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The Hudson’s Bay Company welcomes new CEO and this shopper couldn’t be happier

Helena, girlfriend, I really need you to listen. I’m only trying to help.

Canada’s venerable 350-year-old Hudson’s Bay Company (for non-Canadian readers it’s comparable to Macy’s in the U.S.) is getting a new C.E.O. Her name is Helena Foulkes and she comes from CVS, a health-care company with about 9,700 pharmacies in the United States. Since January 2014, Foulkes was the company’s executive vice-president and president of subsidiary CVS Pharmacy. As a shopper, loyal Canadian and feminist I’m thrilled with the news and thought I’d take the initiative on behalf of all baby boomer women and make her feel welcome:

Dear Helena:

Welcome to Canada. When I heard you were taking over the reins at The Hudson’s Bay Company, I was so excited I could hardly pour my Geritol this morning. For more than twenty years I’ve been lobbying The Bay, making suggestions about how they could improve business and keep their retail stores prospering. And for as many years I’ve been ignored. Maybe we finally have someone who will listen. After all—I’m just the customer—what do I know? I hope you don’t mind me calling you Helena. I feel we’re BFFs since I wrote that complimentary post about you on my blog recently: (Click here to read Brushing away wrinkles and imperfections doesn’t fool anyone.”). I was soooo impressed that you took a stand against digitally altered beauty ads (Photoshopping) in CVS stores.

Anyway, Helena, as I said, my emails, snail mail, blog postings and letters to a series of Hudson’s Bay CEOs have all been ignored over the years and I really want The Hudson’s Bay Company to do well. To make your job easier, here are a few simple things you can do that I guarantee will improve sales and sustain your retail business. This is a simple a point-form summary but you’re free to read links to previous posts with further details about the issue which I’ve conveniently included at the bottom of this posting.

  1. Hire more sales associates. If it means eliminating a few pairs of designer jeans from inventory to come up with the money to pay these people, it’ll be a worthwhile investment. Unlike in European stores, it’s impossible to find knowledgeable staff to assist shoppers in Hudson’s Bay stores. This is particularly critical in suburban mall stores which are severely understaffed compared to your downtown Toronto flagship store.
  2. Make the cash register/sales desks easier to find. I once stood in the middle of the second floor of the Square One Bay store in Mississauga and literally yelled for help. The place was abandoned.
  3. Train your sales personnel to take pride in their work. And what about paying these people a more attractive salary to improve morale? Coming from a corporate marketing background myself, I’ve always felt that valued employees should be treated like clients. Happy employees are the secret to the success of the company, just like those ‘contented cows’ who produce good quality milk. Nordstrom sales associates are trained to walk around the counter and hand me my little silver shopping bag like it’s a special gift and they value my business. I like that.

    We really want you to succeed.

  4. Up the ante on the on-line experience for your customers. American retailers have nailed this and Canadian retailers are woefully late to the game. I’m a dedicated on-line shopper who prefers to do business with established retailers. As baby boomers age, we’ll come to depend on this service even more.
  5. Speaking of baby boomers—I just want to remind you that we’re a huge, overlooked target market. We have time; we have money; we love fashion. But no one acknowledges us anymore because we’re not the 18-45 demographic.
  6. On the subject of listening, have you ever considered appointing customer feedback mechanisms? Perhaps on-line surveys or better still, customer councils?

I appreciate you taking the time to read this, Helena. I really do want Hudson’s Bay Company to succeed and grow. If you’ll just take my advice, I think you’ll find the boss will want to give you a raise. Feel free to just call me anytime. Let’s have a cup of tea and sort things out. No charge.

Sincerely, Your friend, Lynda

P.S. To give credit where it’s due, I’m glad someone responded to my earlier plea to upgrade the ladies washrooms in suburban mall stores. They were pretty disgusting and I’m pleased The Bay is making an effort to correct this.

