A rock, paper, scissors and a hard place

I’ve always thought of the Japanese as very buttoned-down, analytical and driven to make all the right business decisions. Then I read in The New York Times last week about Takashi Hashiyama, president of Maspro Denkoh Corp., an electronics firm near Nogoya, Japan. The firm has an art collection it wants to sell, so it heard presentations from Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Poor Mr. Hashiyama. He was so dazzled by both pitches that he couldn’t make up his mind. His solution: Let them settle it with a quick game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, that time-honored way in which kids have settled disputes for generations. Bizarrely, both companies agreed to do so. Christie’s won. Imagine if clients were to choose ad agencies this way. Of course, they don’t, because all things being equal, there’s a more effective way to decide—beat the contenders silly until one of them caves on price. But I guess that’s harder to do if the competitors collude on price and agree among themselves not to budge. Not that I’m accusing Christie’s or Sotheby’s of colluding on price in this case. Never mind that both the former chairman and the former CEO of Sotheby’s (Alfred Taubman and Diana Brooks, respectively) were convicted of doing just that three years ago. Anthony Tennant, the former CEO of Christie’s, was indicted in the same case on similar charges but opted not to come to the U.S. from his residence in the U.K. to clear his name. After that disastrous scandal, these two pillars of the auction-house business clearly learned their lesson. Right?

—Posted by Steve McClellan