Brick by Brick (the reconstruction of Lego)
by David Robertson
I can remember it as clearly as if it was yesterday.
I was nine years old and crossing Denmark by car with my parents, returning from a holiday in Norway. We had stopped for a picnic lunch in a field and were approached by a farmer who asked in broken English "you visit Legoland?" Legoland, we were informed was a couple of miles away over the fields - in English parlance that would be somewhere as exotic as mid way between Holbeach and Boston in the Fens!
Although I didn't know it at the time, I was the perfect profile for a Lego customer: male, aged 7 to 11 and dead keen on building things - and of course I was already a Lego addict with a massive collection of those little plastic bricks which hurt so much when to stand on them, and make a lovely rattle as the go up the vacuum cleaner pipe. We had no idea that Legoland existed, indeed it had only been built two tears before, so plans were altered and we spent an afternoon in this plastic wonderland.
I was in seventh heaven, ogling the intricate models, sailing the Lego boats and to top it all I drove the little Lego cars and got my first driving license!
Life moves on and the Lego set has languished in a box under the stairs at my mothers house, but I still find the versatility of the stuff amazing. I therefore found it hard to resist a book on the shelf of the airport bookshop about the rise, fall and resurrection of this iconic brand based in the arse end of nowhere, otherwise known as Billund, Denmark.
Dont get me wrong, this is an academic business studies book written by a Professor at a Swiss University who used the Lego experience to chart the rise of a unique product / brand, its stratospehric expansion when it piggy backed Star Wars and Harry Potter.The then found themselves lashed to the virtual Millennium Falcon as they sought to achieve even greater heights, but instead lost their way and very nearly crashed and burned in what is a notoriously fickle marketplace.
In a somewhat dry way, the book reveals an insular family owner business who who deployed good business principles but utterly lost control and didn't even know which products made / lost money. As a result they so nearly lost it all when sales collapsed and they didn't know were to apply the cuts. The crash was so spectacular that the business was destroying its value at $500k per day and finally pulled out of the death dive by the classic strategy of reverting back to the core business - in this case "the brick".
Buts its not all doom and gloom because out of the mountain of Lego shaped rubble a new way of operating was developed which embraced consumer wishes, was fleet of foot and most crucially provided a process which delivered a steady stream of appealing products with appeal to a broader range of customers.
If you are "into" business and retain an inexplicable fondness for that nobbly construction system this may be a book for you. Not an easy read - but no harder than the instructions which accompanied their Technics range....
Can you tell that there has been more business than boating in my life just recently?