(Editor's note: To access some of these stories, registration or a subscription may be required. Please check the individual links for the site's policy.) The business media are like an anvil strapped to The Business Press Maven's back, but once in a while I read a story that is so rich in insight, even in a small amount of space, that it makes all the craggy, intellectually desolate nonsense I have to read worthwhile. Take a recent Business Week piece on General Motors ( GM). It allowed me to unstrap the anvil for a bit. Phew, that felt good. The auto company has been guided to the lip of a cliff in part by following the flawed line of thought that it needs to be No. 1 in market share -- as if there were some eternal prize for the car company that sells the most cars or being the girl with the most cake. And the business media generally play along, reporting sales rankings as if they were the end-all and be-all. Valuing such a showy if meaningless sign of strength might seem important if you're working in the traditionally macho world of the newsroom, and it also resonates in the equally testosterone-filled boardroom, particularly for boardrooms in Detroit. But being No. 1 doesn't matter one whit for investors. Interestingly enough, The Business Press Maven -- who also writes about sports as mild-mannered reporter Marek Fuchs -- normally sees very few parallels between sports and business reporting. That's mostly because sports reporters usually grow up as sports fans, which gives them a built-in knowledge base, not to mention a naturally ingrained sense of history. But not many business journalists grow up obsessed with the stock market -- usually quite the opposite, which is where the trouble begins.
But the business and sports media do share this mistaken assumption that it is important to be No. 1. Sure, it's great to win a championship. But how many good teams have been ruined and dismantled in a push to get over the hump and win the big one? The fact is, a lot of intangibles go into winning, say, a Super Bowl. You can make a lot of mistakes in blind pursuit of top status, especially in business, where high sales numbers do not necessarily translate into correspondingly high profits. Which brings us, somewhat circuitously, back to General Motors and Business Week. Taking the form of an open note to General Mayhem -- er, Motors -- Business Week says size doesn't matter. Let Toyota ( TM) be No. 1 and put up with all the scrutiny and other baggage of that status. If it doesn't come harnessed to automatic profit -- and it doesn't -- why spend billions for the opportunity to thump your chest? At least in sports, you get a parade if you win. In business, you get a few meaningless headlines. Business Week is not suggesting that General Motors become some fringe element in the auto business. And you might think the advice is trite, a bit simplistic. But as Business Week is right to point out (good little scribes, good), the Head Fred of GM, G. Richard Wagoner Jr., is talking a good game about profits -- but the gasbag is also thinking about buying Proton Holdings. And while a purchase of the distressed Malaysian carmaker would help in the market share department, you have a better chance of seeing The Business Press Maven eat humble pie than you do of seeing Proton ever contribute to GM's bottom line.
So let's review: Being No. 1 in market share means nothing if profits are elusive. The quest to be No. 1 in business, sports or even white whale hunting often involves the sort of overreaching that leads to mistakes. And in the particular case of General Motors and Proton, when you're losing money, it's hard to make it up on volume. On to other, equally unhappy subjects: The beat goes on in the chip price war between Intel ( INTC) and AMD ( AMD).
As you know , The Business Press Maven has wanted to stamp his feet until his nerve endings were damaged at how, when it comes to this topic, the business media have held fast to their belief that wars have one winner and a corresponding loser. Reality, of course, is that in a price war everyone is a loser, especially investors. Really, only the customers win. The latest report from that front came in last night, and guess what? More carnage. AMD revealed depleted margins after the close. Geez, what do you know? You cut prices, you cut profits. Same thing happened to Intel just a few weeks ago. This all comes after the business media spent months talking about who would win the price war. Who wins a price war? No one. Business media, you strip the bones off my back.