Several years ago I had the opportunity to hear an extemporaneous hour-long monologue about the indescribable pleasure to be derived from a lifelong devotion to controlling costs. The speaker was one of the true masters of the art, Ralph Ketner, cofounder and chairman emeritus of Food Lion Inc., the $7-billion supermarket chain based in Salisbury, N.C. His talk was mesmerizing and energizing. You can experience the next best thing by reading Shrinking the Corporate Waistline (Teal Books, 1992, $20), by Brian P. Woolf, former chief financial officer of the same company. Food Lion has come under attack lately from the United Food & Commercial Workers and ABC's "PrimeTime Live," which have accused the company of doctoring meat, among other sins, in its zeal to hold costs down. I have no idea whether those charges have any basis in fact, but I can assure you that Woolf's cost-cutting tips are Grade A prime. The first half of the book could have been titled "Everything You Need to Know (But Your Accountant Can't Teach You) About Managerial Finance."
Chances are, you won't find a copy of Waistline at your local bookstore, whose shelves are generally stocked with overpriced, overwritten CEO autobiographies that don't offer a clue about improving your business. A better bet is to call Publishers Distribution Service at 800-345-0096. You can also order a copy from the author himself at 803-458-8277.* * *