Members of Detroit’s onetime leading beer family at the Stroh brewhaus, 1974: (from left) Chairman John Sr., President Peter, Eric, Gari Jr., John Jr. (photo courtesy Frances Stroh)
AS WITH MANY OF AMERICA’S GREAT FORTUNES, the Stroh family’s story starts with an immigrant: Bernhard Stroh, who arrived in Detroit from Germany in 1850 with $150 and a coveted family recipe for beer. He sold his brews door-to-door in a wheelbarrow. By 1890 his sons, Julius and Bernhard Jr., were shipping beer around the Great Lakes. Julius got the family through Prohibition by switching the brewery to ice cream and malt syrup production. And in the 1980s Stroh’s surged, emerging as one of America’s fastest-growing companies and the country’s third-largest brewing empire, behind only public behemoths Anheuser-Busch and Miller. The Stroh family owned it all, a fortune that FORBES then calculated was worth at least $700 million. Just by matching the S&P 500, the family would currently be worth about $9 billion.
Yet today the Strohs, as a family business or even a collective financial entity, have ceased to exist. The company has been sold for parts. The trust funds have doled out their last pennies to shareholders. While there was enough cash flowing for enough years that the fifth generation Strohs still seem pretty comfortable, the family looks destined to go shirtsleeves-to-shirtsleeves in six.
“We made the decision to go national without having the budget,” sighs Greg Stroh, a fifth generation family member and former Stroh Brewery employee. “It was like going to a gunfight with a knife. We didn’t have a chance.” His analysis comes tinged with inevitability. It wasn’t. A handful of family-owned regional brewers such as Yuengling and Schell’s continue to thrive, while others, like Olympia and Hamm’s, sold out. And the Strohs’ largest rivals during the 1980s and 1990s, the Coors, who also aspired to turn their no-frills, regional suds into a national powerhouse, remain in the top 100 on the FORBES America’s Richest Families list.
The Strohs chose a different path, a saga that serves as a powerful reminder: Hard as it is to build a family business designed to last in perpetuity, it’s shockingly easy for any successor to tank it.
FOR ITS FIRST CENTURY the Stroh beer business, based in Detroit, grew by following the basics: respect your customers; respect your employees. The former meant catering to Midwest working-class tastes at working-class prices (the family watered down Bernhard Stroh’s precious recipe, after hops and wheat shortages in World War II left Americans accustomed to weaker brews). The latter by treating every employee like an honorary member of the clan. John Stroh, who oversaw a dramatic sales surge in the Eisenhower years, “was known for walking the brewery and knew everyone’s first name,” his grandnephew Greg remembers. “Employees would run through walls for the family.” As if to connect the customers and the business, the Stroh signature was emblazoned on every bottle, topped by a family crest with a lion. Sales surged in lockstep with postwar Detroit, from 500,000 barrels in 1950 to 2.7 million barrels in 1956.
The mammoth changes came in the early 1980s. John Stroh had moved into the chairman’s role in 1967 and handed control of the brewery to his nephew, Peter, who became CEO in 1980. Like John, he had a plan to grow, but not incrementally: He would do it by acquisition. In 1981 Stroh bought New York-based brewer F&M Schaefer, which, like Stroh, was founded by a German immigrant in the mid-1800s and also offered low-priced suds to its regional fans (famous marketing line: “The one beer to have when you’re having more than one”). The next year, in what family members describe as “the minnow swallowing the whale,” Peter Stroh bet the family business, borrowing $500 million (the book value of the Stroh business was $100 million at the time) to buy Joseph Schlitz Brewing of Milwaukee.
Suddenly Stroh was the third-largest brewer in the U.S., with seven plants and a national footprint. On paper there was synergy. FORBES valued the company at $700 million in 1988, listing the Strohs with one of the largest family fortunes in the U.S. at the time, shared by 30 relatives.
