Chamber’s Donohue Promotes Free Enterprise

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Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohoe. Source of caricature: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A13) The White House’s war on the Chamber has come just as the group is launching a new $100 million campaign promoting free enterprise.

“We want to encourage and promote and educate and get a bunch of enthusiasm behind . . . the free enterprise system with free capital markets and free trade and the ability to fail and fall right on your ass and get up and do it again!” he says.
The belief in that system, Mr. Donohue says, has been eroded by the recession and subsequent criticism of the free market. “The purpose of this is to get out of the doldrums! Quit sulking and worrying.” He hopes the campaign will remind Americans that “We created 20 million jobs in the ’90s, we can do it again. We don’t have to do it exactly like that–Adam Smith didn’t have a BlackBerry–but we ought to pay attention to what made it work.”

For the full interview, see:
KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL. “OPINION: THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Tom Donohue; Business Fights Back; His organization under attack by the White House, the president of the Chamber of Commerce stands by his defense of free enterprise.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., October 24, 2009): A13.
(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 23, 2009.)
(Note: ellipsis in original.)

Ray Kroc’s Account of How Filet-O-Fish Came to McDonald’s

One of the challenges of efficiently running a business is when to encourage experimentation and innovation among employees, and when to enforce standardization. Sam Walton seemed to have handled this well at Wal-Mart.
In the passage quoted below, Ray Kroc gives a glimpse of how he handled the issue at McDonald’s.

(p. 137) . . . , the quality of our french fries was a large part of McDonald’s success, and I certainly didn’t want to jeopardize our business with a frozen potato that was not up to our standard. So we made certain that the frozen product was thoroughly tested and that it met every condition of quality before we made it part of the system.

There was another product being tested at this time that would prove to have a tremendous effect on our business. This was the (p. 138) Filet-O-Fish sandwich. It had been born of desperation in the mind of Louis Groen in Cincinnati. He had that city as an exclusive territory as a result of some horse trading he’d done with Harry and me back in the days when we were using everything but butterfly nets to catch franchisees. Lou’s major competition was the Big Boy chain. They dominated the market. He managed to hold his own against them, however, on every day but Friday. Cincinnati has a large Catholic population and the Big Boys had a fish sandwich. So if you add those two together on a day the church had ordained should be meatless, you have to subtract most of the business from McDonald’s.

My reaction when Lou first broached the fish idea to me was, “Hell no! I don’t care if the Pope himself comes to Cincinnati. He can eat hamburgers like everybody else. We are not going to stink up our restaurants with any of your damned old fish!”

But Lou went to work on Fred Turner and Nick Karos. He convinced them that he was either going to have to sell fish or sell the store. So they went through a lot of research, and finally made a presentation that convinced me.

Al Bernardin, who was our food technologist at the time, worked with Lou on the type of fish to be used, halibut or cod, and they finally decided to go with the cod. I didn’t care for that; it brought back too many childhood memories of cod liver oil, so we investigated and found out it was perfectly legal to merchandise it as North Atlantic whitefish, which I like better. There were all kinds of fishhooks in developing this sandwich: how long to cook it, what type of breading to use, how thick it should be, what kind of tartar sauce to use, and so forth. One day I was down in our test kitchen and Al told me about a young crew member in Lou Groen’s store who had eaten a fish sandwich with a slice of cheese on it.
“Of course!” I exclaimed. “That’s exactly what this sandwich needs, a slice of cheese. No, make it half a slice.” So we tried it, and it was delicious. And that is how the slice of cheese got into the McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish.
We started selling it only on Fridays in limited areas, but we got so many requests for it that in 1965 we made it available in all our stores every day, advertising it as the “fish that catches people.” I (p. 139) told Fred Turner and Dick Boylan, both of whom happen to be Catholic, “You fellows just watch. Now that we’ve invested in all this equipment to handle fish, the Pope will change the rules.” A few years Later, damned if he didn’t. But it only made those big fish sales figures that much sweeter to read.

Source:
Kroc, Ray. Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald’s. Chicago: Henry Regnary Company, 1977.

