Jewish World Review Sept. 19, 2000 / 18 Elul 5760
As summer ends, have
the executives learned
This morning's column will end with a quotation that
-- in light of the summer that certain prominent
companies have been through -- you may find
First, though, some additional notes on this summer
of trouble for those certain businesses -- whether
they manufacture tires that fall apart, produce
cigarettes that kill people, operate airlines that don't
go where they are supposed to go when they are
supposed to go there, promise telephone service
that does not materialize on time....
You know the companies I'm talking about. For
whatever reason, the summer just past has turned
out to be the one in which the weaknesses of
companies that all of us depend on have become
glaring. Whether this is an anomaly, or a
foreshadowing of things to come, we cannot be
certain. But if this is just the beginning -- if
companies whose quality and commitment to
service were once a matter of faith are on their way
to permanent skepticism in the eyes of their
customers -- then we are entering uncharted
Trust and faith have for many years had little to do
with the tobacco industry; for the last 35 years,
every American who has purchased a package of
cigarettes has been explicitly told, by means of a
message on the package, the harmful things the
products inside will do to the user of those
products. In the time since the $145 billion Florida
jury verdict against the major tobacco companies
this summer, we have discussed in this column on
several occasions the question: Who is really at
fault, in a legal sense? The companies that
manufactured cigarettes they knew would hurt their
customers? Or the customers who -- having been
told that the cigarettes would make them sick and
even possibly kill them -- continued to smoke
Beth Kendall, of Cape Coral, Fla., sent along
another example of why the world should have
known what it was dealing with when cigarettes
were involved. She was looking through a copy of
her mother's old "Garden Encyclopedia," copyright
1936, and found these references to nicotine:
"Nicotine is the most widely used contact
insecticide. . . . Some of the insecticidal effect of
nicotine is secured by using tobacco stems, dust
and other by-products, either as a fumigant or as a
mulch. Various powders and extracts of plant origin
less toxic to man than nicotine are rapidly coming
into use as contact insecticides."
And: "Nicotine-oleate [is] good for [killing] mealy
bugs. . . . Nicotine powder, liquid, and impregnated
paper can be used in fumigating greenhouses."
And: "Tobacco preparations [have] insecticidal
value as repellants and also as contact and stomach
poisons. . . . Nicotine fumigation [is] more
expensive than using cyanide. . . . Nicotine is
effective against aphids and thrips but does not
control white fly and scale as well as cyanide. . . .
Nicotine fumigation is most effective on still damp
Must the public watch out for itself? Should the
corporations that claim to serve their customers not
be held responsible for the most essential decisions
affecting human lives?
As this certain summer ends -- the summer in which
the head man of Bridgestone/Firestone, whose
corporate parent is now headquartered in Japan, is
compelled to say, "I come before you to apologize
to you, the American people, and especially
families who have lost loved ones in these terrible
rollover accidents" -- here is the quotation I
referred to earlier in the column.
Many summers have passed since these words
"An executive cannot gradually dismiss details.
Business is made up of details, and I notice that the
chief executive who dismisses them is quite likely to
dismiss his business.
"Success is the sum of detail. It might perhaps be
pleasing to imagine oneself beyond detail and
engaged only in great things, but as I have often
observed, if one attends only to great things and
lets the little things pass, the great things become
little; that is, the business shrinks.
"It is not possible for an executive to hold himself
aloof from anything. No business, no matter what
its size, can be called safe until it has been forced to
learn economy and rigidly to measure values of men
The man who spoke those words was Harvey S.
Firestone, who in 1900 founded the Firestone Tire
and Rubber Co. in Akron, Ohio. Mr. Firestone is
not around to witness the business events of this
summer. He died in 1938.
We may be entering uncharted
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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