P.P.S. Here are the links I mentioned above:

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Sleeping on Jupiter is a clash of dreams and reality

This book first came to my attention when I heard the author of Sleeping on Jupiter, Anuradha Roy being interviewed on CBC Radio. Listening to the background story of a young girl from India being told in the author’s lyrical accent prompted me to immediately put it on my ‘To Read’ list. The characters’ stories are linked by their common voyage to the seaside temple city of Jarmuli. It’s beautifully written with many sensory touch-points that take the reader deeper into the scents, sounds and texture of India.

Two story lines run parallel. Three grandmothers have decided to make a pilgrimage to Jarmuli for what baby boomers would call a girls’ week. They have never been away from their families and this act of independence allows them to communicate and explore their separate and different personalities. Latika is slender, not religious and the most modern of the three. She dyes her hair deep burgundy and is the most adventurous. Gouri is devout, traditional and the most conservative. She’s also in the early stages of dementia and its ravages are becoming evident to the point her two friends realize they have to keep close tabs on her to prevent her becoming lost or worse. Vidya is the intermediary and the one least inclined to rock the boat. During their travels and excursions their different personalities both irritate and reassure each other, which is common among old friends.

The fourth woman Nomi’s story begins with a guerilla attack on her family in their local village when she was only seven years old. Her father and brother were killed while her mother managed to escape with Nomi on her back. After days on the run, her mother turns Nomi over to an unknown man on the beach who embarks on a journey with a dozen other young girls to a distant ashram where they are left in the care of a famous guru. They are told he is God and they are to be fed, clothed and educated while in his protective care. Nomi meets the three traveling grandmothers as an adult when she shares a cabin on the train at the beginning of their trip to Jarmuli. As their lives intersect we are introduced to secondary characters whose lives are equally complicated and challenging.

Sleeping on Jupiter is beautifully written. The narrative alternates between first person (Nomi) and third person, and times in Nomi’s life as a child and an adult. The characters and their experiences are described in language that is compelling and descriptive. The darker side of life in India such as child sexual abuse and poverty are handled with sensitivity and understanding. My only complaint with the book is that it ended too soon. There were loose ends and unfinished story lines that I would have liked to be wrapped up. But life does not always have happy endings and satisfactory answers; this book is a slice of life.

To order Sleeping on Jupiter from click here.

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Is there a future for romance in the workplace?

Workplace romances have always and will always exist.

Birds do it. Bees do it. Cleopatra, Angelina Jolie, Bridget Jones and even John F. Kennedy did it. I’m talking about love affairs in the workplace. With all the attention on the #metoo movement and the exposing of predatory bosses, it’s easy to be confused about what is now considered acceptable or unacceptable flirting in the workplace. A group of high profile women including Catherine Deneuve in France is speaking out against extremism in reporting bad behaviour. The French women maintain that flirting and bantering between the sexes is normal and acceptable. I don’t think anyone can argue with that but when one person crosses the line and infringes upon another’s personal boundaries or uses their position to jeopardize and manipulate another’s security or career, then it’s a whole different ball game.

A large percentage of the population met their spouse or partner at work. I’m one of them. In fact, I met both my first and second husband through work. It’s an ideal place to go prospecting as you get to see people at their worst and best behaviour.  Being exposed to someone for eight, ten or more hours a day, five days a week provides a pretty accurate indication of that person’s true character. We see how they respond to stress, whether they’re honest and ethical, smart or lazy, and if they’re known as the office gigolo we can opt out. Finding a romantic interest at work eliminates a lot of the guess work.

The power dynamics depend on who’s on top.

The political dynamics of office liaisons, however, are rather tricky. Peers are the safest bet while cross-pollinating between upper, middle and lower ranks is riskier. The inherent problem is if or when the relationship disintegrates, how do the parties handle the fallout? Participants are left in the uncomfortable position of working together when there may be considerable animosity or one partner may be left to witness the other embarking on a new relationship. Not fun and often painful. There’s also the career/business advancement component and women are most often the losers when the male in the relationship is in a more senior position. Chances are one of the parties will have to change jobs and probably leave the company. With all the potential risks associated with office or workplace liaisons, people are advised to enter into relationships with a large dose of caution.

