When you propose marriage you aren’t supposed to look desperate. But that seems to be the stance at Anheuser-Busch InBev, which just got jilted after its 3rd offer to buy SABMiller in less than a month.

The numbers are ridiculous:  $104 Billion to “buy” (a.k.a., merge) a structural basket case that is “big brewing”. Huge dollar mergers & acquisitions, followed by massive cost cutting, and then gi-normous fees for the consultants, bankers and executive parachute artists. This is what passes for “fixing” businesses that are being out-competed, fair and square.

The healthier the beer business gets, the worse the big brewers do. Why is this?

Simple answer:  Craft beers taste better and you’re willing to pay for them.

Instead of riding the value curve, the big brewers tried to capitalize on craft beer pricing to harvest margin as their consumption and market shares drifted downward. What used to be relatively cheap (24 pack cases of canned lagers), doesn’t look that way anymore. A few more bucks for a couple 6’s of the good stuff and who wants 24 cans of plain vanilla suds?

So all the big guys seem able to do is fight a massive rear guard action of merge and cut. They refuse to lower prices and force consumer choice or spur consumption. They can’t seem to stick with and grow new offerings. Their craft-like efforts tend to fall flat because of a lack of meaningful differentiation and local flavor.

What to do?

Rather than waste cash on mergers and ruin balance sheets with restructuring games, do the hard work! Cut prices and own the value message on core offerings. Pick credible innovations (e.g., fruit infused) and support them consistently. Do craft offerings but win on value … understand that you can’t “out local” the local guys.

As for competition, don’t simply try to beat out craft beers. Instead, look for ways to co-opt them. Share brewing capacities and distribution channels. Co-market, especially at major events and sports venues. Let the craft guys shine in the “great but expensive” department while you own the “good and inexpensive” territory.

The choices are not hard. The execution, however, is mighty difficult!

It requires “Big Brew” to accept the changed environment in which they find themselves. It also requires that they adjust their ambitions in ways that depart starkly from how they have traditionally conceived of themselves and their brands. In other words, they have to redefine what it means to be a leader.



I want to let you know about a great business event coming up in October at the OSU Fisher School in Columbus. And you’re invited!

Making the Elephant Dance:  A Personal Journey to Lean Innovation featuring Clay Phillips.

I’ve known Clay for some years and he’s seen the struggle to innovate from both sides – inside the corporate bureaucracy and in the wild west of Silicon Valley.  He has a lot of great stories and insights! Clay promises to cover some interesting ground, from his time at General Motors, to his conversion to the Lean Innovation methodology, to helping companies, both big and small, use the Lean approach to get to market faster and more successfully.

If you can’t make it, please pass this along to your friends and colleagues!

In addition to learning from Clay, this will be a great networking opportunity.  Members of OSU’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship include some of the best Ohio based companies.

And did I say it’s free?!

Here are the details.

When: Wednesday, October 21, 2015, 8:30 – 11:00am 

Light breakfast items and beverages will be provided.

Where: The Blackwell, Pfahl Hall Room 302, 2110 Tuttle Park Place, Columbus, OH 43210

Parking: Available in the Lane Avenue or Tuttle Park Place parking garages.

Register by clicking here.


Serendipity is a wonderful thing … probably should be studied on a larger scale.

On Tuesday I was talking to an industry group about whether they can make strategy and find competitive advantage in capital S sustainability (hint: they can’t!). Then this afternoon I come across this delightful little post. (Thanks Maggie’s!)

It is a humorous and THOUGHTFUL way to wind down the week.

I’ve said here and other places that we now live in the Age of Received Wisdoms, where we believe all manner of hogwash to the point of choosing self destruction over progress. David Warren gives us great historical perspective on the phenomenon…

This is an old story; I taught a course on it once. The same thing happened in the ancient world, to dismember an earlier development of empirical science in the Hellenistic age, centred finally on Alexandria. By the time of the Roman Empire, it was quite dead. The focus of all work was now on applied technology; scientific thinking had, not in contrast to this, but by the same oppressively practical habits, turned to astrology, alchemy, and other fanciful researches. Science had succumbed to scientism, and its results were now the product of “consensus.”

It took more centuries than ten for the idea of demonstrable scientific truth to slice back out of the cocoon of superstition — a large, still mostly unknown history that, in turn, connects the renaissance of the twelfth century with the baroque renaissance that led to such as Newton, and Pasteur.

Yet no sooner had that been achieved, than the gnostic impulse was re-asserted. By the nineteenth century, the “just so stories” (of Marxism, Darwinism, Freudianism, etc.) were back in play, masquerading as empirical science, and we began again weaving our way into a sack of darkness, under the direction of scientistic high priests, girded about by “consensus.”

Please laugh just a bit this weekend!


Anybody remember this old placard from journalist Stephen Brill? A better piece of strategic advice would be hard to find.

Thank you Nick Adams!

I like trains as much as the next nostalgic, but to believe “street cars are the future” requires a particular madness. This funny but sharp commentary nails it…

“Modern” … “Environmentally Friendly” … who are we kidding!?

