As I write this, both the Dow Jones Industrials and the NASDAQ have tumbled mightily. It happened just a few days ago (this is a weekend), so we don't really know what will happen in the next week or so (actually, I'd be in blissful retirement if I knew).
But one thing has come out of this financial ordeal loud and clear–the "old economy" ain't dead yet. Hardly. The shakeout that many old-timers were convinced would happen eventually, has apparently already begun. That's not to say that some of the twenty-somethings who have already become millionaires, or even billionaires, won't continue to make fantastic sums of money. There just won't be so many of them. In fact, being in the "right place at the right time" will happen with far less frequency.
Those of us who were brought up to value things like quality, reliability, consistency and efficiency (okay, those of us who are "older") had a difficult time with the brash, quick-to-prosper impatience of those who endorsed this new high tech (dot.com) economy. We watched dumfounded (and a little flat-footed) as this new generation (witness the Ameritrade spots on TV) sat at their computer screens and made the kind of money in days or weeks that we had to wait months or even years to make.
For the moment, though, the world has slowed way down. You notice, we didn't say the "sky has fallen"–but there are definitely signs that all is not right. For example, high tech IPOs that started at $15 a share, zoomed to ten times that in a matter of weeks, are now back down to where they started. Others are struggling just to keep their heads above water (e.g., the independent auditor for drkoop.com, whose COO is former WEEK-TV president Dennis Upah, ways that company is in deep financial trouble). What's happening, of course, is an old-fashioned shakeout. When it's done, the largest and strongest will have survived.
There are some valuable lessons to be learned out of all this:
- Some things–like the things that most of the blue chip stocks consider important–will always have value.
- Most "get-rich-quick" schemes are just that–schemes. Like the junk bonds of 20 years ago, the dot.com stocks of today just might be a flash in the pan.
- Financial stability counts for something, after all. The days of consistent runaway revenues amidst a lot of red ink (losses, not profits) are numbered. Venture capitalists are increasingly nervous about the instability they see in so many of the new upstart companies.
- Maturity and patience are good things. Why else would a company like Webvan hire a seasoned professional like George Shaheen to run the operation? He brings an efficiency and stability that a dot.com needs to survive.
- Hard work and "paying your dues" still count for something.
That's not to say the blue chips and the old economy need to change, too. They do–and for obvious reasons. Some are already making the change, albeit a bit slowly for the younger set. Caterpillar stock might be way down, for example, but the company is marshalling its forces to enter this new era. Its stock is going to rise–there is still such a thing as a good, long-term investment.
The marketplace has gone global–there are non-U.S. competitors everywhere you turn–and we've raised a generation whose tastes are different. So existing companies need to change their mind-set. They can still hold on to traditional values, which hopefully will never change, but they need to modernize and update their modus operandi.
As a parent of Generation Xers and a business owner trained in the "old school," it's been hard not to blurt out "I told you so!" when I hear of another dot.com failure. Businesses still depend on strong relationships with other businesses to produce quality goods and services that create an ever-expanding list of satisfied customers. Luckily, loyalty to those who succeed in providing quality has not disappeared. I remember hearing the words, "wait until you get into the real world…"
The meaning of that phrase had almost lost its impact … until now. IBI