Monday, July 9, 2012
Guitars, Cadillacs and Government Interference
So when the Obummer government wanted to crush the spirit of American business, ruin a key and historic industry for America and ensure hundreds if not thousands of Americans lose their jobs and become government dependees, they attacked Gibson guitars for their use of "endangered" wood - despite the fact that Gibson had complied with all laws in the US, and all laws overseas. Other guitar firms that weren't managed by prominent Republican CEOs, of course, were not targetted by the fleets of armed soldiers the government sent into Gibson to terrorize their workforce and purloin all of their working materials.
The government insists that business - even in matters of health care, cannot be trusted to do the right thing by their market, country and customers and must be forced, at the point of a gun if required, to comply with mandates that bureaucrats in Washington - yes the same ones that made all the GREAT decisions over at GSA, the ones we know we can trust with our money, have come up with.
But I digress.
But what if a business, a progressive, market attuned and smart business, interested in doing the right thing was to be left alone to solve a problem? According to the government office of Compliance and Thuggery, such businesses don't exist, and if they did, they surely would only be motivated by short term profits at the expense of their customers, their country and all natural resources? Is this true?
I give you Taylor Guitars.
Taylor recently acquired an ebony weood mill in Cameroon. Black ebony is a prized material for guitar fretboards. It's also on the verge of extinction.
Was this a hedge against diminishing worldwide supplies of ebony? Was it an effort to stabilize prices, or was the move was more about thoughtfully introducing sustainability into the supply chain? Surely no greedy business would THINK through the supply situation and get involved unless the government MADE them do it?
Alarmed by the diminishing supply of this wood, Taylor visited ebony loggers in Cameroon -- the last legal ebony harvesting site in the world. What they saw there defied business sense and common logic. Since the harvesters were unable to see whether an ebony tree would produce rich black wood, or an 'inferior' striated variety unless they first cut down the tree, they cut down 10 trees just to find the one "good one". And the nine trees that had been needlessly felled were left to rot.
Taylor realized that the striated ebony wood made acoustically and ergonomically perfect fretboards, amongst other guitar parts. In fact, Taylor had been using striated ebony for guitars since the company started -- initially as a cost-saving measure. Now, if other leading guitar brands could be convinced to use this wood, the ebony shortage would suddenly disappear, guitar builders would have ten times the supply and the Cameroons could sell 10 times as much wood.
Prior to the Cameroon acquistion, Taylor guitars had contemplated feedback from consumers recommending the company support tree replanting programs in areas stripped of ebony. It was a simple solution that would, in theory, provide a sustainable supply of the prized wood. It would also make for a wonderful corporate sustainability story.
In reality, however, the idea was less than ideal.
Bob Taylor said, "In places like Cameroon, it's not possible to do anything without a bribe. Planting trees in situations like this would simply fuel illegal harvesting, and do nothing to make the wood supply more sustainable." Taylor came to understand the solution was more complex. With the company's purchase of the mill, the full extent of that complexity was revealed.
"We quickly grasped there were fundamental issues that needed to be addressed -- contradictory laws and lumber accounting systems, for example" says Taylor. "We had to start by helping fix the system, demonstrating by example that doing business honestly -- taxing us and auditing us -- was in the government's best interest." Taylor is quick to point out that his company's approach has, of necessity, been methodical rather than splashy. "We aren't planting trees yet. We're working first to stop the illegal harvest, and get a better understanding of how many trees there actually are. Our focus is ensuring the harvest is legal, and then sustainable. It's a long-term strategy that might not make a great sound bite. But ultimately, it will help us save our own industry and the ebony species in Cameroon."
Taylor Guitars understands that looking at and understanding whole systems is key to creating successful, sustainable innovation, instead of "fake"solutions that make Western consumers feel good but do nothing to correct underlying problems. And this point is underscored when government bodies, with even less knowledge, with suspect motives and no accountability to anyone interfere with free market forces and , at the point of a gun, make companies behave the way they want them to.
It is bad business, bad poltics and bad ethics. While Taylor is succeeding because they were left alone, Gibson is still trying to get their ebony back from our government.
When will we learn?