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Were they making rack suits at Tuxedo Park?

Some people may not have expected the recent announcement concerning the closure of the bulk of its research center at Tuxedo Park, New York, USA, by International Paper. While the funeral director, pastor, priest, or mullah may express surprise at the timing of our rigor mortis appearance at their door--unusually early or unusually late--they nevertheless expect us. Similarly, we should not be surprised when facilities such as Tuxedo Park close. Even AT&T shed itself of the famous Bell Labs.

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By now, you know my mantra--we must make the invoice printer hum if we expect to survive and thrive. "We" means everyone in every part of the business--even the academics who write me thinking that this does not apply to them. Although some Tuxedo Park functions will relocate elsewhere, apparently those in charge reached the conclusion that as a complete, stand-alone facility it was not carrying its share of the load in invoice printer humming.

Solutions! readers who are primarily employees often shoot the messenger when hearing such announcements. They blame corporate managers, Wall Street, stockholders, directors, and other faceless groups. These are not truly faceless groups. Directors have a fiduciary duty to use the corporation's assets in the best possible manner as do corporate managers. Wall Street has a responsibility to advise customers to invest in the best possible securities and will not recommend those that are not good investments. Other faceless groups: stockholders--your widowed mother, your child's college savings plan, and your retirement plan--want your investments to work as hard as possible.

Somewhere along the way, Tuxedo Park lost its connection to the invoice printer. The facility might have survived for a period with a perception that it still had a strong tie to the invoice printer. Yet if it or any other facility had been or is living on such a perception, that deception will surface when the game is over.

Academia has exactly the same issue. Academia receives support from foundations; federal, state, and local governments; private research; and student tuition. When any such entity begins to think it is not receiving fair value for its investment--if the particular invoice printer they are watching is not humming as a result of their support of a particular institution--the funding for that institution will cease in a heartbeat. The institution will join the archives of interesting history.

The only way to learn proactively from a closing such as Tuxedo Park is to assemble an experienced post-mortem task force of researchers, marketers, economists, and business managers as one would assemble a multi-faceted team of experts to dissect a plane crash. Unfortunately, no entity exists with the resources or interest to assemble and fund a truly balanced team for such an effort. We therefore careen forward rather crudely by allowing market forces to determine which entities survive and which fail with invoice printer humming the only, ultimate test. This is the purgative effect of modern free enterprise that ultimately improves the standard of living for all society. Sometimes a medicine makes us more ill temporarily; ultimately we recover from its use.

JAMES R. THOMPSON Talo Analytic International, Inc. jthompson@taii.com

About the author: Jim Thompson is chairman and CEO of Talo Analytic International Inc., Atlanta, Georgia, USA. He is also a member of the Solutions! Editorial Board and writes the weekly column "Nip Impressions" in TAPPI's weekly electronic newsletter, Over-the-Wire. Contact him at jthompson@taii.com. Editor's Note: TAPPI members can receive Over-the-Wire for free. To subscribe, log in to www.tappi.org as a member, click on "My TAPPI" and go to "Update Member Record." Under "Publications," click "yes" on the Over-the-Wire box.
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Title Annotation:Spotlight
Author:Thompson, James R.
Publication:Solutions - for People, Processes and Paper
Date:Nov 1, 2003
Words:607
Previous Article:Waiting for Godot.
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