Dan Sweet

The Pirate’s Dilemma – how pirates reinvented capitalism

Elliott Garlock, a colleague at P&G, tweeted a link to this talk by Matt Mason yesterday. The talk is fascinating and The Pirate’s Dilemma looks like an awesome book.  I embedded the Google Video of the talk below.  You can also see the talk in its original context here.

Matt offers a refreshing perspective on piracy and the role of pirates by asking one simple question.  Do the pirates add value?  Put more explicitly, what is it that consumers are getting from the pirates that mainstream companies aren’t providing?  The businesses that can look beyond their default reactionary “us vs. them” mental model and stay focused on consumer needs will be able to adapt and thrive.

See the whole video above for more tips from Matt on dealing with pirates.

New P&G CEO on Values-Based Leadership

Bob McDonald, P&G’s new CEO, speaking on Values-Based Leadership.  If you already know who he is, and that he is “kind of a big deal,” then just skip forward to five minutes in and hear what he has to say.

 

Procter and Gamble and the PVP.

PVP, GBU, MDO, CBD, and probably several thousand more.  P&G has so many acronyms they actually have a central acronym databse.  Since the English language only gives us 26 letters to work with and three letter combos seem to be how it is done, many entries in the databse even have multiple possible meanings depending on your context.  Today though, I want to talk about the most important acronym, “the PVP.”  This is the Purpose, Values, and Principles. P&Gers live by the PVP, and if you don’t, you won’t be at P&G for long, or at least so I hear.  The shared PVP creates a trust between P&Gers and is a big part of how such a big and diverse company’s employees can effectively cooperate globally.  I have my onboarding session for my first day as a full-time employee coming up in a week and I’m sure I’ll get to hear even more about the PVP then.

So why am I thinking about the PVP now?  This morning I was reading Fred Wilson’s blog, A VC, and came across this post on building successful long term relationships.  Apparently, today is Fred’s 22nd anniversary so he thought he’d write a post about business relationships.  How romantic right?  Actually he does say some nice things about his wife as well, but the main takeaway was that the two most important factors in any relationship are tolerance and shared vision/values.  P&G’s commitment to the PVP ensures that everyone in the organization has shared values.  I guess this is why I keep meeting so many P&Gers that have been with the company 20 and 30 years.  Anyways, I’m excited to work for a company whose purpose is to “improve the lives of the world’s consumers, now and for generations to come.”  I never imagined during my seven years in the non-profit world that a for profit company might have a purpose statement like that.  Apparently, it is possible, and I’m lucky enough to get to work for one of them.  Check out the rest of Fred’s post, that I linked to above, if you are building a team, starting a business, or looking for a spouse and want to have long term success.

See the following post for a great video of P&G’s new CEO, Bob McDonald, talking about Values-Based Leadership.

Could Amazon “go good”?

Thanks to Tweetdeck and  a Twitter search for “P&G” (my future employer) I came across an interesting post by Ryan Jones over at       m-cause.

The post is titled, “Could Amazon.com be doing more of this?”  In the post Ryan relates the tale of his recent online book purchase and enumerates the reasons that he decided to give Better World Books his business instead of Amazon.

  • BWB gives 10% of their profits from used book sales to literacy partners.
  • Free shipping.
  • All new BWB book purchases are shipped carbon-neutral.
  • BWB is a certified B corporation.  (great explanation by Ryan linked)
  • They are a triple bottom-line company. (people, planet, profit)

Ryan ends his posts asking if Amazon might start applying some of BWB’s ideas in their business.

My short answer is “no”.  I think Better World Books is awesome and I’d love to see Amazon as committed to doing good as BWB is, but I don’t think we should hold our breath waiting for it to happen.

As a finance guy, my first thought is the shareholder.  Amazon has them, while BWB is private.  While Amazon shareholders might care about the environment or global literacy as individuals, collectively, they only care about earning a return on their investment.  Therefore, Amazon shouldn’t increase its costs by shipping carbon neutral unless they think that carbon neutral shipping is valued by enough of their consumers that they can offset the costs by increasing prices. Unfortunately, we aren’t at a point yet where the general consumer cares enough about things like carbon-neutral shipping for companies to make a compelling business case for it.

Even though I am a finance guy, I still hate it when people use “the shareholder” as a copout.  The first few weeks of business school it seemed like I ran into this mythical “shareholder” everwhere I went and it drove me nuts.  Accounting had shareholders, Finance had shareholders, Marketing had shareholders, and even Ethics class had shareholders.  I had always been under the impression that the CEO and the board ran the show and what they said goes.  But no, apparently even the CEO and the board must answer to the shareholder.  At least some of them do.  Carl Icahn has a whole blog about how tons of them apparently don’t answer to shareholders.  Check it out here. I subscribed to the blog for a couple of months and it makes for some good reading but after a while you get the idea and all of Icahn’s rants start to sound the same.  The point is that company leadership is more than willing to disregard the shareholder when it benefits them personally.  So why can’t we just disregard the shareholder whenever we want to “do good”?  The problem is that “doing good” is very subjective and one person’s “good” may be another person’s waste of money.

Costco and Starbucks are two companies I can think of off of the top of my head where the company leadership has decided to pay their employees above-market wages and/or benefits.  They get routinely questioned by Wall St analysts as to why they aren’t being better stewards of shareholders’ money by running a leaner business.  Their defense is that this is how they have always run their business and if you had looked you would have known that before you invested.  As long as these companies have delivered financial results, the market has accepted these divergences from the norm.  As Starbucks has stumbled more recently, the pressure is back on to cut costs in these areas.

One could argue that Amazon is dominant enough in their market that they could get away with tacking some sort of social mission on to their existing business model and get away with it if they wanted to.  However, most companies prefer to keep the peace with their shareholders so I don’t expect this will happen.  For now, the best action you can take to support the kind of business practices that Better World Books embodies is to vote with your dollars and buy from BWB whenever possible.  If the word spreads and enough others do the same, pretty soon Amazon will be forced to have some MBA create a model to prove out the economics of things like carbon neutral shipping in terms of impact on customer loyalty and market share.  The market works, it just works slowly.  If you want it to work faster then start the next visionary company and help it along.

Warren Buffett on derivatives (11 of 12)

This is the eleventh in a series of twelve posts. The introduction to the series is here. By way of review, these are my notes of Warren Buffett’s responses to questions from Notre Dame and Stanford MBAs on October 9. 2007.

How do you feel about derivatives?

Derivatives create big positions people don’t understand.

Classic case is detailed in the Brady Report from October 19, 1987.  130/30 is the new hot thing.  Portfolio insurance was the thing then.  “Dynamic Hedging”  Basically the lower it goes the more you should sell.  Institutions had to sell at certain levels and everyone knew it.  Less than 2% of the market was on this kind of auto-pilot program-yet crashed the whole market.  Derivatives have created huge amounts of capital that are forced to move automatically.

They offer opportunity to me but a lot of people can get hurt.

A greater portion of the market is poised on a hair trigger to respond to given messages.

Federal Reserve margin requirements are 50% for you and me.  So many ways around that. “total return swap” for example.  Long Term Capital Management had a $6 billion position with no capital put up.  Whatever happens in the market is exacerbated by derivatives.

Banker’s Trust screwing P&G—like 8 variables those companies didn’t understand.

We will make a lot on derivatives but I will know every position.

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