Greatest business deals in history

Coca-Cola launched a bottle design competition in , with the goal of making a glass bottle that would be unmistakably distinguished from existing competition.

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Earl R. Dean is ultimately credited with the historic design, as he submitted a final prototype to the president of The Root Glass Company, Chapman J.

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Root, after experimenting with different contours and "hobble skirt" sketches. The design patent for the bottle was issued in Gates managed to convince IBM to let him market the system separately, because IBM thought all of the money was in hardware. The ads featured rear ends and toilet seats, repeating again and again "Ariel, Ariel, Ariel. World globe An icon of the world globe, indicating different international options. Search icon A magnifying glass. It indicates, "Click to perform a search". Close icon Two crossed lines that form an 'X'. It indicates a way to close an interaction, or dismiss a notification.

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Via Quora user Balaji Viswanathan: In the early 20th century, workers were seen as something entirely interchangeable. Ford's independent move to boost worker salaries was particularly brilliant for a few reasons: It drastically reduced worker turnover, reducing training costs and keeping the best people around. The PR impact was hugely positive. Absenteeism dropped because there was a real reason to stay. The quality of the applicant pool massively improved. The result was skyrocketing productivity and production, and the beginning of a new middle class that could actually afford Ford's vehicles.

Via Quora user Mohammed Chang : In , European sports car company Porsche, having a close relationship with Volkswagen, decided to invest in a larger stake in VW, fueling speculation that it would ultimately take the company over. Via Quora user Dinesh Mallika : The world's youngest self-made woman billionaire, Sara Blakely created the Spanx brand after she needed footless pantyhose to go with her outfit, and realizing that none of the incumbents made anything like it.

Via Quora user Vivekanandan Jai : Liquid soap is ubiquitous now, but in the late '70s, it was just sold by one tiny company, Robert Taylor's Minnetonka. Via Quora user Yehong Zhu : Coca-Cola launched a bottle design competition in , with the goal of making a glass bottle that would be unmistakably distinguished from existing competition. In , for example, a young CEO we know at a year-old manufacturing company watched, frustrated, as the strong corporate culture he had grown up with seemed to be dissolving before his eyes. History pointed to a solution.

It needed only to be highlighted and recognized. The CEO and his team developed programs and incentives based on that unifying theme, and watched respect and collaboration grow between the two groups. It could be, at least in the hands of a highly charismatic yet irresponsible leader. The effective use of history depends on a genuine respect for what it has to teach and the belief that it holds not only anecdotes with which to adorn executive speeches, but also the deep truth of the organization.

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It requires the habits of mind that the discipline of history has to offer. The reality is that we are all historians when it comes to making decisions. The ability to identify opportunities or problems in the present and to frame aspirations for the future inevitably grows out of personal experience augmented by our broader societal knowledge of what has come before. As the great historian of business strategy and organization Alfred D. In many ways business leaders, regardless of their educational background, must think like historians.

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Start with their insistence on basing any serious decision on facts. To be a good historian demands treating facts with intellectual integrity—viewing them with an open mind and a willingness to be surprised. As the study of change over time, history also impels us to think about the long term—another strength of the best leaders, whose well-developed, long-range perspective on the companies they manage may be the only antidote to the pressures of quarterly earnings reporting and the need to react to one crisis real or perceived after another.

Thinking historically, of course, is not easy. It requires an appreciation of the dynamic nature of change in a complex human system. It demands an understanding of the particularity of problems and the often unintended consequences of their solutions. Emphasizing the contingency of cause and effect, it rejects formulaic approaches, because no two situations are ever identical in detail or in context.

For it is in the rhyming, the patterns, that we can find perspective on the dimensions of our challenges and on the questions we must pose in order to progress. Conventional problem solving begins with two questions: What is the problem? It is more unusual to ask, How did we get to this point? Armed with insight into the history, you may indeed find the fence is not needed and must go. Or you may find there is a good reason to leave it where it is. Visit your corporate archives—or begin compiling them.

