Dead Enterprises Walking

Dead Man Walking was an acclaimed 1995 film. But the point is broader than the one made by the film. In a sense, we’re all dead men walking. It’s just a matter of time. When.

But the when is a big deal. Timing is everything, the saying goes. And it is.

As an investor, my goal is to avoid dead companies walking. Sometimes they’re called value traps: companies trading at what might seem to be a bargain price, with the prospect of outsized returns in the future. But the returns never come because the company was dying. Perhaps slowly. But dying nonetheless. It was a dead company walking.

Sears is one such company. My best guess is that J.C. Penny’s is another. There are others. Successful investors avoid such companies like the plague, no matter how enticing their stock prices may appear today.

But men and companies aren’t the only things that walk on their way to an early grave. Churches can be dead, too. And colleges. Hospitals. Cities and boroughs. I suppose just about everything under the sun can be dead and walking.

There is no upside to spending time or energy with dying organizations. There is no future in it.

The same isn’t true for people. The U.S. Supreme Court tells us that corporations are “persons.” Don’t believe it. Actual people are different from legal constructs. No real person should have to die alone.

It’s good to remember, though, that people and things aren’t simply alive or dying prematurely. There’s a vast middle.

Occupying the middle are people and enterprises that are stagnant, lacking vibrancy and energy, and lost from the perspective of mission and purpose. But they can survive, sometimes for a very long time. Yet they can be harmful to your soul, Vera. They can sap your energy and pull you down. Think long and hard before spending your time with such people and enterprises.

It’s an odd thing about life: if we play it too safe, we find ourselves walking slowly to our graves. There’s something to be said for running. You’d think the runners would get there sooner. But perhaps they don’t.

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