Boston's Serfdom: Beyond Tech

In his Innovation Economy column this week, Scott Kirsner tells the stories of several tech companies that were sold to out-of-state acquirers over the years and openly asks the question: is it better to build and sustain or build to be acquired? In fact, he goes as far as wondering if Boston is forever destined to "serfdom to out-of-state companies."

It's a good question, but Scott limits his discussions to the local tech sector. The "problem" of selling off Boston's business assets goes well beyond that one area.

Take his employer, The Boston Globe, which is actually owned by the New York Times. How about Filene's Department Store, which, along with its Downtown Crossing sibling, was long ago sold to Macy's (the current result is a large hole in what was once Boston's bustling retail shopping district). Gillette is now owned by Proctor and Gamble, HP owns the computer company formerly known as Digital Equipment Corp and does anyone remember Shawmut, Bay Bank and Bank of Boston? No? How about Fleet Bank? No? Because all of them are now part of Bank of America.

Even the most iconic building in the Boston skyline, the John Hancock Tower, is owned by a real estate company based in New Jersey.

It makes me wonder if Boston's entire business culture is about being purchased by other companies.

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2 comments to Boston’s Serfdom: Beyond Tech

  • Chuck: All true. But then, don’t we all recognize this. The question is: can Boston prevent this for our current crop of mid-sized companies? Has out-of-state “owners” become the exit strategy? Are there things our state and local governments can do to make it worthwhile to become a Mass “stalwart?” After all, if Boston bred and based companies leave, why shouldn’t its people?

  • It’s a good question, but I also wonder if it’s something in our business culture.

    When I go to New York everyone I meet is in the financial services business. So many of them go into it saying “I’ll get out when I’m 35 and made a lot of money.” But they never do. They can never have enough.

    I sometimes wonder if, for the Boston business community, the excitement is in the chase. They don’t want a company that goes on forever, but want the challenge of starting from zero and seeing it grow.

    Let someone else run it forever.