On People & Co.

The Number Cruncher vs. The Vision Guy

Here is the story on business valuation that I wrote for the current issue of Inc., in which I had two appraisers take a crack at three different companies. The idea was to see whether they’d come up with substantially the same numbers, and they didn’t. I like the story because it shows how infinitely malleable numbers can be, how very subject to interpretation they are, how silly we are to depend on statistics alone without questioning the person that has gathered said statistics.

Behind the scenes, the making of this story was more like event planning than actual journalism. Or maybe more like casting a reality TV show. I wanted to pick appraisers that took different approaches to the craft of valuation (adding my own layer of interpretation and subjectivity to the story), and I wanted to pick companies that were doing substantially different things so it wouldn’t be too boring. I think that I didn’t quite succeed at this, because all of the companies were in the tech sector, but at least they were at different stages of development, which turned out to matter quite a bit.

The piece was something of a logistical headache. Two of the three companies that I approached originally to participate dropped out, one, because the process was too intrusive and onerous, the other because her company was about to merge with another, and it seemed the wrong time. (The second company was actually in New Orleans, pre-Katrina, so she probably would have dropped out anyway.) The story was originally supposed to run over the summer, so the changes obviously held things up a lot. The feeling of relief I had when the story shipped to the printer was profound. Only to be matched, I’m sure, by the feeling of relief I’ll have when the next feature I’m working for for Inc., about executive coaching, is safely committed to the printer.


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