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Firms Replace Nuts and Bolts Descriptions with Riveting Kids' Classics

NEW YORK, N.Y. ( — General Electric CEO Jack Welch knows the truth of the cliché "To be a great company, you need a great story." But at a time when many a company's tale has a lively dot-com plot, Welch realized G.E.'s "story" of "engines, appliances, and insurance" wasn't exactly riveting.

So last week, he changed it. "We're still selling the same stuff, but now our 'story' is Hansel and Gretel" said Welch. "The witch in the gingerbread house is so mean, she really hooks you from the beginning. But what makes G.E.'s story truly great is how Gretel gets the courage to push the witch into the... wait, I don't want to give it away. You'll have to call investor relations."

Dow Chemical's New 'About Us' Page

Following G.E.'s lead, dozens of other corporations also have changed their stories in the past month, replacing stultifying narratives of energy services and telecommunications with Yertle the Turtle and Huckleberry Finn.

Citigroup, for instance, has replaced talk of its diverse financial holdings with talking-bunny classic, Watership Down. Tobacco giant Phillip Morris now tells the Hardy Boys' riveting Secret of the Old Mill, where a quick-thinking Frank saves Joe and Chet. And Bank of America, whose story of late has been doubly dry — it's a financial institution and it's laying off 10,000 workers — is now regaling employees, customers and Wall Street alike with The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.

"It's a much better story than, 'We're laying off people to increase our profits,'" explained BoA spokesperson Kim Dixon. "This old woman has all these kids she loves, but she can't afford 'em; they're eating all her stuff, making her poor. It's tragic. That's the story we tell now, except, in the end, we have it so the old woman has to let 10 percent of her kids go."

While some have hailed the change for making Wall Street much more interesting, investor groups are frustrated. "I think the stories are great and all, but now a lot of people don't know what the hell these companies do," said Derek Yarborough, president of Individual Investor. "You go to IBM's home page and click 'About the Company,' and it's Misty of Chincoteague."

An IBM spokesperson said the company has heard the complaints, but countered that its first choice -- Stormy, Misty's Foal -- was already taken.

No one, however, has protested as loudly as the media. Nicole Katzen, a business reporter with the Atlanta Constitution, said she recently called Coca-Cola to get a comment on overseas sales, and instead heard 20 minutes of The Old Man and the Sea. "I admit it's a good story," said Katzen, "but I think they've got to give me a little more. I had to call back four times to see how it ended."

While Dr. Seuss, Mark Twain, and classic fairytales are popular choices, some companies have decided to script in-house. Netscape, for instance, has caused quite a commotion with its rather violent tale called Bill the Rich Jerk Who Gets Attacked by People with Knives and Bats and Is Forced to Free His Source Code and Then Is Killed Anyway. But it's Procter & Gamble's choice of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that has raised the most eyebrows.

"P&G is a big company, so you understand that they want to tell a big story, but at 750 pages, their story is just too damn long," said Brian Frisco, an analyst with Bear Stearns. "Plus it's got all that wizard/witchcraft stuff, and P&G already has an issue there."

In the consumer products space, Frisco instead recommends Pepsico, whose corporate story is now Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit. "That Peter is such a lovable imp," Frisco said. "I could hear about him over and over."


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