What do the former Canadian Wheat Board, twist ties and the International Monetary Fund have in common?
They’re all topics in three of my favourite classic business stories by excellent writers. Jake MacDonald’s “Why so many farmers miss the Wheat Board,” Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s “International Monetary Fund Overview,” and Paul Lukas’ “Twist-Ties vs. Plastic Clips: Tiny Titans Battle for the Bakery Aisle” find entertaining ways to present company facts while asking important questions about a particular company, industry and economy.
Despite using completely different structures, the following three business stories are similar in that all of them make readers understand complicated insider business issues that normally seem opaque.
Business Profile featuring the Wheat Board
Jake MacDonald’s narrative feature outlining the demise of Canada’s wheat board begins in 1996 and continues until the summer of 2014. The freelancer’s opus appeared on November 27, 2014 in the Globe and Mail.
Slow-moving, yet compelling, the story’s narrative style makes it difficult to find a crucial section, but here are two paragraphs, just to give you a sense of how it reads.
The old multigenerational family farm is gradually being replaced by the vast acreage managed by the partnership, the corporation or the absentee owner. Harvesting machinery keeps getting bigger, more efficient and more expensive. Basic equipment for a small farm—trucks, tractor, swather, combine and so on—might cost well over $1 million. A couple of generations ago, a good-sized farm was a square mile (640 acres). Now, 2,000 acres is considered small. Rising costs keep pushing in from one end of the bench and farmers keep dropping off at the other. Is that such a bad thing? Farming, after all, has been in a state of constant revolution since the first nomadic hunter poked holes in the ground with a stick and scattered seeds of einkorn grass. What’s wrong with corporations taking over?”
Well, for one thing, they’re not as good at it,” says Byskal. “The small family farmer is often the best farmer. He’s been on the same land all his life, and he’s got a feel for the soil. He lets the land tell him what crops to grow, and the crops change from year to year. The corporate guy doesn’t have that same rapport with nature. He’s got a very businesslike approach. And that’s not always the best for the land, in the long run.”
Read the entire story for yourself.
International Monetary Fund Profile
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s summary of a paper published by the International Monetary Fund in The Telegraph on January 2, 2014 is a great example of a journalist’s capacity to make difficult economic thought clear for anyone.
Written with a traditional news style structure, the initial paragraph says everything detailed in the rest of the piece:
Much of the Western world will require defaults, a savings tax and higher inflation to clear the way for recovery as debt levels reach a 200-year high, according to a new report by the International Monetary Fund.
Read the rest of this non-fiction story for yourself.
Read more stories from the same author.
Kwik Lok vs Burford Business Profile
It’s well-worth reading Paul Lukas’ “Twist-Ties vs. Plastic Clips: Tiny Titans Battle for the Bakery Aisle,” which was published in Bloomberg Business Week on March 13, 2013.
This story highlights the battle for market share between Kwik Lok and Burford for the type of fastener used on bread, bagels and other consumer goods. Its genius is an easy-reading style that communicates industry information without making it seem boring.
The author uses the feature structure. His nutgraph is:
This was the latest move in a business war that’s been under way for more than half a century now. It’s a battle fought by the makers of inconspicuous little products that cost a fraction of a penny to produce—the ones that everyone knows and nobody thinks about, but which represent more than an estimated $10 million in annual sales. Insiders describe the turf as the bakery bag closure and reclosure market; this is the battle of the plastic clip vs. the twist-tie.
Read this non-fiction brilliance for yourself.
Read more about the author on his website, which is itself one of my favourite-ever profiles.