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Monday, May 18, 2009

TOO BIG TO FAIL?


A friend and I were recently talking about the bailout programs the government enacted and discussed how it was primarily targeted at big business, not the little guys, which we thought was rather unfair. Over the last 100 years, Americans have come to believe that "Big" meant best, that behemoths were generally regarded as invincible. If the recession has taught us anything, it is this is certainly not true.

In my industry, I remember when IBM was considered the giant you dared not trifle with, that you would be steam rolled if you weren't careful. Arthur Anderson was also considered a major force to be reckoned with in the consulting and CPA fields. Times have changed though; for example, IBM is now a mere shadow of its old self when it dominated an entire industry, and Arthur Anderson evaporated as the "Big 8" shrunk and merged to become the "Big 4."

A few scant years ago it would have been unimaginable to see the American automotive and banking industries coughing up blood like they are now, not to mention the huge financial institutions in peril. It's no small wonder the stock markets sit on shaky ground. Obviously, bad decisions were made and one could argue greed played a significant role in this mess, yet these are the companies we thought were impervious to anything. "Big" does not necessarily mean best, nor does it make a company invincible, which we should have known all along.

This points out a couple of things; first, big business needs to be flattened in order to move with the same ease as companies a fraction of their size. They may be big, but they have to think small. Second, our government is certainly not invincible either. The same type of bad decisions made by big business can also be made by our government. The only difference is that it is unlikely that anyone will bail us out. We may be a great nation with a military second to none, but it is simple economics that can topple even the biggest and best of us. Doesn't anyone remember how the Soviet Union fell?

This should be a humbling experience to all of us, as well as an invaluable lesson. Just remember the haunting expression, "As GM Goes, So Goes the Nation." Let's hope not.

"I do not believe the greatest threat to our future is from bombs or guided missiles. I don't think our civilization will die that way. I think it will die when we no longer care. Arnold Toynbee has pointed out that 19 of 21 civilizations have died from within and not from without. There were no bands playing and flags waving when these civilizations decayed. It happened slowly, in the quiet and the dark when no one was aware."

- Laurence M. Gould
President Emeritus
Carleton College

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Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

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