The problem with customer lists as an asset

In an earlier posting on the sale of Borders’ intangible assets, I noted that a key intangibles was the retailer’s customer information, such as contact information and purchasing history. Now comes word that the sales of this assets has hit a snag. According to a story in the Detroit Free Press (“Borders intellectual property sale delayed“), the judge in the case is concerned about whether the sale violates privacy laws. A hearing on the specifics is scheduled for today.
According to the story, when the judge asked the question (centering on email op-out provisions) “Borders’ lawyers said they hadn’t considered the option.” Clearly here is a case of the blind-men and the elephant, as we discussed at our New Building Blocks for Jobs and Economic Growth conference (see earlier posting). Someone was not talking to someone who they should have been talking to. And no one apparently understood the entire issue of the company’s intangible assets.
Lesson learned — I hope.
PS — Just to refresh your memories, here is the story about the blind men and the elephant, from our report New Building Blocks for Jobs and Economic Growth: Intangible Assets as Sources of Increased Productivity and Enterprise Value — Conference Observations:

In that parable, a number of blind men try to describe an elephant–each believing that the small part of the elephant that he can feel constitutes the whole. Like the blind men, people experience intangibles from different points of view depending on their role and expertise, whether they are business managers, accountants, lawyers, risk managers, investors, or public policymakers.

For more on this issue, see our background paper “Emerging Measures for Strategic Management”.

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