Negotiating the hazards of an office romance can be tricky.

So, what’s a person to do? Long hours at the workplace, particularly early in one’s career often make socializing outside work difficult. When you’re young, single and beginning your career, the opportunities outweigh the pitfalls and if the relationship fails the fallout is less likely to be as damaging. During my forty years in the corporate world I lost count of the number of successful, lasting relationships I saw launched at office baseball games, Christmas parties or after-work drinks at a local pub. Some of these pairings that resulted in marriage and children have successfully produced second generation employees who became part of the corporate ‘family’.

As long as there are men and women, they will pair up in logical, illogical, beneficial and destructive relationships. It served Cleopatra well, but only for awhile; not so for Marc Antony. Brad and Angelina’s relationship fell off the rails in an industry known for risky outcomes. If J.F.K. were alive today, we would like to think his shenanigans would not be tolerated, but consider the track record of the current President of the United States. Workplace romances certainly have their place and will always be part of life but there are no guarantees and should be entered into only after carefully considering the consequences. Not all stories have happy endings.

The #metoo movement is making everyone pause and reconsider what we once considered acceptable behaviour. All flirting is not just cause for dismissal. Not all accusations automatically denote guilt. That’s the challenge. If there are multiple accusers, then odds are “where there’s smoke, there’s fire”. But perpetrators also deserve a fair hearing.

Workplace romance is a complicated business and with the increasing awareness of sexual harassment and pushback from opposing viewpoints the discussion is far from over. The current spotlight on the issue will ultimately generate positive change but not without some bumps in the road. As women become more empowered, the rules will become more clearly defined. In the games people play, it’s essential that everyone understands the rules. Both men and women stand to benefit from the outcome.

You’re beautiful mes très chères.

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Gone With Wind – Russian-style

The further I got into The Revolution of Marina M. by Janet Fitch, the more parallels I saw with Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind, but in set Russia instead of the American south.

  • Political strife: Russian Revolution/American Civil War
  • Unsympathetic main character: Marina Makarova/Scarlett O’Hara
  • Misplaced love: Kolya Shurov/Ashley Wilkes
  • Destruction of a city: Petrograd (St. Petersburg)/Atlanta
  • Loyal family servant: Avdokia/Mammy
  • Homestead: Furshtatskaya Street/Tara
  • Stripping of social status: Marinkov family/Scarlett O’Hara
  • Starvation, deprivation, corruption, civil war, dying on a major scale, rebirth, and the list goes on.

Has there ever been a Russian novel written that isn’t dark and tragic? Despite the nature of the genre I actually love stories about Russia, historical fiction and non-fiction about a country that remains mysterious to outsiders. I enjoyed Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina as well as a number of other Russian novels. The Revolution of Marina M. by Janet Fitch (who also wrote White Oleander) is the story of Marina Makarova, a young woman born into a privileged Russian family in Petrograd/St. Petersburg. She comes of age during the First World War when Russia is collapsing under Czar Nicholas and the working class is rising up in revolution. Turning her back on her family and the bourgeoisie, Marina turns to a bohemian life amidst revolutionaries, poets and anarchists. She has a love/hate relationship with her parents, misses her older brother who is away fighting the war and deeply loves and feels protective of her sensitive younger brother.

As the revolution and its supporters intensify their drive for power, Marina’s life unravels in a series of tragic events largely the result of her bad decisions as a naïve eighteen-year-old. Her intentions are often noble but she’s easily side-lined by selfishness, impulsiveness and a lack of vision. She’s intelligent, writes poetry and sympathizes with both sides of revolution. Like Anna Karenina, she possesses a strong libido and a couple of the sex scenes are a bit unsettling but it’s part of a great story.

