Pondering Stuffed Alligators

So… let’s say you’re an executive of a company that makes stuffed animals. A really big company that makes ten different kinds of stuffed animals. Now let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that you have no more idea of how to make a stuffed animal than does my flatulent and aged beagle. However, you have piles of money, and the people who can make stuffed animals aren’t so good at the “piles of money” part, once they’ve gotten their own personal pile. So you buy people who make stuffed animals, and between your money and their toys, you’re both reasonably happy.

But you don’t have piles of money because you are bad with money. In fact, you tend to keep an eye on the bottom line of each of your ten different toy makers. You have contracts with your toy makers that say, basically, “youse clowns can use my money to make toys, but you gotta a) make a profit, b) do it on the timetable that you yourself propose, and c) incidentally, if you stuff the toys with a mix of dog crap and nuclear waste, I’m gonna say I had NO IDEA you were doing that and you’re not going to say any differently, capice?”

Now, let’s say you shut down the stuffed alligator factory. In your statement on the closing, you say that your toymakers are allowed to be independent as long as they make money, get their toys to Walmart on schedule, and said toys smell only faintly of fecal matter. Here’s the part of your hypothetical statement that I don’t get: Why would you follow that up with a comment on how the closing of the stuffed alligator factory was not a reflection of the people who worked there?

Really? Who the fuck IS responsible? Are you planning to relocate the managers who created the mess in the first place, and you don’t want to admit you’re keeping the well-dressed sweet-talking failures? Did you believe the managers when they said the failures were the fault of the drones actually sewing together the toys, or the poor bastards in charge of compressing the depleted uranium into the alligator snouts? Is that inane, contradictory statement just an ass covering thing so the lost ones can’t sue you? Did YOU insist they use a new design for stuffed alligators that looked more like toucans, and found yourself shocked, SHOCKED to discover that they couldn’t make your toucan look fierce?

There should be subtitles for these dramas for those of us who didn’t go to business school. If I sign a mortgage agreement and fail to meet the terms, I lose my house. No one cries for me. No one lets me plead exigent circumstances. I certainly am not allowed to blame my dependents for causing me to fail to meet the terms. If I get a second chance it’s on significantly less favorable terms. Yet if I attempt to apply common sense and extrapolate my experiences with contract law into corporate law, my intellectual inferiors stare at me with pity, pat me on the head, and tell me that I just don’t understand business.

Oh, but I suspect I do. Can anyone recommend a good book on the Gilded Age? I need to knock the mental dust off the American History shelf.

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16 Comments

  1. Krinsath said,

    November 7, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    Hi Tweety!

    Long-time lurker, first time web-space waster…

    Getting to the “no reflection of the people working on it” question…they could mean they (meaning the people with money) realized that the market for stuffed alligators simply wasn’t there anymore or, another market existed for say, stuffed parrots and the money going to the gator shop would produce a better return with the parrots. It doesn’t matter how great a product is if there aren’t enough people there who want to buy it. While some products are so great that they create their own market or vastly expand existing ones, they are by far the exception and not the rule.

    If a company providing funding sees the market for alligators shrinking or stagnating, they might figure that closing up the shop while it’s still mildly profitable is better than waiting for the red ink to show up. In this case, it’s a simple business reality that blood does indeed not come from stones, and that businesses fundamentally exist to make money. The funder has no set-in-stone obligation to the producer, and they are free to take their money where they think it will do them, the funding party, the most good. Free market at work, as they say. Just because a shop is profitable now does not mean it will always be so…and just because it makes a profit does not mean that money isn’t better off somewhere else. If that “somewhere else” is found, then the “MoneyCorp’s” interests are best served by putting it to work there, even if it will mean closing down the other shop. Assuming that they have any sort of competent people running the numbers, the loss of income from A has been compared to the potential income from B.

    I’m not saying your “hypothetical” was such a situation, but that such a statement that the workers were good need not be in conflict with a shop closing down. They could have made the best gators in the world, but if nobody wanted a gator and instead wanted parrots…

  2. sanyaweathers said,

    November 7, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    Argh. I was reading your post and realized I left out a Key Sentence. Thanks.

    Your point is valid… but given the Hypothetical Statement wherein the guy in the suit said toymakers had to be be profitable/on time/make quality goods or the factory will get closed, and immediately followed with “but I’m not saying anything BAD about these guys”? I guess I’d expect a different statement if your scenario applied.

