A fanciful tale about a hapless yet mystical burro that acts as a scathing critique of Corporate America…

by: Tom Snethen

Once upon a time, in the millennium prior to the advent of the Kingdom-of-USA, a phenomenal burro prospered in the Pastures of Commerce. This sophisticated creature, known as Malco, carried exceptional goods and services to market for his master. If a customer requested a special tool, Malco manufactured it as specified. He performed similar tasks with exotic waters for industry and the various needs of their laboratories.

The world accepted Malco as the strongest, smartest, and fastest burro of all. He acquired wisdom with experience for a century, and thereby increased his productivity. He outlived several masters, and each in succession took care to properly feed, groom, and praise Malco for his accomplishments. He responded with a reliable income from a minimal investment on the masters’ part. Malco and his masters declared a lifetime of love between them. Their proclamation inspired greater loyalty from their customers.

The finest houses of technology specified Malco’s services. Other Masters became envious and attempted to breed versions of this omnipotent burro, but none displaced the original.

Malco listened to the stories of his majesty, and gloated.

“I am a legend. I never will be bested. All must pay homage.”

One day a foreign master discovered Malco’s short-sighted owners might sell their prize burro for fragments of gold. He inquired, and Malco’s proprietors set the price at a sum with the capacity to stagger a national treasury. The motivated stranger located a willing money lender and met the outrageous monetary demand.

Malco was stunned.

“What is this? I am beyond the value of gold. My legend transcends the desires of any master.”

His former owner added the gold to his purse and turned away from Malco without grief. “Such is business,” he rejoiced.

Malco and the foreign master pledged eternal fidelity, so Malco adjusted his loads and proved as industrious to his new proprietor as the old. His productivity continued unabated, and customers remained loyal. The foreign master vowed he could pay for Malco through “synergy” — aligning Malco’s body parts with those of other burros he owned. This would lead to increased efficiency. The foreign master’s associates stapled new body parts to Malco’s hide, hoping they would someday merge with his core organs.

The foreign master fed him well, and Malco seemed at ease with the arrangement, even if he understood neither the language nor the intentions of his new title-holder. Malco’s ego soared.

“I am Emperor wherever I might be. Masters and customers exist only to serve my majesty.”

When the first Quarterly Counting of the Gold arrived, the foreign master discovered the money lender’s fee exceeded his income. He could not accept a deficit. Malco earned for him more than ever, but it still was not enough. The foreign master brought forth a whip to motivate Malco. Malco writhed with unexpected pain.

“Yeeeeeee-haw, this cannot happen. The master’s role is to serve me.”

Another quarter passed, yet the beatings did not improve Malco’s performance. The Foreign Master stitched new organs to Malco’s hide, but they withered and died from lack of blood. Customers suspected Malco resented the whip and carried smaller loads. The Foreign Master howled with distress at the next Counting of the Gold.

“Malco, you are obese,” sniveled the Foreign Master. “You eat my profits. I must remove your fat and create a more efficient burro. You will eat straw instead of oats until we drive the flab from you.”

The master was delighted with his accomplishment. A leaner Malco returned to the marketplace. Ribs showed under the massive bundle of new items the foreign master insisted he carry. Malco staggered under the burden, and customers suspected muscle had disappeared with the fat. Malco trembled now as he toiled. He winced at intersections, fearing the foreign master would whip him if he stumbled. Malco lost confidence. He failed to remember important issues, such as how to satisfy a customer.

“My master demands duties of me I no longer can perform. I am smaller now. He must restore my missing parts, or I will earn even less gold. As once the mightiest in the land, I deserve more respect.”

The foreign master calculated he would pocket more gold if he raised prices. He increased charges for goods and services and turned deaf ears to customers’ wails. The foreign master’s advisor argued he would benefit from superior cost containment if Malco curtailed his frequency of rounds. Malco imposed upon customers to place larger orders, and he would appear to them quarterly rather than monthly. He would not service a customer at all if the annual largess lacked sufficient substance. Above all, customers should be content to accept less merchandise and fewer technical offerings for their gold because of the stature they attained by association with Malco.

