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Enemy Number One --Dickeson

April 2002
"Roger, what would it cost Republic a month if we just locked the doors on your plant? Call me back at 2 p.m. with the number."

Sandy Sigoloff, then-president of Republic Corp., owner of Mid-America Webpress in Lincoln, NE, in the early '70s, was not well known for subtlety and diplomacy. Promptly at 2 p.m. I called back.

"Sandy, if we locked the plant it would cost Republic $250,000 a month for interest, taxes, loan amortization, insurance and security services. Want the details?" "No, Rog," he said. "How much are you losing now?" "About $100,000 a month," I told him. "Okay. Hang in there, babe," he replied and hung up. (Those numbers are fictional. I don't remember them now, but the gist of the conversation is true.)

Glenn Buck, president of "Nebraska Farmer," asked me to leave my law partnership in 1964 and take over as CEO.

"I don't know anything about running a printing and publishing company," I told him. "Don't worry," he replied, "I'll give you a tip. Just get a list of the checks written every day and the receivables collected, and make sure there's more coming in than going out. Don't pay attention to those cost accounting numbers. Watch the cash flow."

I thought Glenn was not a sophisticated manager and opted to adhere to Spencer Tucker's "Cost Estimating and Pricing With Machine Hour Rates," a sort of printer's bible at the time. Buck was wiser than Tucker.

The cover story in Business Week for February 11, 2002, on Sam Palmisano succeeding Lou Gerstner as CEO of IBM had this sidebar: "He doesn't believe in forecasts longer than a week. When he became president, IBM's monthly operations meeting went weekly. Big Blue had to build new information systems to handle the stepped-up time frame. Instead of reviewing 90-day sales forecasts, he asks managers what business they plan to close in a week. He requires a weekly e-mail on how they did."

What Sigoloff, Buck and Palmisano have in common is a mistrust of predictions or forecasts of the future as a basis for operating decisions. They needed simple, current information they can believe as a decision base.

When I spoke to one of the top leaders in our industry the other day about the Contribution model of Printrol II, he cynically responded, "Rog, printers don't care about accounting; they just want to get out there and sell. Most of 'em don't know the difference between an asset and a liability!"


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