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This site is required reading to set your expectations in line with B.T. and the encumbant power in Cardiff.
Mr Hirschman’s most famous book, “Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organisations and States”, remains as suggestive today as it was when it first appeared in 1970, for managers and policymakers as well as intellectuals. Mr Hirschman argued that people have two different ways of responding to disappointment. They can vote with their feet (exit) or stay put and complain (voice).
The Economist claims to engage in a “severe contest” with “an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress”. Mr Hirschman was an eloquent ally. In “The Rhetoric of Reaction” he wrote that purveyors of “timid ignorance” rely on three types of argument: jeopardy (reforms will cost a lot and endanger previous gains); perversity (reforms will harm the people they are intended to help); and futility (problems are so huge that nothing can be done about them). That certainly describes the current debates about global warming, illegal drugs and countless other topics. With luck, Mr Hirschman’s exit will not silence his voice.In memory of Albert Hirschman I vow to continue to be a constructivly critical pain in the arse where appropriate.
Nebraska Furniture Mart Last year, in discussing how managers with bright, but adrenalin-soaked minds scramble after foolish acquisitions, I quoted Pascal: “It has struck me that all the misfortunes of men spring from the single cause that they are unable to stay quietly in one room.” Even Pascal would have left the room for Mrs. Blumkin. About 67 years ago Mrs. Blumkin, then 23, talked her way past a border guard to leave Russia for America. She had no formal education, not even at the grammar school level, and knew no English. After some years in this country, she learned the language when her older daughter taught her, every evening, the words she had learned in school during the day. In 1937, after many years of selling used clothing, Mrs. Blumkin had saved $500 with which to realize her dream of opening a furniture store. Upon seeing the American Furniture Mart in Chicago - then the center of the nation’s wholesale furniture activity - she decided to christen her dream Nebraska Furniture Mart. She met every obstacle you would expect (and a few you wouldn’t) when a business endowed with only $500 and no locational or product advantage goes up against rich, long- entrenched competition. At one early point, when her tiny resources ran out, “Mrs. B” (a personal trademark now as well recognized in Greater Omaha as Coca-Cola or Sanka) coped in a way not taught at business schools: she simply sold the furniture and appliances from her home in order to pay creditors precisely as promised. Omaha retailers began to recognize that Mrs. B would offer customers far better deals than they had been giving, and they pressured furniture and carpet manufacturers not to sell to her. But by various strategies she obtained merchandise and cut prices sharply. Mrs. B was then hauled into court for violation of Fair Trade laws. She not only won all the cases, but received invaluable publicity. At the end of one case, after demonstrating to the court that she could profitably sell carpet at a huge discount from the prevailing price, she sold the judge $1400 worth of carpet. Today Nebraska Furniture Mart generates over $100 million of sales annually out of one 200,000 square-foot store. No other home furnishings store in the country comes close to that volume. That single store also sells more furniture, carpets, and appliances than do all Omaha competitors combined. One question I always ask myself in appraising a business is how I would like, assuming I had ample capital and skilled personnel, to compete with it. I’d rather wrestle grizzlies than compete with Mrs. B and her progeny. They buy brilliantly, they operate at expense ratios competitors don’t even dream about, and they then pass on to their customers much of the savings. It’s the ideal business - one built upon exceptional value to the customer that in turn translates into exceptional economics for its owners. Mrs. B is wise as well as smart and, for far-sighted family reasons, was willing to sell the business last year. I had admired both the family and the business for decades, and a deal was quickly made. But Mrs. B, now 90, is not one to go home and risk, as she puts it, “losing her marbles”. She remains Chairman and is on the sales floor seven days a week. Carpet sales are her specialty. She personally sells quantities that would be a good departmental total for other carpet retailers. We purchased 90% of the business - leaving 10% with members of the family who are involved in management - and have optioned 10% to certain key young family managers. And what managers they are. Geneticists should do handsprings over the Blumkin family. Louie Blumkin, Mrs. B’s son, has been President of Nebraska Furniture Mart for many years and is widely regarded as the shrewdest buyer of furniture and appliances in the country. Louie says he had the best teacher, and Mrs. B says she had the best student. They’re both right. Louie and his three sons all have the Blumkin business ability, work ethic, and, most important, character. On top of that, they are really nice people. We are delighted to be in partnership with them.