When did public exchanges among corporate executives turn into a Friars Club roast?
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos used his letter to shareholders this past week to challenge “our top retail competitors (you know who you are!)” to match Amazon’s $15 minimum wage. Walmart ’s head of communications, Dan Bartlett, responded on Twitter, “Hey retail competitors out there (you know who you are [wink emoji]) how about paying your taxes?”
There’s nothing like a populist scratch fight between two companies whose combined stock market value tops that of 125 other S&P 500 members put together. If you’re scoring at home, factor in that Walmart raised its minimum wage to $11 an hour last year, sparking competitive moves by Target and others; that its average worker makes $17.55 an hour, including benefits; that Amazon and Walmart have different geographic footprints, where workers face different costs; that Amazon went to $15 an hour last year amid a swirl of bad press claiming poor working conditions; and that, on the other hand, it has a responsibility to shareholders to minimize taxes within the confines set by Congress.
The Bezos letter was a rare smack-down twofer, also calling out eBay . It cited Amazon’s 52% compounded yearly growth in third-party sales since 1999, versus 20% for eBay over the same period. EBay chief Devin Wenig took the high road straight to a low blow. “While I appreciate the ink…I’ll dedicate my letter to customers, purpose, and strategy,” he tweeted. Then, “We don’t compete with our sellers. We don’t bundle endless services to create barriers to competition.”
Tough scoring on this one. Amazon has clearly gotten the better of eBay on growth, but Bezos has left his arbitrarily small denominator exposed. The starting point for his math coincides with his launch of Amazon’s third-party business, when its sales were near zero, and when eBay’s sales were already significant. Put differently, starting from shortly after birth, I’ve enjoyed 32% compounded annual gains in cumulative hours lived. Hold the applause.
And no, Don Rickles didn’t come back to life this past week, sprout shoulder-length hair, and take the top job at T-Mobile US. That was John Legere, who has a rich history of tweeting shade at other industry bigs. On Wednesday, he posted that new black-hole photo that has astronomers abuzz. “Didn’t realize they captured a picture of @Comcast’s customer service,” he wrote. Then he used dashes, slashes, and other keyboard characters to mock up two sets of heart-rate readings—normal, and accelerated for “when you open your @Verizon bill.”
I’m not sure what this new trend means, but Wells Fargo , which beat earnings estimates on Friday, is searching for a new chief executive. Here’s an out-of-the-box idea: consider Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, a cigar-chomping hand puppet voiced by Saturday Night Live alum Robert Smigel. I can’t imagine that Triumph is a standout at maximizing lending spreads in a low-rate, Dodd-Frank world, but his fat jokes are off the chain.
Meantime, I want to try my hand at the new corporate put-down game all the cool chiefs are playing. I’m not an executive, but I don’t believe in letting a lack of experience stand in my way. For Christmas one year, my brother got me a book called How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read. I agree with its broad strokes, even though I never got around to reading it.
So where to start? McDonald’s : I enjoy your McDouble sandwich, with its two burger patties and one slice of cheese, keeping the whole affair to a respectable 390 calories. But you don’t fool me with your Double Cheeseburger. That’s just a McDouble with extra cheese.
Slam! That’s going to leave a mark.
Verizon Communications: What’s with the dead spots on the Hudson River train line going from Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal to the north of Westchester County? That seems out of keeping with your low customer turnover and recent win in a ranking of network speed and availability by wireless tracking firm Opensignal.
Oh, yes, I did go there! And I’m only getting warmed up.
Delta Air Lines : I noticed you now line people up separately for boarding flights: something called Diamond Medallion, then SkyPriority, then Comfort +, then zones one through whatever. Way to capture marginal revenue opportunities along the shame curve. On a recent flight, by the time they called me and the rest of zone one, I barely had enough confidence left to look down on zone two. But the plane was clean, the crew was courteous, and the arrival was on-time, as usual.
Too far? Better leave it there for now.
The most epic top-brass tell-off this past week was directed at no one in particular, and thus, maybe everyone. Walt Disney ’s Bob Iger, you might have seen, unveiled his company’s new streaming service at an investor meeting on Thursday, sending the stock 12% higher on Friday. But before that, while accepting a humanitarian award at the Simon Wiesenthal Center on Wednesday, Iger talked scathingly about the state of public discourse. “Hitler would have loved social media,” he said. Facebook , Twitter, and Google were last seen still looking at their shoes.
I was going to end by telling you to follow me on Twitter for more vicious takedowns, but Iger really killed the mood. I guess instead I’ll try to say some nice stuff to people in person this week. Like a total square.