May 1, 2015 Show Notes: Best Business Books

Thousands of business books are published each year. Some are worthless, others have merit, fewer still have lasting value, but a handful possess the ability to transform your business (and possibly, your life).

Yet with today’s busy and demanding schedules, do you feel you don’t devote enough time to reading and absorbing new ideas? Then this show is for you. Ed and Ron will explore the best business books ever written, selecting their favorite all-time business books.

Ed and Ron discussed four of their all-time favorite business books. Stay tuned for further shows in this series where we will share more of our favorites.

Minding the Store, Stanley Marcus, 1974

Ron believes Stanley Marcus is the true grandfather of the customer service revolution. This is the single best book ever written on customer service, and the autobiography of a remarkable man who had a remarkable life.

“There is never a good sale for Neiman Marcus unless it’s a good buy for the customer.” Herbert Marcus, 1926, to Stanley Marcus on his first day working at the store.

Neiman Marcus (NM) was established (September 8, 1907) as a result of the bad judgment of its founders, Herbert Marcus, his younger sister, Carrie Marcus Neiman, and her husband, Al Neiman.

They established a sales promotion business in Atlanta, GA, and received two offers to sell out, one for $25,000 and the other for an exclusive franchise for the state of Missouri or Kansas for a relatively new product called Coca-Cola.

Stanley Marcus’s innovations:

  • First weekly fashion shows/bridal fashion shows
  • His and Her Xmas Gifts
  • Christmas Catalog
  • Fortnight (themes) to overcome October bus lag!
  • Personalized gift wrapping

Stanley took over store in 1950, after death of his father.

Women’s Wear Daily hung “the melancholy Plato of retailing” label on him.

People liked what they didn’t find at NM. Stanley wrote:

It’s up to management to decide, not whether the article will sell, but whether it should be sold.

Another excellent book on Marcus is Stanley Marcus: The Relentless Reign of a Merchant Prince, by Thomas E. Alexander.

Stanley wrote four books during his lifetime but this one of the only ones I’ve seen written about him by an insider, Thomas E. Alexander, who met Stanley in 1965 and served nearly 20 years as his Executive Vice President of Marketing.

This was an incredibly demanding job, since Marcus was the consummate marketer, and many previous men failed at in this role.

Alexander gives you an insider’s view of the famous Neiman Marcus Fortnights, a Dallas institution until they were discontinued in 1986.

Many of the pictures come from the Stanley Marcus Collection at South Methodist University, DeGolyer Library.

You’ll read about the first out-of-state store in Bal Harbour, Florida, opened in January 1971, and also the controversy of the San Francisco store opening at Union Square. Herb Caen was an incredible critic of Neiman Marcus opening there, and the irony was that Stanely Marcus was farther to the left than Caen ever dreamed of being.

One very amusing anecdote about Marcus are the two things that exceeded his expectations, which were very high. One was Sophia Loren, and the other was the Bohemian Grove in San Francisco.

Another is the story of Marcus’s falling out with the world famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. Upon hiring another architect and Wright seeing his drawings, sends Marcus a letter and under his signature writes, “Looks to me like you dropped big money to pick up small change.”

In the final chapter, “Saying Goodbye,” Alexander tells of Marcus, age 95, reflecting: “Without change, there is no challenge, and without challenge there is only the status quo but no progress.” Wise words.

Other books by Stanley Marcus

The Halo Effect…and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers, Phil Rosenzweig

Ed’s Summary:

  • Tom Peters gets destroyed.
  • Jim Collins gets destroyed.

Halo Effect: the tendency to look at a company’s overall performance and make attributions about its culture, leadership, value, and more.

Business books: scientific rigor or storytelling?

Do business questions lend to scientific investigations? Rosenzweig says, in many instances, yes. He believes there’s no need to veer between extremes: humanities and science.

We have no satisfactory theory of effective leadership that is independent of performance

Does strong financial performance creates employee satisfaction, or vice versa?

We yearn to find out how we can avoid the seemingly inevitable fate of decline and death.

Nothing recedes like success.

