Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gerry Harvey

Gerry Harvey is probably a business guy. Although he could be a writer, because tomorrow I'm researching a writer. Or maybe he's neither business or writing. I kind of remember a Harvey business in Australia though. Maybe it was electronics again?

Well, Lord Wiki says Harvey is a businessman. The retail chain he's known for is Harvey Norman. I know the name, but I'm not sure if we've been to the store. Probably.

Baby Gerry was born in rural New South Wales on 18 September 1939. He went to school in Bathurst and Katoomba, so that gives us an idea of where in rural New South Wales he lived. I totally forgot where/what Katoomba was! It's the Blue Mountains. Well, I knew I knew it from somewhere. My parents are going on a cruise to Australia in March. They have a few days in Sydney before the cruise, so they might do the Blue Mountains. I'm so excited that my parents are going to Australia. I just wish they were going for much longer. They've actually been to Australia though...before I went. They went in 2000, I think. But not for The Olympics. They saw Sydney, and they also went to the Great Barrier Reef, and a Rainforest. Maybe Daintree?

Back to Katoomba. That and Bathurst are about an hour and a half away from each other. Bathurst is to the west. Then Sydney is to the east of Katoomba. Harvey later moved there to go to university.

He went to the university for a few years, and hated it. He dropped out.

Is it my imagination, or is there a trend with successful Australian businessmen dropping out of school?

In his youth, Harvey wanted to be a farmer. I guess that didn't work out.

At some point, Harvey sold vacuums and fridges door to door. I've heard of vacuums being sold that way, but not fridges. Did he have the new fridges waiting in a truck? Did he bring them in the house for people? Did he help them get rid of their old fridge? OR maybe these were the days that not everyone had a fridge. Maybe he convinced people to join the refrigerator society?

This website says that refrigerators became common in the 1940's. Harvey would have been doing his selling in the 1950's. But maybe at that time they were common, but still not something almost everyone had.

Lord Wiki has a separate entry on the Harvey Norman store. I'll read that in a moment. It will probably give some good business history. Before that though, I'm going to finish up reading about Harvey's personal life and interests.

He's very involved with breeding racehorses.

He's been married twice. His current wife works for Harvey Norman. Here Lord Wiki say she's the CEO, but on the page where he talks about the company, he says she's the managing director.

Who knows.....

Oh wow. This guy said something pretty controversial. I remember hearing it, but didn't connect the quote to his name. He said, giving charity to the homeless was a waste of money, and that it was helping a whole heap of no-hopers to survive for no good reason. I totally agree with him. That's why when I see homeless people begging for money, I don't give to them. Instead, I grab the money they've already collected, and send it to rich people.

Yeah. I guess Harvey really goes for that whole survival of the fittest thing. Although he's outspoken about his opinion, I unfortunately know he's not alone in having this opinion. Some people believe the homeless are homeless because they deserve to be. It goes with the mindset that if you work hard enough, and you want it bad enough, you will definitely get what you want. So if someone is homeless, they must have not worked hard enough, and they didn't want to be successful.

Now Lord Wiki says that Harvey said he believes people should be helped to develop their potential. I'm not sure what he means here. But maybe (hopefully!) he was saying that he's not against helping the homeless. Maybe he's just against giving them charity. And by charity, he means a hand out. Maybe Harvey believes people should be given the help they need to become self-sufficient. If that's the case, I can respect that. Instead of giving to a shelter that simply feeds the homeless person, you could give the money to a program that helps homeless people get job interviews. Although I still think there are people in society who are past all that. Maybe they're mentally ill, or have some other issue that prevents them from working. I think for some folks, charity is all you can do for them.

Now I'm going to read about the Harvey Norman Company.

It started in 1961. Harvey opened it with a guy named Ian Norman. They sold electronic goods and appliances. The store was at first called Norman Ross. I guess Harvey wasn't vain enough to insist his name be part of the company.

By 1979, there were forty-two stores.

In the 1980's, there was a bidding war between two entities....Alan Bond and Grace Bros. They both wanted the company. Bond ended up with it. And then a little while later, he fired Harvey and Norman. Yikes.

