Monday, January 09, 2006

A Nearly-Failed Business

In the early 1800s, Robert Seeds bought a wagon full of goods and moved his family west. He joined a new community by opening his own general store. As more people moved into town, he found that he had to post his name on the store, so when newcomers were told to go see Robert, they could find the right door. In 1823, Robert put up his first sign: Robert Seeds.

Shortly thereafter another merchant moved into town and set up a competing business across the street. Mr. Seeds, at this point, was fairly well known and busy, so he didn't mind. Rather, he decided to specialize, and began to just buy and sell seeds from the farmers in the area. Shortly thereafter he changed the sign: Robert Seeds' Seeds.

Business went well, and Robert was profitable. But time does fly, and after several years in the business, he realized he was getting too old for the work. Robert's son Billy took on the family business for his father; having worked in the store since they moved from the East cost, it was the obvious choice. But as the store passed hands, Billy decided it would be best to change the name. It was no longer Robert Seeds' Seeds; now it was just Seeds' Seeds.

And the business flourished. Farmers from most of the surrounding towns came to Billy's store to buy and sell their seeds. The business landscape changed, the store grew and branched out, adding storefronts in cities across the state, and then across the country. As the chain passed through generations of Seeds, it became incorporated, and it continued to grow. Seeds' Seeds branched out again and got into the seedling and planting businesses. And continued to grow. Until one day, Tommy Seeds, CEO, had a decision to make. Instead of splitting control of the company between his three children, and instead of favoring one over the rest, he decided to split the company: Seeds' Seed's Seedlings, Seeds' Seed's Plantings, and Seeds' Seed's Seeds.

But with growth came the chance of corruption. A small mistake on the books led to a larger fudge the next year, leading to a bribe or two to keep the auditors from noticing while they tried to get their books back in order. Until one day it leaked, one day some newly-hired accountant thinking that he needed to prove himself dug in places he shouldn't and brought the $4 billion "accounting error/Swiss bank account" to public attention. Lawsuits abounded, and Seeds' Seed's Seeds was completely in danger of going under. But to buy themselves more time, they settled an account with one of their main competetors, relinquishing most of their on-hand product.

The next morning, all the newspapers were filled with the scandal.

Seeds' Seed's Seeds Cedes Seeds.