Any effort to understand or leverage your company history is only as good as the raw materials—documents, images, and artifacts—you have at your disposal. Enrich your archives with interviews of departing executives and long-tenured employees—especially the outlaws and the iconoclasts. Such interviews flesh out the written record, which often omits the rationale for decisions or fails to note what might turn out to be important ideas and events. This will help you separate fact from fiction, identify the missing pieces you need to address, and begin to understand how history shapes perceptions about the company today.

Make the history—of people, products, and brands—accessible. Conduct postmortems on major projects and initiatives—successful or otherwise. Recognize that you can learn as much from failure as from success. Seek historical perspective before every major decision, whether it involves a new strategy, a major acquisition or investment, or a new marketing campaign or communications initiative. Talk at every opportunity about the history—charismatic leaders, breakthrough innovations, decisive impacts—and what it says about the company you are today or want to become.

Graham, were working closely with Alcoa to record its history. In Alcoa was emerging from the worst financial performance it had seen since the Great Depression.

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Over time, managers in the aluminum smelting division had attained top corporate positions more often than those in newer, more-profitable downstream operations, such as sheet for aluminum cans or plate for aircraft construction. In the late s the company had abandoned efforts to establish aluminum production overseas, preferring to concentrate on the still fast-growing U.

For most of the postwar era it had been content to ride the wave of strong U. Now it was moving too slowly to develop needed international operations. Understanding the company history is important. That is precisely what Alcoa learned when it saw how past decisions and long-forgotten events informed the organizational reforms it was able to make in the early s. The company was still smarting from the failure of its year effort to develop a new approach to chemical smelting, one that had promised to eliminate a costly electrolytic process involved in making primary aluminum. It soon had to write off an enormous investment in a full-scale pilot plant that had been erected on the basis of successful earlier-stage experiments.

Scientists at Alcoa Laboratories understood perfectly what had gone wrong from a purely technical standpoint. Historical analysis added the crucial human dimension. When a court decree ended its monopoly, the company responded to competition by abandoning basic science in favor of product and process engineering that could generate near-term sales and improve margins. It became more secretive, more isolated from outside developments. By the early s, as research got under way on the ill-fated smelting process, Alcoa Laboratories had exhausted its store of knowledge from fundamental research, leaving it ill prepared for such a complex scientific undertaking.

I [finally] began to appreciate the penalty we were paying for changes that had occurred in the years following the war. The leaders of another company, a giant in the energy sector, could not imagine making the biggest strategic investment decision on their agenda without the benefit of historical perspective.

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In the early s the company was contemplating a dramatic expansion of its oil-refining capacity, at a cost of billions of dollars, in anticipation of future demand. But oil prices had plunged recently, and its ROI depended on their bouncing back. As part of its decision-making process, the company developed case studies of its own and other capital-intensive industries over a half century.

Of course, none of the past situations was strictly comparable to the one at hand, and although some prices had recovered in the short term, others had languished. But there was no missing the dominant theme: Over time, even in highly concentrated industries, globalizing competition was bringing prices down, despite short-term fluctuations. The company decided to pass on the investment. They always think and talk about the past—in the present and in living color.

As the firm approached its 30th anniversary, in , its leadership team was preparing to pass the torch to younger managers who would preside over an organization that had been transformed by geographical expansion, a proliferation of new funds designed to meet the needs of specific market segments, a large influx of new employees, and structural changes in organization and management. One principle was to base investment strategies on academic research. Their instincts told them that small-cap stocks should provide excess returns to offset their additional risk.

But only after research had confirmed this were they willing to make the argument to clients. How could this principle, not to mention the whole value system that had guided the firm for three decades, be made explicit and transmitted across geography and generations? To lead with a sense of history is not to be a slave to the past but, rather, to acknowledge its power. Great leaders respect and honor that basic truth. And though they may not view themselves as historians, they find it useful to think and talk about the past—in the present and in living color.

They find in it a rich source of stories that can motivate people to embrace change even in the worst of times. John T. Seaman Jr. He has a PhD in history from Columbia. He has a PhD in history from Harvard. Business history. George David Smith.