But Peter Stroh’s grand vision of a thriving U.S.-wide brewer failed to materialize. It largely missed the boat on the biggest industry trend in a generation: light beer. And Stroh’s core product–cheap, watery, full-calorie beer–was a commodity. But saddled with debt, Stroh couldn’t afford to match the ad spending of its bigger rivals, Anheuser-Busch and Miller. Unable to spur demand through marketing, Stroh turned to price, introducing a 15-pack for the price of 12 cans and a 30-pack for the price of a case of 24. While the latter had legs, it wasn’t enough to outrun the shrinking margins.
Meanwhile, an ambitious family from Colorado began moving into the Stroh markets. “It became a competition between Stroh and Coors,” says Scott Rozek, a former director-level employee who spent 12 years at Stroh. “At that time there were four big breweries in a three-brewery industry–there was really only room for three.” By the end of the 1980s Coors overtook Stroh as the country’s third-largest brewer.
In August 1989 the Stroh Brewery Co. was in retreat. The company that had treated employees like family laid off 300 people, one-fifth of its white-collar workforce. “I had to let go four of the five people in the marketing research department. It was heartbreaking,” remembers Ed Benfield, former director of market research at Stroh.
The next month Peter Stroh, who died in 2002, agreed to sell the family business to Coors for $425 million. But Coors got cold feet and pulled out of the deal a few months later. “It had something to do with due diligence, and Bill Coors,” says Benjamin Steinman, longtime editor of newsletter Beer Marketer’s Insights. “There were lots of stories.”
Desperate, Peter Stroh brought in renowned adman Hal Riney to give the Stroh’s brand a more upscale look and position. The cherished Stroh signature gave way to block print, prices were raised, and the 15- and 30-packs were nixed. It could not have been a worse decision. But since the product hadn’t changed, customers could do the math: Sales of Stroh’s-brand beer fell more than 40% in one year, “the biggest drop in sales in the history of beer,” says Benfield.
Market share for Stroh’s, as well as for its acquired brands like Schaefer, Schlitz and Old Milwaukee, fell from 13% in 1983 to 7.6% in 1991. Even CEO Peter Stroh admitted the troubles. “We’ve been through a very difficult period,” he told FORBES in 1992. “We tried to do too much.”
And yet it tried to do more. In 1996 Stroh repeated his mistake, borrowing yet more money for the $300 million acquisition of struggling brewer G. Heileman. The purchase fell flat. Heileman had breweries in cities like Seattle and Portland, where Stroh didn’t, but it lacked a big stable of strong brands. One industry analyst remembers the deal described as “two sick chickens–they were both declining.”
It got worse. Peter Stroh had tried to diversify the business, with investments in biotech and Detroit real estate. Both were far from the family’s core competencies and lost them millions more. By 1998 cousin John Stroh III had taken charge at Stroh Cos., the brewery parent. And while the company had turned to contract brewing for others, including Sam Adams, as a way to make up for plummeting sales, Stroh took a mortal hit in 1998 when it lost a contract with Pabst.
By 1999 there was internal concern about whether they could even make their interest payments on the debt incurred, says one former executive. And so Bernhard Stroh’s legacy was sold for scraps: Miller Brewing, owned at the time by Philip Morris, bought Stroh’s Henry Weinhard’s and Mickeys brands, while Pabst bought the rest of the brands owned by Stroh’s as well as its brewery near Allentown, Pa., for a price several sources peg at around $350 million–about $250 million of which was used to pay down debt incurred with the Heileman purchase. Some of the remaining $100 million or so was transferred to a fund to pay employee pension liabilities, which Stroh had retained in the sale. The rest went into a fund for the family that dribbled out checks until 2008, when it was completely tapped.
Last week, the results of a General Motors investigation into how a recall crisis festered were released. “The GM nod” phase became popular to explain how the largest U.S. automaker could fail to act on a pressing problem.
Once again, GM’s corporate culture came under examination. The “GM nod” referred to how managers could nod that, yes, something needed to be done but left a meeting not doing anything.
The thing is, many people had a chance to change the culture. At various times, GM assured the public it really, really was going to do things differently this time. Here’s a (partial) list of people who thought they changed GM.
Robert Stempel, CEO: Stempel succeeded Roger Smith as GM’s chief in 1990. Smith had spent billions of dollars and created a new brand (Saturn). By the time Smith retired, GM’s financial strength had weakened and its share of the U.S. vehicle market was sliding.
