The 24-Question Model

This site utilizes a 24-question model for conducting Strategic Corporate Research.  First time users may wonder about the relevance of gathering information in all these areas. Below we walk through the basic 24 questions showing how the information in each of the areas may be relevant, and how unions have used this information in real campaigns.

In beginning research on a specific firm it is important to ensure you have the correct name for your target firm. Check its location and webpage to confirm. It is also important to determine what kind of a company your target is. This is crucial in that the sources of information are different for different types of firms. For example, companies that trade stock on one of the exchanges are governed by the SEC in the U.S. and SEDAR in Canada and are required to disclose information regularly which provides important primary documents for corporate researchers. If it trades on one of the exchanges find out its stock ticker symbol, which you can use to streamline searching. Nonprofits in the U.S. and charities in Canada have very different reporting requirements and different kinds of information are available.

It is impor­tant to inven­tory the full range of prod­ucts and ser­vices of the tar­get firm. Your tar­get com­pany could be involved in much more than we may ini­tially believe, espe­cially with the trend towards con­stant merg­ers and acqui­si­tions. To fully under­stand the nature of their oper­a­tions it is impor­tant to ascer­tain their cur­rent areas of activity and which area is generating the most income for the firm.

Com­pil­ing an inven­tory of the company’s facil­i­ties is cen­tral to under­stand­ing a firm’s oper­a­tions. Cou­pled with an under­stand­ing of their prod­ucts and ser­vices, it allows you to geo­graph­i­cally map out their activ­i­ties.  It is cru­cial in devel­op­ing a cam­paign to understand which facilities are responsible for which kinds of products/services. In what may be the first example of corporate research in the labor movement, in 1936 the UAW identified that GM was making body parts in only one plant in Flint, Michigan which became their strike target.   If any pub­lic monies are involved in build­ing or ren­o­vat­ing facil­i­ties, it raises the pub­lic pro­file of the tar­get firm con­sid­er­ably. What may have been an issue with a pri­vate com­pany now becomes a pub­lic issue.

Who the tar­get firm employs tells a great deal about their oper­a­tion. Are most work­ers full-time or part-time? Know­ing more about the demo­graph­ics of the work­force will be cen­tral in iden­ti­fy­ing worker issues and devel­op­ing a campaign.

Assess­ing the tar­get firm’s finances is cen­tral to under­stand­ing the com­pany.  With­out look­ing care­fully at a company’s finances one can get a very wrong impres­sion of its finan­cial con­di­tions by look­ing only at rev­enues or the value of its stock. Eval­u­at­ing a company’s finan­cial con­di­tion is also a pre­req­ui­site before con­sid­er­ing a cam­paign to deter­mine if the firm is finan­cially sound enough to with­stand an orga­niz­ing drive, or if the firm has such deep pock­ets that orga­niz­ing would be difficult. While corporate financial analysis may appear daunting for those who have no experience in this area, a basic understanding is quite possible in a relatively short period of time.

To fully under­stand a firm, it is impor­tant to place it in a his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive. Is the firm the same today as it was at its found­ing, or has it mor­phed into an entirely new entity? Under­stand­ing recent events, such as merg­ers and acqui­si­tions, helps us to make sense of what is hap­pen­ing in the firm today.

In addi­tion to under­stand­ing where a com­pany has been, it is cru­cial to under­stand where it is head­ing. Under­stand­ing its growth strat­egy is imper­a­tive in under­stand­ing cor­po­rate decision-making, and may also be where a firm is most vulnerable. The Hotel workers (UNITE HERE) have been very successful in finding out where hotel firms are planning to grow, and intervening with local officials in the planning process.

In try­ing to under­stand how power flows in a firm, it is fun­da­men­tal to learn as much as you can about man­age­ment. Is top man­age­ment new or are they the founders of the firm? What has hap­pened to their com­pen­sa­tion over the past sev­eral years? Does it mir­ror the eco­nomic per­for­mance of the firm? It is also impor­tant to dis­cover if and how they are connected to other firms. In build­ing a strate­gic cam­paign these con­nec­tions and cor­po­rate inter­locks may be very impor­tant in exert­ing pres­sure on the firm. Per­sonal con­nec­tions may be impor­tant as well.  They may be a big sup­porter of their alma mater or the local opera, and these con­nec­tions can also be impor­tant in bring­ing pres­sure to bear.

In a pub­licly traded com­pany, large stock­hold­ers may be as or more pow­er­ful than man­age­ment. While many stockholders are mutual funds and financial institutions it is not always the case.  For example in the Teamster campaign against Republic Services, a major trash firm, they discovered that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was a major stockholder. Special attention should be given to retirement funds that hold stock as they may be important sources against the firm. With a growing concern about Corporate Social Responsibility, there has been growing shareholder activism around a number of campaigns.

