Missing the Boat: 5 of The Biggest Blunders in Business History

In the world of business, there is no reward without risk. There are hundreds of decisions to be made when it comes to making money, and it can be tricky even for the most intelligent and experienced business people out there. When the difference between a multi-million dollar payday and financial ruin can come down to an off-hand decision you made one Tuesday morning fifteen years ago, the fickle nature of business fortune becomes all too real.

a groupd of friends

Here’s a look at some of the actions and inactions that caused the biggest groans of regret to reverberate throughout the boardrooms of recent and not-so-recent history.

1. Google? No, Thanks.

For all the sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’ These lines from John Whittier’s famous poem can be applied to many of history’s biggest business blunders, but they take on special meaning when it comes to turning down ownership of Google when it was offered to them for relative pennies.

Back in the early 90s, Google was a tiny search engine that nevertheless showed some potential. Its owners, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, approached the management of Excite, which was then a much more popular and established search engine and offered to sell Google to them for a million dollars. Excite refused. They dropped the asking price to $750,000 and were refused again. The rest, as they say, is history. Google went ahead and grew into the $350 billion company bringing in $60 billion a year in sales while Excite is… well, have YOU ever heard of it? Yeah, nobody else has.

2. ABC Turns Down The Cosby Show
the cosby showIf you’re a member of the demographic that refer to themselves as Millennials with a straight face, then you likely didn’t quite experience the magic that was The Cosby Show. Current distressing developments aside, the show was a massive hit through the 80s and 90s.

As it turns out, Bill Cosby, the show’s lead character and creator, approached ABC hoping to sell them his idea of a sitcom about an affluent, well-educated black family. He was turned down. Some sources claim that the ABC executive didn’t think America would find such a portrayal believable, even though ABCs version of events states that Cosby didn’t have a workable script or pilot episode ready when he made his pitch. Whatever the truth is, the fact is that ABC missed out on a show that went on to be the most profitable show on television for many years running. Tough luck.

3. Xerox Lets in the Trojan Apple

From the 70s well into the 90s, Xerox was not only a name synonymous with photocopier technology (you would ‘Xerox’ a document like you ‘Google’ something now), but an innovator in various cutting edge computer solutions. They were so dominant that they had quite a bit of technology in their warehouses that they couldn’t even be bothered to market, including a personal desktop computer they called the Xerox Alto and the GUI (Graphical User Interface), which is pretty much the father of modern interfaces.

Back in the 80s, Xerox took $1 million worth of stock from Apple to allow a small team of their staff, including Steve Jobs, to take a tour of their facilities over three days. The info the team gleaned over those few days spurred them on to develop the personal computer that propelled Apple on its way to being the $110 billion entity it is today. Xerox sued Apple a bit later on, but their case was dismissed. They didn’t lose out completely, however, as their Apple stock grew to become worth billions of dollars.

4. The Executive that Crushed The Beatles
The-BeatlesBack in the early 1960s, a little known group of guys who liked to consider themselves a rock band gave a rather nervous performance in the offices of Decca Records. They hoped A&R Executive Mike Smith would see his way to offering them a much-needed record deal. Even though their audition didn’t go so well on account of their nerves, they were hopeful. Mike Smith, however, didn’t see their potential, stating that he didn’t think guitar acts were going to be popular much longer.

Well, The Beatles went on to be the most successful band in the entire world, making a mark on music and culture that is felt to this day.

5. M&Ms Miss Their Big Break

One of the biggest movies back in the day was Steven Spielberg‘s masterful creation, E.T., about a young boy who befriends a lost alien that’s landed on earth. One of the most poignant scenes involved the young boy luring the timid extra-terrestrial out of hiding with a trail of candy. The production company had the idea of using M&Ms for this scene, but they declined the offer. The movie then went on to use Reese’s Pieces.

Reese’s Pieces went on to report a 65% spike in sales following the movie’s release, and this entered the record books as one of the most effective product placements in history.