In his first public appearance as CEO, Stempel had a news conference in Detroit. To demonstrate how his reign would be different from Smith’s, Stempel brought along his lieutenants and the press conference stressed team work repeatedly. The idea was to establish a symbol of how GM had changed.
Reporters attending the press conference had set up a pool for the number of times the words “team” or “team work” would be uttered.
Unfortunately for Stempel and GM, things got worse. The first Gulf War and a recession slammed vehicle sales. GM’s board soured on Stempel. The GM lifer was deposed in 1992. That led to…
Jack Smith, CEO: Smith was the board’s choice to take over for Stempel. At the time, Smith’s time as CEO seemed to be a rousing success. GM avoided financial ruin — something that people weren’t certain of during Stempel’s time as CEO. GM eventually began to generate profits and Smith became a GM hero.
Looking back, there’s a natural question. How much of the comeback stemmed from Smith’s decisions as CEO and how much was the rise of sport-utility vehicles as a profit source for U.S. automakers. SUVs helped the bottom lines of GM, Ford Motor Ford Motor and Chrysler. Also, the three companies had big profits from large pickups. By the end of the 1990s, Detroit’s automakers were more truckmakers than automakers. Meanwhile, the surge in profits relieved the pressure to change GM’s culture.
Also, the story of a CEO’s tenure isn’t settled until you see what happens afterward. That led to…
Rick Wagoner, CEO: Wagoner’s career got a lift when Smith took over. Wagoner took over for Smith as CEO in 2000. Initially, Smith stayed around as non-executive chairman, but later Wagoner took that title as well.
Wagoner, in his public pronouncements, said he was aware of GM’s challenges. In 2004, GM held a press briefing in France ahead of the Paris Motor Show. Wagoner laid out how GM was addressing its various challenges. But the picture he painted was of a gradual approach. Rather than a crisis atmosphere, Wagoner projected a steady hand on the GM wheel.
That was fine as long as GM’s home market in the United States cruised along during most of the 2000s. By 2008, however, a financial crisis meant a big drop in sales. GM, during the decade, sold off units either in whole or in part to generate cash. With the financial crisis, the gradual approach wasn’t going to work. That led to…
The Obama administration: President Barack Obama moved to bail out GM and Chrysler. The administration had one price: Wagoner had to go. So he did. The bailout took the form of a U.S.-backed bankruptcy. Technically a “new” GM was created while “old GM” would dispose of assets in bankruptcy court that wouldn’t be part of the “new” company. Brands such as Pontiac and Saturn were gone.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, GM being alive was cited by the Obama campaign as one of President Barack Obama’s main accomplishments. GM’s 2009 bankruptcy was short — so short, there really wasn’t enough time to address the culture issue. Which led to…
GM management post-bankruptcy: Fritz Henderson became CEO after Wagoner got the boot. But the chairman of the new board of “new GM,” former AT&T Ed Whitacre, decided there was somebody better: namely, Ed Whitacre. So he took the helm as CEO in late 2009.
Solar Energy in the US :
Daylight incorporates vitality and when you can capture it utilizing a particular gadget, you’ll be able to flip it into electricity. For a few years, solar energy was always overlooked. However now that the world is becoming hotter, the sources of fossil fuels are depleting, and the price of electricity is constantly rising, many individuals now notice the importance of photo voltaic power.
With solar energy, you will not have to fret about electricity once you’ve put in the solar energy system. Except for that, you will get clean and renewable energy. If you set up a solar energy system, you’re capable of hit two birds with one stone ? you?re capable of save the earth and you can save some huge cash within the coming years. The system can last for about twenty years and that?s like a lifetime already. With correct care and upkeep, the system would possibly attain thirty years of service.
Within the US, solar energy is gaining popularity. Years ago, it would have been not possible to use solar energy in homes as a result of it was too expensive. However because of fashionable expertise, many householders in the US in addition to businesses now make use of photo voltaic energy. Energy bills can surely be decreased thereby saving the atmosphere and the pockets of householders or businesspersons.
