I catch most of my news in quick bursts via NPR while driving around town.
Twice last week, I found myself listening an interview
with Corby Kummer, who recently wrote an article
for The Atlantic
about Wal-Mart's new focus on selling local foods in its food markets. As usual, Wal-Mart sees a market rich with possibility and it is about to jump in--and probably change said market entirely. In Kummer's article, he not only writes about this "new" Wal-Mart experience, he also reports on a taste test that he orchestrated between some Wal-Mart and Whole Foods produce. Turns out, Wal-Mart won quite easily--and quite surprisingly, largely on taste rather than cost. (Kummer contends that the chain affectionately known as "Whole Paycheck" has adjusted its pricing due to the recession.)
I also caught an update
on the ruling by the World Trade Organization that decided the assistance Airbus received from the European Union gave the aircraft manufacturer an unfair advantage in its long-standing war against Boeing. The Washington Post
has an excellent article
suggesting to the two battle-weary giants that "there's another way."
And This American Life
told the story
of the closing of NUMMI, the joint venture between Toyota and GM intended to improve the quality of GM vehicles by introducing the Toyota Production System. A picture of the last red Toyota Corolla produced at NUMMI can be seen here
So much about contemporary business is rooted deeply in the events of the past. Every company has a creation story, an adolescence, some missteps, some enemies, and hopefully a number of successes over the course of its life. Listening to all of these new(s) stories reminded me of the value of being familiar with history. Only by understanding the way Wal-Mart strategizes its forays into new markets, how the war between Boeing and Airbus began and escalated with no clear winner, how Toyota's lean production formula crushed the US carmakers' mass production approach, can we appreciate the state of each influential industry today.
Last year I worked with Jack and Todd on the "Lost Chapter
" of The 100 Best Business Books of All Time
. We reviewed a set of industry books they felt were the best of that genre but that they had "declined to include a full chapter of reviews in the book because sometimes the shelf-life of these tales is too short and applicability is lost." Three of the ten books reviewed apply directly to the news stories I was listening to last week. As we wrote in the introduction to the lost Industry chapter, "a peek into some investigative page-turners...will make you wiser about how the world and many of its essential industries work."
The Wal-Mart Effect
: How the World's Most Powerful Company Really Works—And How It's Transforming the American Economy by Charles Fishman, Penguin, Paperback 2006, ISBN 9780143038788
Boeing Versus Airbus
: The Inside Story of the Greatest International Competition in Business by John Newhouse, Vintage, Hardcover 2008, ISBN 9781400078721
The Machine That Changed the World
: The Story of Lean Production—Toyota's Secret Weapon in the Global Car Wars That is Now Revolutionizing World Industry by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones, and Daniel Roos, Free Press, Paperback 2007, ISBN 9780743299794
Our lost chapter
is an instructive crash course in business history, while digging into the books themselves will be a thorough lesson that will not only refine your cocktail chatter, but also enable you to make better business decisions based on the mistakes and the successes made by industry leaders.