The Wonderful World of Jim Penn


    Professor Ferdinand Von Rumproast, MBA professor extraordinaire, was early for class.  This signaled something special.  He was also smiling, the third time this semester.


    “Class, in preparing for this session of Mergers and Acquisitions, I was searching for a BusinessWeek cover story, ‘Mergers:  Why Most Big Deals Don’t Pay Off,’ when I discovered ‘Birds in Business’ by Avian Noncageus.  Professor Noncageus’ premise brings a fresh perspective in understanding businesses and their leaders.  He compares them with bird-like traits.


    “Erika, can you identify any bird-like trait that may reflect a businessperson’s attitude?”


    The question took her by surprise.  “Well, I guess there are some who don’t want to recognize what’s happening in the business world.  You could say they‘re ostrich-like, burying their heads in the sand.”


    The class threw out a few guffaws.  “Erika, you get 50 percent for that answer.  Your observation of some businesses and their leaders is correct, but it’s a common misconception that ostriches stick their heads in the sand.  Their habitat doesn’t contain many hiding places.  To fool an enemy into thinking that it’s a bush, an ostrich will drop its head and long neck to the ground.”


    The professor continued.  “Noncageus believes that humans can learn much from birds.  For instance, the eagle, a predator, prefers to hunt for its food, but the vulture, an equally large bird, prefers to feed on carrion.  The owl, everybody’s symbol for wisdom, is a cunning night raptor.  Then there are those who eat insects and vegetation like pigeons, cuckoos, swallows, turkeys and ostriches.


    “Can you match these birds with businesses or leaders?”


    Howard raised his hand.  “Since we’re studying mergers, it would be helpful to know if both companies are predators.  If so, are they of equal predatory strength?  Knowing who’s the eagle and who’s the hawk will help us assess which leader will remain standing after the merger.” 


    The professor stroked his chin for a moment.  “Very good.  Can a merger be successful when the candidates, or their leaders, are predator and prey, like an owl and a turkey?”


    Erika was eager to answer again.  “Yes!  In fact, that may make a great merger since the owl is smart and focused.  Assuming that the turkey is too large for the owl to kill, it may combine the best of both birds, the turkey being plump, productive, and efficient at what it does best, eating, and the owl, a leader.”


    Giggles followed, but the professor was pleased.  “Any comments on how a tern, gull, swallow or pigeon leader would stack up in a merger setting?”


    I raised my hand.  “Gulls and pigeons are great moochers and beg for food whenever they can.  On the other hand, swallows and terns are swift flyers and effective in their pursuit of insects and other foods.  You give me a swallow or tern any time, if you want to get a job done, but I’d stay away from those darn gulls and pigeons.”


    “Not bad, Jim.  How about cowbirds and cuckoos?  Do any of you know what these two birds share in common?”


    Bill responded.  “Generally, they both lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and escape the responsibility of raising their young.  If we’re comparing birds to people, these people transfer their duties to others and avoid responsibility.


    “To all parents who may be raising cowbird-like leaders at this time, my message would paraphrase a line in the famous country song, ‘Don’t let your babies grow up to be cowbirds.’”


    The class and Von Rumproast burst out laughing at Bill’s comment.  Von Rumproast finally gained control.  “It appears you get the point.  The avian kingdom can help us to understand CEOs, their companies, and the future success of business mergers.


    “I hope our session today has given you food for thought.  But, enough fowl remarks.  Class dismissed.”


    If I told anyone that we compared business leaders to birds, they’d question Von Rumproast’s sanity.  However, they’d wind up eating crow.  Which reminds me, a turkey sandwich wouldn’t be half-bad right now.