Daily Archives: January 10, 2015

One Hundred and Forty Five Years Ago Today

One of the earliest US monopolies, as ruled by the US Supreme Court in 1911 under the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, was formed.

Until its dissolution into 33 smaller companies, Standard Oil, formed by John D. Rockefeller, was the largest oil refineries in the world. By 1890, it controlled 88% of the refined oil flows in the U.S. The company, which almost single-handedly innovated the business trust, mastered horizontal and vertical integration, streamlined production and logistics, lowered costs, and consistently undercut competitors. This alone is not a bad thing, as all supply chains should strive for this, but, as noted by the US Department of Justice, Standard Oil offered

Rebates, preferences, and other discriminatory practices in favor of the combination by railroad companies; restraint and monopolization by control of pipe lines, and unfair practices against competing pipe lines; contracts with competitors in restraint of trade; unfair methods of competition, such as local price cutting at the points where necessary to suppress competition; [and] espionage of the business of competitors, the operation of bogus independent companies, and payment of rebates on oil, with the like intent.

and did what they could to force the competition out of business. This is monopolistic, illegal under the Sherman Anti-trust act, and, to be blunt, unfair. If your processes are efficient enough, your products good enough, and your costs low enough, the public will choose you on their own — there is no need for discriminatory practices or a refusal to work with suppliers that will also work with your competition. Plus, as some of us know all too well, some customers aren’t profitable and monopolies get stuck with those problem customers, but lean, mean, supply-chain machines don’t.

Standard Oil is a good business case to keep in the back of your mind. They did a lot right, and a lot wrong. Take the good, and leave the bad, and your business — and supply chain — might be better for it.