Character Sketch: A Capitalist Role Model

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the recent rash of criminal trials of sports stars accused of everything
from assault with a hockey stick to contracting for murder, it is
refreshing to see a famous athlete doing something decent. David
Deiteman wrote a recent article at
about the charitable initiatives of Jerome Bettis, running back
for the Pittsburgh Steelers. What is not as well known outside Pittsburgh
is that another Steeler running back, Franco Harris, who celebrated
his 51st birthday last week, engages in off-the-field
activities that free-market proponents might find interesting.

Harris is founder, owner, and CEO of Super
Bakery, Inc.
(website under construction), a maker of high quality
pastries distributed nationwide. Super Bakery can accomplish national
distribution of fresh pastries because they contract out virtually
everything except bookkeeping and recipe development. After nearly
20 years, the business is doing just fine,
thanks. And of course Harris has help – he knew enough to hire good
managers. The virtual-corporation model is not the only reason for
the bakery's success: Recipes continue to be developed
at Penn State University's research kitchen, and a recent new product,
the "Super
, is loaded with calcium, protein, and vitamins
and minerals, and is intended to be enjoyed by children. Nor does
Franco stop there. Super Bakery has provided scholarships
to minority students majoring in food science.

1996, Harris bought a sausage business
that was on the verge of closing
its doors
; the business is still alive and doing well.
Harris had the sense to buy a business with some name recognition – Parks
Sausages – and a location (Baltimore) fairly close to his core fan
base. In so doing, he revived some childhood memories for a lot
of hot-dog-loving east-coast baseball fans.

aside the obvious feelgood humanitarian aspects of giving scholarships
and doing other direct charity work (and whether corporations even
should do such things is a contentious issue among business and
legal scholars), there is a host of ways in which Franco Harris
is a great capitalist role model. Consider some of what he's done:
He's grown a successful bakery business that employs workers and
provides value to customers. The value provided to customers is
manifold, in that the company attempts to provide both a convincing
taste treat (a new recipe may be taste tested through 100 modifications)
and high nutritional value at a competitive price. The business
model developed by Super Bakery is an exemplar of specialization:
All production processes aside from developing recipes and coordinating
contracts are bid out to firms that do one thing well. This is an
excellent business model for low-cost production at any target level
of quality – transportation costs are minimized, startup infrastructure
development for Super Bakery was near zero (at least compared to
what it could have been), and every type of flexibility is maximized.

the sausage business, Harris has rescued jobs from the brink, and
generated new jobs. It happens that Park Sausage was the first black-owned
company in the United States to be publically traded, and was located
in a depressed neighborhood in Baltimore. Harris knew none of this
when his interest in the company was piqued; he just knew that with
his management team, he could turn it around. He was right not to
focus on historical triviata. Creating value was at the top of his
list. But it is encouraging that those who do know the history may
feel a sentimental urge to patronize the business, because I want
to see this business succeed. I want to see whether Franco and his
associates are as clever with sausage as they are with baked goods.

Harris has done, most fundamentally, is compete. Concerted use of
research and development, risk taking, and bold ventures in corporate
design have replaced weightlifting and conditioning drills, but
Harris competes in business as he did in football. A hundred years
from now, Franco Harris the Steeler will be the answer to a sports
trivia question, perhaps as Francis Ouimet is today. It is entirely
plausible, however, to say that a century hence we could see Franco
Harris the entrepreneur discussed in business textbooks.

economy full of businesses that are as innovative as Super Bakery
is an economy I want to live in; this sort of competition makes
life much better for everyone – whatever you want to buy gets
better and/or less expensive all the time. The example Mr. Harris
sets is to be emulated.

13, 2001

Edmonds, Doctor of Musical Arts, is a banker in Alabama.

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