The book really debunks the work of Jim Collins, especially his book Good to Great.

Physics envy: we can predict the movement of planets, so why not the performance of companies?

Collins book offered a picture of business somewhere between Norman Rockwell and Mister Rogers

Profit Beyond Measure: Extraordinary Results through Attention to Work and People, H. Thomas Johnson and Anders Broms, 2000

In 1987, as mentioned before, H. Thomas Johnson and Robert S. Kaplan published Relevance Lost: The Rise and Fall of Management Accounting, which was named in 1997 one of the 14 most influential management books to appear in the first 75 years of Harvard Business Review’s history.

The book is credited with launching the activity-based costing revolution. Yet, these two thinkers have gone down very different paths since then: Kaplan going on to pioneering work in the field of performance measurement, creating the Balanced Scorecard, and Johnson moving on to what he calls “management by means.”

In fact, they are now feuding with each other, and have not spoken in years.

Johnson’s book Profit Beyond Measure is a seminal work, although not yet fully developed. And while I have severe misgivings about some of his environmental rants in the book, when he profiles Toyota and Scania—the latter now owned by Volvo—as two manufacturers that do not have a standard cost accounting system, he is on firm ground.

It is hard to argue with results, and Toyota is one of the most respected companies in the world, and has produced one of the highest-quality products at the lowest cost in the industry for years, dating back to 1926 when it started as a weaving machinery manufacturer.

As Glenn Uminger, a financial controller at Toyota Motor Manufacturing-Kentucky (TMM-K)—which Johnson studies in depth in his book—since 1988, says, “TMM-K has never had a standard cost system to track operating costs, and we probably never will.”

So how do they do it? How can a manufacturing company run without a standard cost accounting system? Toyota understands price drives costs, not the other way around. Here is how Johnson explains it in his book, Profit Beyond Measure:

None of these comments is meant to imply that Toyota does not have accounting and production planning information systems. Of course it does. Toyota has a comprehensive array of information systems, accounting and otherwise, with which to plan, in advance of operations, and to report results of operations after the fact. But information from such systems is not allowed to influence operational decisions.

Toyota management discharges its responsibility for costs not by taking arbitrary steps to manipulate operations, but largely in the vehicle planning stage. During the design stage, long before the first penny has been committed to making a vehicle, Toyota has always placed enormous importance on setting and achieving cost targets. To do so, over the years Toyota has developed a famous technique for target costing. Simply stated, target cost is the maximum cost the company can afford to incur to produce and sell a vehicle and still earn a required profit at the price customers are expected to pay.

Johnson goes on to explain his theory that Toyota operates under “management by means” rather than “management by results.” It is an interesting viewpoint because it views the organization as a living system, based on interdependent relationships, and those are nearly impossible to quantify.

He notes Dr. Edward Deming’s observation that over 97 percent of the events that affect a company’s results are not measurable, while less than 3 percent of what influences final results can be measured:

Because cost and profit are not objects, but are properties that emerge from relationships, quantitative measures can only describe them, they cannot explain them. Quantitative measures, unlike art, music, or the stories and myths that humans fashion with words, cannot convey understanding of the multidimensional patterns that shape the relationships from which results, such as cost and profit, emerge in a living system.

If Andrew Carnegie said, “Watch the costs and the profits will take care of themselves,” Johnson is saying, “Nurture the means. The results will take care of themselves.” Kaplan would say, “Measure the result and the means will take care of themselves,” and I say, “Watch your value, and the profits will take care of themselves.”

Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future, Margaret Wheatly, 2009

Ed shared the ten questions from this book:

  • Do I feel a vocation to be fully human?
  • What is my faith in the future?
  • What do I believe about others?
  • What am I willing to notice about my world?
  • When have I experienced good listening?
  • Am I willing to reclaim time to think?
  • What is the relationship I want with the earth?
  • What is my unique contribution to the whole?
  • When have I experienced working for the common good?
  • When do I experience the sacred?

