Quality Management Journal Book Reviews - October 2001 - ASQ

Quality Management Journal Book Reviews - October 2001


Fast Food Nation.

Eric Schlosser. 2001. New York: Houghton Mifflin College. 288 pages.

Reviewed by Cynthia lngram, St. Mary’s College of California

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser is about the business of the fast-food industry. Americans spend more money on fast food than on higher education, personal computers, computer software, or new cars (p. 3). Schlosser’s intent is to explain why he feels that fast food has changed the American diet, landscape, economy, work force, and popular culture (p. 3). He indicates that the basic thinking behind fast food has become increasingly widespread and has wiped out many small businesses (p. 5). He even feels that the fast-food mentality has become so widespread that it has even affected the way health care is delivered (p. 5).

In this account, Schlosser details the beginnings of the fast-food industry and how the business of fast food has changed the way many businesses today are run. He also discusses the way the fast-food industry has changed eating habits globally. The work force and the exploitation of many employees in the fast-food industry are also characterized. Schlosser describes the changes that have occurred in the agriculture and meatpacking industries, as well as the business of artificial flavorings that has developed over the years. Schlosser feels that “In some cases (mailing and sprawling of the West) the fast-food industry has been a catalyst and a symptom of a large economic trend. In other cases (such as the rise of franchising and the spread of obesity) fast food has played a more central role.”

The author does an excellent job of thoroughly describing how the fast-food business is run. At times, he seemed to get off-track, and it was difficult to tie the information he was using back to fast food. Overall, however, readers should be able to see the connection. The bottom line is that we are pawns in a game. By doing an excellent job at marketing, the fast-food industry has been able to change our tastes and way of eating. Schlosser blames the fast-food industry, but it did not come about until the automobile became popular. Could it be that the automobile made us more sedentary and changed the way we wanted to eat, view movies, or do our banking? Could the same then be said for the automobile that is being said about fast food?

Although the author discussed many different fast-food entities, his focus was McDonald’s. It appears from Schlosser’s accounts that McDonald’s has been a pioneer in many of the processes that are used routinely by all fast-food restaurants today. In 1937, the McDonald brothers opened a drive-in. In 1948, they closed the drive-in and opened a new restaurant with new methods of preparing food. The new methods were used to increase the speed of service, to lower prices, and to raise sale volume (p. 19). The McDonald brothers decreased their menu by 67 percent. They did away with anything that needed an eating utensil and began using only paper products to serve food. It is at this time that the concept of assembly line food preparation began (p. 20). Many copied the McDonald brothers. One man, Ray Kroc, offered them the opportunity to expand. He would do the work, and they would get part of the money (p. 35).

Schlosser goes on to compare Ray Kroc and Walt Disney. Both of these men had an excellent ability to sell intangibles to children (p. 42). Ray Kroc and Walt Disney both realized that a person’s loyalty to a specific brand might begin as young as age two (p. 43). This has caused other companies, such as clothing stores and restaurants, to begin targeting children. By joining forces with toy manufacturers, the fast-food companies can double or triple weekly sales volumes of children’s meals (p. 47). This type of marketing benefits both the fast-food industry as well as toy manufacturers. There is now an entire set of marketing companies and marketing magazines designed to target children.

The selection of where to put the next restaurant also became strategic. Ray Kroc used to fly in a small plane to find schools and locate restaurants nearby (p. 66). This developed eventually into computer software that automated site selection. This program is called Quintillion and is now used by fast-food chains as well as retailers (p. 66).

Schlosser details the work force and the working conditions of many fast-food restaurants. Two-thirds of the workers are under age 20 (p. 68). Because food preparation is done in an assembly-line fashion, employees can be easily replaced and retrained. One-sixth of the nation’s restaurant workers speak English as a second language. Of those, one-third speak no English at all. Schlosser notes that fast-food companies receive federal subsidies for training workers. The companies receive $2400 per new low-income worker hired, as long as the person works only 400 hours per year. Employee turnover in a fast-food restaurant is about 300 percent to 400 percent per year. The fast-food industry is adamantly opposed to unions. McDonald’s has gone so far as to close restaurants or tear them down and build another restaurant a few blocks away. It makes sure not to hire those who signed up with the union (p. 77). The restaurant industry lobbies extremely hard to keep minimum wages down and unions out of their restaurants, which in turn flows to other industries.

