Volume 34, Number 12, December 1999

 

ISSUE AT HAND

Sharing the Wealth

by Debra Levy

Watching the comings and goings on the Forbes List of the 400 Wealthiest People in the U.S. (the Forbes 400) provides a microcosmic look at changes in American businesses. The so-called “titans of industry”—the Rockefellers and the Carnegies, who ranked in the top 20 even 50 years ago, remain on, but toward the bottom of the list, with heirs growing faster than inheritances. The 1980s saw an influx of real estate tycoons to the list; most are gone now. Indeed, the Donald himself ranks in the bottom quarter.
Nowhere is the effect of the electronic revolution seen more dramatically than on this year’s list. Bill Gates is number one, with an estimated worth of $67 billion dollars (number two is not even a close second at $30 billion). The list is peppered with new names of founders and stock-optioned managers of companies such as amazon.com, e-bay and priceline.com. Of the 60 new names on the Forbes 400, 19 have fortunes derived from Web businesses. It seems the “nouveau rich” are being replaced by the “instant rich.”
Also telling is how much influence the so-called “super-box” concept has had on the distribution of wealth in this country. The assets of the Waltons of Wal-mart fame continues to grow and the wealth of owners of companies such as Home Depot and Office MAX continue to increase.
There are some names that have remained constant on the list, and one of them is even in our industry. William Morse Davidson, owner of Guardian Industries of Auburn Hills, MI, has been on the list for the past 17 years. Forbes estimates his worth at $2.1 billion. While some (particularly those on them) question the accuracy of such lists, the Forbes list provides an interesting snapshot of individuals and a glimpse at the changing distribution of wealth in our country.
And speaking of changing distributions of wealth, nowhere is this more apparent than in the auto glass replacement industry. As you will read on page 14, Standard & Poors has downgraded the ratings of both Diamond/Triumph and Safelite Glass Corporation. The quarterly results from Apogee Enterprises Inc. are dismal (see page 21) and management is citing lack of profit from its auto glass segment as the reason. Even the relatively quiet Harding Glass is in the process of closing a number of stores in an effort to cut costs (see page 14).
Maybe business is sluggish—although that’s not what I hear around the country. Or maybe the increased competition has led some companies to price their product right into the dumpster. And maybe, just maybe, when the smaller companies say “I can’t do it for that” they are telling the truth. I do know that things have to change—or we will be writing about the insurance company that bought an auto glass chain for a song before it went under and plans to do its own captive glass replacement. More on this is in our next issue of AGRR in January.
Speaking of AGRR, this is the last issue of USGlass that will include coverage of the auto glass industry. Starting next month, all auto glass news will be part of our new publication, AGRR: the magazine driving the auto glass repair and replacement industry. If you haven’t ordered your free subscription, you can do so by visiting our website at www.glass.com. (We have a few other surprises planned for next month too, but I won’t spoil them now.)
Finally, I’d like to wish you the happiest of holiday seasons. I can remember sitting in fourth grade and figuring out that in the way distant year 2000 I would be 41. It seemed far away and impossible, that I would ever be that old. Now its here and “that old” doesn’t feel too old. The one thing all this talk about the millennium has been good for is reflection. So I’d like to take a moment and reflect on how much we at USGlass all enjoy working for you and how much we appreciate your time and your business.
Happy New Year!     -Deb


USG

Copyright 1999 Key Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.