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Businessweek Archives

Fleming: We Value All Investors, Great And Small

Readers Report


In "Don't squelch the small shareholder" (News: Analysis & Commentary, Dec. 29/Jan. 5), I hope it was clear that, at Fleming, we value the views of all shareholders--as well as those of all our customers, large and small.

My point was that health, environmental, and human rights activists and others are known to take small stakes in public companies as a way of advancing their agenda. In a similar manner, it should be evident that when the Teamsters union, which has a number of collective bargaining agreements with Fleming, holds a nominal number of our shares, their primary agenda is certainly something other than the altruistic pursuit of good corporate governance.

The challenge facing Corporate America--and facing all shareholders, large and small--is how to deal with the activism of shareholders whose purpose in holding a limited number of shares is ultimately aimed at objectives that can negatively affect the economic health of the company and the interests of all shareholders. However much some may applaud what the Teamsters accomplished from their base of 65 shares, no one should mistake their principal intentions--which we believe involve an ulterior motive that has nothing to do with shareholders' rights.

Robert E. Stauth

Chairman & CEO

Fleming Cos.

Oklahoma CityReturn to top


Your interview with Michel Camdessus, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, highlights three problems that many Americans have with the current IMF activity in Asia ("A chat with Camdessus," International Business, Dec. 29/Jan. 5).

First, however well-intentioned they may be, interventionist activities worsen the inevitable. There is no way to tell where the Korean/IMF exercise will lead, but it is by no means guaranteed that a stronger Korea will emerge from this experience. This is not science, and the recent election of a perennial opposition leader as President throws a wild card into the equation.

Second, isn't the IMF action, in effect, simply ensuring that lenders will be more likely to make risky loans? What is to prevent lenders in the future from calculating IMF "insurance" in their decisions? The IMF action protects lenders who made bad decisions.

Finally, Camdessus says: "IMF money is not taxpayers' money; it's [from] the central banks of our members." With all due respect, it is our money.

I am heartbroken when I think of the difficulties that many Korean families are facing. But the IMF action may simply ensure that more people have to put up with these hardships for a longer time.

Dave Moody

Spencerport, N.Y.Return to top


Your article on Viacom Inc.'s flagship theme store correctly reported the company's problems with its new theme store, but it misdiagnosed the ailment ("Hardly a household name," News: Analysis & Commentary, Dec. 22). Viacom is playing catch-up with Walt Disney Co. and Time Warner Inc., and it has a long way to go before the name Viacom is a household name.

But that's not the real problem. True, Viacom owns some of the best entertainment brands in the business, including MTV, Nickelodeon, VH-1, and Paramount. The seeds of retail disaster were sown when Viacom put all those strong brands under one roof.

Strong brands focus on customer segments with distinct identities and needs. When retailers appeal to multiple segments under one roof, they often lose. It happened to Taco Bell when it marketed a line of "healthy" fast foods (Border Lites) in restaurants aimed at kids. It happened to Levi Strauss & Co. when Dockers became such a hit with middle-age boomers that the company lost credibility with its core youth market.

Viacom's problem isn't its lack of a good corporate brand, but management's lack of insight into what makes its existing brands so valuable.

Jeffrey F. Rayport

Associate Professor

Graduate School of

Business Administration

Harvard University

BostonReturn to top

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