The fast-food industry turned franchising into a business model and retail stores soon emulated (p. 95). Franchises began with automobile companies. Many different fast-food companies set up their franchises differently. The McDonald’s Corporation makes its money by being a landlord. The corporation buys the land and builds the building, and the tenant (franchisee) then pays rent with a 40 percent markup.

The fast-food industry also had a hand in revolutionizing the agriculture industry. Again, McDonald’s was the first company to use frozen French fries to ensure uniformity and to cut costs (p. 115). Because of the reduced cost, fries became one of the most profitable items on the menu. Frozen fries are bought for about 30 cents a pound and sold for about $6 a pound. Only about 2 cents of a $1.50 order of fries goes to the farmer (p. 117).

When McDonald’s changed the oil mixture used to cook fries, it changed the flavor of them. Because people complained, McDonalds had to reinstate the same flavor by using artificial beef flavoring. There is another market altogether for manmade additives that give food its flavor. About two-thirds of the flavors used in foods in the United States are processed in one small area in New Jersey (p. 121). The same company that manufactures the fragrances of colognes also manufactures the flavorings for foods such as ice cream and cereal (p. 122). While this was an interesting portion of the book, this reviewer really did not see how fast food had much to do with fragrances and colognes.

McDonald’s is the largest purchaser of beef. Because of the influence of the fast-food industry in the meatpacking industry, consolidation has occurred. Ranchers’ share of every dollar of cattle sold has fallen from 83 cents to 46 cents (p. 138). Only four companies control 20 percent of live cattle (p. 138). The same goes for the poultry industry. Eight chicken processors control 67 percent of the nation’s market (p. 139). McDonald’s is the second largest purchaser of chicken in the United States, behind Kentucky Fried Chicken (p. 140). With these accounts, Schlosser provided a good description of how corporations in the United States have taken over ranching.

Two chapters detail what is wrong with the meatpacking business, including how meatpacking plants have become assembly-line production companies, how they have hired unskilled labor, and the dangers of working in a meatpacking plant. Again, this was very interesting, but not directly related to the fast-food industry.

Schlosser discusses food safety—in general, in fast-food restaurants, in private homes, and in school cafeterias. Again, there doesn’t seem to be a need for this much detail.

Although many organizations have “gone global,” including many in the fast-food industry, Schlosser fails to mention how or why the fast-food industry was instrumental in this trend. The author does take the time to prove that the way people eat and the increase in obesity are directly related to the consumption of fast food (p. 242).

In the last chapter, Schlosser gives credit to some of the purveyors of fast food that have tried to stay true to themselves and their workers. In-and-Out Burger began the same year as McDonald’s. Over the years, the company has remained family owned. The founder passed away, and his wife, at age 80, still runs the company (p. 259). The part-time workers’ wages start at $8 an hour, and full benefit packages are offered to full-time workers. The ground beef is fresh, as are the potatoes. In-and-Out ranked highest in food quality in a survey conducted by Restaurants and Institutions in 2000; the lowest quality was McDonald’s.

Despite exploring tangential subjects, such as the bad meat served in school cafeterias, Eric Schlosser did what he intended to do, which was to show the dark side of the fast-food industry. Like many people, this reviewer’s first job was at a fast-food restaurant. Thus, it was interesting to discover that some important information doesn’t come from inside the firm. Often, it is not until investigating from the outside that employees know the truth about their company.

Power Plays: Shakespeare’s Lessons in Leadership and Management.

John O. Whitney, and Tina Packer. 2000. New York: Simon & Schuster. 293 pages.

Reviewed by Cheryl Stockton, Saint Mary’s College of California

Shakespeare and the business management world meet in this book. Lessons in power and politics, taken from Shakespeare’s plays, can teach lessons of effective leadership. These lessons have been designed with the authors’ intention of mixing the practicality of business with creative artists. This book is Whitney and Packer’s contribution to that collaboration.

“There is hardly a topic under the sun that Shakespeare didn’t explore. Brilliantly,” writes Whitney. “Good and evil, love and hatred, justice and mercy, pride and humility, guilt and innocence, war and peace. But the one subject he returns to again and again is leadership” (p. 11). The lessons in this book are about leadership and how the characters in Shakespeare’s plays succeed or fail in leadership situations.

