The history of Dun & Bradstreet begins in 1841, when Lewis Tappan founded an agency to rate customer credit histories for retailer and wholesalers. Eighteen years later, the business was taken over by one Robert Dun, whose Dun's Book listed information on over one million business by 1886. In 1933, the company merged with a rival and became Dun & Bradstreet. As the century progressed, Dun & Bradstreet broadened its repertoire of information service offerings, with a notable expansion in the seventies. By 1990, however, poor performance suggested that the company had overreached. After an attempt to consolidate several lines of business, the company began to shed subsidiaries, notably ACNielsen, Cognizant, and, most recently, R.H. Donnelley, which spun off as a separate company in 1998.
Information services on a grand scale
Today, The Dun & Bradstreet Corporation breaks down into two principal subsidiaries: Dun & Bradstreet and Moody's Investors Services. Dun & Bradstreet casts itself as "the leading provider of business-to-business credit, marketing, purchasing, and receivables management and decision support services." Concretely, this means that Dun & Bradstreet supplies information on 49.3 million U.S. and international companies. Information is culled from a variety of sources, including business contacts, management interviews, accounts receivable information, state filings, telephone companies, secretaries of state, state attorney generals, and 861 newspapers and news services. To identify and link files, the company has developed a system known as the Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS), which assigns a 9 digit code to each business. While companies have traditionally used the DUNS number for checking bill histories, Dun & Bradstreet hopes to increasingly harness DUNS for marketing and purchasing purposes.
As the company's history indicates, Dun & Bradstreet has struggled with its identity. One analyst grumbled to Fortune: "The company has restructured so often, it's lost its identity and some Wall Street sponsorship." Under CEO Volney Taylor, however, Dun & Bradstreet has taken steps to position itself as an indispensable fixture of the information age. Besides shedding businesses, the company has partnered with SAP, a German business-to-business software producer. Dun & Bradstreet has also moved into the fabulous world of e-commerce. One of its labs in New York is designing an electronic ID system that, using D&B data, will help authenticate parties doing business on the Web. Dun & Bradstreet has also partnered with Network Solutions, Inc. to produce the WorldNIC Services, a suite of simplified domain-name registration services for non-technical businesses and individuals.
Moody's in the new world order
25 percent of Dun & Bradstreet Corp.'s revenue comes from Moody's Investor's Service, which publishes credit ratings on 70,000 corporate and 60,000 public finance securities worldwide. As Fortune notes: "Moody's has a virtual lock on the low-overhead, high-demand credit rating business." Accordingly, Moody's revenue has risen every year since 1980, and, with the arrival of the Euro and continued deregulation, management expects growth to continue at rates of at least 10 percent.
Some industry observers have their doubts, especially in the wake of Moody's' supposed failure to alert investors about the economic meltdown in Asia. The managing director of Moody's, Christopher Mahoney, responded to the doubts in comments to the Far Eastern Economic Review: "We have never visualized ourselves as global financial regulators. That's not our function. Investors shouldn't presume we have privileged information or access. We are the object of too much expectation. People don't have to talk to us or show us their books."
Whatever its role, Moody's breathed a sigh of relief in March 1999, when the Justice Department ended a wide-ranging investigation concerning possible antitrust violations in the company's issuing of reports on the viability of bond issues. Specifically, the investigation, which began in 1996, focused on one of the most controversial practices in the bond-rating business: the use of "unsolicited ratings," or ratings issued without the consent of bond issuers.
Flagging sales and turmoil
In October 1999 Dun and Bradstreet Chairman and CEO, Volney Taylor, resigned amid pressure to put the company up for sale. Since announcing flagging sales figures in August, the company has been beseeched by shareholders to find a buyer. Instead, the company attempted several stopgap, reorganization initiatives that were considered inadequate. Even Taylor's resignation may not be sufficient to appease shareholders who are meeting to further discuss selling the company. Until a replacement can be found director Clifford L. Alexander Jr. will serve as interim CEO and chairman.
The career section of www.dnbcorp.com provides cursory descriptions of different job functions and the types of individuals sought. Unfortunately, job seekers will find little more than an invitation to send a resume and cover letter to the company. (Note: www.moodys.com has its own career page that lists openings.) Our contacts indicate that D&B also recruits on campus and at job fairs, posts job announcements in newspapers, and relies on referrals.
Our insiders describe the company's interview process as "fairly relaxed." Nevertheless, they recommend "learning as much as possible about D&B and, if possible, the particular subsidiary or department [for which you are interviewing]." Candidates can expect an initial phone screening conducted by someone from Human Resources, followed by a one-on-one interview with the same. Second round interviews are conducted by hiring managers; the final step is a panel interview with someone from Human Resources, the hiring manager, a second level manager, and "potential co-workers."
Perhaps as a result of its continuing transition, Dun & Bradstreet receives mixed reviews from our contacts. "With a company as large as Dun & Bradstreet," says one, "it's probably very difficult to say whether or not they are a good place to work. I would imagine it depends very much on the specific division of D&B, as well as on the department within that segment." Another former Dun & Bradstreet employee isn't so ambiguous. "There just wasn't a lot of energy, even among the college hires." The same contact adds: "The company is the epitome of the 'Dilbert'-like philosophy."
Low salaries also draw fire from our D&B insiders. None of our contacts, however, complain about Dun & Bradstreet's benefits. The company offers medical, vision, and dental plans; life insurance; retirement accounts; financial planning assistance; tuition reimbursement; adoption assistance; merit scholarships; and flexible scheduling. In particular, our contacts give strong marks to Dun & Bradstreet for emphasizing "the development of its employees" through "an excellent education subsidy package." Parents at D&B praise "flexible" scheduling options that help reconcile their work and family responsibilities.
While our insiders reveal a somewhat strict dress code, one tells us that "this dress code is flexible enough to accommodate the dress styles of various cultures." The company asserts that the New York office may be formal but the dress at the headquarters is business casaul. One contact explains that "D&B has made a significant investment in inclusion efforts over the last two years, and people from different cultures and backgrounds are embraced. For instance, in 1999, D&B started providing insurance for domestic partners." Insiders also commend the company's support groups for members of minority groups. Groups exist for Women, African Americans, Asians, Latinos, Gays and there is also a general Wellness group.
Peter J. Ross
Credit information;Receivables Management;Marketing Information;Value-added products;Bond rating;Financial information
Bloomberg;McGraw Hill;Reuters;Thompson Corporation
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