In a world plagued by scandals and bad intentions, it would be nice to think that good intentions always lead to success. Unfortunately, that's just not true. In the corporate jungle, the road to hell is sometimes paved with good intentions. Some memorable and seemingly sound efforts have lead to some spectacular failures.

SEE: Biggest Merger And Acquisition Disasters

Trying to Be All Things to Everyone
The pursuit of growth often encourages companies to move beyond their core competency. However, sometimes getting away from a core business can be a mistake. Westinghouse Electric, founded in 1886, found this out the hard way. The firm, once a global force in its industry, employed such luminaries as Nikola Tesla and was responsible for groundbreaking achievements, including revolutionizing the use of alternating current for electricity generation and the construction of the nation's first nuclear power plant.

Building on its success, the firm branched out into disparate businesses. Among its many acquisitions: Seven-Up Bottling Company, Longines-Wittnauer Watch Company (which sold mail-order records), broadcasting/cable television interests, financial service business, office furniture makers and residential real estate. The result was a behemoth jack-of-all-trades company (master of none) which collapsed under the weight of its multiple industries, leaving its nuclear division the sole survivor to this day.

Failing to Diversify
Intel, founded in 1968, became the world's largest manufacturer of semiconductor chips. In 1994, the discovery of an error in its FDIV chips, and the ensuing media onslaught, brought an avalanche of negative publicity to the firm. As a result, the firm launched a highly successful advertising campaign that made the company's name synonymous with the place its semiconductor chips held "inside" a host of computers. To build on its success, the firm put serious effort in expanding into other businesses, ranging from flat-panel television processors and chips for portable media players, to chips for wireless technology.

Despite the firm's well-known brand, those efforts failed to achieve the desired level of success, and the company's stock price has remained relatively flat for more than a decade. While the firm's core business continues to operate successfully, the diversification efforts just didn't work out as planned.

Expanding Too Quickly
Krispy Kreme donuts got its start in 1937, when a French chef began making the gooey pastries and selling them to grocery stores. The firm grew slowly and became a regional favorite in the Southeastern United States. When Krispy Kreme's founder died in 1973, the firm was sold to Beatrice Foods and the company's growth stalled. In 1982, a group of franchisees purchased Krispy Kreme and laid the groundwork for the rapid-fire expansion of the 1990s.

Encouraged by pastry-loving diners, the firm grew rapidly and not only went national, but also global, opening franchise locations around the world. The company went public in April 2000 and the price soared to nearly $50 per share by August 2003. However, in 2005, the firm posted $198 million in losses. Pressure to maintain earnings led to an accounting scandal. Store closings became common and the stock collapsed, losing nearly 90% of its value. Fortunately for its fans, the firm remains in business.

Growth by Acquisition
Bank of America built an empire one acquisition at a time. The Charlotte-based bank bought up other banks one after another, growing its size and expanding its presence until it became a dominant force in the industry. Unlike Westinghouse, the buying binge remained focused within the financial services industry. Unfortunately, not all of the acquisitions went well. The decision to grab high-end investment firm U.S. Trust lead to a poor cultural fit, as the populist retail bank attempted to absorb the white-shoe private bank, but was quickly forgotten in the wake of a shotgun-wedding with industry giant Merrill Lynch. The culture clash following the purchase led to a string of high-profile departures of senior executives, but even that wasn't enough to stop the bank's advance.

Finally, the purchase of scandal-plagued Countrywide Mortgage caused the bank to inherit a mess that decimated the stock price. The disaster began with Countrywide's lending practices: the firm gave high-interest, subprime loans to consumers who were of questionable credit quality. Those loans were then bundled together and sold to investors as high-quality mortgage-backed securities. When housing values fell and homeowner defaults rose, Bank of America was forced to pay $8.5 billion in a legal settlement, coupled that with a big foreclosure scandal. Years after the acquisition, Bank of America continued to struggle with issues connected to Countrywide.

Sticking to Tried and True Methods
Perhaps witnessing the struggles firms face when they try to implement dramatic change, Borders Books based its expansion efforts on a brick-and-mortar merchandising strategy. In the 1990s, Borders filled its book stores with calendars, music, DVDs and other goods to supplement its traditional offering of books. Its competitors went the online route, using the Internet to offer convenient shopping and huge inventories. The failure to evolve and keep up with online distribution led to the closing of over 300 stores and caused about 11,000 employees to lose their jobs when the 40-year-old business went bust.

Trying to Innovate
Commodore Computers was an industry force when it unleashed the now-famous Commodore 64. A tech-hungry marketplace of consumers snapped up the 64, which remained cutting edge from 1983-1986. While the initial effort was a huge success, attempts to create a new and improved version failed.

Coca-Cola faced similar challenges when it attempted to "improve" the tried and true recipe for Coke. Faced with shrinking sales, the firm completely abandoned the recipe for its flagship, launching New Coke in April of 1985. "New" Coke was a complete fiasco, hated by purists and panned in the media. "Classic Coke" returned to the shelves less than three months after it had been retired.

