business news in context, analysis with attitude

The October 2004 issue of Fast Company has a couple of relevant stories worth paying attention to…

  • There is a very interesting profile of Sir Richard Branson, the British entrepreneur known for outrageous stunts and unconventional decisions that have turned him into one of the world’s best known businessmen.

    The piece is focused mostly on Branson’s new efforts to bring his brand to the US, but we were intrigued by some of the nuggets of wisdom sprinkled throughout the article.

    For example, Branson says, ”The time to go into a business is when it’s badly run by others.” And he says that so-called ‘first mover advantages” are overrated – he prefers to get in late and find ways to improve existing but failing enterprises. In some ways, that seems to be what Wal-Mart has done in the food retail business – with some exceptions, it isn’t being done well, and Wal-Mart’s differentiated approach has made a difference.

    But, Branson says, there remains room for lesser companies to succeed. “In the end, if you can create the best, the best will always succeed,” he says. “If you’re smaller than the big guys, then you have to be the best by far…”

    And, he says, he doesn’t spend too much time focusing on profits. “The bottom line has never been a reason for doing anything,” he says. “it’s much more the satisfaction of creating things that you’re proud of and making a difference.”

    Fascinating stuff, and an interview worth reading. Of course, it’s easy for Branson to make such pronouncements because he’s had such enormous success. But he’s also had failures – Virgin Cola, for one – but it hasn’t mattered because his brand has a larger meaning and it’s always seemed worthwhile to take risks with it.

    After all, there’s no point in winning a pile of chips if you’re not willing to gamble some of them away.

  • The same issue of Fast Company also rates companies that are exceptional at “putting customers first,” and ranks at the top of the list retailers such as Trader Joe’s, Costco Wholesale, Walgreens, and, not surprisingly, Wegmans.

    In the case of Wegmans, the company is cited for making a commitment to employees – especially in terms of training – that is played out in how those associates deal with customers. Knowledgeable employees, Danny Wegman tells the magazine, “are something our competitors don’t have and our customers couldn’t get anywhere else.”

    Which comes back to a point that MNB tries to make with some frequency: that employees need to be looked at as an investment, not as a cost.

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