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CEO Daily: The Best in Business Reading

Good Morning.

You could be forgiven if you get the impression that the only tool you need to commit a crime these days is a high-powered laptop. Yet Outside’s “The Curious Case of the Disappearing Nuts” probes a type of theft that requires a lot of planning, equipment, and supply-chain connections. “Logistics” isn’t the first word that comes to mind when reading about robbers, but you could view this article as an exploration of that most fundamental aspect of business. As the story notes early on, “[if] you steal 370,000 pounds of almonds, you’re not ­going to sell it on the side of the road.”

The article describes a nut-related crime wave in California: “More than 35 loads, worth at least $10 million, have gone missing since 2013. The number and style of the thefts—quick and professional, as if the characters from Ocean’s Eleven had descended on the Central Valley—have drawn the attention of federal organized-crime investigators and prompted the creation of a regional task force.”

There are a few moments where the writer seems to be playing the story for laughs. He describes how he met the “Nut Theft Task force” at a conference last year in Modesto: “The men were barrel-chested and serious, wearing jeans, cowboy boots, and blousey white dress shirts.” But then: “Shortly after the conference got under way, news ­arrived that ­another processor in ­Tulare had been hit, and the team excused itself to work leads by phone out in the hallway.”

Ultimately, the articles takes the problem seriously. It notes that the value of food stolen overtook that of electronics in 2010 and it ultimately turns into a detective story that examines the role of Armenian gangs and the unwitting: First, the fact that key players in the thefts—truck drivers—often don’t even know they’re participating in a crime; And second, as with more than one product that gets into the supply chain—everything from batteries to pharmaceuticals—consumers unknowingly participate in the conspiracy by ultimately buying the stolen goods.

Where Have You Gone, Marc Jacobs?

The New York Times’ Fashion and Style section explores the recent history of a few blocks of Bleecker Street in New York City and you could call it (pardon the mixed metaphor) a real estate sugar rush. Once a funky stretch with book stores, antique shops, and and seemingly random tiny emporia, it took off after a local cupcake emporium, Magnolia Bakery, was featured in an episode of HBO’s Sex And The City in 2000. Soon tourists were flocking for treats, lines spilled out onto Bleecker, and a bevy of high-end clothing retailers sprinted in to lease space in the apparent belief that consumption of red velvet cupcakes and vanilla frosting triggers a release in the brain’s retail spending center. Before long, Marc Jacobs had not one, not two, but six boutiques on this four-block portion of Bleecker. Ralph Lauren had three, Coach had two, and lesser brands had to settle for single stores. Retail rents sextupled nearly overnight and humble solo proprietors were forced to flee. All of that would make for a heart-warming tale of gentrification, but for one unfortunate fact: It turns out that a willingness to spend an hour on line to buy a $3.50 cupcake doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the person to pay $2,000 for a hand bag. Today the high-fashion spaces are largely abandoned and one of the priciest corridors in New York has become a storefront ghost town. Send your condolences here:

The Monopolist Of Pizza Cheese

“This Secretive Billionaire Makes The Cheese For Pizza Hut, Domino’s And Papa John’s,” in Forbes, is the tale of James Leprino, a 78-year-old billionaire, and his company, Leprino Foods. It controls 85% of the market for “pizza cheese”—the industrial-scale version of mozzarella—and is the sole supplier for the three mega-chains cited in the headline (as well as a partial supplier for Little Caesar’s). That’s amazing dominance and, in Forbesian fashion, the article hails Leprino as “one of America’s all-time monopolists.” (I’m not sure if there is a hall of fame for that category.) This son of an Italian immigrant has dominated through hard work, massive scale, and an employee who was a genius at inventing and patenting techniques for mass-scale food production. As often seems to be the case with these sorts of techniques, they’re both fascinating and a little bit disturbing. For example, there’s the company’s “mist” technology, which started as a method to preserve the cheese but then evolved to let the company to take mozzarella and spray on a variety of flavors—everything from cheddar to salted caramel—add food-coloring, and achieve large scale food production. Leprino himself is an appealing fellow. He hasn’t been photographed since the 1960s (seemingly out of modesty rather than a need to evade the FBI), is the sort of billionaire who is known to operate a forklift in the company warehouse, and makes it to church every weekend. I’m not sure I’d recommend the cheese, but I feel safe directing you to the article.


Bonus Read: Pumping Up Your Hiring Chances

Finally, I’m not saying we should send this one to the Pulitzer committee, but the Wall Street Journal’s “A-hed” on executives who decided to test the character of job applicants, or to network, by working out together is a pleasure from start to finish. The headline gives you more than enough to go on: “Thanks For Your Job Application—Shall We Begin At The Squat Rack?” Reading this article will improve your muscle tone—or at least give you a feeling of relief that you haven’t had to endure one of the tests described here.

Nicholas Varchaver