Failing to Keep up With the Competition
The name "General Motors" was once synonymous with the automobile industry. The big dog of the auto industry created such iconic brands as Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick and GMC. General Motors was at the top of the heap in 1963, with a 50% share of the market. For the next two decades, the giant rested on its laurels, while foreign competitors built efficient factories that churned out high-quality vehicles at competitive prices. By the early 1980s, GM's reputation had been tarnished and its market share had been slashed in half, as the firm fell victim to higher-quality cars imported from Japan. The firm has since caught up with its competitors in terms of quality, but the turnaround was decades in the making.

Attempting to Protect the Firm from Bad News
In 1886, the Johnson brothers founded a firm that would soon invent the world's first commercial first-aid kit. The firm grew its presence from there, launching such consumer icons as Johnson's Baby Powder, BAND-AID Brand Adhesive Bandages and the pain reliever Motrin. In 2008, the firm discovered that Motrin was not properly dissolving when swallowed. Rather than issue a recall and incur the associated negative publicity, the firm sent secret shoppers out to buy the products off store shelves, which resulted in a lawsuit in Oregon in 2011. While its objective was honorable, its method of implementation resulted in months of negative publicity, when the media and public learned of the stealth recall.

The Bottom Line
What lessons can other businesses learn from the troubles of those that have gone before them? The biggest lesson of all may be that there are no guarantees in business. Sticking to your tried and true practices doesn't always work, and innovation doesn't always lead to success. The vagaries of the marketplace and the fickle hand of fate are two of the reasons stock analysis is so difficult. There's no easy way to sort the winners from the losers before you put your money at risk - a painful lesson that many investors have learned the hard way.

Related Articles
  1. Fundamental Analysis

    What Causes Inflation in the United States

    Inflation is the main catalyst behind U.S monetary policy. But what causes this phenomenon of sustained rising prices? Read on to find out.
  2. Stock Analysis

    Net Neutrality: Pros and Cons

    The fight over net neutrality has become an amazing spectacle. But at its core, it's yet another skirmish in cable television's war to remain relevant.
  3. Fundamental Analysis

    Is India the Next Emerging Markets Superstar?

    With a shift towards manufacturing and services, India could be the next emerging market superstar. Here, we provide a detailed breakdown of its GDP.
  4. Stock Analysis

    5 Reasons Thoratec Corp. Keeps Impressing Investors

    Learn about Thoratec Corporation and its position in its industry. Understand five key factors why the company has impressed investors.
  5. Entrepreneurship

    Top 5 Startups That Emerged in Boston

    Learn why Boston is a hot market for startups, and familiarize yourself with a few of the top startups that have emerged from the city.
  6. Term

    Estimating with Subjective Probability

    Subjective probability is someone’s estimation that an event will occur.
  7. Entrepreneurship

    How to Prep Your Business for a Sale

    Once you have a clean, stand-alone business with solid finances, it's time to put a price on it. Here are the steps needed to prepare for a sale.
  8. Investing Basics

    Understanding the Modigliani-Miller Theorem

    The Modigliani-Miller (M&M) theorem is used in financial and economic studies to analyze the value of a firm, such as a business or a corporation.
  9. Economics

    Explaining Kurtosis

    Kurtosis describes the distribution of data around an average.
  10. Personal Finance

    Simple Interest Loans: Do They Exist?

    Yes, they do. Here is what they are – and how to use them to your advantage.
  1. Cost Accounting

    A type of accounting process that aims to capture a company's ...
  2. Zero-Sum Game

    A situation in which one person’s gain is equivalent to another’s ...
  3. Supply

    A fundamental economic concept that describes the total amount ...
  4. Principal-Agent Problem

    The principal-agent problem develops when a principal creates ...
  5. Discount Bond

    A bond that is issued for less than its par (or face) value, ...
  6. Weighted Average Cost Of Capital ...

    A calculation of a firm's cost of capital in which each category ...
  1. Why is versatility in a company's core competencies fundamental in its success?

    The core competencies of a company are comprised of the sum total of assets and capacities that allow the business to compete ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What is the utility function and how is it calculated?

    In economics, utility function is an important concept that measures preferences over a set of goods and services. Utility ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. How long does it take to execute an M&A deal?

    Even the simplest merger and acquisition (M&A) deals are challenging. It takes a lot for two previously independent enterprises ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. What are some common accretive transactions?

    The term "accretive" is most often used in reference to mergers and acquisitions (M&A). It refers to a transaction that ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What are some ways to make a distribution channel more efficient?

    While there are many ways to make a distribution channel more efficient, the three high-level ways to increase the efficiency ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. How can I use a regression to see the correlation between prices and interest rates?

    In statistics, regression analysis is a widely used technique to uncover relationships among variables and determine whether ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Trading Center

You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!