In 1961, Dick Cabela of Chappell, Nebraska, bought $45 worth of fishing flies at an expo in Chicago. He listed them for sale in the local newspaper, and then in a national magazine. Dick moved the business to Sydney two years later, and that’s where the modern incarnation of Cabela’s resides to this day. Far from the newspaper ads of the 60s, Cabela’s stores are now more tourist attraction than store, with lavish, maximal taxidermical installations, aquariums and other embellishments. And the company has grown to become a very large enterprise, with around $4 billion in revenue last year.
The 2,000 residents of Sydney that staff the Cabela’s flagship store, who make up almost 30 percent of the town’s entire population, and the many other Cabela’s employees in the state that the built the company, may get bad news in the following weeks or months as uncertainty clouds the future of the company.
Last October, the New York activist hedge fund Elliott Management announced that they had acquired an 11-percent stake in Cabela’s. Elliott Management, a fund that specializes in forcing corporations to make changes that are seen to benefit investors, is reported to be negotiating with Cabela’s to change the direction of the company. One of the options analysts believe to be on the table is a sale of the company to Bass Pro Shops, who, according to reports last year, was interested in buying it.
But whatever the changes, Elliott Management and the investors behind that hedge fund don’t have Nebraska workers’ best interests at heart. Elliott will most likely make changes to the company that harm Nebraskan workers. For example, Elliott’s influence on Hess, one of
the largest oil companies in the US, resulted in sale after sale of gas stations around the country, and the closure of an office in London. Elliott also managed to seat three of their own into board seats at the Hess table.
Elliott’s only interest in Cabela’s is to raise the stock price, and they’ll do that through whatever means are necessary. The citizens of Sydney, whose culture and community helped create the store and without whom there would be no 4 billion dollar revenues, Kearney, or closest to home, La Vista, are faced with the whims of an agent that is completely unanswerable to them. If Elliott can raise the overall stock price of the company by closing the Nebraska stores or laying off hundreds of workers in the state, following the lead of ConAgra, who will be deserting the state soon, they’ll pressure the company into doing it.
Elliott has a long track record of getting their way, and getting their way has made them billions. To avoid being further exploited by Elliott Management, Nebraskan workers and Cabela’s employees across the nation need to organize against intrusions of outsiders.