This thought-provoking cartoon, distributed by the Universal Press Syndicate, is called Unclestiltskin. What happens to America when we deplete all of our natural resources and realize that we've squandered away our long-term future in favor of short-term profits? If you're a company like Halliburton, of course, the answer is simple: you just move to Dubai and continue business as usual. For other companies, the answer is likely to be much more complex.
Which leads to a digression of sorts from "natural ecosystems" mentioned in the editorial cartoon to "business ecosystems." Companies need to realize that they function as part of a living, breathing business ecosystem, and that the elimination of even a single participant in this ecosystem can have serious consequences.
A recent Toyota Motor Company feature in FORTUNE magazine ("America's Best Car Company") really highlights this point. A Toyota executive explains that the company is doing everything possible to ensure that Detroit's Big Three (Ford, GM, Chrysler) continue to survive within the automotive ecosystem, even as Toyota continues to gain market share in the U.S. If, say, Ford turns belly-up, Toyota knows that it will be facing the mother of all corporate backlashes in the USA:
"We understand that as Toyota's presence increases, expectations and demands will also rise," president Katsuaki Watanabe told Fortune. Nuances will matter more than ever. When then-chairman Hiroshi Okuda in 2005 said Toyota might raise prices to take pressure off GM, the perceived condescension sparked outrage, followed by furious backpedaling. Okuda's remark betrayed Toyota's biggest fear: the financial collapse of one of the Detroit Three. Jim Lentz tries his best to deflect such talk. "We're all in this together," he says of his U.S. rivals. "We wish them the best."
If Toyota cares so much, why is it entering Detroit's last bastion of comparative strength? But Lentz swears that he means it and that the Tundra is simply a way to offer consumers a choice. The status quo, as he needn't point out, has served Toyota well. Despite occasional Japan bashing, Toyota has been able to grow. This process that has been gradual enough that the company is now an accepted - in fact, admired - part of the U.S. landscape. The dramatic failure of any of the Detroit Three would destabilize the industry - and make Toyota the villain. "The most important management task at Toyota these days," says auto consultant Jim Womack, "is to manage the decline of the domestics."