The Fourth of July has come and gone, but not much changes in the Lone Star State. Texans are always pleased to show their colors — the red, white, and blue.
For many Texans, there’s a double dose of patriotism on any given day of the year. If we’re not hoisting high the flag with 50 stars, we’re saluting the one with a large, single star.
Pride for Texas runs on par to that for the United States of America. Depending on what’s happening inside the halls of national government in Washington, statehood pride may be even greater.
Texans are proud of their traditions, and their business icons too. Some of those seem to be under siege lately. Globalization and the passage of time, plus other pressures, are taking their toll. When outsiders come courting, sometimes their offers are too good to refuse.
The uproar over the recent sale of a majority interest in San Antonio-based Whataburger to a Chicago investment firm, BDT Capital Partners, is a prime example. With much of the state flipping out, J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans promptly proposed a campaign to bring the company back into Texas hands.
Whataburger was founded in Corpus Christi in 1950 and had been operated by the Dobson family since.
The dismay felt by Texans over the loss of ownership didn’t go unnoticed north of here. One response was the distribution of an orange and white Whataburger T-shirt reading “Chicago’s Most Famous Texas Hamburger Chain.”
Its stores extend from Arizona to Florida, but Whataburger is one of a handful of homegrown businesses that are almost sacred to Texans. The upside of the sale is that its empire could expand even farther with resources the new majority owners could bring to the table. Sharing the ketchup, however, is not what concerns Texans.
Even though the family of Whataburger’s founders will retain a minority interest, social media have been busy denouncing the sale. The core of the complaints focuses on the fact that the new owners are from Illinois, which is almost as problematic as letting New Yorkers manage the Alamo. (I hope that doesn’t give anybody ideas.)
The geographic location of the new owner’s home office should not be as worrisome to Texans as the fact that it’s now under a “capital partner” corporate flag. When ownership of any family business moves to the hands of investors, the possibility arises that maximizing profits will become the driving force. There’s that story about killing the goose that laid the golden egg.
The company’s headquarters will be staying in San Antonio, but the new owners have an investment to protect. We’ll have to see what that means.
Capitalism is a wonderful thing, and profits are necessary, but managers who fail to reinvest some of those hard-earned dollars are working with short-term goals in mind. Will stores close? Will hours be cut? If the economy falters, there may be no room to maneuver. Texans will not be pleased if the Whataburger formula isn’t honored going forward.
It’s a bridge many successful family-owned businesses must eventually cross. Perhaps the next generation, if there is one, would prefer cash to the headaches of running a business. Maybe additional capital is needed to sustain previous success. This could actually work out just fine.
Meanwhile, the best way for customers to uphold traditional Texas businesses is to support iconic firms with their continued patronage.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at email@example.com.