When corporations actually went to war

Sandwiches

In the present day, corporations go to “war” via legal means — buying a controlling interest and then changing the Board of Directors, hostile takeovers, leveraged buyouts, or just simple cash offers.

Consequently, you may wind up with a gigantic monopoly (even though that’s not supposed to be legal anymore), or an ever-shifting series of mergers. The latter gave us things like Warner Bros. moving on to be Time-Warner, then AOL Time-Warner, the AT&T owned WarnerMedia, and possibly soon to be Warner Bros. Discovery.

Sometimes, we get the equivalent of a pirate raid, which happens when private equity firms come in and buy out a struggling company. Oh, they have no intention of rescuing that company. Rather, they’re just there to eliminate as many jobs as possible before selling off all of the tangible assets, like property and equipment for a profit.

Once they’ve sucked out what they can, there’s usually an IPO to make it look like the company is coming back, and then the private equity firm bails out and sells everything off. The practice is called Buy, Strip, and Flip, and it really should be outlawed.

Remember Sears? Before the internet, they were the Amazon of their day via their mail-order catalog through which you could buy just about anything. As of January 2021, the chain is dying, with only a few dozen stores left in the entire U.S. There’s exactly one man to thank for that.

And yet, for all of this corporate chicanery, it could be worse and, in fact, it was back at a time when rival corporations had much more direct ways of carrying out hostile negotiations.

They went to war. And it was on June 19 in 1816 that the Battle of Seven Oaks broke out, not between two hostile nations, but between Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) and North West Company. It was actually the last battle of an ongoing war between the two, which was finally ended when the British government forced the two companies to merge and put an end to it.

They were mainly Canadian companies, which is why the British government was able to get involved. Then again, HBC was sort of the de facto government in the fur trading areas of North America from the time they were chartered in 1670.

They were chartered by the king, but were not exactly a true governmental entity. Think of them more as a contractor with exclusive rights. These just so happened to clash with the North West Company, which didn’t have a royal charter but was truly a private company. They petitioned Parliament to get some access to the lands HBC controlled in a monopoly, but were refused.

The North West Company managed to make an end run via land, reaching Charlton Island, where they claimed territory belonging to the Inuit, and managed to make four times as much in fur trading as HBC did.

And so, the war was on.

I can only imagine what it would be like if rival companies settled their differences or handled mergers like this nowadays — Walt Disney company and Warner Bros. Discovery suddenly get into a disagreement over certain bits of intellectual property and boom! The streets of Burbank turn into a bloodbath as armed PAs and ADs take to the streets.

Yeah, I don’t see that happening. Although maybe we could institute a system in which we keep equity firms at bay by adding one single requirement. The equity fund managers have to run a gantlet flanked by all of the rank-and-file employees in danger of being laid off once the sale happens. So, basically, everyone.

They’re allowed to be armed with only non-ballistic and unsharpened hand weapons, but that leaves plenty. Also, they’re criminally immune for any injuries or deaths caused.

Now, all those managers have to do is make it from the front of the gantlet to the “safe box” in the corporate office lobby in order to make their deal and buy the company — and the bigger the company and the more employees there are, the longer that line.

Oh yeah — the equity fund has to fly every employee of the company to wherever HQ is, put them up in private hotel rooms with a per diem, and pay their full salary for the duration.

A ridiculous proposal? Sure. But it’s no worse than warfare, for one thing. Even better — it would definitely scare off these corporate vultures who, because of their rampant greed and lack of empathy, don’t deserve to eat in the first place.

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