  3. Krinsath said,

    November 7, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    Well, you have to remember that the people who write press releases about such things use words we all recognize, but aren’t quite English. 🙂 On the one hand they’re saying to future business partners “Yes, we have a very easy policy to meet to retain funding” and on the other being nice to their former partner saying “You guys did good work, but we think these other guys will give us more sacks with dollar signs printed on them” while at the same time not revealing any business plans that a competitor could steal and cause you to lose twice.

    Or, if you’re a glass-half-empty type, it could be done as a sinister move that “Yeah, these guys were great! You should totally give them boatloads and boatloads of money…they were just, ya know, making us TOO much money…” and watching their competitors lose money on a bad shop. It is dog eat dog at that level after all.

    We normal humans don’t have to worry about most of what we say being dissected by various groups for various different reasons, so we can speak more plainly. Business and politics though, both those arenas are vicious and cutthroat and I think that’s why you see the majority of these “two-faced” statements come out of one of those areas so you can say you’re releasing information, but nobody is ever sure of why or what you said something so they can’t use it to their own advantage.

    Blah, video games have taught me way too much…my brain hurts…

  4. Protest said,

    November 7, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    As a communications student, who is planning to pursue a career in public relations, I am looking forward to writing some horse-shit press releases that will make your head spin. This statement should not be considered a reflection of the quality of education I am currently receiving, nor is it an indictment of my Journalism professors. (pretty good, huh?)

  5. Anonymous said,

    November 7, 2007 at 6:56 pm

    (Note: “You”, in this comment, is the hypothetical “you” that runs a stuffed animal company, not the person reading the comment.)

    I think it’s because the reason your investors gave you all that money was because they believed your “Stuffed Animal Designers” were the best in the industry.

    If the failure was “your fault”, then you won’t get any more money.
    If the failure was “a reflection on those who made the stuffed animals” then you lied to your investors about your “brilliant design team”, and won’t get any more money.

    It has to be “no one’s fault” – it’s the “temporary lull in the stuffed animal market.”

    “The sun got in my eyes, that’s why the stuffed alligators failed.”

    So, to keep the money rolling in, you say “this is not a reflection of the people working on the project” and make the leaders of your “team alligator” the core leadership group of the next project…

    Why? Because investors love to throw money at “industry experience,” and those leaders have EVEN MORE experience than they did when they started the “alligator project”!

    And now, your new “stuffed caiman” team sets out to prove that it wasn’t their fault the alligators failed… by doing EXACTLY the same thing they did on the “alligator” project… but, wouldn’t you know it, that stupid sun is in their eyes again… Time for “Project Crocodile!” Same plan as last time!

    Meanwhile, the “drones” in the sewing room – you know, the guys who are there because they love soft, furry stuffed animals… the ones who kept saying “customers don’t want toxic waste and roofing nails as stuffing”… the ones you yelled at because they didn’t understand that uranium-tipped razor-sharp toucan beaks are “the next evolution in stuffed alligator design…”

    …those “silly drones” are the ones who now have a scar on their resume and are having a hard time finding their next job.

    Hurray for the real world!

  6. Inhibitor said,

    November 8, 2007 at 12:58 am

    Want to succeed in the business world? Get a job at the management level and screw up.

    Big time.

    You’ll always have subordinates to blame internally, and you’ll be able to reference the “tons of press” you got with your last project. (Try to omit the indictment articles in the local paper if possible.)

    To the public at large, you are the recipient of any praise, and the beleaguered leader being gracious in the jaws of disaster, showing once again why you are, in fact, the best leader for the next job.

    And why do the same people keep making the same mistakes? Because the last time they made that mistake, it led to personal success at the expense of others. And personal success is the name of the game in the corporate world.

    Corporate culture…feh.

  7. Tateru Nino said,

    November 8, 2007 at 5:51 am

    Well said. I was wondering about the whole non-sequitur myself.

    Have you noticed how the management teams tend to studiously avoid hiring anyone who knows about or enjoys stuffed animals? What does that say? “People who like our products cannot be trusted” or perhaps “We think our customers are idiots.”

    Hmmm.

    Again. Well-said.

  8. Goemagog said,

    November 8, 2007 at 6:36 am

    because business isn’t business anymore. at a job interview, anybody who meets or exceeds the minimum requirements will be considered on par with anyone else who meets or exceeds those requirements, regardless of any other qualifications. it’s not about competence or knowledge.

