Time was when Bethlehem Steel and Polaroid Camera were household names. Giants in their respective fields, the two major U.S. corporations were rock solid examples of the American business culture. Both companies filed for bankruptcy protection this week bringing to a close another chapter in business history.
How, you might ask, could two monsters of commerce come to such an unusual end? Look behind the numbers and you'll find the answer. In both cases - at least to some extent - the impact of foreign products coming into this country are to blame. But that's not the entire answer.
Bethlehem once boasted 300,000 employees at the height of World War II. It was Bethlehem that built over 1,100 ships used in our war effort. It also provided steel for the Golden Gate Bridge, Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center and the Waldorf-Astoria. In short, it was a true American story of business success.
Today however, Bethlehem has been hit hard by foreign imports, many of which are subsidized by their governments. Union labor is expensive and 74,000 retirees have added to the company's losing years. Deep in debt with a negative cash flow, Bethlehem threw in the towel this week.
Polaroid's woes are somewhat different. Locked into an outdated business approach, Polaroid allowed newer technology to come along and, in the process, they just missed the boat. Few areas of our economy have been impacted by technology as much as the photo industry. An array of new technology made the antiquated Polaroid a dinosaur. Its shares were trading above $60 a share just four years ago. Those shares are now in the 28 cent range. It was a fairly quick death for Polaroid.
Two giants of business, captains of industry. Both burdened by rising costs and impacted by foreign imports. There's a lesson to be learned from the demise of these firms. Change with the times or the times will change you. It's a lesson well worth learning.