Nothing’s Forever

Nothing lasts forever, as the owners of Forever 21 are finding out. The once darling of retail, offering what was basically an updated version of The Limited’s strategy of trend forward fashion at low prices, has filed for bankruptcy.

The closely held, private company is run by the Chang family, which immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea in 1981 and built the company from the ground up to become a multi-billion-dollar enterprise, but like many privately held entrepreneurial companies, the Chang’s held on too closely and were too private.

Forever 21 has no outside board of directors and decision making has been restricted to immediate members of the Chang family. While command and control have a place and time in some organizations, an ongoing insular approach to decision making and input will eventually lead to decline, and in the case of Forever 21, disaster.

The name Forever 21 makes an impossible promise, which no one takes literally, as is thinking you can run a global enterprise without some outside, objective thinking beyond the control of immediate family members.

Forever 21 is sure to be a future Harvard Business School case study and it’s also a good lesson about creativity and innovation. Without some give and take and the variety of differing perspectives, or what we also call creative abrasion, ideas can be dulled, or worse, completely wrong. That’s not to encourage fostering a combative culture, but rather to invite healthy, constructive debate. It’s got to be managed to avoid destructive “meeting after the meeting” behavior, but it’s a worthwhile effort because, hey, no one is Forever 21.