    “You have been hearing all of your life about this moment – your first big step into what you have been called and told is the real world. What, you may be asking yourself this morning, is this real life all about? Ladies and gentlemen of the Class of 2005 at Dartmouth, it’s not college – it’s not high school. Real life is junior high. The world you’re about to enter is filled with adolescent pettiness, pubescent rivalries, the insecurities of 13-year-olds and the false bravado of 14-year-olds.”
    – tom brokaw’s commencement address at dartmouth in 05.

    who gets to sit at the cool kids table is more important than who keeps the green stuff coming reliably. although we’d all like to think we are different, when given a choice between someone who is exceedingly diligent and competent and someone that’d be fun to go drinking with, we rarely will entrust our personal or business matters to the diligent one.

    Goe, momentarily down to one job again.

  9. DrewC said,

    November 8, 2007 at 10:15 am

    Good book on the Gilded Age: Devil in the White City. It’s the story of the Chicago World Columbian Exposition of 1893 and America’s first serial killer H.H. Holmes. It’s not really an overview on the period, but it’s a great read, and it does a very credible job of communicating the feel of the Gilded Age.

    Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Devil-White-City-Madness-Changed/dp/0375725601/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/002-9372385-2737656?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1194516697&sr=8-1

  10. Kendricke said,

    November 8, 2007 at 9:23 pm

    Sanya,

    Read “King Leopold’s Ghost”. Not only was this an important book written about one of the most overlooked holocaustic regimes in human history, but you’ll find yourself nodding with recognized disgust at the parrallels between Leopold’s spin machine and many of the corporate machinations of today.

    You’ve never seen such a mastery of spin as this. The entire time Leopold’s companies were working and hacking the natives of the Belgian Congo to death, he was collecting awards from worldwide organizations on his charitible works and philantropic efforts toward saving those very same Africans.

    You can’t make this stuff up.

  11. UnSub said,

    November 12, 2007 at 2:23 am

    _Devil in the White City_ is a fantastic book; it made me wish I could have seen the White City with my own eyes (but not checked into H. H. Holme’s hotel ;-).

    As for making stuffed alligators, sometimes the company funding the stuffed alligator production finds itself lacking funds (despite spending a lot on buying a factory that produces Emo dolls with flashing lights) and has to reduce its costs. Firing stuffed alligator makers to cut costs doesn’t mean the stuffed alligators were wrongly made, just that they were the least important thing to management right now.

    If you want to compare that to your mortgage, if you want to read through those huge and complex documents carefully, there is always the possibility that a bank can foreclose the mortgage for some pretty minor things. If times are good, they’d prefer not to do so if they believe the money is coming. If times are bad, they’ll take your house without a backwards glance.

  12. wolffin said,

    November 13, 2007 at 3:23 am

    Why is it the alligators are turning out over dyed and under stuffed.

  13. JP said,

    November 13, 2007 at 5:04 am

    I wonder about this a lot, too. In fact, I know an alligator factory that wonders why their sales go down. Yet, an independently owned alligator factory is doing great. The failing one creates alligators with all types of flaws, can’t deliver the product to Wal-Mart on time, and generate less and less profit per year. Miraculously, the managers somehow meet their bonus goal. Even if it means giving away 1,000,000 alligators for free, because they are bonused based on how many alligators leave the factory; free or not.

    The independent alligator factory work hard to make flawless alligators, Wal-mart always receives the shipment on time, and the factory generates more profit per year for the owner. The managers here also receive their bonus, but they don’t give any alligators away. If they did give alligators away it would eat at their bonus, because their bonuses are set up on profit performance not how many alligators left the factory.

    The problem with the first factory is that no one there cares if the business succeeds or not. They just want their bonus check, and with the resume they have they could easily find work elsewhere after the factory shut down.

    To remedy that all they would need to do is change the bonus structure, yet that might mean not making bonuses when the wrong decision is made. The first factory lacks pride and accountability, though.

  14. November 27, 2007 at 8:51 am

    […] a bit late to the party here, but I just read the Eating Bees post about game companies that fail, and the people that cover for them. Her conclusion seems to be that […]

  15. Minion said,

    November 29, 2007 at 8:44 pm

    I’m so glad you wrote this. If I had been working for that toy company, I would’ve at first felt sick at the announcement of the alligator store closing, and then completely baffled if the other bots were like, “Yeah. So what? They didn’t sell their alligators.”

    Maybe its time for another plague to weed out the population.

  16. teri maaa da bonda said,

    November 12, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    you motherfucker saale kaam ki imformation likha kar


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