Some locations in the US get pleasure from a whole lot of daylight notably Los Angeles California. There are so many solar energy programs available right now and photo voltaic panels are simply certainly one of them. Despite the many advantages of solar energy, have you ever questioned why only a few people use it? At this level, specialists declare that solar energy continues to be inefficient. To generate extra electricity, then bigger photo voltaic panels are needed that are fairly bulky. Just think about placing a large and ugly panel on your rooftop which may destroy your private home?s overall beauty? Ready made photo voltaic panels are fairly expensive that ranges from $35,000 – $250,000 depending on the size.
Scientists are still conducting researches and at current, solar energy in the US is claimed to be extra efficient now not like many years ago. Drastic modifications were made thereby improving the photo voltaic panel?s value and appearance. With the invention of the photovoltaic cells, solar energy was enormously improved. The cells can be positioned on metal substrate to capture daylight and the vitality can be stored within the battery. The photovoltaic panels contain n layers of cells thereby increasing its efficiency. These new panels make use of the ?amorphous silicon skinny alloy expertise?. By way of this expertise, the cells are usually not bulky anymore and highly efficient. With stylish photovoltaic panels, your own home or workplace will still look pleasant eve with the panel on top.
Except for the cell, photovoltaic shingles were additionally invented. Basically, the shingles modified photo voltaic panels. Should you don?t want to use bulky photo voltaic panels, this is an excellent alternative due to its aesthetic and convenient design. The photovoltaic shingles seem like odd shingles and are coloured black.
Why Solar Energy in the US ?
The photovoltaic cells and shingles have undoubtedly enhanced the solar energy technology. Who knows? Maybe in the future, specialists and scientists can now develop smaller cells, panels, etc. Try LA and see the photo voltaic powered homes there. You can now start calculating your private home?s electrical requirements to be able to determine the proper size of the ability system. Start with a small challenge and work your approach up but when you can afford to pay for ready-made ones, go ahead.
Millionaires. Centimillionaires. Billionaires.
Every one of them gathered together at the ‘Entrepreneur Of The Year‘ gala hosted by Ernst & Youngand sponsored by The Kauffman Foundation For Entrepreneurship. Without further delay, here are some of the top tips by award-winning entrepreneurs.
The IRS has rolled out important changes to its successful offshore account amnesty programs. How successful have they been for the IRS? More than 45,000 taxpayers have fixed their tax problems via the IRS programs, paying about $6.5 billion in taxes, interest and penalties.
As FATCA and global bank transparency kick in July 1, 2014, the IRS can expect even more mea culpas. But one group unhappy with the rules so far has been expats. Americans abroad have long complained that they have foreign accounts for legitimate reasons and shouldn’t be penalized for technical reporting failures.
Expats should be pleased that the IRS’s Streamlined Program, a big disappointment when announced in 2012, is now a good deal broader. The original streamlined procedures announced in 2012 were available only to non-resident, non-filers. For many, that was a non-starter. Plus, there were different degrees of review based on the amount of tax due and the taxpayer’s response to a risk questionnaire.
The revamped Streamlined Program is broader. It can even apply to some people living in the U.S. Moreover, the expanded streamlined procedures are available to more U.S. taxpayers living abroad. The changes include:Eliminating the rule that the taxpayer have $1,500 or less of unpaid tax per year;Eliminating the required risk questionnaire;Requiring the taxpayer to certify that previous failures to comply were due to non-willful conduct.
For eligible U.S. taxpayers residing outside the U.S., all penalties will be waived. For eligible U.S. taxpayers residing in the U.S., the only penalty will be a miscellaneous offshore penalty equal to 5% of the foreign financial assets that gave rise to the tax compliance issue.
Expat or not, for many U.S. persons with foreign income and accounts, it’s clear that compliance is required. But a primary fear is precisely how to begin in a way that is not too expensive and not too risky. The IRS view is that either the OVDP or the Streamlined Program is best.
That remains true. After all, the IRS programs are certain which is worth a lot. But some taxpayers still want to explore alternatives.
