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Is Adele Ravellese a metaphor for modern business?

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I want to tell you a story.

My wife wanted to buy a special outfit for my daughter so they went to Adele Ravellese, a very upmarket dress shop in Ascot in Brisbane, where they had shopped before and where they thought they would get exactly what they wanted.

They had a very successful visit finding the lady who served them, Wilma, to be most attentive and helpful. They ordered the outfit and arranged to return to check the fabric which would be offered.

When they returned a few days later, Wilma was not there but the proprietor attended to them. The fabric offered was not acceptable but the lady said that that was all they had. My wife was offered the sample book to see if there was any other fabric which would suit. She was only part way through checking when the lady came up, took the book back, and said "Why don't you go away and think about it?"

Affronted by the rudeness of this, they did go away and they did think about it. The result was they cancelled the order and sought another source for the outfit.

In the event they found exactly what they wanted in a local dress material shop and arranged for a local dressmaker to make the outfit.

A day or so later, they had a telephone call from Wilma. She had heard that they had had a problem with the fabric and had spent some of her own time trying to find something suitable. She was very apologetic when she heard of the treatment they had received from the proprietor.

When my daughter went back to the shop to pick up some jewelry she had chosen to wear with the new outfit, she made sure that Wilma would be there. Wilma was overwhelmed when my daughter gave her a bottle of wine to thank her for the trouble she had taken.

The story illustrates a phenomenon which I believe is a growing problem in our society. Some people who are in business seem to think that their problems are more important than the problems of their customers. The old adage "The customer is always right" might not be universally true because some customers expect service beyond what is reasonable or possible. However, it surely has to rank pretty high on the list of rules for running a successful business.

I suspect that this phenomenon stems from a more general malaise in the business world. There seems to be a theory that the "bottom line" is the most important and possibly the only thing to be considered when running a business.

I well remember my experience working for AWA. I joined them in 1968 when Sir Lionel Hooke was the head of the company. His declared objectives for the company were, firstly, to provide the best possible service to the nation by building a business which could provide every kind of electronic device needed in the growing and developing economy and, secondly, to make enough profit to remain viable so the first objective could continue to be met.

We were able to design and build avionics, navigation aids, transmitters and receiver for military and civil communications, and for radio and television, domestic radio, television and telephone equipment, valves, microelectronic devices, military and civil systems, and all kinds of specialized equipment for both military and civil customers.

The company was a great Australian enterprise and was very successful.

Sir Lionel died and his son, John, took over the running of the company. His objectives were different fro those of his father. His prime aim was to be counted in the top one hundred Australian companies measured by market capitalisation.

History shows that the company faltered and finally failed. The last surviving part of the company was sold to the owners of Jupiters Casino who sold the name, AWA, to someone else who now trades on the great reputation of a great Australian enterprise though they had no part in the earlier success and do not have the same ethos as the earlier company.

While I understand that the world has changed in the last thirty years, I do not believe that the values which made companies successful in the past have become less important. Nor do I believe that an economy in which businesses focus on the next three months instead of the next three years or the next thirty years can prosper in the long term. AWA is but one example of the transient nature of short term business and we are in serious trouble if everybody stops thinking of the future.

I suspect that Adele Ravellese is just following the herd in putting customer service low on the list of priorities. Perhaps she will survive but it is also possible that she will drive enough customers away that the business will follow AWA into oblivion.

I promised that I wouldn't ever end a discussion of today's world on a pessimistic note. Please read "The world isn't going to hell in a basket, is it?" to discover how I believe it will all turn out!

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Created: 28.08.2004 and last revised 05.11.2004
Author: Robin Chalmers Copyright in all the material on this site is asserted by the author
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