By Ken Hunt
Canadians shed a frustrated tear when American businessman Jerry Zucker took ownership of The Hudson’s Bay Company in 2006. He died abruptly two years later due to Hudson’s Curse which, allegedly, will not allow a non-Canadian to own the company. Because of Hudson’s vengeful spirit and the fact that the U.S. economy is now about as stable as a two-legged chair, the company may soon be back in Canadian hands where it belongs.
While New York-based private equity firm NDRC, which took over after Zucker in 2008, claims to have made improvements to the company and increased profits, these came as a result of job cuts — as most “improvements” in corporate America do. Richard Baker, current president of NDRC, stated his “great hope is to return the Hudson’s Bay Company to the people of Canada through an initial public offering, perhaps as early as the first half of 2011.” Having no doubt endured numerous unwelcome visits from Henry Hudson’s angry ghost, as well as numerous unwelcome visits from angry stockholders, Baker’s decision comes as no surprise.
As of yet, it hasn’t been decided how much of the company will go public, and Baker was quoted saying, “we would still be involved and very active in the business.” Pretty ballsy thing to say, considering his soul lies in the balance.
On the bright side, the company did unveil its uniform design for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic winter games last Thursday and Baker apparently promised that if either the Canadian men’s or women’s hockey team takes home a gold medal, he’ll display the Canadian flag, team photos and team uniforms in the flagship Lord and Taylor store on New York’s fifth avenue. A noble effort to appease Hudson, but it will not succeed. Maybe he’ll try marketing Olympic uniforms as a hot new clothing line.
After dropping 700 of its beloved brands, which accounted for more than half the brands it carried, to make room for 150 new American brands, The Bay’s cultural enamel has been severely eroded. This kind of ruthless slaughter of a company’s tradition in the name of profits is exactly what Canadians feared would happen to The Bay. Baker even went so far as to criticize the store’s previous owners for continuing to run things certain ways simply because that’s the way they had always been run. Well, if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it. The Bay is North America’s oldest company and they’ve obviously been doing something right to have survived for 339 years.
International business co-operation is essential to keeping the world economy afloat, but when a company’s ties to its country of origin and original market of consumers are thrown overboard in favour of profit opportunities, not only do consumers lose their loyalty and faith in the company itself, but countries like Canada lose a chunk of their economies. Thankfully, justice still exists, in a supernatural form. Just leave your Hudson’s Bay Company stocks at the Toronto exchange and back away slowly, Mr. Baker. It’s the only way to lift the curse.