Wednesday, January 14, 2009

It's hard to stop a global capitalism

A short meditation on a corporate history page.

I haven't blogged in almost a month because I've been absorbed in projects that, while worthy, would be highly boring to write about. One of them was revamping the interfaces to data for RTK NET, which new interfaces should be released in a month or so. The other has been going through a list of 3,000 or so polluting facilities to see who owns them, for PERI's Toxic 100 project.

That last one had its moments. I must have looked at almost a thousand corporate Web sites to see whether a particular name was a subsidiary, an independent company, a holding company for something else, etc. That's always useful, because the companies that are shady and don't want to admit who owns them can be noted down as probable bad actors. One of the forthright companies provided a punch-drunk laugh -- I wouldn't have thought it was funny if I hadn't just gone through hundreds of them -- at any rate, here comes heating and air conditioning company Trane. Their corporate history page could be taken as a template for every company's page: the history going back "about a century", the lone founder, the struggle to build up a coherent, folksy story around whatever surviving corporate fragment this is. And then there's the triumphant tale of Trane's separation from its surrounding conglomerate:

On Nov. 28, 2007 we successfully completed a plan announced the previous February to separate the three American Standard businesses, leaving each free to concentrate exclusively on the markets it knows best. . Over the course of the year WABCO was spun off as an independent corporation and Bath and Kitchen was sold to Bain Capital Partners. On Nov. 28th American Standard Companies changed its name to Trane, with its stock trading under the new symbol "TT". Our new name reflects our business focus and our leadership in providing integrated heating, ventilation and air conditioning services and solutions.

New chapters in our history of growth through innovation are being written every working day. Our momentum continues to build because -- as our people have said for years -- "it's hard to stop a Trane."

Inspiring slogan, huh? But then there was a single sentence, added right after that -- I can no longer quote it because the page has been modified since, and a copy doesn't seem to have been saved. "On June 5, 2008, global diversified industrial company Ingersoll Rand acquired Trane." Luckily no one was there to see me laugh, or wonder why I thought it was funny. Nothing stops the train of global capital. Trane lasted for about half a year being free to concentrate exclusively on the market it knew best, and then someone else swallowed them up.

Of course they couldn't leave the page that way. The end of the text has now has been refocused into their acquisition "furthering its transformation into a multi-brand commercial products manufacturer serving customers in diverse global markets, and away from the capital-intense, heavy-machinery profile of its past." Wow, that heavy-machinery train that they were trying to talk up -- where did it go? All that is solid melts into air. The text has gone from a heroic-unstoppable mode to a familial-comfort one:

"With Trane now part of the family, Ingersoll Rand is better able to provide products, services and solutions to enhance the quality and comfort in homes and buildings, and enable companies and their customers to create progress."

New chapters in Trane's history of growth through innovation are being written every working day. Now as part of Ingersoll Rand, our momentum continues to build because - as our people have said for years - "it's hard to stop a Trane."

Their momentum continues to build -- embedded within something larger, something not under their control? The toy train goes around and around the play set...

The history of writing about capital is full of stories about trains, from Marx down to, say, Iron Council. This tiny little tragicomedy was just too perfect.

1 comment:

  1. From a toilet maker to a subsidiary of one of the Alaskan pipeline giants that made heavy construction equipment for laying down tracks and pipeline beds. Go figure.