November 21, 2014 Show Notes: Playing with Fire: Price Discrimination in Practice

. . . [N]ot only is price discrimination pervasive in society, it is an important way in which society covertly and unintendedly redistributes consumption, much of it from rich to poor. . . . [I]ts effects on output and welfare relative to single-price firms with monopoly power are likely to be positive. . . . [I]t tends to make consumption more equal across income classes.

—Mark Skousen and Kenna C. Taylor – Puzzles and Paradoxes in Economics

Consumer Surplus

I can remember finding a rare first edition of Stanley Marcus’ book Quest for the Best in a used bookstore in San Diego. I had been searching for this book for a couple of years, since this was before the Internet, and was elated when I stumbled across it by chance. As soon as I skimmed through it and learned it was in good condition, and autographed by Stanley himself, I would have been willing to pay $100 for it. Of course, the bookstore owner had no idea, nor does he even know me or of my desire to own this rare book. He priced it at $10. I can assure you I did not offer to split the difference between my value price and his asking price. I left the store, as an economist would say, $90 wealthier, keeping the entire consumer surplus to myself.

This raises an interesting moral and ethical question: If it is unethical for businesses to charge high prices, is it also unethical for customers to seek out low prices? Is my keeping 100% of the consumer surplus any more or less unethical than the bookstore owner capturing any portion of it above $10?

This is why Alfred Marshall thought the consumer surplus was a measure of customer well-being and satisfaction, because as prices become lower, and more and more consumers can buy a greater quantity of products at the same price, the equivalent of having more income.

On the other hand, there is also a producer surplus, the difference between the price for which a producer would be willing to provide a good or service and the actual price at which the good or service is sold. The consumer’s and producer’s surplus provides a measure of the gain to both parties, and the sum being the social gain, or welfare gain, due to the existence of the market.

While the consumer surplus is the gain the buyer receives from trade, the producer surplus is sometimes referred to as economic rent—the amount received by sellers of an item over and above what they would have accepted.

Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods receive an enormous amount of economic rent above what would be needed to induce them to play their favorite sport. There is also a consumer detriment, representing the customers who are willing to pay more than cost but less than the market price. While consumer surplus makes customers happy, it is economic rent that makes companies—and individuals—rich.

Charging different prices to different customers is the definition of price discrimination, a term coined in 1920 by Arthur Cecil Pigou in The Economics of Welfare. Price discrimination occurs when a good or service is sold at different prices that do not reflect differences in production costs. Companies engage in this practice in order to extract the consumer surplus from various customers.

It is worth reiterating that price discrimination does not imply discriminating against people based on race, gender, religion, ethnicity, and so forth, but only on their willingness and ability to pay, which is based on the value they are receiving.

Price Discrimination Principles

In a perfect market (from the seller’s perspective anyway), customers would each pay their reservation price for each product or service, defined as the maximum amount they are willing and able to pay for a product. This would be the ultimate expression of pure price discrimination.

Unfortunately for producers, the marketplace is not perfect and other methods must be devised to ascertain how much different buyers value their offerings, such as popcorn lovers valuing the movie experience more than non-eaters. Successful pricing strategies are designed to induce customers to better reveal their reservation price, thereby capturing a larger percentage of the consumer surplus. To achieve price discrimination, four requirements must be met:

  1. The firm must have market power—Not monopoly power, but a downward-sloping demand curve, so a firm can raise prices without losing all of its customers—as would happen with a completely horizontal demand curve—imperfect, as opposed to perfect, competition.
  2. Buyers with different demand elasticities must be separable into submarkets—Differences arise from income disparities, preferences, locations, etc.
  3. The transaction cost is less than the potential profit—Costs associated with separating buyers with differential demands must be lower than the differential gain in profit expected from the multiple-price as compared with the one-price strategy.
  4. The seller must separate buyers to avoid arbitrage—Otherwise, products sold more cheaply in one location can be purchased there and transported to a higher-price location.

These four requirements present barriers to engaging in price discrimination, but they are surmountable, and as we shall see, many companies have developed very imaginative and creative ways to overcome these challenges. Let us explore each of the four requirements.

