Those of you who know me know I’m excited about Laboratory Informatics. I could talk about it with you for hours on end. To me, the product development research and quality testing work I focus my business on is extremely important. But I suppose that, despite my enthusiasm for it, maybe it isn’t the only important thing around.
I always knew this, of course. What made me think to say this out loud is, well, I do want people to know I actually do have other things in my life, but beyond that, something that happened this last weekend.
As I’ve mentioned, GeoMetrick Enterprises is moving to Michigan in the next couple of months. This past weekend, I drove up to hunt for my new office. I looked mainly in the Ann Arbor area. Of course, I just HAD to drive up-and-down Plymouth Road to look at the old Pfizer complexes. For years, they had been a major customer of mine. When they were finally done using my services, I’ll admit I was not just sad I wouldn’t see so many of the people I’d worked with over the years but also a little apprehensive about filling their spot in my business. But my business survived without them and we all moved on.
A few years later, I heard they were pulling out of Ann Arbor. I didn’t believe it. They had just finished building a big,new technical center and I was certain the people I was talking to meant they were pulling some operations out, because Ann Arbor was supposed to be one of the lead sites. But, really and truly, they pulled out of those complexes. While Ann Arbor did suffer, it bounced-back surprisingly quickly. Now, it’s strange to see University of Michigan signs all over that site. But, just like my business, Ann Arbor found a way to recover.
Making a Point
No customer is the only important customer to anyone’s business. Despite the fact that Pfizer tends to be the world’s largest pharmaceutical company (I’m hedging my bets on this since these things change all the time), losing even them, while crushing to some, doesn’t make quite the lasting impact that one might expect.* Software vendors try to tell their customers this – that no matter how big a customer is, they’re not the only customer around. The alternate is true, as well. No matter how important we think we are to a customer, no matter how hard we work for them, no matter what we do, they would survive without us. They would find another way to fill that gap.
Thus, none of us should feel complacent about the business relationships we forge, whether we’re a software vendor, a services provider or even a customer. We can be replaced.
On the other hand, while it’s possible to replace someone, it’s not always easy. I’ll use Rochester, New York as an example. They depended on Kodak and Xerox to supply the jobs and, with those two companies no longer supporting the economy of the city, Rochester has fallen on hard times and doesn’t seem to show signs of much recovery. None of the local universities appear to be interested in taking on the old manufacturing and research buildings, but many of those building are quite old. How do we measure the ability of a business or a town to recover? Is it luck? Persistence? The average age of its businesses? Vision? Possibly it’s some combination.
With that, as I move my business out of Cleveland, I see it stuck in the middle. It’s not got the shiny gleam of Ann Arbor, but isn’t down-and-out as Rochester appears to be. From my short stay in Cleveland, I would say that I think that Cleveland is a city that just doesn’t give up. It seems to like businesses of all sizes, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and just keeps working at it. I don’t sense the complacency that I think some towns have acquired when they depend too heavily on one thing.
The same can be said for businesses. There are LIMS vendors who became complacent and failed or were swallowed-up by another company as their business floundered. Mergers and acquisitions sometimes take place because a company has a hot business model or technology, other times because it’s failing and is a tremendous bargain. When we get to the end of 2012, as in most years, we’ll look back and comment on the once-new LIMS, ELN or other laboratory informatics companies that have now become dinosaurs.
* Even though this is off-topic, if you have ever thought of humans as indispensible to the Earth, there is a book that describes how the Earth probably wouldn’t miss us and would, without us, repair any damage we’ve done to it called “The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman: