What Works: Innocents Abroad

As U.S. firms went global in the '90s, most failed to prosper. Why? And what did the winners do better?

Texan Erle Nye seemed like a sharpshooter when his firm, Texas Utilities, won a bidding war for assets of the British power company the Energy Group in 1998. A respected veteran energy executive, CEO Nye anted up $7.6 billion to win the deal. Soon after, a cartoon in the British press depicted a Texas Utilities meter reader ringing a doorbell--dressed as a cowboy.

Nye would have done better to stay home on the range. He announced last month that Dallas-based TXU (as the company was renamed) would sell the U.K. business to German energy giant E.On for just $2.1 billion and...

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