“Quiet Disclosures.” A “quiet” disclosure is a correction of past tax returns and FBARs without drawing attention to what you are doing. The IRS warns against it. See “Quiet” Foreign Account Disclosure Not Enough.
Prospective Compliance. Some people consider filing complete tax returns and FBARs prospectively, but not trying to fix the past. However, the risk is that past non-compliance will be noticed and it may then be too late to make a voluntary disclosure.
Voluntary Disclosure. The two IRS programs are worth considering, especially under the Revised IRS Voluntary Disclosure Practice. Each program is worth a look. After all, although criminal cases are rare, FBAR violations and tax violations can both be criminal.
But even civil penalty cases can be catastrophic. The non-willful FBAR penalty is $10,000 each. Willful violations are hit with $100,000 or 50% of the amount in the account for each violation. A Florida man was recently hit with 150% of his account. See Court Upholds Record FBAR Penalties, Exceeding Offshore Account Balance.
You can have money and investments anywhere in the world as long as you disclose them. Get some professional advice and try to get your situation resolved in a way that makes sense for your facts and your risk profile.
You can reach me at Wood@WoodLLP.com. This discussion is not intended as legal advice, and cannot be relied upon for any purpose without the services of a qualified professional.
The above video is an extended television spot for the upcoming Luc Besson sci-fi/action thriller Lucy. It debuted today, one of the first pieces of major advertising dropped since Universal (a division of Comcast Comcast, Inc.) moved the Scarlett Johansson picture moved from August 8th to July 25th in an obvious show of confidence. Another show of confidence is this 1-minute TV spot for the upcoming Eurocorp glorified superhero entry. In what may or may not qualify as irony, this 60-second television commercial represents what amounts to a perfect piece of film-related advertising.
As regular readers know, I spend quite a bit of time discussing what I feel are the cardinal sins of film advertising. Namely, that studios drop too many trailers that are too long and thus, by the inevitable consequence of needing ever-more footage to show, end up giving away much of the film ahead of the theatrical release. While I’m sure there will be a second 2.5-minute trailer between now and July 25th, I would love if Universal merely used the above television spot as the second trailer. It does everything right in terms of effective and relatively spoiler-free advertising. I’m not claiming it’s the best trailer ever or the most exciting sneak peak in marketing history, but it is a textbook case of doing everything that marketing should do without committing any real sins.
In one minute, we get the film’s introductory conflict: Lucy (Johansson) has had a bag of magic drugs crammed into her stomach against her will, and that said bag is giving her some kind of special powers. We get this information with the bare minimum of visual cues, and the rest of the trailer is comprised of various action beats and special effects sequences, all set to Morgan Freeman judiciously explaining the fact that Lucy is quickly being able to use more and more of her brain. At around the 40-second mark, someone asks what will happen when she reaches 100%, to which Freeman grimly intones “I honestly don’t know.” A few visual beats later, the title comes up and the sale is made. No more elaboration, visual or narrative, is required. None is offered.
We don’t get is a detailed rundown of the entire first act. We don’t get an explanation of the specific plot beats the film takes during its middle portion. Plus, and this is key, the teaser cuts once the film’s core premise is explained and the core “What if?” is announced. We don’t get 45-seconds of spoiler-filled action and special effects beats set to throbbing or pounding music purely to fill up a 150-second theatrical trailer run time. We don’t get expository voice over detailing the climactic conflicts (“You have to steal this file or the world is doomed!”) or a beat-by-beat set-up for the various narrative threads that make up the second act (“We’ve got to break into this factory and access that computer!”). The teaser, by virtue of its brevity, tells us everything we need to know about the film and then doesn’t tell us a darn thing more than that.
Obviously any number of the visual beats may be from the later portions of the film. Those can be the most frustrating kinds of spoilers, as you don’t realize you’ve been spoiled until you see the film (think the money shot in the Mission: Impossible spots that turned out to be the action climax of the film). But the large amounts of details untold and secrets withheld at least preserves the notion of much narrative and character beats unspoiled prior to the film’s release. The TV spot is noteworthy because it exists to briefly explain the core concept, tease us with visual wonders, offer a core question unanswered (Well, what does happen when Lucy’s brain reaches 100%?) and gets out while the getting is good.
