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Conglomerates didn't die. They look like Amazon now

Amazon buying Whole Foods for $13.4 billion is evidence of how conglomerates continue to exist

Andrew Ross Sorkin | NYT 

Amazon Whole Foods takeover
Amazon buying Whole Foods for $13.4 billion is evidence of how conglomerates continue to exist, despite scepticism against such a business model

The conglomerate was supposed to be dead, a relic of a bygone of era of corporate America. Investors, we have been repeatedly told, want smaller, nimbler, more focused
 
And yet there is


 
Just when it seemed that sprawling empire building had gone out of vogue — eulogies were written last week for General Electric after Jeffrey Immelt, its chief executive, retired under pressure from shareholders — announced that it was buying for $13.4 billion.
 
The deal will put in the brick-and-mortar grocery store business, which will exist alongside an ever-increasing bevy of disparate interests: The selling of everything from electronics to toothpaste online; payments and credit; cloud computing; production and distribution of movies and television programming; book publishing; shipping and logistics operations; and on and on.
 
It is actually a myth that conglomerates disappeared. They are now just dressed up with a bit of Silicon Valley flair, and dress down in the boardroom, with chief executives who wear sneakers.
 
is just one of these new-economy conglomerates. Alphabet, the parent company of Google, is another. Facebook is quickly becoming a conglomerate, too.
 
Michael C Jensen, a professor emeritus at Harvard Business School, famously — and successfully — made the case in the 1970s and 1980s that conglomerates like RJR, which owned tobacco and food brands like Nabisco, wasted “billions in unproductive capital expenditures and organisational inefficiencies.”
 
That is very likely true of today’s tech-enabled conglomerates, too, which are spending, and often losing, tens of billions of dollars annually on all sorts of projects and acquisitions that may or may not turn out to be successful. But are seemingly willing to give these new behemoths a free pass in the name of growth and innovation — until they aren’t.
 
If there is any lesson from the last breed of industrial conglomerates, it is that there is a natural life cycle to most of them.
 
The model begins like this: A company that is successful in one area turns itself into a conglomerate by using its free cash flow to finance the development or acquisition of businesses in other areas — at first, ones that are similar to their current business, and later often ones that are farther afield. And then the company does this again and again.
 
When such an economic machine works, it works extraordinarily well. But when any one of the major levers in the machine breaks or even stalls, the entire enterprise comes under pressure. Shareholders start complaining that the sum of the parts would be worth more separately than together.
 
“You look at that got really big in the world, the record is not very good,” Charles T Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway — the world’s largest conglomerate — told several years ago.
 
His business partner, Warren Buffett, stunned shareholders this year when he suggested that he expected shares of Berkshire to rise immediately after his death because of speculation that the company would be broken up and thus would be worth more. (He and Munger both believe that Berkshire is better off intact, but Buffett thinks investors’ knee-jerk reaction will be to believe the opposite.)
 
When it comes to (or Alphabet, or any of the new conglomerates), the question is whether there is something fundamentally different about these businesses given their grounding in digital information — especially as they expand into complex brick-and-mortar operations like upscale supermarkets.
 
In an age of big data and artificial intelligence, are businesses that look disparate really similar? And can one company’s leadership really oversee so many different businesses? When does it become too big to manage?
 
 
Google’s own internal list of top-10 principles seems to include an anti-conglomerate provision: “It’s best to do one thing really, really well.”
 
Leaving aside the question of whether that maxim may have been more suitable to the of a decade ago, it certainly hasn’t stopped the company from jumping into all sorts of businesses outside its flagship search and advertising business. Some of these businesses — which include Android, YouTube, Waze, Nest Labs, self-driving cars and internet distribution — have been more successful than others. Most of these were brought under the umbrella through acquisition, evidence of how the company has used the enormous proceeds of its advertising business to subsidise its entrance into all sorts of other enterprises.
© 2017 The New York Times News Service

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Conglomerates didn't die. They look like Amazon now

Amazon buying Whole Foods for $13.4 billion is evidence of how conglomerates continue to exist

Amazon buying Whole Foods for $13.4 billion is evidence of how conglomerates continue to exist The conglomerate was supposed to be dead, a relic of a bygone of era of corporate America. Investors, we have been repeatedly told, want smaller, nimbler, more focused
 
And yet there is
 
Just when it seemed that sprawling empire building had gone out of vogue — eulogies were written last week for General Electric after Jeffrey Immelt, its chief executive, retired under pressure from shareholders — announced that it was buying for $13.4 billion.
 
The deal will put in the brick-and-mortar grocery store business, which will exist alongside an ever-increasing bevy of disparate interests: The selling of everything from electronics to toothpaste online; payments and credit; cloud computing; production and distribution of movies and television programming; book publishing; shipping and logistics operations; and on and on.
 
It is actually a myth that conglomerates disappeared. They are now just dressed up with a bit of Silicon Valley flair, and dress down in the boardroom, with chief executives who wear sneakers.
 
is just one of these new-economy conglomerates. Alphabet, the parent company of Google, is another. Facebook is quickly becoming a conglomerate, too.
 
Michael C Jensen, a professor emeritus at Harvard Business School, famously — and successfully — made the case in the 1970s and 1980s that conglomerates like RJR, which owned tobacco and food brands like Nabisco, wasted “billions in unproductive capital expenditures and organisational inefficiencies.”
 
That is very likely true of today’s tech-enabled conglomerates, too, which are spending, and often losing, tens of billions of dollars annually on all sorts of projects and acquisitions that may or may not turn out to be successful. But are seemingly willing to give these new behemoths a free pass in the name of growth and innovation — until they aren’t.
 
