NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Aside from fraud and illegalities, it's one of the most lethal choices in business. It is also a conscience choice, one that's usually made out of arrogance. It's not a quick death. But rather a slow, torturous one. Especially for shareholders.
I am talking about the dreadful business plan: Complacency.
Fraud -- the quick and deadly business plan -- wipes out a company, along with its shareholders relatively fast. Companies such as Enron or WorldCom probably ring a bell.
Complacency is a different beast. It takes the true ugliness of a company and masks it with a semi-beautiful facade. A lie. A gimmick usually hinged upon some crap product or impossible "if-then" situation.
And while it can pull the wool over the eyes of shareholders for some time, in the end, it spirals out of control. Management tries to sell these lies, but complacency gripped them first, before it snaked its way through the business operations.Here's how it goes: Business is swell. Revenue is big, margins are fat and profits have never been better. It almost seems like there's too much money. Management, after receiving millions upon millions of dollars in compensation via bonuses, salaries and stock options, begins to no longer care. Most of them can't help it. Like the big-time athlete who finally nails down the $100+ million contract, company executives start to lose their edge. Because everything is going so well now, why change? Phones will always have a keyboard. That's what BlackBerry (BBRY) thought. Now we do a double take when we see someone jabbing away at their physical keyboards. Windows will always be the go-to, along with PCs, said Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report). I'm sure Dell and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) never assumed the PC market would actually decline in sales. Technology continues to change at what seems like an exponential rate. Sometimes it's a good thing when a company uses blinders, blocking out the entire world. For instance, when it actually knows what it's doing, and can see tomorrow's future, today. Apple (AAPL - Get Report), Google (GOOG), Tesla Motors (TSLA) and Under Armour (UA). They know what we'll want tomorrow. These companies are literally building tomorrow, right now. Today. Look at Google's plan to acquire Nest Labs for $3.2 billion. Nest makes these nifty little in-house "smart gadgets" such as thermostats and smoke/carbon monoxide detectors. Sure, some will ask, why would Google buy a smoke alarm company? But that's not really what it did. What Google really did was just buy its way into your home. It bought its way into another part of your life. Search. Email. Mobile. Maps. Home. Google is everywhere, and it continues to grow. Smoke alarms and thermostats are just the tip of the iceberg of its technological home invasion. Apple isn't quite as flashy. It doesn't make big acquisitions. It never has, unlike Google. But it doesn't matter. Two different strategies, one common goal: Win. The two are basically battling for the same thing. Apple is likely devising its own way into our homes at this very moment. But that's the difference between, let's say, Google and Microsoft. Or Apple and BlackBerry.
Apple and Google battle away, looking for more and more innovative, high-quality, game-changing products to "wow" the world with.
BlackBerry and Microsoft amassed a fortune with their products. But instead of continuing to innovate -- at the risk of cannibalizing current products -- management chose to throw their feet up on the desk and count their stacks of cash. They chose complacency over innovation.
No one worried about squashing little old Google and pathetic, discombobulated Apple, (at the time, in the early 2000s). Microsoft and BlackBerry were the kings of their worlds. No one would dethrone them, or so management thought. And it's not just Microsoft and BlackBerry. It's a ton of large-cap, once behemoth tech titans. Look at pretty much every smartphone maker not named Apple and Samsung Electronics (SSNLF). Or what about PC manufacturers? How about Sony (SNE) or Eastman Kodak? Now, the companies are engaged in a vicious and painful game of catch-up. And honestly very few, if any, actually stand a chance of regaining a solid footing. The late Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple -- who many know, respect and miss -- always pushed his company to perfection. Always strived for innovation. He didn't care if it cannibalized his own products or sales. He said it. He knew if he didn't cannibalize them, someone else would.
And he's right.
At the time of publication, the author was long shares of Apple. This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff. -- Written by Bret Kenwell in Petoskey, Mich. Follow @BretKenwell
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