In 1982, Norman and Harvey bought a shopping center in Auburn, a western suburb of Sydney. This became the Harvey Norman store. It's nice Harvey and Norman got together and tried again.

Lord Wiki says that in the 1990's, they adopted the superstore format of the United States. I guess that refers to the huge stores that we have all over the place here.

By 2000, Harvey Norman had a hundred stores.

In the stores, each department is controlled by a different franchisee. Therefore, if you need help with electronics stuff, the guy working in bedding can't help you. I wonder if that's the same for our stores here. Probably? Well, I don't think each department is a separate franchisee. But I don't think you can ask the guy in the shoe department for help with bedding issues.

Harvey Norman has gone international. They have stores in New Zealand, Singapore, Ireland, Slovenia, and Malaysia.

Lord Wiki talks about some controversies in the company. I don't really understand them. The first two don't really interest me, so I'm just going to ignore them....at least for now. The third is interesting, but I don't fully understand it.

Harvey insulted the Irish by comparing Ireland's economic problems with the Irish potato famine. Maybe he made light of it? They were mad. Harvey refuses to apologize. He says, It doesn’t say much about a people when they can’t take something like that on the chin and get on with it.

It also doesn't say much for someone when they fail to understand why something might be offensive, AND they refuse to apologize. Or if he doesn't want to apologize, he could at least explain why he doesn't think the joke should be seen as offensive. Or maybe he did do that.

Here's the Harvey Norman website. They sell digital cameras there. You know. Maybe that's why I've heard of Harvey Norman. Tim may have bought one of our cameras there....or maybe he bought both there.

This electronics website has an interview with Harvey. They say he's going to talk about his troubled childhood. That kind of article seems out of place on this website. This doesn't look like a Andrew Denton/Barbara Walters platform. It looks more like an industry website...one where you find reviews on new products.

Anyway....

Harvey's family had money. I guess he means his relatives? But Daddy Harvey ended up making them broke, and the family had their struggles.

When Harvey was at university, he studied during the night, and worked at a bank during the day. He wasn't happy with this, and felt it wasn't going to be rewarding enough.

Then he was offered the door-to-door salesman job. Refrigerators are not mentioned here. It says Harvey was selling vacuums and TV sets. At the bank, Harvey was making eight dollars a week. With this job, Harvey was making about a hundred dollars a week. Wow. That's a big difference.

Didn't Australia use pounds at some point? Maybe not.

Ah, Lord Wiki says I was right. They used pounds up to 1966. So I'm guessing whoever wrote this article converted pounds to dollars.

Harvey says at one time he had the record for most vacuums sold. He said he did this by offering them interest free. That's funny because there's a big flashing advertisement on the Harvey Norman Site saying you can buy now for 500 days interest free. But it looks like you have to apply for a special Mastercard, in order to receive this privilege.

After the door to door salesman adventure, Harvey did some brief time with real estate. Then he had an auction business. He talks about how they managed to get customers. One of the things they did was have a band play right outside the store. That attracted people. And they managed to build capital (merchandise) by telling the sellers they'd pay them more, IF the sellers allowed them more time in making them money. So from what I'm reading, this must be the Norman Ross business. So originally it was an auction-type thing?

Harvey says the reason he got fired by Alan Bond was that he called Alan Bond a crook. I can see Harvey is someone who does not fear speaking his mind....no matter what the consequence.

Harvey had some issue with a guy from ACCC named Alan Fells. I don't even know what ACCC is. Maybe it's an advertising thing, because the issue was regarding bait advertising.

Here we go. It's the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. They deal with fair trade and consumer protection.

Now I'm going to find out what bait advertising is. America's Federal Trade Commission has information about it on their website. They say it's when a company advertises a product they really don't intend to sell. Then when you come, they try to sell you a different and more expensive product. I remember this from NYC real estate. A real estate firm will advertise a great and affordable apartment. Then when you call them and they take you around the city, they give you the bad news. The apartment was already sold. They take you to other apartments that are too small, too gross, and too expensive. The other trick they do is take you to really disgusting apartments for the price range you said you can afford. You get really depressed, and then they take you to much nicer apartments that cost a lot of money. This gives you the idea that if you want something halfway decent, you're going to have to stop being so damn cheap.