I don’t know if Lucy will be any better of a film than the last several Luc Besson films, be it the ones he personally directed (The Family) or merely the ones he produced (Three Days to Kill). But Universal clearly has confidence that this Scarlett Johansson female action star-with superpowers yarn can be more than just a B-movie in a sea of mega-budget blockbusters. And this television spot deserves a shout-out as an arguably perfect example of how to sell a film without giving away the goods. It gets in, it shows off a little, and then gets out. Be it intended for television or not, this 1-minute Lucy commercial should be a model at effectively minimalist marketing in every potential media platform.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is by far the most diminutive Supreme Court Justice in the Roberts Court, but her dissent on Monday in Burwell, HHS v. Hobby Lobby was described by many as “blistering.” The full text is available online (PDF here) and her dissent begins on page 60.
Whether you agree with the dissent or not ? it was definitely full throated and included this battlefield warning:
The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg [Page 93?94]
Like all of healthcare and much of legal precedent, that minefield is multifaceted ? and starts with the mechanics of covering contraception as a healthcare benefit (both generally under Obamacare and then with new cloudiness under Hobby Lobby’s surgically isolated exemption). Even Austin Frakt over at The Incidental Economist acknowledged the confusion earlier today:
How this will actually work out depends on how exactly the costs of contraception are calculated. Are they net the cost of avoided pregnancies or not? Is this in the regs? Where? And what is that net cost anyway? Austin Frakt ? The Incidental Economist ? On an administrative fix to the Hobby Lobby Decision (July 1, 2014)
A lengthy (if slightly dated) analysis by Factcheck.org (cited by Austin) arrived at this summary regarding the coverage ambiguity.
So where does all this leave us? What we can say is this: The administration hasn’t proven that requiring insurance companies to provide free contraception on request will save them enough in medical costs to make the net costs zero or less. But by the same token, the president’s critics can’t prove that he’s wrong, either. Cloudy Contraception Cost ? FactCheck.org ? Feb, 2012
In many ways, the victory for Hobby Lobby itself was relatively minor because it applies to a subset of contraceptive aids (IUD’s and “morning after pills”) ? and (in theory) extends only to corporations that are “closely held” (as defined by the IRS) by members of the same family. I forgot to check if it only applied to closely held corporations owned by the same family members that were forged on Tuesdays.
The other “minefield,” of course, is far more general as it applies to the freshly minted status of Corporations as “people.” This wasn’t a complete surprise to many ? because it harkens back to the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC (January 2010).
To get there, Kennedy depends on two legal theories that blossomed as constitutional principles in the mid-1970s: money is speech and corporations are people. Both theories are strange, if not simply wrongheaded ? why, according to the Constitution or common sense, would money be speech or corporations be people? David Kairys ? Money Isn’t Speech and Corporations Aren’t People ? Slate ? January 22, 2010
So what blossomed as constitutional principles in the 1970′s is today legal fact. Corporations are now people. Except that as fellow Forbes Contributor Rick Ungar (a former practicing attorney) notes:
However, no matter how the 5-4 majority of Supreme Court Justices wish to parse it, the Court has, this very day, destroyed the true nature of the corporate entity — a legal fiction created by government with no capacity to possess feelings, beliefs, emotions, etc. while existing solely as a piece of paper filed away in a drawer in the Secretary of State’s office in each of our 50 states.
One cannot help but notice that while today’s SCOTUS decision infuses the corporation owned by the Green family with the religious beliefs of this family, it does not, in turn, impose the obligations of that corporation’s mistakes onto the Greens. Rick Ungar ? Forbes Contributor ? Founding Fathers Spinning In Their Graves As SCOTUS Rules That Corporations Are People Too
I’m reminded of the Church Lady’s signature phrase from Saturday Night Live ? “how conveeeenient!”