This book doesn’t disappoint. The combination of Whitney and Packer collaborating on a book is dynamic. Once in awhile, jumping back and forth between the two can be confusing to readers; however, it is fairly easy to understand each author’s unique style. Whitney, leading professor at Columbia Business School and former president of Pathmark Supermarkets, offers his experiences and lessons learned. Tina Packer is the founder, president, and artistic director of the critically acclaimed theater group, Shakespeare & Company.

The book is organized around three major themes. Part I deals with power. Part II reviews the crucial business skills of effective communication and persuasion. Part III deals with values and how to reconcile what people believe in as moral agents with what they need to do as leaders with responsibilities to bosses, boards, stockholders, and employees (p. 17).

There are so many interesting stories in this book! In Part I, where there are lessons in power, topics covered include: understanding power before using it; promotion and transfers; new hires; finding a dedicated and trusted lieutenant; abuses of perks; pay and privilege; and women and power. Whitney and Packer tell stories that have to do with being a good leader and making decisions regardless of how popular those decisions might be. Was it Richard II or Henry IV who deployed his forces in the battle of Shrewsbury saying, “Advantage feeds him fat while men delay”? Who said, “I wasted time, and now time doth waste me”? Jumping to modern times, these Shakespearean stories are compared with Ford Explorer’s head start on the SUV (sports utility vehicle). Ford jumped into the market early, making the General Motors Bravado, Lincoln Navigator, and Cadillac Esplanade eat its dust (p. 46).

Part II centers on leadership and business as being a theater. According to Whitney and Packer, “Leadership is a theater. The way a manager walks into a room, the clothes he or she wears, the way his office is designed, the props he uses when addressing his aides, employees, or stockholders—these are key components of his effectiveness” (p. 143). Also, great actors and great leaders need three ingredients: energy, mental focus, and physical stamina (p. 155). Writes Packer, “Infecting the troops with your energy, listening hard, speaking with conviction, being emotionally available, empathic without sentiment, and able to keep going for long periods of time, sorting, distilling, disseminating—if you can do these things, you will be a great CEO” (p. 155). She knows. After all, we hear again and again, what a great businessperson she is, managing the thriving Massachusetts Shakespeare Company (p. 156).

Packer and Whitney agree that being a persuasive communicator is the number-one tool of leadership. “No matter how good a leader’s ideas are, they mean nothing if he cannot communicate them to his followers” (p. 166). They further explain as an actor-playwright-producer, Shakespeare recognized the importance of getting people into the theater and being glad they came. With this idea they used three of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches to show persuasion is not just a matter of what you say or even how you say it, but of properly assessing your relationship with your audience and then choosing an appropriate approach to accomplish your goals (p. 166). In Henry V, Julius Caesar, and Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare points to two requirements for persuasive communication: what you say must be simple but compelling (p. 166).

Using Henry V as an example, Whitney tells the story (p. 166). The English Army was heading across the Channel to invade France. Henry is at the head and receives the French ambassador who conveys a message of welcome with a box of tennis balls. Henry is insulted by the gift and decides to complete his mission of the invasion. Henry’s troops fight hard. They break through a wall and take the town of Harfleur. The French realize they are up against a tougher army than they thought. But now Henry’s army has been fighting a month and they are tired. On the eve of their next battle, the Battle of Agincourt, Henry needs to rally his troops. They are exhausted, hungry, and dispirited. His words need not convey what they know, such as the fact that they are outnumbered. Instead he rallies his men with words of “honor” and “brotherhood” (p. 166). The remarks Henry uses, according to Whitney, “... inspire one of the most focused speeches of all of Shakespeare” (p. 168). He writes,

... No, my fair cousin:
If we are marked to die, we are enough
To do our country loss, and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
...But if it be a sin to covet honour
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace, I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more, methinks, would share from me
For the best hope I have. O do not with one more!

Henry creates this picture of his men returning from battle and living as heroes. Feasts and festivals will be named after the victorious brave men. Henry has pumped his men up and given them reason to fight bravely. Through Henry, Shakespeare describes how posterity will also remember the veterans of Agincourt, in three of the most famous lines ever written.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother...