I HATED looking for apartments in New York. It's a total nightmare.

Of course, Harvey claims to be innocent of the bait advertising charges. He openly hates the man who made the accusations. He says, Professor Fells I hate you. When you go into a nursing home I will buy the nursing home. Yeah. That sounds real mature.

ABC had a news report about the whole issue in 2001. Here's the transcript.

I really don't understand what happened. Well, maybe. Harvey Norman advertised that they had Quicken....that financial software thing. They had two thousand packages, but the demand far exceeded that. I don't know. Could Harvey be telling the truth? Maybe they honestly didn't expect to get that many customers. Although it IS a big company. You'd kind of think they'd expect to sell more than two thousand. So could it have been bait advertising? Sorry, we're out of Quicken. But while you're here, are you interested in a new Laptop?


Harvey complains that his workers were bullied by legal people. He says their questioning made him employees cry. Maybe they were a little too rough. It's possible. OR it could be a form of bullying on Harvey's end. I've seen it before. Well, maybe bullying is too strong a word. Manipulation might be better.

An example would be this. Nancy is told by her friend Susan that she saw Nancy's husband having dinner with another woman. It looked romantic and very suspicious. When Ted comes home, Nancy asks him about this. Instead of explaining, confessing, or apologizing, he attacks Nancy. You're so damn paranoid and possessive. What is wrong with you? Why do you do this to me? I feel so suffocated. I feel trapped. You don't trust me. Do you? You trust Susan more than me. You've always been closer to Susan than you are to me. How do you think I feel? You probably don't care. You're so selfish.

Suddenly, instead of being angry at her husband, Nancy feels awful about herself. She backs away....unless she is smart enough to recognize manipulation and fight against it.

This blogger talks about the Irish issue. What Harvey did was compare his sales problems in Ireland to the potato famine in Ireland. Bock the Robber says,
What a prick. How dare he compare the troubles of his sofa shop with the greatest catastrophe this land has ever known? He asks, Would he go to Israel and compare his trading downturn to a Holocaust? Probably yes. People compare things to the Holocaust all the time...even Jewish people. Remember the Soup Nazi?

So far, in some ways, I'm on Harvey's side here. I think it's pretty common to make these analogies. I think for the most part people mean no harm. For example, someone might speak of construction near their house. It feels like a damn earthquake. I doubt they're trying to be insensitive to all the victims of Haiti's earthquake. If we're on a cruise ship and things get a bit rocky, we might say something like Oh no. It's the Titanic. We're just being silly, and not trying to disrespect all the people that died.

It's a thin line though, and sometimes you can end up saying something to someone who is especially sensitive to the situation. Most people wouldn't mind it if we complained after an intensive workout. I'm so sore. I feel like I'm DYING! But if you say that to a person with pancreatic cancer, it might not be so funny. It hits too close to home. I think the way the story should play out is this. The cancer victim explains why they are offended. The other person acts understanding and apologizes. The person with cancer accepts the apology.

We all have our sensitive spots, and that should be respected. My college boyfriend would make jokes about drunk driving. He'd talk in an intoxicated voice and pretend to be looking for his keys. Ha ha. For most people, that would get a good laugh. For me, it was a sensitive issue. My sister had been hit by a drunk driver just two years before. Even today, almost twenty years later, I still am somewhat sensitive about it. Tim and Jack have a video game where Homer Simpson runs people over in his car. I can understand why that's funny to most people. But to me, it's not. I find it uncomfortable to watch. I personally don't think it's funny. See though....I'm not writing to the game company to complain. Almost everything that's funny to one person can be hurtful to others. Most people think slipping on a banana peel is humor. But what if your grandma had slipped on one and died?

Now I'm going to look at the other issue. The homeless one. The Sydney Morning Herald has an article about it. Harvey angrily defends himself. He says, I'm furious. I haven't suggested that homeless people shouldn't get anything. What I said was that I believed in helping people reach their potential. In his original statement, he had said giving to the charities would be a waste.

