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Case Rip Cord

Leadership Online: Barnes & Noble vs. Amazon.com: The case says Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ graduated summa cum laude from Princeton, but he seems to have some serious issues understanding scale. Some questions for him: If his statement that “There aren’t any 800-pound gorillas in bookselling” is true, where are the profits? And where does he get the slogan “Earth’s biggest river-Earth’s biggest bookstore?” Neither half is true. Sure, the Amazon carries more water than the Nile, but big rivers are measured like golfers-by length. Maybe he’s just avoiding Africa because the gorillas live there? Barnes & Noble went on to challenge the second half of the slogan in court. In class we saw a sweet video of Bezos from last year’s Cyberposium, where he said a 400 square foot warehouse was the same size as a one-car garage. Now a room 20 feet on each side is awfully big for one car, but I guess Bezos only drives cars large enough to hold a couple gorillas and their library. And was anyone else disturbed by that maniacal laugh after he said people described his company as “Amazon.org,” because they’re clearly a not-for-profit company? Is it any wonder the software driving these companies’ customization software was derived from computerized dating applications?

R&R: Bob Reiss graduated from HBS in 1956, which I think makes him our most “mature” HBS case protagonist since St. Jim Burke at Johnson and Johnson. He sold “adult games” in 1984 and made a mint, although the game was supposedly appealing because it was “non-sexual.” Strange words to describe a TV Guide version of Trivial Pursuit. Luckily, the games were carried at my favorite grocery store chain of all time, the Jitney Jungle. Anyone seen any of those around lately? Exhibit 5 is a nice article in the New York Daily News, “New York’s Picture Newspaper,” from June 12th, 1984, talking about the new game. Mr. Reiss suddenly became Mr. “Reese” in the article, which thankfully states, “And yes, there is a Mr. T question.” Mr. Reese [sic] then states, “people are tired of video games and computer games.” Clairvoyant.

The US Banking Panic of 1933 and Federal Deposit Insurance: Lots of history in this case. “Senator Sherman of Ohio said in 1864, [the double liability scheme] would `prevent the stockholders and directors of a bank from engaging in hazardous operations.'” Like allowing my Cousin Bill to burn down the state of Georgia?!? One hundred years ago, Charles Dawes said, “America’s policy [was] one that `let the little men get on in the country, in order to let the little bank get into operation, in order to let the little manufacturer get into operation.'” How big of him. A couple years after that, “The principal victim of the Panic of 1907 was the Knickerbocker Trust, the third largest bank of the time.” As any good Bostonian knows, anything named “Knickerbocker” really deserved to go under. They were just asking for it, weren’t they Celtics fans? By the time of the case in 1933, we have Michigan Representative Dingell saying, `I believe that the myopic banker as an adviser should receive about as much consideration at the hands of the House as a braying jackass on the prairies of Missouri.'” So apparently Representative Dingell had some issues with some Democratic colleague from Kansas City, but really, why is this case airing his dirty laundry? I mean, Harry Truman was a Missouri Democrat, and the people loved him. And finally, why is Texan Vice-President John Nance Garner calling the President “Cap’n?” Never let a Texan in the White House, I say. Whoops, too late. Please send your favorite quotes to jkayloe@mba2002.hbs.edu. Quotes from all cases in all classes welcomed, and I know you Januaries have something to say about cranberries. Twenty years old and we still can’t squeeze out the typos.

February 20, 2001
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