If you’re getting a nosebleed following the legal logic ? hang on ? relief is in sight. However, before we get there, two more final quotes from Justice Ginsburg’s dissent are worth noting (full SCOTUS PDF here):
“In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.” [Page 60]
Would the exemption the Court holds RFRA demands for employers with religiously grounded objections to the use of certain contraceptives extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations (Christian Scientists, among others)? [Page 92?93]
In what amounts to perhaps the strangest twist of any case before the Supreme Court, another article at MotherJones News earlier this year ran this headline: Hobby Lobby’s Hypocrisy: The Company’s Retirement Plan Invests in Contraception Manufacturers. I guess religious beliefs only apply to the use of products ? not the ability to make money from the product itself.
Oh ? that relief I referenced? It comes from Jon Stewart’s brilliant summary of the Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case:
“So let me get this straight: corporations aren’t just people, they’re ill informed people whose factually incorrect beliefs must be upheld because they sincerely believe them anyway.” Jon Stewart ? Jesus Christ Superstore ? The Daily Show
What a difference a decade can make. It seems that not too long ago the streets of Beijing were cluttered with bicycles. Now it’s cars, cars, cars. And the luxury segment is seen as the next biggest boom for the global car makers. In fact, within the next seven years, McKinsey & Company expects China to top the United States as the world’s No. 1 luxury automotive market. Here’s the brands that they’re dying to get behind the wheel, according to the 2013 World Luxury Index by New York based luxury market consultancy Digital Luxury Group.
By Eric Siu
We read about the success stories, failures and pivots of American entrepreneurs all the time. We learn from them and are inspired to action by what they do. But we don’t hear so often about entrepreneurs from the rest of the world. It’s a big world out there, and Americans aren’t the only ones innovating and disrupting markets on a massive scale.
As investors around the world wait for Alibaba’s IPO with baited breath, it can be hard to see past all the dollar signs and realize that there are plenty of other movers and shakers out there we can learn from.
1. UK: Shazam
While Shazam has been around since 1999, the company’s recent success is actually rooted in innovation ahead of its time. CEO Andrew Fisher took over the small British software company in 2005, when mobile phones and tablets didn’t exist. By then, Shazam already had the technology in place for their “genie in a box” music identification software. They just didn’t have the market.
“Three years into the business, we recognized that there were some macro factors that were going to affect our success,” Fisher said in a recent interview. “Those were: people buying digital content through online music providers, unlimited data tariffs, and pricing parity. Once all those macro factors were in place, that massively influenced the success of Shazam.” Shazam currently has over 90 million monthly users.
Takeaway: Innovation can never come too early, and the mobile space is still anyone’s game. The rapidly shifting app landscape has changed all of the rules that caused the desktop market to stale in the first place.
2. Israel: Water-Gen
Water-Gen was ranked one of the world’s 50 most innovative companies in 2014 by Fast Company, and for good reason. Started by a former Israeli Special Forces officer, Water-Gen has created a military product line that literally pulls condensed water out of the air to supplies troops with clean drinking water.
Maybe that’s why the small manufacturer with a modest website is already contracted with seven countries including the U.S., U.K., France and India. Water-Gen’s sales increased by 50 percent in in 2013, and they’re expecting a 300 percent increase in profitability by the end of 2014.
Takeaway: Scientific progress doesn’t always lag behind innovative ideas. Water-Gen’s business model is a case study in adapting an existing technology to an ideal market. In a case of innovation ahead of its time, Water-Gen also poised to dominate the commercial market, should the world water crisis ever reach a head.
3. China: Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI)
Started in 1999 as China’s representative research institute in the Human Genome Project, the Beijing Genomics Institute was never supposed to become a company. It wasn’t affiliated with any universities, and funding dried up soon after the Human Genome Project ended.
But instead of giving up, BGI’s team bunkered down. They had world-class research experience, but were based in a booming industrial country not known for its science. So over the next few years, they figured out how to pivot.
Their first made international headlines in 2003 when they developed a kit for SARS detection. By 2007, BGI was “the first citizen-managed, nonprofit research institution in China.” And today, BGI is the world’s most prolific genome sequencer, with its sights set on becoming the world’s first “biological Google.” Scientific institutions around the world use their highly affordable services.
Takeaway: BGI’s unparalleled success in the field of genomics after losing all its funding is an excellent example of a successful pivot informed by vision and determination.