Whitney explains that Shakespeare uses Henry’s speech to show that a great leader must persuade followers that they are part of a team with a joint mission (p. 170). Whitney says most employees want to be inspired and they prefer their work to have meaning (p. 170). Who wouldn’t run to battle next to his or her new brother, the king?

In the lessons on public speaking, Whitney and Packer suggest the following (p. 180):

  • Know the audience.
  • Know the topic.
  • Be well prepared.
  • Deliver the speech in a conversational style so that the audience will think that it is spontaneous.

Lessons like these are reviewed in this book. Creative storytelling by Whitney spiced with Packer’s insight delight readers with practical advice. Moving from lessons from Shakespeare’s plays to Whitney’s experiences at various business turnarounds holds readers’ attention.

The Nordstrom Way: The Inside Story of America’s #1 Customer Service Company (2nd edition).

Robert Spector, and Patrick D. McCarthy. 2000. New York: John Wiley & Sons. 244 pages.

Reviewed by Catherine Loren Comen, Saint Mary’s College of California

It is a well-accepted assumption that the Nordstrom department store chain “wrote the book” on customer service. This updated second edition, written by Robert Spector and Patrick McCarthy, some of Nordstrom’s top salespeople, is based on interviews with the Nordstrom family, salespeople, management staff, and board of directors. The book tells the secret of Nordstrom’s success and about its unique approach to customer service. In addition, the last chapter has been revised to bring readers up to date on the changes that have taken place during the past five years and the organization’s plans for the future.

Superior customer service separates Nordstrom from its competitors. This book outlines how it has managed to do what other department store chains cannot. Nordstrom has created an environment were highly motivated salespeople live by the golden rule of retail sales: “The customer is always right.” Motivation comes in the form of commission sales, profit sharing, and other benefits. However, other department store chains have tried this approach and failed. The difference is that Nordstrom’s salespeople are allowed to operate as if they are running their own small business within a business. “These salespeople have the opportunity to be successful because Nordstrom gives its employees the freedom to make decisions. And Nordstrom management is willing to live with those decisions” (p. 23).

The concept is successful because it is how the Nordstrom family has always done business. “With the Nordstrom family holding the largest single portion of the stock of this publicly traded company, the continuity of family management is one of the most important reasons for Nordstrom’s success” (p. 31). Readers learn from the story of a family business that began at the turn of the century with a small shoe store. John Nordstrom and his sons went on to create a retail powerhouse that is based on hard work, high quality, and competition. Its unique entrepreneurial culture is greatly admired by corporations everywhere.

The Nordstrom culture is one that empowers its salespeople. The organization’s structure is an inverted pyramid with the customers at the top, and the board of directors at the bottom. Department managers begin their careers on the sales floor, as do all the family members in the business. “Managers are encouraged to have a feeling of ownership about their departments. They are responsible for hiring, firing, scheduling, training, coaching, nurturing, encouraging, and evaluating their sales team” (p. 103).

In The Nordstrom Way, Spector and McCarthy demonstrate how Nordstrom’s salespeople learn to respond to their customers’ needs, which will keep them coming back. The book is stocked full of interviews with top salespeople who give many examples of what exactly constitutes excellent customer service. “Today’s busy consumers want retailers to save them time by providing them with convenience, reliability, efficiency, and, most importantly, merchandise that represents good value for the price” (p. 201).

Readers also learn how Nordstrom responds to increased retail competition. Nordstrom, like other major retailers, offers private label merchandise. Its salespeople can offer their customers everything from shoes to shirts, and all are available in a full range of sizes, and have the value, quality, and exclusivity of the designer lines. Another is through the creation of Nordstrom Rack, which is a chain of retail outlet stores that sells out-of-season clearance merchandise.

The lessons in this book are about how Nordstrom created a culture based on superior customer service, and carved out its unique place in the retail department store industry. In the final chapter, Spector offers readers a look into the future of this organization and where it is heading in order to stay competitive. For example, in 1998 Nordstrom launched its own Web site, nordstore.com. It has since spun off with its catalog and become a new subsidiary, Nordstrom.com. “We are convinced that online shopping will be a major part of our future,” co-president Dan Nordstrom said. In particular, those retailers who offer their customers a fully integrated combination of stores, catalog, and Internet shopping will have a significant service advantage” (p. 212).

