Thursday, December 25, 2014

"Rockefeller is not much of a business man..."

From the Harvard Business Review:

Credit was a relatively simple matter in early America, when businesses were situated close to their customers. After all, merchants probably knew their customers personally and could make well-informed judgments about their ability to pay. But as the United States expanded westward and distance between creditor and debtor grew, the risk became much greater. This was painfully borne out by the Panic of 1837.
The ensuing six-year depression—and the failure of many, many businesses—led Lewis Tappan to establish the first credit agency, in 1841 in New York City. The Mercantile Agency rated companies’ ability to pay their debts and published those ratings in a series of guides. The Mercantile Agency was soon acquired by Robert Dun, who then joined forces with a rival agency founded by John Bradstreet.
Like the companies struggling to establish businesses on the American frontier, Dun & Bradstreet and other credit agencies were pioneers, on several fronts. They endowed credit reports with unprecedented levels of objectivity, understanding that modern commerce required a new kind of foundation. Their collection, pursuit, centralization, and storage of data also heralded the coming information age. So what did this look like? Starting in the 1840s, the Mercantile Agency (later R.G. Dun & Company) sent reporters into the field to collect information on businesses’ creditworthiness. The data wascompiled into enormous ledgers and then condensed and distributed in the form of enormous “Reference Books.” In-depth evaluations were available only to subscribers of the credit service.

It’s Personal

The earliest entries sometimes looked at the personal reputations of the individual members of the firm, like this note about M.B. Clark and John D. Rockefeller from 1863:

It’s Business

The entries also contained the financial standings of businesses, including access to capital, payment terms, and debt. Here’s an example for R.H. Macy & Co. from 1879:

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