First, companies must have market power, meaning a downward-sloping demand curve. Even the most elastic products meet this requirement, which means the company has some ability to control the price they charge rather than merely being a price taker.

Second, separating buyers with different demand elasticities requires that a company understand its customers’ motivations, how they benefit from its product, and how it will be used in order to judge the marginal value. If you sell in business-to-business markets, understanding your customer’s business model, how they make money, and how you can help them be more successful is essential in separating them into various value segments. This is obviously easier with long-term customers, with whom a deep relationship has been established.

The third requirement is that the potential profit must be greater than the costs of separating buyers for price discrimination purposes. A case in point where this requirement became a barrier to charging different customers different prices was Disneyland’s A–E ticket system (E stood for exciting), used to price its attractions. On October 11, 1955 (the year Disneyland opened) A, B, and C tickets cost from 10 cents to 50 cents each, depending on the attraction. D tickets were added in 1956 and E tickets in 1959, priced at 50 cents each.

From a pricing perspective, the A–E ticket system was a pure price discrimination strategy. However, over time the problems with the A-E system began to outweigh the benefits.

Disney had to print the tickets, its guests had to wait in long lines to purchase them (thus diminishing the fun and experience of the park visit), and the cast members at each ride had to handle and the police the tickets, sometimes turning guests away carrying the wrong ticket. The total costs of engaging in this type of customer segregation began to exceed the marginal profits derived from it, and in 1982 Disneyland changed to the Disneyland Passport, a fixed-price, unlimited use of attractions, all-day pass.

The fourth, and final, requirement, avoiding arbitrage, is much easier for service providers to meet than product sellers. If a bakery were to sell pies in two nearby towns, and price them $10 in one town and $5 in the other, eventually customers would buy in the lower-price location. Some customers would even buy pies in the lower-price location and transport them back to the higher-price location and sell them, thus keeping some of the consumer surplus for themselves, a process known as arbitrage.

We witness this with drugs being purchased in Canada by American citizens due to lower prices. Some high-priced U.S. drugs, such as for AIDS or Norplant, sell for much lower prices in less-developed countries, due to a more elastic demand curve. Sometimes drug companies will package products differently in different markets, varying the sizes and quantities in order to make arbitrage more difficult.

But one cannot arbitrage services. You cannot send your butler, who may be charged on a sliding scale based on his income, to get your kidney transplant. A customer cannot sell their tax return or legal services to someone else. Services consumed on location, such as movie theater popcorn or medical and dental care, are not susceptible to arbitrage, making it easier for companies in these industries to engage in price discrimination.

We have studied the four requirements necessary to price discriminate, let us now examine the three degrees of price discrimination:

  1. First-degree price discrimination—Charging each customer the most that he would be willing to pay for each item that he buys, thereby transferring all of the consumer surplus to the seller.
  2. Second-degree price discrimination—Charging the same customer different prices for identical items.
  3. Third-degree price discrimination—Charging different prices in different markets.

Due to the high transaction costs of determining what each and every buyer is willing to pay, auctions and negotiable price markets are the closest approximation to first-degree price discrimination. Whether it is the late Princess Diana’s dresses or articles from the Kennedy estate, buyers line up and identify the maximum amount they are willing to pay, and thus the item is sold to the individual who values it the most.

Second-degree price discrimination exists when businesses charge the same customer different prices for identical items, such as Proctor & Gamble giving Wal-Mart a discount on Pampers for large-quantity orders. Another example is utility companies and cellular phone companies charging different rates for “peak” and “off-peak” use, the theory being that a phone call placed during peak hours is more valuable (say, for a salesman to make an appointment with a prospect) than a call during off-peak hours (say, to order a pizza on the way home from work).

An example of third-degree price discrimination—charging different prices in different markets—is coupons. If Proctor & Gamble can make a profit selling a box of Tide soap with a 50-cents-off coupon, what are they making when a customer buys a box without a coupon?

Other Resources

Pricing on Purpose: Creating and Capturing Value, by Ronald J. Baker

Implementing Value Pricing: A Radical Business Model for Professional Firms, by Ronald J. Baker