Friday, November 30, 2012

What They Didn’t Teach Me in Business School

Now, I am a reasonably well-educated man; I graduated high school with adequate marks, made it through college with defensible grades and even finished graduate school without too many notable academic mishaps.
The Case of The Indian Trader: Billy Malone and the National Park Investigation at Hubbell Trading Post Book

There are, however, many individuals in southern San Juan County who are better trained than I. My friend Bill Boyle, editor of the San Juan Record and graduate of Stanford Business School, and Kira and Grange come immediately to mind. I have always been impressed with Bill’s general knowledge and clear vision. Additionally, I had to quit poking my nose into Kira and Grange’s homework years ago, lest they ask questions I was unprepared to answer.

Despite my inadequacies, I have generally pictured myself as a good businessman. I have been “successfully” plying my trade in the Navajo basket, rug and turquoise jewelry business for many years and have yet to file bankruptcy. After all, didn’t the U.S. Small Business Administration name Twin Rocks Trading Post and Cafe the Jeffrey Buntland Family-Owned Business of the Year for 2012?

Okay, I have to admit Craig, Barry and I have wondered whether the Business Gods were playing an unkind joke on us or whether there simply was no other candidate for the award. No matter how nice the trophy or how often we inspect it, trying to convince ourselves we are competent, we still, for good reason, describe ourselves as “traders on the edge”.

In spite of my overall entrepreneurial optimism, I have never been able to fully comprehend the Indian trading business. Barry and I frequently comment that it does not fit the standard model and scratch our heads in confusion, wondering at its complexities. We cannot, for example, understand why we continue to loan money to artists who will likely never compensate us for the advance; we question our reasons for purchasing from local craftsmen even after our bankers have notified us our accounts are overdrawn; and we often purchase things we do not need, simply because it is, “the right thing to do”.

Late last year, our friends Tim and Carol gave me a copy of The Case of The Indian Trader: Billy Malone and the National Park Investigation at Hubbell Trading Post. Although I began reading it last Christmas, Jana also became interested and the book went missing. It is only recently that I discovered it among her belongings and recommitted myself to finishing what I started over a year ago.

The book contains an excellent history of Hubbell Trading Post specifically and Indian trading in general. At one point it discusses the nature of this unusual commercial endeavor and, citing a letter written by Laura Graves, professor of history and author of Thomas Varker Keam, Indian Trader, states, “One cannot successfully understand the trading post business with its very complex and convoluted human relations . . . from the perspective of Accounting 101 or Management 101 - the business does not work like any ordinary business and those who try to force it into post-modern business management practices will do two things: Suffer from a profound misunderstanding and destroy the business . . . .”

Barry and I have discussed the book at length, and take a great deal of comfort from its descriptions of Indian trading. We are even considering it as a gift to our financial advisors and partners, many who have clearly concluded we are either uninitiated or simply crazy when it comes to implementing basic business principles. Crazy is the likely explanation. Anyone in this industry as long as we have been must be insane.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry, Priscilla and Danny; The Team

Great New Items! This week's selection of Native American art!

Our TnT's purchased new treasures! Check out Traders in Training!

Enjoy artwork from our many collector friends in Living with the Art!

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