Mr. Ohlmeyer could have been talking about almost any business in the U.S., but he was referring, in this case, to the network TV business.
Do you think it's time to at least entertain the possibility that things really are changing-and in a fundamental way?
I think the big change, all over the world, is that cronyism is dead or dying. In our little world of advertising, that's a key reason it's more and more difficult for ad agency executives to build relationships with their important clients. The cozy deals between governments and favored business associates, which drove the Asian form of capitalism, is giving way to a more rowdy, more open business arena-and also one less certain of success for the entrenched and privileged.
It's not an easy process, as U.S. companies in the early 1990s found out. Massive layoffs, downsizing, betting on the wrong technology, ill-fitting diversification-all were part of the twists and turns American companies took to get ready for the 21st century.
Now, it seems, we're ready just as Asia is forced to open up to outside competition.
Merger activity is at an all-time high, and the government is looking at such combinations in a fundamentally altered way. "This is an astonishing merger wave," Robert Pitofsky, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, told the Times. "More and more deals we see really should be judged on a global market scale, not just on national or local markets. Mergers go through now that would have been challenged just 10 years ago because competition now comes from all corners of the world."
The new rules of the game are that U.S. companies, no matter how big and dominant, will be allowed to come together if the amalgamation makes them a stronger worldwide player. About the only mergers not sanctioned by the government are those that involve purely domestic competitors like Staples and Home Depot.
That's why conditions are very favorable for U.S. financial, high-tech, consumer products and other companies to dominate Asian markets. Just as the old-boy networks are falling, our big companies are roaring ahead on a global scale.
Believe me, the disruption in Asia, which has spooked the U.S. stock market, is an unbelievable opportunity for U.S. companies. Once that notion has sunk in, the Dow Jones average will soar to new heights, posting the fourth consecutive year of 20% gains.
But in all of this turmoil, cozy doesn't cut it anymore. That's why, of all our major industries, the Detroit car companies are the least equipped to compete on the world stage. These guys are insular, inbred executives whose idea of marketing has always been to slap another piece of chrome on the side of their shiny look-alike models. The Japanese and Germans will continue to run circles around them in the U.S. and around the world.
The TV networks, the business Don Ohlmeyer is in, found that their chummy relationships with the National Football League didn't count for much in their recent rights negotiations. The league's strategy, The Wall Street Journal reported, "was a dramatic departure from the mostly cozy relations between the league and the networks ... This time, with the sidelined CBS playing the role of the spoiler, the league coaxed and cajoled contracts so lopsided even some football team owners are a bit edgy."
Get used to conducting business in a constant state of edginess. That's the watchword for the rest of the century.