Cincinnati is in the final lap of constructing said white elephant akin to the DC pike. The politics are a complete joke. One fib after another, from “it’ll only cost x millions” to “it’ll pay for itself” to a mayor who told voters “I’ll kill it if elected,” only to flip-flop within hours of being sworn in.

It’s rich that the primary palace advocate’s name is La ‘Hood’. Hood-wink more accurately.

What’s even sillier are all urban hipsters and millennials who think the streetcar is cool, no doubt thinking it’ll be just grand to hear the ring-ring of the bell as they sip their latte at the cafe. But they’ll likely never ride a mile on the thing!

A little schooling: By the 1920’s, the country had thousands of miles of trolley systems. (Look up Samuel Insull for fun.) Whether they were municipal trolleys or interurbans whining across the countryside, nearly every town of any significance was connected. By the First World War, trolleys were the 5th largest industry in the US.

But the truth was that, from the very beginning, most trolley systems had trouble making ends meet. They couldn’t haul much rich freight (the big trains did that). And the per person costs of moving Aunt Betty from the big town to the big city for a day of shopping just couldn’t cover the hardware.

Once roads began to be improved in the 1920’s, trolley systems started going bankrupt left and right. Once the Depression hit, it was game over.

Advocating for and building trolleys today is political windmill jousting at its finest!


I will readily admit to growing up in a conservative household. It was not an ideologically conservative household (even if my mother did have a thing for William F. Buckley).

It was conservatism born of experience, hard lessons and humility.

My parents saw and survived the Depression. My dad fought in the Second World War. His profession was money management. And they were both solid New England Yankees.

They valued self-reliance, responsibility and principled civic behavior. They believed in those core ideas we are supposed to celebrate over the barbecue this weekend:  Freedom of conscience, vigorous public debate, the wisdom of the ballot box, and public institutions designed to protect the whole operation.

Their patriotism was true, deep … old fashioned.

It was also paid for. The names of a handful of cousins and brothers of my great grandfather are chiseled into the GAR statue on the common in Charlestown, New Hampshire. Their blood ran into the mud of more than one Virginia killing field.

An earlier relative’s flintlock musket use to hang over my aunt and uncle’s fireplace. Legend had it that it was used in anger against the Lobsterbacks in ’75 and ’76 … possibly at Bunker Hill (Breed’s Hill if you were a local).

As we enjoy the incredible bounty our forefathers and mothers made possible, I can’t help but worry that we have taken a bad turn as a country.

As I look at my young children, I wonder if they will ever feel the true feelings of liberty and patriotism that should be their birthright.

Somehow, as a nation, we are working overtime to circumscribe the respect for and protection of liberty. Freedom to be and think differently are under assault. As a result, honest faith and hope in our union … the real definition of patriotism … is being diminished.

One great –and constant- lesson my parents taught (pushed, cajoled, more like it), was to seek out the ideas, arguments –even friendship- of those who thought differently.

I can remember when Mormon boys would come by in the soaking heat of August, in shirt and tie, on bicycles, going door to door.

My reaction, of course, was total scorn.  Which brought a sharp rebuke from my dad.

He said, look at it their way! They believe in something important enough that they’d give up a million easier and funner things, leave home and approach total strangers about a message they probably don’t yet fully understand.  Admire their resolve and purpose!

And then he challenged me to consider what object or idea would cause me to drop everything and go knocking on doors … or some equivalent exercise in privation for a purpose.

Neither my mom nor dad were religious, but they encouraged deep respect for those who were. To them, religious nuts were preferable to smart, suburban kids who were a bit too smug and thought they knew things they didn’t. I can imagine my father thinking, “Well, at least they are working to figure it out.”

Where has this respect, even envy for the effort, gone? Why do we not approach all questions and arguments by first honoring conscience? Why do we not seek to understand?

These days we are all about pillorying those who think differently, say the “wrong” things or express things that are less than de rigueur.

No matter what you think may be true, recent events (not the least being last week’s Supreme Court decisions) are opening the door to an absolute melee against those who disagree, hold-out or otherwise argue with the “consensus.” The process (well described by Steven Pinker below) is both sinister and invidious.

The patriotism I was reared on honored the idea that win or lose, you forgave the foe and tried to part with a handshake. Now, as the career of one infamous tech CEO demonstrated, we favor public execution for the loser.

More disturbing is the enlistment of police powers to enforce consensus…which is now gnawing at nearly every corner of our commercial, political and personal lives.

We are steadily moving from rule “of the people, by the people, for the people” to the rule of potentates, supposedly wise but forever wanting.

Again, the idea we are supposed to celebrate this weekend was a union built on freedom of conscience, vigorous public discourse, and the wisdom of the ballot box, with public institutions designed to protect this modus operandi.

America has been about the best idea in all of history. She ain’t dead, but she appears injured. So maybe we should all spend a few quiet minutes this weekend thinking about whether and how she might be restored to health?

Great infographic in the Washington Post. The shark ain’t going to get you!

Go Swim

Think your job is hard? Check this out…

Land a $50 Million, 20 ton aircraft on a pitching carrier deck, in the dark. Just an easy day’s work.

Jun 8


Just a small dose of self-awareness can prevent a big case of self-parody.