Marina goes through a fascinating series of lovers and locations in her quest for happiness. At one point in the story she returns to her family home in search of her vulnerable mother to find the grand residence has been occupied by the ‘proletariat’. Just like the scene from Dr. Zhivago when Yuri returns to his family home after the uprising, Marina finds it overflowing with dirty, bickering squatters. Entire families are crammed into individual rooms; cooking and sanitary conditions are appalling. Instead of freedom and equality, she sees poverty, dissention and anarchy. Her terrified mother and nanny are sequestered in a single room with a few remaining pieces of furniture and personal belongings from their former life.

Following Marina’s life over a three-year period from 1916 to 1919 is an insight into a complex world in a society of complex people. As a scholar of Russian literature, author Janet Fitch’s research is impressive. Born in Los Angeles, she’s skilled at exploring the layers of Russian society, values and history. We can smell the smells, feel the intensity of freezing Russian winters and taste the tastes of starvation rations. There’s even a Rasputin-type mystic. Marina learns “the necessity of misery to help you awaken, but as far as I could see, suffering never made anybody better. It just made us petty and irritable and selfish. We got better despite our suffering, not because of it.” One of the characters’ perception of Bolshevism and socialism was particularly incisive, “All of a sudden we had people who’d never heard of Steiner or Blavatsky. They just wanted to open their mouths like baby birds and have us feed them.”

In reading this book, we live the life of Marina Makarova as a privileged aristocrat, a bohemian poet, a woman in love and a woman scorned. She’s political and apolitical, a sympathetic character and a seriously flawed character. Readers will recognize many of the feminist struggles from one hundred years ago that still exist today. At more than 800 pages, the book might be a challenge for some people, but I loved every page. If you’re like me and love Russian literature you’ll enjoy this book. The Revolution of Marina M. is Part I of a series with future volumes currently in the works by the author. I know I’ll have my name on the waiting list for Part II.

To order The Revolution of Marina M. from Amazon, click here.

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The Girl With Seven Names had nine lives

If someone on your Christmas list enjoys books, I have a great recommendation and it’s not too late to have it delivered from Amazon. The Girl With Seven Names is the true story of how a young woman, with no foresight or planning escaped North Korea and became an international advocate for human rights. The book is a beautifully written, first-hand account of life for the average person in North Korea by someone who later came to experience the world beyond the Kim Jong autocracy. During her escape and resettlement, Min-young assumed a series of seven different names as part of the strategy needed to hide her past and create new identities to protect herself and her family still in North Korea. Hyeonseo Lee is the final name she retains.

Min-young was born and grew up in Hyesan, a North Korean town on the northern border with China. Hyesan was separated  from Changbai in China by a narrow river. Locals could wade across the river in waist-deep water or over ice in the winter when border guards on both sides were looking the other way or were sufficiently bribed to look the other way. This arrangement resulted in a brisk black market trade of superior Chinese consumer goods and food items coming across the border that were unavailable to most North Korean citizens. This trade supported Min-young’s family.

As a rebellious teenager of seventeen, Min-young made a decision to cross the river one night to visit the Chinese side, planning to return a few days later. Because of her age and naivety, she gave little thought to the gravity and consequences of her decision. If she had been caught coming or going, she and her entire family would be executed or at the very least deported to a labour camp. A series of decisions resulted in her being unable to return to North Korea. She traveled to visit distant relatives on the Chinese side who provided her with accommodation and help. She was constantly under threat of being exposed as an illegal immigrant which would result in her deportation and execution. An arranged marriage with a Chinese national seemed the only solution but Min-young got cold feet and fled. Over the next few years she assumes various identities and moves across the country trying to stay one step ahead of authorities, criminals and traitors. Through a complicated set of manoeuvres, Min-young eventually manages to escape to South Korea where life is not as she imagined it would be.

Who doesn’t love finding a good book under the tree? For you or a book-lover you know.