If there is any lesson from the last breed of industrial conglomerates, it is that there is a natural life cycle to most of them.
 
The model begins like this: A company that is successful in one area turns itself into a conglomerate by using its free cash flow to finance the development or acquisition of businesses in other areas — at first, ones that are similar to their current business, and later often ones that are farther afield. And then the company does this again and again.
 
When such an economic machine works, it works extraordinarily well. But when any one of the major levers in the machine breaks or even stalls, the entire enterprise comes under pressure. Shareholders start complaining that the sum of the parts would be worth more separately than together.
 
“You look at that got really big in the world, the record is not very good,” Charles T Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway — the world’s largest conglomerate — told several years ago.
 
His business partner, Warren Buffett, stunned shareholders this year when he suggested that he expected shares of Berkshire to rise immediately after his death because of speculation that the company would be broken up and thus would be worth more. (He and Munger both believe that Berkshire is better off intact, but Buffett thinks investors’ knee-jerk reaction will be to believe the opposite.)
 
When it comes to (or Alphabet, or any of the new conglomerates), the question is whether there is something fundamentally different about these businesses given their grounding in digital information — especially as they expand into complex brick-and-mortar operations like upscale supermarkets.
 
In an age of big data and artificial intelligence, are businesses that look disparate really similar? And can one company’s leadership really oversee so many different businesses? When does it become too big to manage?
 
 
Google’s own internal list of top-10 principles seems to include an anti-conglomerate provision: “It’s best to do one thing really, really well.”
 
Leaving aside the question of whether that maxim may have been more suitable to the of a decade ago, it certainly hasn’t stopped the company from jumping into all sorts of businesses outside its flagship search and advertising business. Some of these businesses — which include Android, YouTube, Waze, Nest Labs, self-driving cars and internet distribution — have been more successful than others. Most of these were brought under the umbrella through acquisition, evidence of how the company has used the enormous proceeds of its advertising business to subsidise its entrance into all sorts of other enterprises.
© 2017 The New York Times News Service
image
Business Standard
177 22

Conglomerates didn't die. They look like Amazon now

Amazon buying Whole Foods for $13.4 billion is evidence of how conglomerates continue to exist

The conglomerate was supposed to be dead, a relic of a bygone of era of corporate America. Investors, we have been repeatedly told, want smaller, nimbler, more focused
 
And yet there is
 
Just when it seemed that sprawling empire building had gone out of vogue — eulogies were written last week for General Electric after Jeffrey Immelt, its chief executive, retired under pressure from shareholders — announced that it was buying for $13.4 billion.
 
The deal will put in the brick-and-mortar grocery store business, which will exist alongside an ever-increasing bevy of disparate interests: The selling of everything from electronics to toothpaste online; payments and credit; cloud computing; production and distribution of movies and television programming; book publishing; shipping and logistics operations; and on and on.
 
It is actually a myth that conglomerates disappeared. They are now just dressed up with a bit of Silicon Valley flair, and dress down in the boardroom, with chief executives who wear sneakers.
 
is just one of these new-economy conglomerates. Alphabet, the parent company of Google, is another. Facebook is quickly becoming a conglomerate, too.
 
Michael C Jensen, a professor emeritus at Harvard Business School, famously — and successfully — made the case in the 1970s and 1980s that conglomerates like RJR, which owned tobacco and food brands like Nabisco, wasted “billions in unproductive capital expenditures and organisational inefficiencies.”
 
That is very likely true of today’s tech-enabled conglomerates, too, which are spending, and often losing, tens of billions of dollars annually on all sorts of projects and acquisitions that may or may not turn out to be successful. But are seemingly willing to give these new behemoths a free pass in the name of growth and innovation — until they aren’t.
 
If there is any lesson from the last breed of industrial conglomerates, it is that there is a natural life cycle to most of them.
 
The model begins like this: A company that is successful in one area turns itself into a conglomerate by using its free cash flow to finance the development or acquisition of businesses in other areas — at first, ones that are similar to their current business, and later often ones that are farther afield. And then the company does this again and again.
 
When such an economic machine works, it works extraordinarily well. But when any one of the major levers in the machine breaks or even stalls, the entire enterprise comes under pressure. Shareholders start complaining that the sum of the parts would be worth more separately than together.
 
“You look at that got really big in the world, the record is not very good,” Charles T Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway — the world’s largest conglomerate — told several years ago.
 
His business partner, Warren Buffett, stunned shareholders this year when he suggested that he expected shares of Berkshire to rise immediately after his death because of speculation that the company would be broken up and thus would be worth more. (He and Munger both believe that Berkshire is better off intact, but Buffett thinks investors’ knee-jerk reaction will be to believe the opposite.)
 
When it comes to (or Alphabet, or any of the new conglomerates), the question is whether there is something fundamentally different about these businesses given their grounding in digital information — especially as they expand into complex brick-and-mortar operations like upscale supermarkets.
 
In an age of big data and artificial intelligence, are businesses that look disparate really similar? And can one company’s leadership really oversee so many different businesses? When does it become too big to manage?
 
 
Google’s own internal list of top-10 principles seems to include an anti-conglomerate provision: “It’s best to do one thing really, really well.”
 
Leaving aside the question of whether that maxim may have been more suitable to the of a decade ago, it certainly hasn’t stopped the company from jumping into all sorts of businesses outside its flagship search and advertising business. Some of these businesses — which include Android, YouTube, Waze, Nest Labs, self-driving cars and internet distribution — have been more successful than others. Most of these were brought under the umbrella through acquisition, evidence of how the company has used the enormous proceeds of its advertising business to subsidise its entrance into all sorts of other enterprises.


© 2017 The New York Times News Service

image
Business Standard
177 22