Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How to get Silas interested in Barbie dolls

Because of that whole heterosexuality[1] thing, I've never been interested in Barbie dolls. But I have been interested in the path of American industry and innovation, and where that intersects with Barbie dolls, you've got me hooked.

The big story today is that Mattel, the maker of Barbie, won a smaller-than-expected judgment against MGA, maker of the rival Bratz dolls.

It's a sad story, MGA having to pay damages, but becoming all too common. As the author of the story, Charles Payne, puts it:

I write about the deteriorating competitive nature of American businesses... Mattel makes for a great case study in corporate compliancy and hubris. ... At some point, a bell has got to ring. Our largest businesses have to be willing to truly innovate, to find genuinely new ways to get things done. Wall Street was greedy and complacent, and couldn't back away from the trough of easy money.

What happened in this particular case was that a designer at Mattel came up with an idea for a new kind of doll. Mattel didn't like it, so he went to work for another company that was actually competent enough to see the merit therein, MGA. So then Mattel, seeing their stupidity play out in the Bratz dolls' success, sued on the grounds that well, since the designer developed it under them, some contract gives Mattel rights in it. Except that -- oops -- they couldn't substantiate a case against the designer, and dropped it.

So Mattel's attitude basically comes down to: we deserve all of the reward and none of the risk, and we'll sue you rather than produce innovative products. (For what it's worth, I volunteer at an intermediate school [4th-6th grade, 9-13 year olds], and I've only seen Bratz-themed products, never Barbie.) And keep in mind, it takes quite a bit of innovation and guts to compete with Barbie in the doll market, one in which the buyers want to have what all the other buyers already have. Let alone compete well!

Payne is right: more and more often we see such clowns in charge of big corporations. At American car companies who lose boatloads of money and are valued at a sliver of their foreign competition. ("Honda is an engineering company, GM is a marketing company.") At financial companies that made billions in bad loans based on questionable models. The list goes on and on. When will America get its competitive edge back?

I don't know, but in the mean time, I'll make sure my money with those who deserve it. Today, I finally took the plunge and cast my vote of no confidence in the future of American business (and inability to pay back debts) by shifting my S&P 500 investments to an international stock mutual fund.

[1] Not that the opposite would constitute a valid basis for criticism.

1 comment:

TheLight said...

Interesting post, without innovation, there is no progress!
Talking about cars, Hyundai is set to meet the new CAFE standards by 2015.