Ever since I first watched 'thirtysomething' back when I was twenty something, I knew that I wanted to work as a small independent consultant. I knew that my life wouldn't be as full of the sometimes silly drama that infected that crowd of actors, so I figured that running a small business couldn't be so tough. I didn't realize that nice houses were so expensive.
Today in the news, Proctor and Gamble announced a voluntary recall, due to Salmonella, of Iams and Eukanuba pet food. I may be wrong but once upon a time I recall that these were small independent companies with devoted followers. Gourmet dog food. Gourmet cat food. Sold in a little shop like the one I used to walk by on Seventh Avenue in fashionable Park Slope, Brooklyn. I can't tell you which is larger and more soulless between MJB, Folger's or Maxwell House, but to me they represent 'big coffee'. How long have we suffered those ignominious commercials with the burbling tune, or the smiling Juan Valdez or the best part of waking up? Many droning years. It would be sacrelege to imagine Caribou or Peets or other gourmet brands to come out of Juan Valdez' shilling hands. Yet that is what's happened to Iams and Eukanuba.
I don't rightly care about the purity of gourmet brands so much as I wonder exactly how much it takes to sell out a product business to the conglomerate. OK there probably wasn't anybody whose last name was Eukanuba, but it was definitely somebody's child. They bucked the trend of ordinary dog food, and people swore by them. And while it's hard for someone my age to imagine, given the dogs I've known and loved, that anything need be better than Purina, there must have been something a bit more special about those brands. Obviously from a market perspective, P&G thought so, so they bought Mr. Eukanuba & Ms. Iams out.
The obvious backside of the sword is monoculture. It seems unlikely that the common practice in selling into a larger congomerate company which engages economies of scale retains distributed manufacturing and management. These are the things that are generally folded into the infrastructure of the larger, purchasing entity. In 1994 when Mr. E's product got sick, Ms. I's, also independent at the time, remained healthy. Now these two share manufacturing facilities and the whole doggy-kitty kaboodle is wallowing slackjawed.
At some point in the evolution of business and the business of providing for the billions, we will master the proper distribution of power. We will learn the limits of building too many Babel towers. but what about the market of souls?
No doubt Mr. E and Ms. I are relaxing at their Dosh Point, aka (F*ck You Money), and have gone beyond caring about the fate of their brands beyond the promises made on the fateful day of dealing. Good for them. Or is it? Where should such idle rich go, and do their selling out always contribute to clumsy gigantism of the sort P&G is slowly wrestling with? More importantly, is the end game of selling to the giants inevitable? Can these giants become so compelling and efficient at scale that their allure becomes irresistable?
That's very hard to say. I think it depends upon the industry. What do you think? What do you see as the consequence of creating a class of intelligent and capable venditas who rob the world of their skills when they sell out to bigger entities?
Well, it just occurred to me that the reason that the proposed ridiculous high speed rail in California costs so much is because of the accumulated venditas in the American railroad business. There aint many people who know how to do it - those that do form an oligopoly. Elon Musk reveals what real engineers can do.