Customers lost faith, and soon other burros appeared, carrying loads where once only Malco ventured. These baby burros matured to be as industrious as Malco in his prime.

“What is this?” bewailed the foreign master. “I shall respond by calling the new burros awful names and shame customers into returning.”

Earnings plummeted, so his advisors told the foreign master to re-invent Malco as the “safest burro” ever to carry a load. To this end, the advisors covered Malco in chain steel, adorned his face with safety glasses, and forced a respirator upon his nostrils.

“Only Malco can deliver the load safely,” the foreign master blathered hither and yon, while jabbing insults at the rapidly growing burro herd.

“I am now a buffoon. My master has plastered the world with my safer wardrobe while I daily lose business reflexes. Stop, lest I perish!”

The foreign master ceased feeding Malco even a subsistence nutrition. Pieces of his body vanished. Anger and horror overwhelmed the foreign master as he discovered Malco’s missing parts resurrected into young, energetic burros. He beat Malco relentlessly and ordered him to stop shedding body parts. The foreign master attempted to exterminate the younger animals by buying them from equally avaricious owners, but the supply exceeded his available gold.

The quarterly revenues sagged once more, and the foreign master moaned, “Oh woe, whatever shall I do?”

“Let us anoint him with a new name,” suggested an advisor.

“Yea, verily,” agreed another. “In this manner we will disguise the beast, so we may deceive our old customers into returning.”

The foreign master, his advisors, and the money lender met at a remote source of the thin waters that burn with a blue flame. They concluded Malco must become internationally cosmopolitan. They conjured a new identity by striking letters from the names of the one-hundred-and-thirty countries where Malco traveled. He thereafter would be known as Unio-Malco.

“How humiliating. My name brought me world-wide acclimation for a century. Is the master embarrassed of me?”

“How wondrous,” the foreign master exulted. “Like finding an old dance partner in a new dress, I can reintroduce Unio-Malco as new. No-one will recognize him, and I will carry on as always.”

The new identity confused the loyal customers. They evaluated the rheumatic burro and considered granting opportunities to younger burros. As Unio-Malco’s old allies retired, it became stylish among their replacements to employ the agile newcomers.

Another quarterly counting came to pass, and the money lender threatened, “You are not forthcoming with the rewards you promised. Pay me or I will foreclose on all of your barrels and bagels and burros.”

The foreign master reviewed anew his investment in Unio-Malco and optioned to auction away body parts not central to his core business.

“The ears can go,” he decided. “They are too large. Malco does not need to hear customers. I will prod him to take appropriate actions with my new electric stick.”

“The kidneys return to us no gold,” wrote an advisor. “We can employ this rebuilt dialysis unit while we reload his pack saddle. And sell those brains. Who needs a sentient burro? We will think for him. We will issue directives to govern his actions.”

Every surgery brought agony to Unio-Malco. Why would one squander a pain-killer on a mere investment?

‘End this. Kill me and send my pieces to the ends of the world.”

The foreign master stripped Unio-Malco of his ears, kidneys, and brains in the Great Downsizing. His blazing speed reduced to a simpering crawl, he learned to obey by rote the procedures formulated to replace his cognitive processes. The foreign master remained calm but anxious until the next Great Accounting, when the Lord of the Treasury announced he must sell Unio-Malco or lose his beer and bacon.

The Accounting Committee invited masters from the world over to visit the Lord of the Treasury and examine Unio-Malco for general health. Some opened his mouth to discover his teeth had been yanked to make bits for chainsaws. Others found disconcerting behaviors when they recorded Unio-Malco’s responses to their inquiries. The beatings had taken a toll on his spirit. Listless and lame, the burro lamented the power and instincts of his new marketplace foes.

The foreign master stipulated too much gold for Unio-Malco’s title. Some bidders already possessed Unio-Malco’s ears and could better hear the marketplace. Others employed his former brains and learned of customers and the goods they purchased. They examined the antique, terrified burro and shuddered at what circumstances had befallen the mightiest in the land.

