s social-media account announced that Sunday would be its last day. Redditors mourned. Crowds formed. ‘There was a little bit of a fuss Sunday morning,’ Eulo said. ‘I said good-bye to everyone.’”
“The story seemed straightforward: His landlord was kicking him out; he had been paying $180,000 in rent annually to an owner who, he says, listed his space as available a year ago as a negotiating tactic, then offered a new lease that Eulo couldn’t afford. ‘They pulled some kind of stunt where they jacked my rent through the roof,’ he said.”
“On Monday, a friend who helps run the store’s Instagram swung by to take a picture of the darkened store — and found it wasn’t dark. Two employees he had worked with for years were behind the counter. Nothing had changed. The black-and-white cookies were in the case; the faded ‘Welcome! We are OPEN’ sign was back in the window.”
“The store Eulo had created was open and operating under the same name, but he hadn’t been told what was going on. The day before, his employees had seemed to be grieving; now they were here. ‘This is the biggest mystery in my life,’ Eulo said over the phone on Tuesday. ‘I have no idea what’s going on, but it’s my name — it’s my everything.’”
“Eulo wonders if a new owner instantly took over with all of his old equipment. He rushed to cut off what he could — shutting down accounts for electric, gas, and cable on Monday — but there’s no way to erase the name over the door. ‘The fact that it’s Court Street Bagels and I got up every morning at 4 a.m., six days a week for 20 years to work there — that’s a little shocking.’” READ MORE
This city is doing whatever it can to attract migrants: “While many American cities are struggling with large numbers of newly arrived migrants, Topeka is inviting anyone and everyone with permission to work in the U.S. to come its way. Like many smaller cities, the Kansas capital is grappling with near-stagnant population growth and an unemployment rate well below the national average, according to city and economic-development officials. Finding people to fill its roughly 6,600 open jobs has been a struggle, they say. The Greater Topeka Partnership, an economic-development group, has been trying to sell people on the city with its ‘Choose Topeka’ marketing campaign, which it started in 2019. Last year, it decided to direct those efforts toward immigrants, especially those from Spanish-speaking countries.”
“For Topeka Mayor Michael Padilla, a Democrat in a Republican-led state, the effort to attract immigrants along with Americans living in other cities just made sense. ‘We know that for our community to prosper we have to have a diverse community,’ said Padilla, who is in his first term. ‘We have to have people here who are willing to work and make this the city they want to raise a family in, get a career in.’”
“Separately, a refugee-aid group is working in Topeka to help Ukrainians find sponsors so they also can move to the U.S. under the Biden administration’s Uniting for Ukraine program. Yana Ross, founder and president of the aid group—Top City Promise—said it has helped resettle more than 160 Ukrainians in the city.”
“Jay Ives, one of three owners of the Blind Tiger Brewery and Restaurant in Topeka, said he supports any effort to lure new residents. His business, he said, has about six to eight openings among a staff of about 80, and is constantly in search of new hires. ‘We’ve got empty jobs here in Topeka, so bringing people to fill them is how we grow,’ the Topeka native said as he sipped one of his brewery’s beers on a recent weeknight.” READ MORE
As immigrants, Yesenia and Luis Reyes brought strong entrepreneurial spirits with them from the Dominican Republic: Moving to another country is a courageous and risky act. Reflecting that courage, immigrants are more likely to start businesses than those born in the U.S. When Luis Reyes lost his job because the company he worked for shuttered, it was an opportunity for the couple to start a company. They started AAA Housewares in 2007 because he had experience and relationships with supermarkets that sold housewares. The company is a housewares wholesaler, merchandiser, and distributor specializing in serving independent supermarkets.”
“Despite the challenges that Covid-19 brought, many Hispanic/Latino women experienced robust growth in terms of employment and revenues. Certification as minority- and women-owned businesses opens doors to business development opportunities and is a growth strategy for the 2 million Hispanic/Latino women-owned businesses, according to 2024 Wells Fargo Women-Owned Businesses.”
“AAA nearly doubled—increasing 93 percent—its revenue between 2019 and 2022. In 2024, AAA will expand beyond selling housewares to selling party supplies and seasonal items.”
“‘Owning a business is hard, lonely, and isolating,’ said Yesenia. After listening to the speakers in the Goldman Sachs program, her mindset changed: ‘I can do this!’” READ MORE
THE 21 HATS PODCAST
Have We Been Too Generous With Employees? This week, Mel Gravely, Jaci Russo, and William Vanderbloemen talk about the possibility that, after several years of the Great Resignation and the labor shortage, some owners may have given away the store. We all know the risks of not offering employees enough. What are the risks of offering too much? How do you even know when you’ve crossed the line? The owners also discuss why this might be a good time to consider acquiring other businesses. “I think this is a time to double-down,” says Mel. And Jaci explains how she and her team are reviewing everything the company does to see if AI can be employed to improve each and every process.
Plus: How exactly, in this day and age, are business owners supposed to keep track of all of the subscriptions—and all of the subscription log-ins—that they and their employees have acquired through the years? How much money are they spending on stuff they no longer use? “Thanks a lot,” responds Mel. “I’m starting to sweat.”
You can subscribe to the 21 Hats Podcast wherever you get podcasts.
Thanks for reading, everyone. — Loren