Volume 42, Issue 7 - July 2007

The Business
Comparatively Speaking
by Lyle R. Hill

It rang … I answered it. “Hill,” the early morning caller began, before I could say a word, “how have ya been?”

We grew up together on Chicago’s tough west side and even though our lives went down totally separate paths we have kept in touch. 

“I’m OK,” I answered, after immediately recognizing the voice of Johnny “The Mooch” Rago.

“That’s good, Hill. I’m glad to hear it.”

Maybe I should explain what I mean by different paths. For instance, I have an actual job and pay taxes. He does not. I have never done what some might refer to as hard time. He has. But in spite of our differences, we are friends. Lifelong friends. And I may be the only friend, other than his angel of a wife, he has ever had.

“It’s been awhile since I’ve heard from you, Mooch. What have you been doing with yourself?”

“Oh, a little of this and a little of that, Hill. Nothing to really talk about if you know what I mean.”I knew exactly what he meant.

“So what can I do for you today, Mooch?” I asked.

“Well, Hill, did you get that fax I sent over to you yesterday? The one with the list of companies on it?”

“I got it.”

“Both of them, Hill? The new one and the one from 15 years ago?”

“Yeah, Mooch. I got them both and quite truthfully, I was a bit surprised. I mean, why in the world would you have kept a copy of that list from 15 years ago?”

“Hill, do you remember where I was 15 years ago? As you may recall, I didn’t have a lot of what you might call outside activities. So I read a lot and, to some extent, that’s when I became a student of your industry. You kept sending me all those magazines and books, and I kept reading them … over and over and over cause there was nothing else to do, Hill. And I still read them—every one from cover to cover.”

“That’s amazing, Mooch. I had no idea.”

“It’s like a hobby to me, Hill. I find your industry fascinating … totally backwards … but fascinating.”

“You are a sick man, Mooch. But what about the two lists you sent me? What’s the significance?”

“Hill, both lists are supposed to represent the top 50 companies, by revenue, in your industry.”

“OK, so what?”

“Well, Hill, I spent a little time comparing the two lists. You know, to see what may have changed, and it was interesting to say the least.”

“In what way?”

“For instance, Hill, did you know that 11 of the top 20 firms from 15 years ago are gone … not just gone from the top 20, but gone as in out of business.”


“Yeah, really, Hill. And it gets worse if you include the whole list.”

“I’m listening, Mooch.”

“Well, for instance, less than 25 percent of the companies on the list 15 years ago appear on the current list.”

“That’s not too surprising. Some companies grow and prosper, some merely survive, and yet others fall by the wayside. It’s kinda like survival of the fittest in the business world, Mooch.”

“Nobody respects survival more than a guy like me, Hill. But I gotta tell ya, the odds may be better in my profession than they are in yours.”

“I think we might be talking about a different kind of survival here, Mooch.”

“Maybe, but there’s some other stuff that doesn’t make sense in those lists.”

“Like what?” 

“Well, if the numbers are right, and I think they may be a bit exaggerated by some of the companies, I noticed a big variance in sales per employee.”

“What are you talking about, Mooch?”

“Well, if you divide the sales revenue of some of the companies by the number of employees they say they have working for them, it looks like some of the companies get twice as much revenue per employee as others.”

“That may not be an accurate comparison, though, Mooch, because some of the companies on that list are known to subcontract out a lot of their labor and I think some are including manufacturing revenues and not just installed product, so you gotta be careful with those comparisons.”

“If you say so, Hill, but what was it that uncle of yours used to say?”

“What uncle?”

“The one who fell asleep at his desk with a cigarette in his hand and lit his toupee on fire!”

“That wasn’t an uncle of mine, Mooch. He was my boss at the time.”

“Yeah, whatever. Didn’t he used to say that anyone can get a job done with too many people?”

“Yes. That was his favorite saying, but listen, I got a lot of work to do so unless you have something else to talk about, I’m going to hang up now.”

“Just one last thing, Hill.”

“What, Mooch?”

“If I was you, I’d stay off of that list. The odds aren’t so good!” 

the author: Lyle Hill is president of MTH Industries of Chicago. Mr. Hill’s opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine.

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No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.