ON CHANGE: MICHAEL MILKEN – Financial Alchemist, Junk-Bond Prodigy (Drexel Burnham Lambert), Wall Street Poster Child, Philanthropist.
I often point out that automobiles changed the world, but in 1917, when the majority of a car’s cost was based on raw materials, the country’s largest company by far was U.S. Steel. A century later, these resources make up only a tiny fraction of the cost of the dominant product, the microchip, whose primary economic input is the brainpower of engineers.
A century ago, the automobile was radically changing transportation and mobility. Ford Motor was the 21st-largest company. By the time it went public in 1956 with what was then the largest stock sale in history, it was one of the most valuable companies in the U.S. Today its total market value is less than the annual price variation of Amazon, Facebook, Apple or Google.
Understanding how change occurs is key. By the 1970s, Singer, the sewing-machine maker, was known for an unbroken record of paying dividends going back more than 100 years. But that wasn’t as relevant as the emancipation of women, which had been upending its business for years. The company didn’t understand that women were less interested in sewing than in careers.

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