The charities argued back. They said they're no longer just about giving handouts. They try to address the causes of poverty.

I think this is the earlier news report. Their opening line says, THE retail king Gerry Harvey may have a personal fortune of about $1.6 billion but the Harvey Norman founder thinks donating to charity is "just wasted". That sounds like an awful man. But maybe something was misunderstood or taken out of context.

Well, I'm reading his quotes further down and they are kind of horrible. It IS very survival-of-the-fittest. He says, So did that million you gave them help? It helped to keep them alive but did it help our society? No. Society might have been better off without them but we are supposed to look after the disadvantaged and so we do it. But it doesn't help the society.

I'm trying to imagine a society where no one helps the disadvantaged. What would that be like? Well, first we'd need a society where all the people are incredibly selfish and callous. And how do we define disadvantaged and worthless? Would it be the drug addict on the street corner? How about the family who lost all their money because of their child's hospital bills? Should we say, sorry about your child dying of leukemia, but we're not going to help you. You're a drain on society. Better if you just rot and die.

Let's say we all become selfish, and we don't really care about those who are less fortunate on us. On a very superficial level, what would that do to our city? Wouldn't it be a bit awful? Overcrowded. Illness everywhere. Horrible smells. And if the disadvantaged couldn't get help from charity, might they turn to a life of crime?

Oh! I know. There's a perfect solution. You stop the thievery by making it a crime punishable by death. You hang all the disadvantaged. And if the prisons get too crowded with people waiting to be hanged, we can send them off to a distant land!

Okay, but Harvey DOES say: That is not to say we don't give money away to charities because we have given plenty away over the years. At the end of the day, the more quality individuals you develop in the community, the better off the community should be.

I think I get what he's trying to say. I feel maybe he just chose the wrong words, and he's way too harsh. I don't think we should simply throw people away. But maybe it is best if we put priority in people who show potential in giving back to the community. It all depends though on why people can't give back to the community. Some ARE just lazy and want something for nothing. I can't deny that. But many people are too sick or too unqualified. Many people have had awful lives full of abuse, and they can't overcome it.

I just finished reading Richard Flanagan's Wanting. It's based loosely on the story of a Tasmanian Aboriginal girl named Mathinna. Mathinna died in her early twenties. She drowned in a puddle on the street. Supposedly she was drunk. What kind of person drowns in a puddle? A pitiful loser. But Mathinna didn't start out the way. She started out as a child living among her people. Then she was adopted by white people who wanted to see if they could tame a savage. They played with their experiment for awhile. Then they abandoned her to a horrible orphanage, and went off to London. How does one survive such a rejection? Well, maybe one DOES if there's someone out there who will give them kindness.

That's the other thing about Harvey's beliefs. Maybe disadvantaged people would be less disadvantaged if they felt like there was hope. Maybe if they stopped feeling society was out to hurt them, they'd be able and willing to contribute.

The thing is.... It's easier to criticize people than it is to help them. I can stop while walking in the city, take out my wallet, and find a dollar to give to the woman on the street corner. That's a pain though, and I'm usually in a rush. It's much easier to think to myself. She's just a lazy person who doesn't want to get a job. She'll probably use that money to buy drugs.

In this ABC interview, Harvey does more defending of himself. He says: I believe you should help people. My point was, kids go to school, we develop them at school, we develop them later on in the workplace so that we get better quality individuals, so that we get less people that are dependent or get into problems. So, my real point was, let's create better quality people, more of them so we have less people dependent.

That makes sense to me, although I'm not in love with the whole school focus. I think what Harvey is saying is that we SHOULD help the homeless, but it's better to help people in the beginning so they don't become homeless. That makes sense. It's fine to stop and give a homeless person a dollar or two....even though they might very well use it to buy drugs. But if you have a hundred dollars to give away, it's probably better not to give it to the homeless person. And instead have it go towards a scholarship or business loan. It's important for us to help the poor, but it's better to help prevent people from becoming poor.