We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

A letter from Marcel Bich

In 1973 Marcel Bich wrote a letter to shareholders when Société Bic was made a public company.

These principles of management have been developed over the past 20 years since I founded the company and then managed it. They were not shaped by a formal education in a French or American business school but are the result of the tough school of business which I entered at the age of 18 by the smallest door. Nobody will deny me the title of “money maker” as our company started in 1953 with an initial investment of 10,000 new Francs and today, it has grown to 150 million francs par-value share capital, all through internally generated funds, representing on average of almost doubling each year over the last 20 years.

Bic lowered the price of pens from something normal people could not afford to the point where they were disposable and cheap.

Bich didn’t just profit from the ballpoint; he won the race to make it cheap. When it first hit the market in 1946, a ballpoint pen sold for around $10, roughly equivalent to $100 today. Competition brought that price steadily down, but Bich’s design drove it into the ground. When the Bic Cristal hit American markets in 1959, the price was down to 19 cents a pen. Today the Cristal sells for about the same amount, despite inflation.

Of course, there are those who do not like this. But never mind that: back to the letter, Bich sounds like an excellent chap:

We are fiercely anti-technocratic. The way to keep the price of beef down is not by government price regulation, but by producing beef efficiently.

Technocracy is a widespread disease today. Starting at the top with the ENA (Ecole Nationale d’Administration ), it reaches all levels. It is particularly attractive to French people, Cartesian by nature. It results in a large number of administrators and organizers, but when it comes to rolling up your sleeves and doing the actual work there is nobody. Technocracy results in high production costs and, much more critical, low morale among employees who become discouraged and bored with their jobs in which they cannot take any initiative. By placing confidence in workers, employees and executives, everything becomes simpler. Contrary to popular belief, private enterprises have a greater chance of success today than they ever did. As proof, just look at the increasingly serious difficulties in which large state -owned companies find themselves.

It is an excellent letter.

8 comments to A letter from Marcel Bich

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Yes – it’s always good to be reminded of the French anti-statist tradition.

    The poor lady you link to who is so worried about disposable pens seems sweet. But her article reminded me of a letter written to the Times by a well meaning person at the peak of the British anti-waste fervour during World War II. From memory, this worthy suggested that to save ink people should omit or abbreviate the customary salutations at the beginning and end of letters. Replies pointed out that merely printing and distributing his letter to Times readers had probably used up more ink than he could save in a lifetime of “Dr Sr” and “Yrs” or whatever it was he proposed, and that in order to tell people about his thrifty plan even more vast amounts of ink would have to be used.

  • Natalie, Churchill would have agreed with you. In his history of WWII, Vol IV, Appendix C, is a memo he wrote about some proposals for petty rationing regulations:

    it would be unwise to embark upon a lot of fussy restrictions in order to give, or try to give, satisfaction to the Fleet Street journalists, who are exempted from military service, have no burden of responsibility to bear, and live in the restaurants of the Strand.

  • Julie near Chicago

    OP + 3 comments so far — 4 magnificent statements.

    Yrs trly is in a rotten mood today, but suddenly the sun is shining. :>))))

  • The Pedant-General

    “Starting at the top with the ENA (Ecole Nationale d’Administration ), it reaches all levels. It is particularly attractive to French people, Cartesian by nature. It results in a large number of administrators and organizers, but when it comes to rolling up your sleeves and doing the actual work there is nobody.”

    Tim Newman, call your office.

  • CaptDMO

    Making Bic pens …disposable!
    And therein lies the rub.
    And how many folks manage to have a Bic ball point run out of ink, like the “promotional” click pens, plastic “snap off” pocket clip, with a concealed ink tube holding only an inch and a half, regularly do before THEY are “tossed out”
    In fairness, I now only have ONE source in the US for replacement “lever” fountain pen ink bladders,
    and have opted to make my own.
    Recently, at Staples….Cross fountain pen (propitiatory disposable ink cartridge), made in China, US$20.
    “Generic” disposable fountain pen ink cartridges, 3 pack only,(10 pack not available) US$6.
    Why NO, they DON’T carry Mont Blanc, or Namiki, at Staples!

  • Rob Fisher

    Total cost of ownership is probably a fair proxy for how much “stuff” is wasted. I’m not sure we should unduly worry about plastic ending up in landfill. Some future civilisation can dig it up again.

    People are recycling Bic pens: https://www.terracycle.co.uk/en-GB/brigades/the-writing-instruments-brigade-r

    How much profit are they making doing this? Or are they subsidised and paying dozens of people to drive to their plants and manually separate materials and burn fuel to melt the result down?

  • Paul Marks

    Very good post.

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