This week in financial history marks the anniversary of Black Wednesday, the bombing of Wall Street, the messianic return of Steve Jobs and much more. (Missed last week's article? Check out Wall Street History: Fannie And Freddie Are Bailed Out.)
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A Cosmetic Empire
On September 13, 1963, Mary Kay Ash started the company that bears her name. Armed with years of experience in direct sales and $5,000, Ash created her dream company to help women who wanted to have a career as well as a family. The company focused heavily on training and maintained strict guidelines for their sales force. This discipline, coupled with incentives, drove a rapid increase in Mary Kay sales.
Strong sales led Mary Kay to look at expanding even further, but she rejected the franchise system because she didn't want women to have to take on huge debts to sell Mary Kay products. In 1967, Mary Kay Cosmetics underwent an IPO to fund its expansion and it became the first company on the NYSE to be chaired by a woman. Sales slowed in the '80s, however, as more opportunities opened up for women in the workforce. The company's stock dipped and the company president, Mary Kay's son Richard, bought back the outstanding shares of the company, taking it private once more.
The Oil Cartel
On September 14, 1960, OPEC was formed to try and stabilize oil prices and unify oil policies. The founding members were Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. At the formation, OPEC had serious pricing power through control of a majority of the proven world reserves of oil. Acting as a cartel, OPEC used these powers to keep energy prices from slipping too low by curtailing supply, thus contributing to the energy crisis in the 1970s.
The membership in OPEC has grown, but its power has lessened in recent years. More member nations are willing to sell into relatively weak markets and greater reserves are now known to exist outside the OPEC membership. While they still are a force, they are not nearly the power they once were.
Happy Birthday, GM
On September 16, 1908, William Durant founded General Motors. The company survived for a century before falling into bankruptcy in 2009 - less than a year after celebrating its 100th birthday. GM's long history is rich with drama including a long-standing battle with Ford for global dominance, the outing of and then takeover by Durant and much more. However, by most definitions, GM's story has ended.
Although the company undergoing an IPO is likely to take on the name and claim the history, the real GM is the debt-ridden baggage that the new GM has left behind - now known as the Motors Liquidation Company in order to free up the name.
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Bombing Wall Street
On September 16, 1920, A bomb concealed in a horse-drawn wagon exploded across from 23 Wall Street, the headquarters of JPMorgan Bank. It was believed to be an anarchist's plot to kill Morgan, but he was away. The blast killed 38 people and wounded another 400. The scars of the attack can still be seen on the Morgan Bank façade.
Remembered in Britain as Black Wednesday, on September 16, 1992, George Soros and other currency speculators forced the British government to capitulate and pull the pound from the ERM. This feat earned Soros the moniker of "the man who broke the bank of England." Although Soros deserves all the credit he gets for a currency bet that netted him $1 billion in profit, the British policy makers were the true engineers. Their monetary policies attempted to fix exchange rates even though the economic fundamentals of the country were slipping. Soros was happy to help both the British and the market own up to reality.
Jobs is Back
On September 16, 1997, Steve Jobs returned to Apple as the interim CEO. During his "temporary" reign, Apple began cutting down its product lines to the profitable and the potentially profitable. He also put time into revitalizing the Apple brand with a series of advertising campaigns. Believing that scarcity created demand, Jobs clamped shut many of Apple's pre-launch gossip leaks. So it was that the iMac, iPod, iPhone and numerous other products hit the market like an unexpected present. Now, 13 years have passed, and Apple has gone from struggling to surpassing Microsoft in market cap. Somewhere in that time, Jobs dropped "interim" from his title.
That's all for this week. Next week we'll take a look at another black day, a controversial buyout and much more.
For the latest news, see Water Cooler Finance: Mergers, Hostile Bids And SEC Probes.