Former basketball great Wilt Chamberlain once said: "Nobody roots for Goliath." As it relates to sports, I suspect Chamberlain is correct.
Goliath is expected to win, so there is a natural inclination to be on the side of the underdog (David). We cling to the slender hope that David will somehow persevere.
While there is an understandable commitment to support the underdog in sports, the rule does not seem to translate as neatly into corporate America.
The sad news that Hostess Brands, the company that gave us childhood treats such as Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Cup Cakes, recently announced it would shut its doors, effective immediately.
The CEO of Hostess said in a statement: "We deeply regret the necessity of the decision, but we do not have the financial resources to weather an extended nationwide strike."
Beyond the sadness derived from nostalgia (it has been at least 25 years since I consumed my last Twinkie), 18,000 jobs would also be part of the collateral damage.
Many have suggested the blame for Hostess' demise was the greedy, selfish and myopic Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union. It was the union that represented thousands of striking Hostess Brand workers who refused to accept a new contract that would slash their salaries as well as their retirement benefits, but would have allowed Hostess to continue its operations.
How could the union be so stupid as
Hostess, in the public conversation, became another example of the noble and virtuous Goliath being brought down by the malevolent David, who is so blinded by gluttony he would rather risk self-destruction than compromise.
If that was indeed the correct narrative, I too might be inclined to root for Goliath, but there is more to the story.
Since the 1980s, Hostess has been sold at least three times. In the process it has accumulated debt, while ridding itself of profitable assets. Moreover, the company filed for bankruptcy in 2004 and 2011.
Contrary to the Goliath narrative, David had taken a stand, refusing to budge -- a stand that factored the dignity of the workers. The workers of Hostess, who on average earn less than $20 per hour, would not make another sacrifice for the good of the company.
Kenneth Johnson, who'd worked for Hostess for 23 years, told Reuters: "I'd rather go work somewhere else or draw unemployment" than take another pay cut from Hostess, which he said had lowered his salary, with overtime, to $35,000 last year from about $45,000 five years ago.
But Hostess Brands planned to ask the bankruptcy judge for approval to pay $1.75 million in executive bonuses -- ranging from $7,400 to $130,500 to 19 executives. The company's position is that the bonuses are below market rates.
Last year when the company entered bankruptcy protection, Hostess raised the CEO's salary from $750,000 to $2.55 million. This hardly sounds like a company standing on the moral high ground of collective sacrifice.
Then Goliath's (I mean Hostess') next move was to painfully announce that it must shut down because the workers won't take one for the team.
But it's not just Hostess; the victim has been systematically transformed into the victimizer. That understandable commitment to support the underdog in sports is not applicable in corporate America.
We're rooting for Goliath; it's the default choice. If the workers are abused, it is merely the unintended consequence of doing business.
Goliath is the one who receives the benefit of the doubt before the facts tell a different story. Too bad Chamberlain did not live long enough to see that he would be proven wrong -- dreadfully wrong.
Contact Byron Williams at 510-208-6417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.