The “Bongo System” of Corruption in Gabon: More on Why Africa is Poor

BongoGabon2010-01-27.jpg “The image of Ali Bongo, the son of longtime ruler Omar Bongo, blanketed Libreville.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A5) The “Bongo system,” as people here refer to it — forsaking roads, schools and hospitals for the sake of Mr. Bongo’s 66 bank accounts, 183 cars, 39 luxury properties in France and grandiose government constructions in Libreville — is etched in the streets of this languid seaside capital, where he ruled for 41 years, and also in the minds of its inhabitants.
. . .
A Western family here spoke of embarrassment at visiting a government minister whose house is packed with the latest flat-screen televisions and other expensive electronic gadgets, and whose garage was full of luxury cars. The top aide to a leading opposition figure, discussing the “Bongo system,” said: “You had to bring a suitcase to the palace. Bongo didn’t write checks.” The president, he said, “calls everybody to the palace, and the money is handed out. That’s how the country was run.”
He spoke of a “sandwich system” of vote-buying employed by the ruling party in rural districts: notables are called together for a meeting, and at the end, when all are tired, a tray of “sandwiches” is passed around. Inside each “sandwich” is up to $600.
Looking around at an outdoor restaurant, he asked not to be named because he said: “It’s a police state. They mess up your life.”
. . .
On paper, the government’s budget allocations for health, education and transportation were impressive, “huge,” said the Western development official. “But in reality, it was actually about 20 percent of what was on paper,” the official said. “The rest was embezzled,” he added, asking to remain anonymous because identifying him would complicate his work in the country.
. . .
“It’s a tiny number that benefits from the country’s riches,” said a cigarette vendor, Price Nyamam, squatting on the pavement in the poor Rio district. He said he had degrees in economics and sociology. “You are obliged to do work that doesn’t correspond to your aspirations.”

For the full story, see:
ADAM NOSSITER. “Libreville Journal; Underneath Palatial Skin, Corruption Rules Gabon.” The New York Times (Tues., September 15, 2009): A5.
(Note: the online version of the article has the date September 14, 2009.)
(Note: ellipses added.)

GabonDumpForaging2010-01-27.jpg “Foraging for food at the main dump.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

Largest Decline in Private Sector Union Members in 25 Years

(p. A3) Organized labor lost 10% of its members in the private sector last year, the largest decline in more than 25 years. The drop is on par with the fall in total employment but threatens to significantly limit labor’s ability to influence elections and legislation.

On Friday, the Labor Department reported private-sector unions lost 834,000 members, bringing membership down to 7.2% of the private-sector work force, from 7.6% the year before. The broader drop in U.S. employment and a small gain by public-sector unions helped keep the total share of union membership flat at 12.3% in 2009. In the early 1980s, unions represented 20% of workers.

For the full story, see:
KRIS MAHER. “Union Membership Declines by 10%.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., January 23, 2010): A3.
(Note: the online version of the article has the slightly different title “Union Membership Drops 10%.”)

Business Decisions Often Need to Be Made Before You Have Much Data

McGrathRitaGunther2010-01-27.jpgRita Gunther McGrath is a member of the faculty of the Columbia Business School. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. R2) BUSINESS INSIGHT: You and Prof. Ian C. MacMillan of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania wrote a book called “Discovery-Driven Growth.” What is discovery-driven growth?

DR. MCGRATH: Discovery-driven growth is a way of planning to grow that doesn’t require a lot of analytical information at the outset. It recognizes that many of the data that you need to make decisions don’t exist at the time that you have to make the decisions. It’s a plan to learn.
I think we all live with a conceptual overhang from an industrial era when things were more predictable. You had big production runs. At least if you were an American company, you had a lot of markets with very little competition, and what competition there was was more or less predictable. In many businesses you could use the past as an adequate guide to what the future held for you.
In more and more industries, those conditions no longer apply. You’re seeing temporary advantages, very rapid swings in who’s on top competitively, new technologies that make older ones irrelevant at an ever-faster clip–the usual litany of things people moan about today. But I think one of the things that has not yet quite been fully recognized is that these have an impact on our management processes–or should.

For the full interview, see:
Martha E. Mangelsdorf. “Executive Briefing; Learning From Corporate Flops; When starting new ventures, companies should revisit their assumptions early and often.” The Wall Street Jounal (Mon., OCTOBER 26, 2009): R2.
(Note: italics in original.)

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Source of book image: http://events.roundtable.com/iguru/DiscoveryDrivenGrowth.gif.

