Intelligent fanatics can do things that ordinary skilled mortals can’t.
To get the full appreciation of a fanatic’s organization or the skill they possess, in the business context, or any field for that matter, Ian and I always look for contrasting examples. These are the anti-fanatics. We want to know who tried to compete with the intelligent fanatic-led organization and why they failed. There usually are good reasons for their failure, and it isn’t all due to bad luck.
It doesn’t matter how much capital they possess - they merely are ordinary skilled mortals running half rate operations. As we’ve said:
You know your culture is an asset when the competition knows what you are doing, how you are doing it, and they still can’t duplicate it.In our recent case study on Gustavus Swift, the meatpacking titan, we came across a fantastic contrast in Marquis de Morès. Despite possessing nearly unlimited capital, Marquis de Morès could not duplicate Swift or any other Chicago meatpacker’s success. Marquis de Morès was a prototypical anti-fanatic.
Marquis de Morès was a prestigiously trained French cavalryman, or horse mounted soldier. He resigned from the French cavalry in 1882 and married Medora von Hoffman - daughter of wealthy New York banker Louis von Hoffman. The two settled in what is now Medora, North Dakota on 45,000 acres of land in 1883.
Marquis de Morès was not to settle down. He didn’t want to be a simple rancher. He wanted to dominate the quickly growing meat packing trade. His vision was to pack beef on the plains of Dakota and Montana where the animals were fed, and ship them East to New York City without changing railroad cars in Chicago. His father in-law A.L. von Hoffman, with wealth and a Wall Street bank behind him, was there to supply de Mores the money.
Early newspapers reported that de Morès was “an aggressive, enterprising man, has the capital necessary to insure confidence in his projects, and is liberal in his dealings with the public.” They also reported that Marquis de Morès’s scheme was almost certain to thrive. One newspaper reported, “There are numerous strong and incontrovertible arguments in favor of this scheme, and that it will be a success there can scarcely be a doubt.”
Everything pointed to Marquis de Morès either being a huge player in the meatpacking market or crushing competition like then dominant Swift & Co. or Armour & Co. He had built up the town of Medora, with a chapel, a depot and a large hotel. He went out of his way to induce farmers to settle in his town, he gave each the use of forty acres of broken land on year free, with the crop. This was to enable the farmers to stay out of debt. Talk about an additive sum proposition for the town of Medora and Marquis de Morès’s operation.
But Marquis de Morès failed, and miserably at that. He shut his business down three years after it started.
There were outside forces that played against Marquis de Morès. There was a drought in 1886. That made beef production difficult that year. The railroads, who worked with the Chicago meatpackers, refused to grant de Morès the same rebates on freight rates they gave his competitors, adding to his costs. But still, even if these things hadn’t happened, we are convinced that Marquis de Morès would have eventually failed.
He had every opportunity to succeed, but he lacked execution.
De Morès failed to dominate a small niche first. He tried to go straight to competing directly with Swift and other Chicago meatpackers in New York City. He left the local markets of Duluth, Superior, St. Paul and others open for the Chicago packers to take over. They did.
Had de Morès dominated the local market first, he might have had better leverage in getting rebates from railroads. And even without the rebates, he would have had a profitable local operation.
When things weren’t working de Morès kept changing his focus. When slaughtering showed signs of failure, he moved to breeding sheep and a butter and egg business. He could never turn a profit before he’d move on.
Then we get to overall leadership. Unlike Gustavus Swift and other fanatics, Marquis de Morès was a terrible leader from the beginning. De Morès was more like the CEO of a company today. He wore “top boots and tailor-made clothes, rode English saddles bobbing up and down instead of riding cowboy fashion, firmly seated in a deep Mexican saddle, a part of the horse, riding like a centaur.”
De Morès made it clear to all that he lived above cattlemen and slaughterhouse men in his company. He even left to live in France every winter. He left an aggravated workforce behind to operate in frigid temperatures. This is not the way to lead a team of people.
When Marquis de Morès failed, who did he blame? Fanatics invariably blame themselves for mistakes, whether they deserve it or not. De Morès announced himself the victim of “A Jewish Plot” - some of the Chicago meatpackers were run by Jews. He spent the rest of his short life organizing and moving forward “a movement that mixed socialism with rabid anti-semitism that fed the French collective mania which led to the Dreyfus affair.” He eventually was killed by a North African tribesman while carrying out a wild scheme to unite the Muslims in a Holy War against the British and the Jews.
Members can access our case study on Gustavus Swift, the meatpacking titan of Swift & Co., [HERE].
- St. Paul Globe - Jan 3, 1886
- Bismark Weekly Tribune - April 2, 1886
- St. Paul Globe - Sep 7, 1902