Here is one of those rare opportunities to look well beyond the balance sheet at the inner workings of a giant corporation, at the cold, impersonal side of business that shows little or no regard for personal achievement and human feelings.
This is about a former star quarterback at Manhatten College who is willing to speak his mind and face the potentially tough consequences because of strong personal convictions. He is Vincent "Vin" de Paul Draddy, 62, the chairman of David Crystal Inc., a leading apparel maker and owner of the famous Lacoste alligator emblem. And he's this week's recipient of the Dorfman award for plain talk.
Draddy, a 41-year veteran of the clothing industry and one of its outstanding success stories, is steaming at General Mills Inc. He told me the food biggie "doesn't have a clue as to what the whole damn apparel business is all about." Moreover, he thinks it is throwing away its money on bum advice on how to advertise fashion through a promotional endeavor that fails to capitalize on the full drawing power of the jolly alligator. What makes his words so surprising -- and even shocking -- is that General Mills has owned David Crystal for about 10 years. And Draddy is engaged in sensitive negotiations with Genral Mills on a new contract.
Draddy's blast at the parent company stems from General Mills' insistence on running -- over Draddy's objections -- institutional or good-will ads (where no store name or price is mentioned). He thinks that's absurd, that cooperative newspaper or magazine advertiseing (which mentions stores and price) is the way to go. "I like the bang-bang approach, the instant response that helped make this company a success. Why waste money on that institutional garbage when everbody knows the Lacoste alligator?" he asks.
Grey Advertising, a well-known agency, was hired to do the institutional ads. A disenchanted Draddy said he doesn't like what he's seen thus far of Grey's work. He especially is critical of a recent Grey- inspired ad which simply shows two golfers wearing Lacote shirts. "What the hell does that mean?" he asked. "Unless they get better, we're going to get rid of them. We pay them to create, not to sleep. I need Grey like I need a hole in the head."
I'm not about to take sides, but one can well appreciate Draddy's frustrations. Crystal's business is booming. There's a lengthy six-month wait on new orders for alligator apparel -- which runs the gamut from socks and shirts to jeans and snowsuits and accounts for 70 percent of Crystal's annual volume. And Crystal should turn in record sales of about $300 million in its fiscal year ending May 31, up a hefty 33 percent from fiscal 1979's $225 million, Draddy said. Add to this a reported pretax profit margin of about 11 percent (vs. 8 percent to 9 percent for a lot of other apparel producers) and it is easy to see why Draddy thinks General Mills should keep its nose out of Crystal's day-to-day operations.
Does he think the food company will have a change of heart someday and recognize that you don't promote fashion the same way you promote cereals?
Draddy hopes so. "We're one of the very few winners they've managed to buy in consumer-oriented businesses," he asserted.