69 internautes sur 79 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
Robert J. Crawford
- Publié sur Amazon.com
I came to this book in search of solid reporting from within the company - afterall, the cover boasts that the author "penetrated Wal-Mart's wall of secrecy." Well, I am sorry to report that the author has done no such thing. Instead, what the reader gets is a rehash of some of what has already been written (if by him in many instances), with extended (and repetitive) stories on outside critics as well as some partners (suppliers) of the company in stories that are so long as to feel like filler. But he does not find any honest visionaries or even concerned doubters within the company to offer perspective, which I was hoping to find. Moreover (and far worse), there are huge gaps that the author entirely misses or indeed may have preferred to ignore.
Wal-Mart's business practices are well known: promising "everyday low prices" and convenience as its competitive advantages as a general merchandiser, the company relentlessly searches for cost-efficiencies in the form of squeezing suppliers, offering relatively low wages and little health care, and developing an unprecedented logistics operation that literally spans the globe with sweatshops in China, etc. That is about it and it explains the company's phenomenal expansion and the growth of its power.
Of course, the case of the critics is becoming equally well known: 1) workers need a "living wage" and better health coverage options; 2) suppliers need better treatment so that they do not ruin their brand when selling to WM; 3) local governments should not face so much pressure to grant tax breaks and other concessions to WM; 4) local businesses need some protection and nurturance to stay in business when WM comes to the community; 5) WM needs to learn to listen to the concerns of critics and act on them better.
Fishman covers these areas competently, if by reiterating stories that anyone who follows the issues should know, such as the way that Vlasic pickles was bankrupted by being forced to sell at a price too low to sustain itself. (This important example, which he broke in his original article for Fast Company is now repeated in just about every critical source I have read on the company.) As such, the substance of the book is really not much beyond what should appear in a long article, meaning that there really is no much new in this book - it is just a compilation of what we know, well written perhaps, but surprisingly thin.
I did get some detail on issues such as the environmental impact of WM's demand for Salmon on Chile or what economists are researching on the company. In addition, there is very useful original reporting on WM's foreign-factory inspection programs, which Fishman portrays as PR window-dressing and which I will use in my currect project. Nonetheless, I was often disappointed at the thinness of the reporting and the sparseness of ideas in the text.
However, what Fishman fails to cover - and which is already becoming well known - diminishes the value of the book. At the moment, Wal-Mart is facing a series of crises. Not only has it saturated the rural areas of its origins, but customers are beginning to tire of the low quality and shabby, pedestrain styles it offers. This is directly reflected in its declining stock price and profit margins. Finally, consumers are beginning to learn and disapprove the company's practices.
The remedies to this crisis are far from certain. First, WM must go into new georaphical areas, that is, into more urban environments. Unfortunately, it has proven rather inept at doing so because unions and political activism are strong in these areas, which translate into passionate resistence to the company in the form of economic empowerment, community control, decent treament of workers, etc. (I have witnessed this first hand as a reporter in the community of Inglewood, near LA, which mobilised a diverse coalition and beat the snot out of the company.) Second, the company hopes to appeal to higher-class consumers, who disdain its style while shopping there for low-margin generating necessities. These are precisely the well-educated consumers who oppose the company for all the reasons that critics are advancing: environmental impacts (traffic and pollution), the assault on traditional downtown areas, etc. Getting them onboard, let alone in, may not be possible.
Thus, to placate these critics, WM would have to do the unthinkable: pay more, invest more in the community, and refrain from certain forms of competitition. Alas, this would erode its competitive advantage, forcing the company to raise prices and hence undermine its core business model. Amazingly, Fishman barely acknowledges this dilemma and offers no comprehensive analysis on it. This is not great reporting if you ask me.
So I would only tepidly recommend this book. If the reader wants a general introduction, this is a decent place to start, if incomplete. But if the reader knows the issue and argument, don't bother with this book if you are looking for new detail or comprehensive coverage. A far far better book is Nelson Lichtenstien's Wal-Mart: The Face of 21-Century Capitalism.
56 internautes sur 66 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
- Publié sur Amazon.com
Charles Fishman is a lot like Thomas Friedman, only on a limited travel budget. Both authors look at the world, collect data, talk to a lot of people and pundits, write best-selling books and take on an air of expertise. What they both really have is this "Gee whiz, can you imagine that?" view of the world. Much of their writing offers little real insight or recommendations and sometimes only very little food for thought. They sell a lot of books and this apparently causes their audience to confuse writing for thinking, speaking for knowing, and words for wisdom.
Wal-mart is huge - duh! Fishman would probably liken them to the Death Star in "Star wars," while a Wal-Mart executive likens the firm to Baby Huey - young, huge, immature, and prone to making large but largely innocent errors. Neither simile works. All the apocalyptic hyperbole about Wal-mart taking over the world economy or outsourcing all of America should be taken for just that, hyperbole. Fishman laments (p. 241) that the twenty largest firms today account for twenty percent of the nation's economy, while twenty years ago it took thirty firms to capture twenty percent of the market. What he fails to discuss is who used to be among the top thirty firms back then and where they are today. And he ignores the fact that the American economy has grown so much that the dollar value of the economy outside the control of the top twenty firms is growing even faster. And he completely ignores the world economy, growing faster still. And, like Friedman, he ignores the lessons of history. Twenty years ago, IBM and Japan would have been the villains in this book, not Wal-mart and China. Forty years ago it would have been General Motors and the Soviet Union. Fifty years ago, Bethlehem Steel and... well, no foreign country, as the world economy was in pretty bad shape after World War II. It probably would have been the UAW.
Fishman attacks Wal-mart for making use of government health care for their employees at a time when many large American firms are clamoring for even more of that. He ignores the failed effort to force Wal-mart to spend more on employee health care, known to be bad business practice by the states and, for that matter, ruled illegal by the courts. He reports stories of American employees making quality products being displaced by cheap foreign labor making shoddy, low-quality goods. These displaced employees then shop at Wal-mart knowing better than anyone that they are buying cheap, shoddy, low-quality goods. Fishman and these displaced employees, along with millions of other Wal-mart shoppers, confuse price with value. Fishman is dismissive of the growth of stores like Target and Kohl's, stores that ignore the "low prices always" motto and replace it with a better shopping experience. He can't really grasp why Wal-mart same store growth is waning. He shows little interest in or appreciation for Wal-mart's efforts to go green, to save energy, to share ideas. Maybe they are responses to criticism; and just maybe, these acts are too little, too late to stave off the decline of Baby Huey.
Wal-mart has mastered logistics and supply-chain management to a level that wins universal admiration. They flattened the world well before Friedman noticed. When Hurricane Katrina hit, Wal-mart, not government regulators or regulations worked best to solve problems. But being good at what you do and very big makes people envious, curious and suspicious. What Fishman seems to really despise is Wal-mart's ability to keep secrets. He seems intent on opening up Wal-mart's books, to force them to tell the world and their competitors their market volume and share. He thinks the government should force Wal-mart to be more open, just as the government "forced" auto firms to achieve higher fleet gas mileage. When Wal-mart says they hope to double the mileage of their trucking fleet, Fishman seems to prefer another useless, inefficient, ill-advised government program.
The unwritten lesson is that if you want enduring, sustainable value in your purchases, your life, and your economy, you'd think twice before shopping at Wal-mart, and maybe you wouldn't shop there at all. And you certainly would not purchase any state lottery tickets. Or smoke cigarettes. But that doesn't make Wal-mart evil.