The foreign master, money lenders, advisors, friends, and foes joined for yet another convention. Thin water flowed. “The whippings must continue,” the foreign master decided, “along with the sale of unprofitable body parts.”

“We must declare enduring devotion to Unio-Malco,” the money lender lamented, “lest his value plunge even further.”

“I shall look for a White Knight,” promised an advisor, “who will know how to apply spurs to our motionless investment.”

“We are saved!” rejoiced the Lord of the Treasury. “I have discovered people who wish to become masters and understand nothing at all about our business. They have promised sufficient gold to repay our money lender.”

“Where did you find someone so obtuse?” inquired the foreign master.

“An island termed Manhattan, where they grow money in lieu of brains.”

“How will they govern him?”

“The ways of the giant money lenders are not ours to understand. I overheard news that they have a buyer with even less intelligence. The Manhattan masters have unlimited resources and gullibility. If they review a positive quarterly counting they will believe Unio-Malco to be of infinite worth. They will ransom many barrels of gold to acquire his reins.”

“When they gain his ownership, the Manhattan masters will change his name again. They will deny all feed for him until the next ceremony when they count their barrels of gold and gilders, all the while beating him incessantly. They will tie a ribbon the color of blue sky tinged in gold around his neck and present Unio-Malco for sale.”

“Who can this be, so reckless with a treasury?”

“Someone called Initial Public Offering will forfeit the Manhattan master a fortune without analyzing anything of his capabilities or competition.”

And thus, the foreign master delivered Unio-Malco’s reins to the Manhattan master, who immediately released a message promising allegiance, faith, synergism, and a return to greatness. The Manhattan master directed the dispatch to the surviving parts of Unio-Malco, his faithful but faltering customers, and, incidentally, the new master from IPO. 

Unio-Malco quivered unaided, a prisoner of a new master armed with scalpels. He screamed.

“Will this never end? Is there no hope?”

“I bring you great hope,” the agent for the IPO signed for the deaf burro. “Follow me and inform no one of what you may see.”

The agent led Unio-Malco to join with the semi-conscious remains of the great herd of burros wounded by careless masters. Workmen in pin-striped suits forced the beasts to follow a slippery trail of corporate blood into a fogbank.

The agent and Unio-Malco emerged to a scene of massive carnage. Beasts and customers met at the confluence of a great river, known as The Revenue Stream. Frozen by shock, Unio-Malco watched a team wearing uniforms of pin-striped-suits grind burros into a homogenous paste, pour them into molds to form parts for the Great Pump. Unio-Malco crept close enough to decipher the sign on the Great Pump: Merger. He trembled at the notion of what a merger would signify to him.

A team of blue-suited minions prodded blindfolded customers into a huge reducer, where they became tributaries of The Revenue Stream. Unio-Malco discovered the sign on the Great Reducer read: Sole-Source — the legendary mecca sought through acquisitions and mergers.

“Oh my. Customers are as foolish as masters. The Great Reducer mixes the customers’ blood and tissues and organs to meet its own needs and they plod forward.”

“How can this be?” asked Unio-Malco of his guide.

“Customers have masters, too,” replied the agent. “Say hello to your new master, the Champion of the IPO.”

Unio-Malco followed his IPO-Master through the fog to where he could resume his duties with renewed motivation.

“Keep my head down and carry the load or join with the Great Pump.”


Tom Snethen writes about the scoundrels he met as a manufacturing chemist. His stories range from throwing a flaming mattress out a sporting house’s window to borrowing a bank robber with needed skills from the penitentiary. Read more of his work at

One reply on “Malco”
  1. says: Terrence Vaughn

    I have been watching developments regarding acquisitions and mergers since reading “Barbarians at the Gate” years ago. Tom Snethen has captured clearly what I witnessed as Enron took over our company in Portland Oregon in the late 80’s. Thank you for publishing this finely written article.

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