You’re never too big to lose

No matter how fast you’re growing, the future is never guaranteed

It was a beautiful September day in 1983. Liberty was going against Australia II in the final race of the America’s Cup. It was the first time in the cup’s 132-year history that more than five races were needed to decide this best-of-seven series. Liberty was in the lead. Australia II went off to the right and Liberty failed to cover. It’s in the bag. What could possibly go wrong?

Unfortunately, Australia II found better wind, and when they crossed tacks again, Liberty was behind, to everyone’s horror. The longest winning streak in history had been broken. The America’s Cup went down under to Australia. though it belonged to us, and we would have it forever…

The Roman Catholic Church had an even longer winning streak. With humble beginnings 2,000 years ago, it grew to be Europe’s dominant religion. Success has a way of making us feel bulletproof. For various reasons, including corruption in the church, factions broke away. Today, there are somewhere near 33,000 Protestant denominations.

Somehow, the Catholic Church survived. No one has more schools, hospitals, etc. What could possibly go wrong?

The advent of the pill and the sexual revolution. Pope Paul VI published an encyclical, Humanae Vitae, which condemned use of the pill. Most importantly, it explained the harm it would do (skyrocketing divorce rates, broken families, increasing crime rates, etc.). Unfortunately, we Catholics don’t tend to read these, and fallen-away Catholics are now the second-largest religious group in America.


What else could go wrong? How about the priests’ sexual abuse scandal. Instead of exposing everything and coming clean immediately with incredibly sincere apologies, they tried to hide everything, hoping the problem would just go away. That disaster was bigger than the first. It merely dragged it out. It was like cutting off one of your limbs an inch at a time.

Unlike the pill, this disaster was internally caused, making the church liable for millions. They closed churches to sell the real estate to pay the bills, alienating even more of the faithful. In the business vernacular, we’ve lost an incredible amount of market share, but nobody seems to know how much.

Back in the 1970s, General Motors was the largest automaker in the world. “What’s good for GM is good for the country,” was the old mantra. They didn’t pay much attention when Volkswagen Beetles started selling here. Then came Toyotas and lots of other foreign cars. Buying foreign became fashionable, and the previously unassailable Big Three automakers were reeling. GM even went under, requiring a controversial bailout a few years ago.

Remember when the Route 128 belt was the eastern Silicon Valley? Companies like Digital Equipment, Wang Computer, Data General, Prime Computer, Compugraphic and lots of others populated the Northeast with high-paying jobs. Many of those companies don’t even exist anymore.


How about photography? Remember when Eastman Kodak pretty much owned the market? If you had to see your pictures right away, the Polaroid Land camera was the thing for you. If you wanted a picture of a document, the Xerox machine was the thing. Where are those companies today?

Blackberry used to rule the smartphone world. When’s the last time you’ve seen one of those?

The list could go on and on. No matter how big or successful you are, no matter how fast you’re growing, the future is never guaranteed. The surest way to lose is to think it is.

Andy Grove, one of the founders of Intel, used to say, “Only the paranoid survive.” We don’t want to get too comfortable. We have to nullify Murphy and his infamous law by constantly getting better and better.

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or

Categories: Business Advice