I came across it while reading an article on economy yet failed to decipher its meaning in given context and a Google search was neither effective.

Here's the exact sentence: "It was almost laughable for Philip Morris - as the sixth-place player with 9 % market share in the 1950s - to take on the goal of defeating Goliath RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company and becomming number one".

  • 3
    Presumably, they were the sixth largest tobacco company in the 1950s (player = competitor).
    – Mick
    Nov 25, 2016 at 1:33
  • It is greatly preferable if folks include a link to the source they are quoting. This is so we can check the greater context. Nov 26, 2016 at 4:39

2 Answers 2


As Mick pointed out in his comment, in this statement the author is considering the marketplace as a game, and the companies competing against each other as players in the game. If you then consider the total money spent by customers as "100% of the market", then Philip Morris, who was receiving 9% of that money, was in sixth place; that is, there were 5 other companies who sold more than they did. In particular, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company was in first place, and was probably several times larger than Philip Morris at the time.

To pull some random numbers out of my hat, the company standings may have looked something like this:

  • 41%: R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company
  • 15%: Competitor company number 2
  • 12%: Competitor company number 3
  • 10%: Competitor company number 4
  • 10%: Competitor Company number 5
  • 9%: Philip Morris
  • 3%: A bunch of other very minor competitors combined

With 5 companies ahead of it, Philip Morris is the 6th-place player in the market, and is clearly very far behind the leader, who is selling more than four times as much as they are. So, setting a target of increasing their sales by a factor of 5 (or, alternatively, of stealing half of R.J. Reynolds' business) is a very ambitious, aggressive target; one might say it is "laughable" because of how unlikely it is that they could achieve such a thing.

  • Exactly, and investigation of the greater context shows that this is the intended usage. See especially Philip Morris did rise from sixth to first and beat RJ Reynolds worldwide, which occurs a page later than the sentence given by Tatyana. Ref: Pages 161-162 Delivering Results: A New Mandate for Human Resource Professionals By David Ulrich. Nov 26, 2016 at 4:44

Five people play per team on court in basketball.

I believe the reference here means that Philip Morris was so small in their market penetration as to be not even considered in the game. it's a hyperbolic introduction of PM to set it up as the "David" for the "Goliath" part later in the sentence.

Wikipedia says:

The sixth man in basketball is a player who is not a starter but comes off the bench much more often than other reserves, often being the first player to be substituted in.

  • 1
    It's unlikely that basketball is involved. It's just a coincidence that PM was the sixth largest tobacco company. If PM had been just behind another company that was the sixth largest, the quote would have read "as the seventh-place player". By the way, I am not a downvoter.
    – deadrat
    Nov 25, 2016 at 3:41
  • People should google first, then downvote. I didn't know this, but it turns out the sixth man is well established. Nov 25, 2016 at 4:06
  • 1
    @aparente001 That's great, but the quote doesn't reference the "sixth man"; "sixth-place player" is not the same thing at all. (Especially since the 5 companies ranked above Philip Morris do not form a team.)
    – Hellion
    Nov 25, 2016 at 6:24
  • @Hellion - See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sixth_man_(fans) which was referenced in the wikipedia link I added to the answer: "This article is about the group of basketball team supporters. For the player, see Sixth man." The participants in the court in a basketball are players. Nov 25, 2016 at 16:56
  • 1
    -1 despite comments and edit by @aparente001 the phrase sixth-place player does not refer to the sixth man in basketball. Nov 26, 2016 at 4:34

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