[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

From what I can tell, most businesses, once they get to a certain size, cannot avoid be lured into the American conviction that you must expand or die. And, of course, the primary ways to expand is to manipulate consumers through misleading advertising, all to increase one’s market share; or to outsources one’s operations to other, cheaper parts of the globe, where wages (and safety conditions and labor protections) are so much more minimal; or to get oneself bought out by some larger–preferably multinational–conglomerate, so as to benefit from increased economies of scale. All of that is pretty much standard…so much so that it’s rather amazing to discover a big, $100 million a year company, which takes the opposite route. This article spells out seven examples of Jiffy‘s civic-mindedness; #5 is my favorite:

When I commented on [Jiffy CEO Howdy] Holmes’ decision not to sell off even part of his multi-million dollar company, he said “What would I do if I sold-out? Spend my life vacationing somewhere?!” The CEO of Jiffy has the right attitude. Our occupations, in balance with our relationships, give our lives meaning. To work a job just for money or to escape from community and family responsibilities is shallow at best. A visiting reporter from Fortune magazine described Jiffy mix as “a decidedly chipper workplace, with friendly employees who seem to be genuinely enjoying their jobs. They greet Holmes warmly, he appears to know virtually all of them by name, and none of it feels phony.”

One of the saddest trends in American culture today is the growing disconnect between making money and producing value. Many of our best and brightest minds shuffle paper and money for financial institutions to earn big salaries, while the real creators of wealth — bakers, builders, farmers, inventors, teachers, designers, and doctors are loaded down by debt. Jiffy mix is a welcome trend-breaker. According to CEO Holmes, “Our staff puts more emphasis on internal and external relationships than we do on completing tasks. This is very different from most companies … Our dedication to strong family business values, combined with real world professionalism has us uniquely situated for the 21st Century.”

Confession: I don’t believe Melissa and I have ever bought a Jiffy product. When we make biscuits or muffins or what have you, we mostly make them from scratch. It will be claimed, with much justice, that Jiffy is able to be what it is because it fully embraces, and benefits from, a mass-market ideology and style of dumbed-down cooking and eating as old as the postwar flight to the suburbs. To which I can only respond 1) yes, that’s right, and 2) if I had to choose between a thoroughly late-1940s-style corporation, one that contented itself with a stable workplace and a supportive community while producing an honest product, and one which, on the other hand, completely embraced the high finance and out-sourcing stratagems of 21st-century capitalism, and while so doing was able to provide me with slightly better quality blueberries in my muffin mix….I’d still choose the former. Anyway, as the kids used to say back when the internet was young, read the whole thing.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Just about everything you say in paragraph 1 is true of the biggest corporation of them all, the U.S. Government. Talk about expand or die. Even slowing down the rate of expansion a bit is viewed as death, to judge by the anti-sequester rhetoric. And the use of misleading advertising to expand its market share describes the Obamacare campaign exactly.

    Maybe we would get small operations like Jiffy to be content with a more static role in society if we could figure out how to do the same with our government corporations.

  2. My brothers and I grew up on Jiffy mix—corn muffins for dinner and artificial, imitation blueberry pancakes for breakfast (especially when camping). The number one reason I still eat Jiffy mix today? It tastes like childhood. Number two: Jiffy is a Michigan company, which makes them local, or at least in-state, for me.

  3. Josh, I think both of those are excellent–and entirely defensible–reasons; they speak well of you. It occurs to me that I haven’t asked my wife, who grew up in Michigan, if she has any Jiffy memories from her childhood…

  4. And, of course, the primary ways to expand is to manipulate consumers through misleading advertising, all to increase one’s market share;

    Unless the nature and benefits of the merchandise or service are esoteric (as they might be with insurance or investment funds), you really cannot pull this on one household too many times. If your business has a high profile, you poison the well. Shlitz beer was produced by a big honkin’ brewer, once upon a time.

    or to outsources one’s operations to other, cheaper parts of the globe, where wages (and safety conditions and labor protections) are so much more minimal;

    Had you considered comparing the wages not to what prevails in Vancouver but what prevails in the agricultural and service sector where these manufacturing plants are founded?

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