Archives For June 2018

…every which-a-way. (The Coasters, 1957)

When we were all just first hearing about the “web” in the early 90s, I worked in the software business in Palo Alto, California, then and now the heart of Silicon Valley. Tim Berners-Lee had invented the World Wide Web (aka www.) and Univeral Resource Locators (url’s) as a way to find documents stored away in large-scale database networks.

Innovators in the Valley and elsewhere rushed headlong into search engine research and started businesses as fast as they could. In 1994 or so, a front-runner was WAIS (ways), or Wide Area Information Systems in Menlo Park. A colleague and I watched as the WAIS founders demo’d a search engine we thought we might want to embed in our enterprise software development system to help find code and other bits hidden away on corporate hard drives.

Later, but still before Google, the dad of our son’s friend showed us Surfwax, with its “practical tools for harnessing today’s information.” It was another search engine cum research system looking for a natural audience and a ticket to the big time. And there were many others. Search engine technology leveraged earlier work in artificial intelligence and decision support systems. Everything has roots.

Within a few years, Google gave us its eminently simple front end that worked to let us discover the exploding universe of resources we might locate, and a behemoth was born.

 

 

 

We can’t go back to the days when most of America worked in manufacturing. Ubiquitous computing, robotics, globalization, wage-pressure, massive productivity increases, and being way behind the 8-ball on job re-training all mean we can’t re-create the American job market of the decades from the 1870’s to the 1970’s.

However, we can do a heck of lot better than we have been doing over the last thirty years to encourage our economy to maintain a healthy diversity, preserve American middle-classism for the many who don’t have the ability or the time left in their lives to become big data analysts, coders, video game designers, or medical concierges.

Witness a piece on CBS 60 Minutes about how a guy in Mississippi is a one-man chamber of commerce and has brought manufacturing jobs back to the Golden Triangle region there. Sort of a 21st century Horace Greeley.

 

M&A

06/13/2018 — Leave a comment

My first grown-up job out of the Army was to work as a researcher for a mergers & acquisitions (M&A) consulting firm based in McLean (home to the CIA), Virginia. Our clients were large New York and American Stock Exchange, publicly-listed companies bent on growing their earnings bases by acquiring other companies. My job was to identify every business, usually in the USA, that fit the ideal prospect profile—usually $10-20 million in sales with strong profitability and growth prospects—call their presidents, and ask them all sorts of nosey questions about their financials on behalf of a client I couldn’t name. After a while, I actually got good at this. My work product was a “one-page report” that usually went to 4-6 pages and provided basic info that our “closer” could take to the client and try to arrange a “first meeting.” Our compensation consisted almost entirely of closing bonuses we recevied when a deal we started actually happened. My pay consisted of a monthly check for about $350 plus these bonuses. In four-and-a-half years I got two, totally about $15,000. I was rich.

NOTE: $10-20 million in sales equates to maybe ten times that now. My tools were a telephone, a yellow pad and pen, and the Dunn & Bradstreet directories, and I spent abot 40 hours a week dialing for dollars. I would turn over my draft reports to a typist, and off we went toward a first meeting.

These days, I take special interest in news about anticipated and actual mergers and acquisition such as the merger of AT&T and Time Warner. These cause me no particular concern, in contrast to many commentators who seem to see it as their mission to right the wrongs of business concentration and the formation of behemoth companies bent on taking over their markets. Wouldn’t any business owner do just the same given the chance?