I've known Rick Inatome for almost 15 years, and I can't recall ever seeing him dressed in anything other than a suit and tie -- at least not until he stopped by my office a couple of months ago. He was wearing chinos and a short-sleeved shirt open at the collar. OK, the chinos had creases so sharp that you could have sliced your finger on them. I haven't seen anything like them since boot camp. But still, they were chinos, and Inatome was doing a pretty fair imitation of a guy trying to look casual. I knew immediately that something was up.
Longtime readers of Inc. may recall that Inatome is the cofounder of Inacomp Computer Centers, a two-time Inc. 500 company that he and his father later built into Inacom, a $7 billion Fortune 500 company. That day, however, he was in our offices to talk with a group of editors and writers about ZapMe Corp., an educational Internet company he'd recently taken over. Hence, the new look.
Whatever sartorial changes he has gone through, Inatome is still as sharp as his creases. Those who attended the meeting were fascinated to hear him talk about making the transition from the old new economy to the new new economy. I suspect you'll be equally fascinated by senior writer D.M. Osborne's vivid snapshot of that transition in this month's cover story, " Getting It."
The Microbusiness Challenge
Contributor David H. Freedman has written an article for this issue that also sheds light on the challenges of adapting to a digital world. In " Can You Survive the eBay Economy?" Freedman shows how on-line auctions are creating a new class of microenterprises that are providing increasingly stiff competition for traditional small companies.
Small businesses were once expected to be major beneficiaries of the Internet, which was supposed to level the playing field between them and large companies. As it turns out, the Internet not only has failed to deliver on that promise but is now breeding new guerrilla competitors to traditional small businesses.
If you're looking for ways to respond to that challenge, you might want to check out Freedman's new book, Corps Business: The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marines, which HarperBusiness published in January. The book grew out of his April 1998 Inc. cover story, " Corps Values." Both depict a 225-year-old organization that has all the qualities required to compete in the 21st century: speed, adaptability, decentralization, and an absolutely relentless dedication to excellence.
Shades of Black and White
Editor-at-large Jeffrey L. Seglin has a new book out as well, The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart (John Wiley & Sons). The book traces its genealogy back to a series of features Seglin wrote for Inc. under the rubric Black and White in 1998 and 1999. Like the articles, the book offers compelling case studies, which Seglin illuminates with commentary from some of the country's leading ethical theorists.
Money and Fun
Fun is the secret ingredient of a lot of great companies, but 10 years of economic prosperity, a resurgent stock market, and the dawning of the dot-com have created other business priorities. These days, people often seem too preoccupied with making money to think about having fun.
A noteworthy exception is the two brothers who've built one of the finest furniture retailers in the country, Jordan's Furniture, which Warren Buffett bought recently for more than $200 million. Forget about the company's $250 million in sales last year. Here is a business with sales per square foot of approximately $1,000 in an industry that averages between $150 and $200 per square foot -- a differential of five to one.
But what truly distinguishes the people at Jordan's Furniture is their seemingly infinite capacity for having fun, as you'll see from the wonderful portrait of the company by Arthur Lubow, a freelancer whose work has appeared frequently in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and other publications. "Wowing Warren" provides a much-needed reminder that it's still possible to make money and have fun at the same time.