Entrepreneurial Judgment Can Be Right Even When It Is Hard to Articulate

Entrepreneurs may develop a good sense of people, even though they cannot articulate their judgment. Yet their firms, and our economy, might be more efficient and productive if they were allowed to follow their judgments, rather than follow Human Resource Department credentialism and paper trails.
The entrepreneurs might make mistakes, but in an open economy they would pay a price for their mistakes in profits foregone, and hence would have an incentive to correct the mistakes. And there would be plenty of alternative jobs for anyone mistakenly fired.

(p. 91) I’ve been wrong in my judgments about men, I suppose, but not very often. Bob Frost, one of our key executives on the West Coast, will remember the time he and I were checking out stores, and I got a very unfavorable impression of one of his young managers. As we drove away from the store I said to Bob, “I think you’d better fire that man.”
“Oh, Ray, come on!” he exclaimed. “Give the kid a break. He’s young, he has a good attitude, and I think he will come along.”

“You could be right, Bob,” I said, “but I don’t think so. He has no potential.”
Later in the day, as we were driving back to Los Angeles, that conversation was still bugging me. Finally I turned to Bob and yelled, “Listen goddammit I want you to fire that man!”
One thing that makes Bob Frost a good executive is that he has the courage of his convictions. He also sticks up for his people. He’s a retired Navy man, and he knows how to keep his head under fire. He simply pursed his lips and nodded solemnly and said, “If you are ordering me to do it, Ray, I will. But I would like to give him another six months and see how he works out.”
I agreed, reluctantly. What happened after that was the kind of (p. 92) personnel hocus-pocus that government is famous for but should never be permitted in business, least of all in McDonald’s. The man hung on. He was on the verge of being fired several times in the following years, but he was transferred or got a new supervisor each time. He was a decent guy, so each new boss would struggle to reform him. Many years later he was fired. The assessment of the executive who finally swung the ax was that “this man has no potential.”
Bob Frost now admits he was wrong. I had the guy pegged accurately from the outset. But that’s not the point. Our expenditure of time and effort on that fellow was wasted and, worst of all, he spent several years of his life in what turned out to be a blind alley. It would have been far better for his career if he’d been severed early and forced to find work more suited to his talents. It was an unfortunate episode for both parties, but it serves to show that an astute judgment can seem arbitrary to everyone but the man who makes it.

Source:
Kroc, Ray. Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald’s. Chicago: Henry Regnary Company, 1977.

Dubai’s Economic Future Depends on Its Institutions

DubaiViewFromTallestBuilding2010-01-25.jpg “A man took in the view of Dubai from the 124th floor of the newly opened, $1.5 billion Burj Khalifa, a rocket-shaped building that soars 2,717 feet.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A7) CAIRO — In the heady days of the Dubai gold rush, when real estate sold and resold even before a shovel hit the ground, the ambitious emirate was hailed as the model of Middle Eastern modernity, a boomtown that built an effective, efficient and accessible form of government.

Then the crash came and revealed how paper-thin that image was, political and financial analysts said. That realization, not just in Dubai but also in Abu Dhabi, the oil-rich capital of the United Arab Emirates, has cast a harsh light on an opaque, top-down decision-making process, not just in business but in matters of crime and punishment as well, political and financial analysts said.
The financial crisis and now two criminal cases that have generated critical headlines in other countries have demonstrated that the emirates remain an absolute monarchy, where institutions are far less important than royalty and where the law is particularly capricious — applied differently based on social standing, religion and nationality, political experts and human rights advocates said.
“I think what we learned here the last four months is that the government, at least on a political level, is still very undeveloped,” said a financial analyst based in Dubai who asked not to be identified to avoid compromising his ability to work in the emirates. “It’s very difficult to read or interpret or understand what is going on. The institutions have not shaped up to people’s expectations.”

For the full story, see:
MICHAEL SLACKMAN. “Dubai Memo; Entrenched Monarchy Thwarts Aspirations for Modernity.” The New York Times (Fri., January 22, 2010): A7.
(Note: the online version of the article is dated January 21, 2010.)
(Note: ellipsis added.)

DubaiOfficesForRentSign2010-01-25.jpg “Workers repaired a phone line next to an office building in Dubai’s Internet City. Even after a bailout, Dubai remains heavily burdened by debt.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.