The Board of Direc­tors is the gov­ern­ing body of the firm, and it is impor­tant to try to under­stand its dynam­ics. Individually board mem­bers also have other cor­po­rate iden­ti­ties, and it is vital to under­stand these cor­po­rate inter­locks and what other kinds of pres­sure can be brought on the firm. In his seminal work at J.P. Stevens, Ray Rogers used pressure on board members who were also key corporate leaders at Avon and Manufactures Hanover.

In this time of pri­vate equity and lever­aged buy­outs, lenders may play very strong roles in a firm.  For example, Blackstone, a major private equity firm, played a major role in the restricting of Hilton Hotels. If your tar­get firm is highly lever­aged (in debt), find­ing infor­ma­tion on lenders is even more important.

If your tar­get firm is owned by a larger par­ent com­pany, it is often a game-changer. What you may ini­tially think is a local or regional firm may in fact be part of a global firm.  In many instances parent companies often have representatives on the Board of Directors. These global firms may be much more dif­fi­cult to orga­nize or bar­gain with.  At the same time, being part of a larger par­ent may pro­vide other oppor­tu­ni­ties.

Research­ing sub­sidiaries pro­vides you with fur­ther infor­ma­tion on the oper­a­tion and orga­ni­za­tion of your tar­get com­pany. They pro­vide you with the over­all shape and reach of the firm, which may extend far beyond what you orig­i­nally thought.

It is impos­si­ble to under­stand your tar­get firm with­out under­stand­ing it in the con­text of the larger indus­try in which it oper­ates. There are a wide variety of industry publications on industries, small and large, and they can be important sources of information on the overall industry and the major firms within it.

For the same rea­son we need to under­stand the indus­try in which your firm oper­ates, we need to iden­tify their direct com­peti­tors. This iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of a peer group is impor­tant for comparison, as well as seeing where your target firm fits in terms of its competitors.

Under­stand­ing the sup­ply chain is fun­da­men­tal in under­stand­ing com­pany operations. Suppliers can be impor­tant tar­gets in a strate­gic campaign.

Raw mate­ri­als and sup­plies (as well as prod­ucts) need to leave supplier’s facil­i­ties and products or services need to be delivered to customers and clients. Under­stand­ing how they are deliv­ered pro­vides oppor­tu­ni­ties in a campaign.

Firms require util­i­ties to cre­ate prod­ucts and ser­vices. Under­stand­ing their use of util­i­ties can be very impor­tant, espe­cially when research­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing firms.  For example, in their campaign against Rio Tinto at an aluminum facility in Quebec, the Steelworkers discovered that the company was selling back electricity to the province during a lockout for $15 million a month. This became an important part of their campaign.

Iden­ti­fy­ing cus­tomers and clients is impor­tant when try­ing to under­stand how your tar­get firm operates. Do they have many cus­tomers, or just a few? Are they highly iden­ti­fi­able clients such as Wal-Mart?  In their campaign at Ravenswood, the Steelworks were able to prevent major beer and soft drink firms from using nonunion aluminum for the cans during their lockout.

The safety and health record of a firm is an indi­ca­tion of their cor­po­rate respon­si­bil­ity. The infor­ma­tion you gather will help you assess what kind of firm they are, and may be impor­tant in a pub­lic campaign.  The deteriorating health and safety conditions in Bridgestone/Firestone’s facilities were a major part of the contract campaign by the Steelworkers.

A firm’s envi­ron­men­tal record is another mea­sure of their cor­po­rate respon­si­bil­ity. Envi­ron­men­tal issues extend far beyond the work­place and many have a sig­nif­i­cant impact  on the larger community. In their organizing campaign at hog giant Smithfield, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) identified massive environmental problems which it used to build a larger community campaign.

Firms are often gov­erned by a vari­ety of reg­u­la­tory agen­cies, depend­ing on their busi­ness. In addi­tion to inves­ti­gat­ing if they are in com­pli­ance with the law, many of these reg­u­la­tory agen­cies gather a vari­ety of infor­ma­tion that may be use­ful to researchers. During the Ravenswood campaign, the Steelworker discovered that the company had let its permit to dump arsenic in the Ohio River expire.

It is also important to know the overall legal issues that your target firm is facing.  These could be just routine legal matters, when someone falls in the parking lot.  They could, however, be more significant issues such as employee discrimination or price fixing.

Firms are located in com­mu­ni­ties and their impact goes far beyond work­ers in their facil­i­ties. Here it is important to identify both support for, and opposition to, your target firm. Com­mu­nity allies are often fun­da­men­tal in build­ing com­pre­hen­sive campaigns. In the strike by the Chicago teachers the support of parents and the larger community was a key element in their victory.

Man­age­ment and the firms they work at are often involved in the polit­i­cal process.  This includes both financial contributions and lobbying. Track­ing them both pro­vides very use­ful infor­ma­tion on how they are involved in politics.