Saturday, March 17, 2007

Two men and a truck ... and a bank

In 1803 James Monroe arranged to purchased the Louisiana Territory from a cash-starved French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, for $15 million. Despite young America's westward expansion and settling in the new territory, President Thomas Jefferson wasn't compelled to move our nation's capital from Washington DC to New Orleans or St. Louis to be closer to his "growing market."

Even today with continued population migrations to America's South West, President Bush has no intentions on relocating our nation's headquarters to Scottsdale Arizona, Dallas Texas, or anywhere else than where it's been for over 200 years, despite Washington DC's economic and social hurdles, or its fickle climate.

Earlier this month, Comerica Bank announced it will be moving its headquarters from its downtown Detroit home, where its been for over 150 years, to Dallas Texas. In a press release, Chairman and CEO Ralph Babb Jr. said it was important for Comerica to be closer to its "growing market."

Early responses to Comerica's announcement were mostly emotional and irrational, ranging from anger expressed by the Governor's office (Michigan's governor, not Texas') to resignation at the now-accepted belief the bank's move reflects an economic reality and shouldn't be thought less of for thinking less of Michigan. One of the explanations given on the radio was something like, "Imagine if your store was on the East side and all your customers moved to the West side. Moving just makes sense to be closer to your customers."

Perhaps. But all Comerica's customers didn't move.

But we're not here to blow about Comerica or whine about feeling betrayed. Let's assume Comerica's executives are the vanguard of business leadership and are setting an example other organizations might emulate. To be closer to their "growing markets" who else might move and where would they move to? If moving HQ to your "growing markets" makes sense then:
  • General Motors would abandon downtown Detroit for Beijing to be closer to its growing market in China
  • Asian manufacturers would move to Benton Arkansas to be closer to Walmart's HQ and their growing markets
  • Mexico's Presidente Calderón would move his country's Distrito Federal from Mexico City to San Diego to be nearer his migrating citizenship
  • IBM would abandon Armonk NY and Microsoft would leave Redmond WA for Bangalore, India
  • Anything French would stay where it is
Except for the last one, the others don't seem to make sense. The location of a company's headquarters is more influenced by where its executives live, or want to live, than their markets.

As business decisions go, there's room to criticize Comerica's as being peculiar and their justifications specious, and there needn't be anything emotional about it. Let's at least hope they hire Michigan companies to move their offices from 500 Woodward Avenue and at least some of the 200 employees that will be moving with the furniture.

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