Overall, this book is an excellent example of how Nordstrom has created America’s number-one service company. In addition, it does not leave out the problems that it has endured along the way such as labor disputes, labor union problems, or locations where the Nordstrom strategy has not worked (Alaska).

High Five! The Magic of Working Together.

Ken Blanchard, Sheldon M. Bowles, Don Carew, Eunice Parisi-Carew, and Kenneth V. Blanchard. 2000. New York: William Morrow & Co. 224 pages.

Reviewed by Dawnel Scott, St. Mary’s College of California

Ken Blanchard and his team of authors set out to identify the four key ingredients that comprise winning teams. Working from the concept of “None of us is as smart as all of us” (p. xi), the authors tell a story that will motivate readers to become better team players, and by doing so, become stronger individual contributors (p. x).

The authors use the sentimental story of Alan Foster—a puck-hog, fired from his long-standing job for not being a team player—who learns about teamwork while coaching his son’s hockey team. The authors work through the elements of why teams are important and what individuals and organizations can do to build successful ones. By tying team building in the workplace to the dynamics of sports teams, the authors make their points in a fun and easy manner. Their message is simple—by using a few common-sense ideas, an organization or individual can understand what it takes to build, motivate, and sustain a winning team. All too often, people in business and sports begin to believe their production is essential to the team when, in fact, their production is breaking down the team. Because the story is engaging and a bit of a tearjerker, it is easy to forget the motivations behind it. The authors have done an excellent job of using the story to stir readers’ emotions and then bring them back by continually reinforcing the key ingredients of team building.

Being fired for not being a team player is a concept with which many individuals struggle. The main character in High Five! is no exception. As a high-performing individual, who had received several awards under the “old” management, Alan Foster was terminated because he did not “fit the mold.” The new management was not only looking for employees who were good individual producers, but those who were also team players—ones who made the team successful (p. 7). With no job, Foster takes on the coaching duties of his son’s hockey team—a rag-tag bunch of kids who can barely skate. Because he knew nothing about teamwork, the library became his best friend. Foster read books on team building and teamwork (p. 15). All this newfound knowledge made him understand why he was let go from his job. But it was not until one of the players was injured and taken to the emergency room (ER), that Foster really understood the importance of teamwork. As he watched the ER members work together, sometimes without talking, he realized the strengths of teams and teamwork (pp. 32–37).

Understanding the importance of teamwork and being able to teach the fundamentals of teamwork are two widely different things. Not making much headway with the team, Foster recruits the retired girl’s basketball coach from his high school to help the hockey team learn to be a team. It utilizes her concept that teams are more that just a collection of people. When those people release their egos and put others first, a dynamic happens that creates something more powerful, productive, and successful than the individual themselves. One short sentence of 10 words sums up the dynamics of teamwork—“None of us is a smart as all of us” (p. 103). By putting individual needs on hold, team needs and pride move to the forefront (p. 60).

The four key ingredients of successful teams support this overall concept of “None of us is as smart as all of us:” (l) a sense of purpose and shared goals and values; (2) the development of high skills; (3) synergy; and (4) repeated reward and recognition. These components make an easy-to-follow model for coaches and team leaders alike.

The first key to successful teams is a sense of purpose and shared goals and values. When individuals understand the purpose and share common goals, they are more willing to trade self for selfishness—putting the good of the group above themselves (p. 69). Business initiatives to reach predetermined heights, just like a sports team’s commitment to win a division title, focus the efforts on the purpose rather than the individual.

Having a shared goal is not enough. To make it real, high skills must be developed. This is the second key to successful teams (p. 78). A team can’t perform if it doesn’t know what it is doing. Commitment to improvement is fundamental, as is measuring the improvement. Being able to measure, compare, and provide feedback for improvement is essential in the development of skills. Team leaders—coaches and managers alike—must look for opportunities to reward team members with positive feedback. No negative feedback is allowed; only suggestions for improvement (p. 85). Oftentimes what looks like a skill problem could be masking something else—a lack of confidence or some other such issue (p. 86).

