Legal Fiction or Economic Reality?

Knowing the cost of your operations, however, is not enough. To compete successfully in an increasingly competitive global market, a company has to know the costs of its entire economic chain and has to work with other members of the chain to manage costs and maximize yield. Companies are therefore beginning to shift from costing only what goes on inside their own organizations to costing the entire economic process, in which even the biggest company is just one link.

The legal entity, the company, is a reality for shareholders, for creditors, for employees, and for tax collectors. But economically, it is fiction. Thirty years ago the Coca Cola Company was a franchisor. Independent bottlers manufactured the product. Now the company owns most of its botling operations in the United States. But Coke drinkers–even those few who know that fact–could not care less. What matters in the marketplace is the economic reality, the costs of the entire process, regardless of who owns what.

Again and again in business history, an unknown company has come from nowhere and in a few short years overtaken the established leaders without apparently even breathing hard. The explanation always given is superior strategy, superior technology, superior marketing, or lean manufacturing. But in every single case, the newcomer also enjoys a tremendous cost advantage, usually about 30 percent. The reason is always the same: the new company knows and manages the costs of the entire economic chain rather than its costs alone.

A powerful force driving companies toward economic chain costing will be the shift from cost-led pricing to price-led costing.

It will be painful for most businesses to switch to economic chain costing. Doing so requires uniform or at least compatible accounting systems at companies along the entire chain. Yet each one does its accounting in its own way, and each is convinced that its system is the only possible one. Moreover, economic-chain costing requires information sharing across companies, yet even within the same company, people tend to resist information sharing. Despite those challenges, companies can find ways to practice economic chain, costing now.

Whatever the obstacles, economic chain costing is going to be done. Otherwise, even the most efficient company will suffer from an increasing cost disadvantage.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please contact