Most of us think we live in the best country in the world. Canadians are certainly entitled to feel we won the lottery being born in Canada. Americans have traditionally considered the United States to be the best country in the world, although, in fact, they fall further down the list. Canada consistently ranks as number two and the best is Switzerland, Germany or Denmark, depending on the source of the research. Citizens of North Korea have also been indoctrinated by the Kim-Jong regime to think they’re living in the best country in the world under the benevolent leadership of three generations of the Kim family. Despite famines, starvation and deprivation, North Koreans have no sense of context to compare their lives with the rest of the world. They grow up worshiping their ‘Great Leader’ or ‘Dear Leader’ as a god and their source of life. Those who escape quickly learn that things in the outside world are very different from what they’ve been told.

I absolutely could not put this book down. The author employs a literary J.R. Ewing cliff-hanger at the end of each chapter that further induced me to push on which I often did into the night. Hyeonseo Lee as she is now known has achieved local, national, then international acclaim for her human rights advocacy work, sharing her experiences to help others in similar situations. To be able to view life in North Korea from the perspective of someone who grew up there and compare it with a new life in a once-forbidden world is a rare insight. It’s a harrowing story of injustices suffered by citizens who live in countries without the freedoms we take for granted in Canada—a real eye-opener that will make you further appreciate our Canadian way of life and values. There wasn’t a single page of this book that I didn’t love and in view of the current tensions between the United States and North Korea it’s a timely read.

To order The Girl With Seven Names from click here.



What would you do if you had $800 million lying around?

Soon to be Scotiabank Arena for only $800+ million? By comparison, Rogers bought former SkyDome for a mere $25 million.

Scotiabank should be ashamed. They recently had a bit of extra change overflowing their vaults from all those service charges to customers so they decided to invest it in marketing. They’ve purchased the rights to have the Air Canada Centre, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team and Raptors basketball team, renamed Scotiabank Arena. I find this business decision to be an appallingly poor use of nearly a billion dollars. Let’s face it. We have five banks in Canada and because of excellent federal regulation our banks are strong and all five pretty much play on a level field. One’s as good as the next and they’re all pretty good. They pay reasonable dividends to investors and are less prone to financially raping their customers with dodgy lending schemes than the greedy American financial institutions. Therefore, how much do they need to market to a captive audience? To the tune of more than $800 million?

Off to a hockey game at Scotiabank Arena.

As a retired Corporate Marketing Manager I totally understand the merits of marketing and attaching your corporate name to a high-profile sports venue. Let’s leave that to the McDonald’s, the Coca-Cola’s and other brands like the beer companies who have a stake in the business. In the case of Scotiabank, their name on the Air Canada Centre would be flaunted in the faces of hundreds of thousands of commuters and visitors who drive past the old hangar on the Gardiner Expressway every day. Their head office tower in downtown Toronto with the reflective windows containing real gold is already an icon on the Toronto skyline. Do banks really need to promote to a captive audience with the kind of exposure offered by a sports and concert facility?

Imagine what else Scotiabank could have done with such an enormous amount of money if they put it to better use within the communities where they sell mortgages, finance car loans and invest our life savings. Have they ever considered a network of shelters for victims of domestic violence and homelessness? Scotiabank Shelters. Or what about investing in after school programs in economically and socially challenged neighbourhoods? Scotiabank Investing in Lives  programs. Many young people go to school hungry every day. Scotiabank Healthy School Meals. A large segment of our population is financially illiterate and have no hope of climbing out of the poverty and/or debt cycle. Perhaps support for education, mentoring and interning in financial institutions for young people? Scotiabank Banks on Futures.

Just imagine . . . Scotiabank Cancer Treatment Centre emblazoned on the front of the building.

More significantly, what about emblazoning the Scotiabank logo on a dedicated new cancer treatment facility? One billion dollars would fund one heck of a fine building. It could even include accommodation for family of out-of-town patients affected by onerous accommodation and parking costs at Toronto Hospitals—something like Ronald McDonald House for families of adult patients. Or they could build smaller facilities in rural communities that don’t have access to local treatment centres. I found Scotiabank’s choice of allocating nearly one billion dollars to having their name attached to a sports venue that charges hundreds and even thousands of dollars for tickets to events affordable by only the elite to be shameful and inappropriate. Banks have a greater corporate responsibility to serving their community and Scotiabank could have done so much more. It’s just wrong. Or am I?