The third key to successful teams is synergy—the dynamics of working together and sticking to the plan. In teams, just because a player or an employee can do something better than another, doesn’t give that person the right to deviate from the team plan. The essence of the team is collective power (p. 96). Collective power of the group outshines the individual. A player may have a chance to make a goal, or an employee may have the chance to look good in front of a manager, but if the focus is on looking good, the team will not be effective. When everyone pulls together, the results are far greater and far more rewarding. This once again reinforces the concept of “None of us is as smart as all of us.” By focusing on the game plan, even players/employees with lesser skills contribute because they are following the plan. Less-skilled individuals who work together can outperform a single individual. If the focus is on the team, even the best of the best can be beaten (p. 103).

The fourth key to team success is repeated reward and recognition. This element is key to coaches, team leaders, and managers as they must be aware of and look for ways to recognize and reward adherence to the first three keys (p. 126). People repeat performance that garners reward and recognition (p. 126). All too often, coaches and management focus on catching people doing things wrong. If the team is doing twice as many things right, when the occasional wrong happens, it isn’t so significant (p. 127). By focusing on the good, there are more opportunities to find more good and convert bad into good. When the focus is on the positive, team members develop the habit of doing things right (p. 128). Using these fundamentals inspires individuals to achieve their personal best and experience the dynamics of teamwork.

As the book comes to a close, the rag-tag hockey team is transformed into a winning team though it doesn’t win the championship. The game ends in a tie. Alan Foster has learned so much about teamwork that his name is passed around as a top-notch consultant on teamwork. Ironically, his former company hires him to give a keynote speech.

Douglas McGregor, Revisited: Managing the Human Side of the Enterprise.

Gary Heil, Warren Bennis, and Deborah C. Stephens. 2000. New York: John Wiley & Sons. 197 pages.

Reviewed by Heidi Story, St. Mary’s College of California

The authors wrote this book to discuss the late Douglas McGregor’s ideas about the changing nature of work, of a person’s place in the workplace, and why business uses actions that don’t work well with human behavior. They believe Douglas McGregor’s writings were significant in applying a better understanding of how people behave in the business world, and that his writings are relevant today. The authors state they “hope this book will start a conversation about why we (management) take actions that are often so inconsistent with what we know about people” (p. viii).

The book is divided into two parts. The first part, titled “Why McGregor Matters,” is divided into 10 chapters. The second part, titled “Selected Essays of Douglas McGregor,” devotes four essays written by the late Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor as well as one essay written by one of the book’s authors.

Throughout the first part of the book, the authors quote extensively from McGregor’s essays focusing on his theory X and Y concept. They apply what McGregor wrote in the 1950s to early 1960s to what business practices are doing in the twenty-first century. McGregor challenged managers to think of human organizations more as a biologist than a mechanic.

Some of the questions that the authors ask now, that McGregor would have asked if he was still alive, are: “If employees are truly our most important asset, why is it that the training budget is the first thing cut when money gets tight? And why is our first concern in developing a policy not usually whether it’s good for the work force but whether it’s legally defensible?” (p. 40).

One of the questions that McGregor would ask his students was: “How do you motivate employees?” The interesting thing was that McGregor wasn’t looking for a specific answer, he just wanted people to think. He wanted people to know that there was no right or wrong answer to this question or the many other questions he posed, he just wanted people to think. What was hard for management during the time McGregor was alive and even today, is that many managers want a right answer. They won’t change their behaviors unless they know that theirs will be an increase in production, revenue, supplies, or whatever. One chapter is devoted to building an intrinsically motivated organization. The use of extrinsic rewards is not on the to-do list.

The book explains the pitfalls of performance appraisals and how businesses can change how they review employees’ work. Working with teams is also explored and why sometimes teamwork doesn’t work.

An important idea that McGregor had is one that he borrowed from the psychological theorist Abraham Maslow concerning self-actualization. This is a running theme throughout the book; man’s self-actualization in the workplace, and management’s responsibility to coach employees to achieve higher reaches toward self-actualization.

This reviewer found the second part of the book a bit choppy and uneven. It was difficult to tell when the authors were discussing the essay or when the essay began or ended (pp. 144–145). While the ideas expressed in the essays are profound and exude truth, there needs to be a better delineation of the authors’ words and McGregor’s words. This reviewer believes the authors wrote this book with the assumption that readers are familiar with McGregor and his writings.

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