Sampson (The Midas Touch, 1990, etc.) draws on his experience as a student of the international business scene, and on a wealth of unconventional sources, to trace the evolution/revolution of life in great corporations, from the British East India Company through Microsoft. In detailing the frequently convulsive transition of family firms and state-franchised concerns into modern corporations, the author is as apt to refer to the arts, from Buddenbrooks to Working Girl, as to cite the private-sector record. By the middle of the 20th century, Sampson observes, organization men and their female secretariats appeared to have become socioeconomic fixtures not only in America but also throughout Europe and Japan. As he makes clear, however, those who banked on stability were in for a series of shocks. Raiders imposed harsh commercial discipline on US and UK corpocracies not performing up to their perceived potential; Asian rivals were helping themselves to once unassailable domestic markets; computers began to displace hosts of middle managers; and career women mounted a determined effort to crack the glass ceiling that keeps them from upper-echelon posts. As companies everywhere moved to make themselves more cost-competitive, job security evaporated at such onetime havens as GE, GM, Imperial Chemical, IBM, and even Japan's Toyota. Concurrently, advances in telecommunications allowed increasing numbers of employees to work from their cars or homes (in some sense, a return to yesteryear's cottage industries). While the company's surviving men and women were obliged to become more productive, Sampson points out, their executive masters have been ever more handsomely rewarded, even when they fail. Conceding the story is far from over, he predicts accountability will be a central issue in future debates on capitalism's contribution to the common weal. A quickstep but generally rewarding tour of the West's assembly lines, boardrooms, offices, and service centers that suggests, among other things, that history indeed repeats itself.
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