Bad Decisions You’re Glad You Didn’t Make

At the end of the year, business owners tend to reflect on the good and bad that happened. We smile at the good decisions and consider what we could have done differently with the bad decisions. We thought we would make you feel better by telling about four businesses that seriously wished they had a do-over

Western Union

In the late 1800’s, Weston Union was a communications powerhouse. Company president William Orton was offered an opportunity to buy the patent on a new technology for $100,000. He saw no need to spend even that small amount of capital on something he considered an electrical toy that lacked commercial possibilities. His loss was AT&Ts gain. The telegraph has pretty much disappeared, but the telephone is still going strong.

Mars

In 1980 Mars candies was offered an opportunity to have their flagship M&Ms candies featured in a new movie being directed by Steven Spielberg called “E.T.” The problem Mars had with the offer is that Spielberg’s last movie “1941” had been a box office flop and Universal Studios wouldn’t let Mars read the script, so they passed. Spielberg’s son liked Reese’s Pieces, so Spielberg and Hershey CEO Jack Dowd worked out cross-promotion deal. Two weeks after the 1982 release of the movie, Reese’s Pieces sales had tripled and distributors couldn’t keep up with the demand.

Twentieth Century Fox Television

Fox never expected much from M*A*S*H when it premiered in 1972. They just thought they could produce a cheap series reusing the set from the movie. To their surprise, M*A*S*H became their only hit. Three years later the company needed cash and the show’s ratings were slipping, so they came up with a brilliant idea. They sold syndication rights for seasons 1 through 7 on a futures basis. Stations would buy episodes for $13,000 each in 1975 that they couldn’t broadcast until 1979. No guarantees, no refunds. They pocketed $26 million on a great deal for them. Well, not so much. In 1979 M*A*S*H was still hugely popular, ranking #3. The 168 episode grossed $1 million for local stations and Fox didn’t get a penny of it.

Electronic Data Systems

EDS was a $1 billion company owned by Ross Perot. They were looking to invest in a small computer company and Microsoft seemed like a good option because it could supply valuable software. The problem was that Bill Gates was determined not to undersell all his hard work. Perot thought his $40 to $60 million asking price was just too much, so he passed. Perot has often said it was the worst decision he ever made.