Looking at a Business Success Story

Oct 5, 2011
When Bloomberg Businessweek Assistant Managing Editor Paul Barrett writes books, he says he likes stories that meet "at the intersection of business and commerce and public opinion".

His upcoming book on the near-meteoric rise of Glock - both the company and the pistols - in America, will likely reach that goal. In fact, it might be the equivalent of a head-on collision at that intersection.

"Glock: The Rise of America's Gun" documents the growth of Glock in copious - and unvarnished- detail. Barrett tells how Glock's revolutionary semiautomatic polymer pistol was, to the good fortune of Glock, the right tool at the right time in American law enforcement.

Introduced on the heels of the now-infamous FBI Miami Shootout, the Glock pistol provided what law enforcement officials said they needed - increased firepower (or at least increased capacity) against criminals who had their officers outgunned.

The Glock pistol's high-capacity magazine, no-nonsense design and black polymer component drove anti-gun groups wild. Their near hysterical campaign to curb Glock sales (it would be "used by hijackers" because it was "invisible to x-rays") failed- but it gave the Glock added visibility and cachet with shooters.

It appealed, Barrett says, "to that darkly glamorous side."

And by 1990 Glock was appearing in TV shows and major movies, and "getting a Glock" popped up in increasingly violent hip-hop lyrics.

All good news for sales. All detailed in Barrett's book.

What's also included in that book, however, is the back-story on a corporation that reflected the iron-will of its founder. It's a detailed business study, but not likely to win Barrett any friends inside Glock or much of the shooting industry.

After all, if the goings-on in any large company is fuel for industry conversations, Glock conversations seemed continuous. In many instances, the infuriated conversations between corporate leaders were driven more by envy than admiration.

To the confounding of other manufacturers, it seemed as if Glock was perennially poised to take advantage of any situation.

When Congress passed the assault weapons ban - limiting magazine capacities to ten rounds- Glock introduced their compact models. They not only circumvented the capacity issue, they opening up concealed carry to even more Americans.

Barrett's book also tells the story of a simultaneous -and aggressive- trade-in campaign with law enforcement agencies brought tens of thousands of "pre-ban" high capacity Glock magazines back to the company. Later, the company (and some of its officers) sold them back into the marketplace - at healthy profits.

And Glock became famous (or infamous) in industry circles for it's lavish entertainment of law enforcement officials when they came to the company's Atlanta headquarters. Stories of partying at a notorious Atlanta strip club were famous in the industry, but until this book, haven't been widely discussed with consumers.

That's where the industry may have serious problems with the book.

Not because the stories are untrue- but because they are.

The fact that Glock's single-mindedness and iron-will occasionally got him crossways with everyone from the Clinton administration to the National Rifle Association is also laid out in the book.

So too, are the stories of senior company officials abusing their positions for personal gain and the story of a former friend and business partner who hired a professional killer to eliminate Gaston Glock. How Glock survived at age 71 despite several blows to the head is another testimony to both his physical and mental toughness. Other stories aren't as flattering, but no one I've spoken with denies their accuracy.

So what's Barrett's conclusion? There isn't one. Barrett says, "reaching a conclusion is the job of the reader."

"This book doesn't draw a good-or-bad conclusion," Barrett told me yesterday, "it's a book about a man and a company that succeeded."

"Gaston Glock came up with an invention. His people came up with a marketing plan that resonated. The result is a terrific business success story."

A terrific business story replete with politics, corporate intrigue, embezzlement and, as is fitting in any business success story, extraordinary wealth. And it's also a story that the introduction says, "parallels the evolution of the gun culture in America."

That seems only fitting. The story of Glock, the gun and the company, not only parallels the "evolution of the gun culture in America" it steered the conversation and evolution in many instances.

"Glock -The Rise of America's Gun" is slated for release in January of 2012 and will set U.S. readers back $26 a copy. If you're a student of business, a Glock shooter or fan, or just enjoy knowing stories behind stories, it's probably one for your bookshelf.

As far as Paul Barrett's goal of "getting people to think twice" or to "disrupt preconceptions" - well, that's for individual readers to decide.

-- Jim Shepherd