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How to prevent a cold . . . and not get fat

Colds are not fun.

A couple of years ago I posted my personal treatment program for the common cold (Step right up, try my guaranteed cold remedy). I can now take that advice a step further and suggest how you can prevent getting a cold in the first place. And, in the course of my research it was revealed that my latest discovery has a marvelous spin-off benefit—preventing weight gain. In medical circles I think this is called “off-labeling” where a treatment for one ailment has an unexpected side benefit. That’s what happened when the experts noticed that the medication used to treat glaucoma also grew thicker, longer eyelashes. Voila: Latisse.

Whenever my husband and I travel on vacation, he always gets a cold. Usually he catches it on the plane going over but on our latest vacation he held off until the final couple of days before we came home. Three years ago he generously shared his germs with an entire bus load of more than forty people touring French and Belgian war sites with us. We were very popular. This predilection for getting sick on vacation is so assured that he loads up on Canadian cold remedies from the drugstore before we leave to take along with us. I must confess right up front here that when I get sick he’s a virtual Florence Nightingale. He brings me soup, runs the household and generally gives me the time, space and resources I need to recover. He’s sympathetic, helpful and nurturing. When he gets sick, however, I turn into an evil witch. I chastise him for not washing his hands frequently enough; I refuse to touch him or anything he has touched; I avoid his air space and generally treat him like a pariah. And this is a guy who toughs it out with minimal complaining when he gets sick; he’s not one who displays the typical behaviours of a “man cold”.

France’s secret defense system against sickness and obesity.

Anyway, back to the point of my story. We recently celebrated my seventieth birthday and his seventy-fifth by taking a trip to France. We spent a few days in Paris where it was cold and wet (while it was 30 degrees C in Toronto) before traveling to catch a river cruise down the Rhône River to Marseilles. Everything was going well until a couple of days before the end of our trip when he started to complain about a sore throat and started blowing through forests of Kleenex. The barriers flew up. I washed my hands obsessively. I turned my head when he sneezed. I only touched common door knobs, taps and other items through the protection of a sanitizing wipe. (Fortunately, I’d stock-piled a supply of President’s Choice wipes before we left.) I employed my usual regimen of avoidance/prevention measures.  In the past, these measures rarely worked and I always still managed to catch his cold. This time, for the first time ever, I did not. We’ve been home for several days now so I’m past the typical three-day incubation period for catching a cold. I’m miraculously symptom-free and he’s now better.

The only conclusion I can derive from this experience is that a trip to the south of France is the secret to preventing colds. Essential to this regimen is obviously the daily consumption of copious amounts of fresh French baguettes, pounds of exotic frommages, particularly sharp blue and Camembert, crèpes set alight with generous splashings of Grande Marnier, gelato at least twice a day, delectable wines with every meal and at various times throughout the day, regular consumption of crème caramel or crème brulée, and assorted chocolate and pastry treats daily. And, when we weighed ourselves after we arrived home, we were practically the same as when we left. I can only surmise that all the walking we did from the gelato shops to the cafés and patisseries kept us fit, so similar exercise is definitely an essential component of the plan.

The French lifestyle is obviously highly conducive to healthy living.

This doesn’t account for why he got a cold under the same conditions I experienced but that’s not the issue. I didn’t. Therefore, my research is anecdotal but I’m not one to nit-pick. French women have it figured out. Not only do they stay slim as gazelles on a daily diet of crusty baguettes, delicious wines, exotic cheeses and assorted patisserie treats, they probably don’t get colds either. So, the next time my honey starts sniffing, I’m bolting for the south of France. It works for me. Merci beaucoup mes chères.

Click here to read Step right up . . . try my guaranteed cold remedy.

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