Subject: Re: a stocks and dividends question
From: robin <robin@roblimo.com>
Date: Sat, 11 Jan 2003 12:22:11 -0500


> But think about it.  Robin, Ben, and Tom write like managements are
> the enemy and untrustworthy.  Huh?  Ain't this FSB?  As Pogo says, "we
> have met the enemy, and he is us."  I think in this context it's
> reasonable to assume that _we_ are productive and _our_ investors
> won't have too much difficulty getting straght numbers from us.

Hah. I've interviewed too many corporate "C-level" people for business 
stories to have much faith left. (Ditto top-level government folks, of 
course). Questions are so routinely ducked and answers are so routinely 
obfuscated that yes, I assume managements aren't to be trusted until 
proven otherwise.

I believe the business/economic/investment thinking that has dominated 
the U.S. for the past 20+ years is unhealthy for 90% of the population 
90% of the time, and I have severe doubts about the ability of Free 
Software to fit into a business climate where "venture capital" and 
"exit strategy" are common phrases. I suspect that healthy, long-term 
Free Software and Open Source businesses are more likely to be small 
than large, may be entirely or partially worker-owned, and that most of 
them probably will not be public companies.

Why shouldn't a business's objective be to earn a reasonable, stable 
return for its founders and outside investors (if it has any), year 
after year, with allowance for market variations? What is wrong with 
operating a business that has 5 - 50 employees who perform valuable 
tasks and are compensated fairly in return -- and feel they are truly 
part of the company and are willing to put in bursts of energy on its 
behalf when necessary, in return for which the company will make every 
possible effort to make sure those employees have permanent jobs and a 
decent retirement?

I am finding a growing crowd of Internet and software businesses that 
follow this model and earn modest but acceptable profits; where there is 
little or no divide between management and workers; and little or no 
time is spent on corporate politics or infighting, but everyone pays 
full attention to actually producing goods or services.

A CEO who is focused on the company's stock price, and spends much -- 
even most -- of his or her time dealing with investors and investment 
analysts, is simply not going to be as strong of a leader as one who is 
focused on the business itself. (I have developed this belief after 
observing many small and large businesses over the last 30 years. It may 
not fit in with current large-scale business thinking, but I firmly 
believe it to be true.)

Perhaps Free Software businesses have a greater chance of success if 
they are not burdened with the overhead -- and it is a *significant* 
overhead -- of dealing with venture capitalists, putting together IPOs, 
and the general madness (including regulatory compliance) involved in 
running a public company.

I also believe the old Unix pattern of small programs and scripts that 
each perform one function well is healthier than the Windows pattern of 
having huge, monolithic programs whose internal functions are not 
visible to users and may not even be well-understood by programmers who 
work for the companies that create those programs.

Another question that needs to be asked repeatedly, especially in the 
Free Software context: "What is success?"

Is it necessarily all about money? Are there other things in life that 
might be more important? Are we, indeed, just little robotic fixtures 
that exist only to perform statistical functions in defined roles as 
"consumers" or "investors" or "workers"?  Or is there more to life -- 
and work -- than this?


- Robin