How the Capitalist Got His Tail
|May 22, 2002||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
A Touch of Humor
Once in a blue moon, searching through the rubble of our decaying civilization, we find something funny. Or it finds us. Here is a treat for you.
Me, Ken Lay, and the purple lake: how the capitalist gets his tail
by Dennis Chute
I don’t start off planning to give into the dark side of the force. But every time I go into business I eventually find myself standing in the purple lake and I just snap. It becomes all about the money. I grow a prehensile tail as greed makes a monkey out of me.
It doesn’t start that way though, it always starts with a great idea. Over the year’s I’ve had a lot of such ideas. They cover quite a range: using vegetables to reclaim mines, sports drinks for dogs, grass that doesn’t need watering, weed control, or fertilizer, a service to provide the best corporate rates to small businesses, a gizmo, there is no other word for it, that blows apart tornadoes before they can do any damage, electric bag pipes, drums that play 64 notes, drugs from plant defence chemicals. I’d just be a harmless eccentric if I didn’t keep trying to make these ideas work in the real world.
It’s implemetation that brings out the worst in me. I like to share my enthusiasms so the first thing I do is recruit some enemies. I like to call them partners and they usually started off as my friends, but before long I’m sharing the development of my idea with jack asses and prima donnas.
Equipped with recalcitrant partners and big ideas I write a business plan. I can spend months and sometimes years developing a killer business plan. They are invariably a little stalinist in nature covering five years of overly optimistic expansion. Business plan in hand I turn into a carnival barker. My primary audience is investors. Can’t miss proposition boys, step right up and give me your money. My motto is spectacularly over promise and horribly under deliver.
Now all I’ve got to do is find the space, acquire the materials, set up a manufacturing line, hire staff, produce the widgets, sell them, ship them, and collect the money. All at a significant profit. This is the stage at which the purple lake inevitably starts rising around me.
A few years ago my partners and I were ready to start bottling one of my ideas. Lap It Up we called it, a purple drink for your dog or cat. We were doing what is called private labelling, instead of doing the work ourselves we’d farmed it out to a professional bottler, they were just sticking our label on the finished product. We couldn’t exactly afford the best so what we got was an antiquated line built in Mexico and a crew of part time workers, all Lebanese college students.
The first bottle went fine, the second stalled. There is Lap It Up pouring into the bottle, filling it and then spilling onto the floor. The plant was soon awash in our pretty purple liquid. Nobody could figure out what was wrong. The instructions for operating the line were written in Spanish. The crew, once they got excited, could only speak Lebanese. I and my partners spoke neither Spanish or Lebanese. There we were, all of us standing in a lake of spilled product that was getting deeper and deeper. That was when I underwent the transformation from entrepreneur to capitalist the first time. I swear I could feel my tail budding as the lake began to soak my pants.
The difference between an entrepreneur and a capitalist is that an entrepreneur just has a great idea they want to take to market while a capitalist believes with all their heart and soul that somebody, somewhere owes them a profit. A large profit. Standing in a purple lake of sweet, sticky, fruity liquid watching a fortune wasted is the sort of life altering event that can turn anybody into a capitalist. Once you’ve crossed over and joined the dark side there is no going back.
The transformation to capitalist complete, I astonish myself. Immediately, I start figuring out how I can make more money. I begin with the usual suspects: sell more product, even if you have to forget all about quality, sell it for more money, even if the people you intended the product for can no longer afford it, use cheaper ingredients, even if the product doesn’t work anymore. Then I have a brainstorm, let’s go public! The IPO, the initial public offering is the holy grail for the capitalist, the chance to get filthy, stinking rich. One of my partners said that IPO should stand for idiots purchasing offal.
The initial public offering is expensive and I don’t have the money. I do a little financial wheeling and dealing, form a couple of limited partnerships where I sell the partners options on shares in the soon to be publicly traded company. I funnel the money from the partnerships into the company as if it were income while leaving the liabilities on the books of the partnership. When I read about Ken Lay and Enron I realize I’m Ken. I know, with certainty, that at some point in the life cycle of Enron poor Ken stood in his own purple lake.
Of course, inevitably, the whole house of cards collapses on itself and the company goes bankrupt. I go back to being a good guy, I write some books, maybe a play, do volunteer work, spend time being a good son and husband. Eventually my tail atrophies and falls off. Then I start a new business. I can’t help myself, I have a great idea!
Dennis Chute is the author of Turning Samoan, a caper novel criticized for being too funny, and the designer of a variety of outrageous musical instruments. He has run six companies into the ground. Dennis is hard at work creating a way for inventors to turn their products into shareware thus avoiding going for a swim in the purple lake.
To find out more about Dennis Chute and his book,
you can email to him at email@example.com
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