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 From the standpoint of aerodynamic design, there's no way that a bumblebee can keep itself aloft. Much the same can be said of Computer Associates, a decidedly offbeat enterprise whose wayward, even perverse, approach to by-the-book management techniques quite likely has helped it become a multinational colossus in the ultracompetitive software trade. While probably no one, including its ringmasters, wholly comprehends what makes CA tick, former Forbes correspondent Kestin comes as close as any outsider could to capturing the antic, anarchic spirit that, against the odds, has carried the acquisition-minded company's annual sales close to the $2.0 billion level. He does so, moreover, without getting into the nuts-and-bolts of programming, corporate finance, distribution channels, or marketing campaigns. In a helter-skelter narrative that's longer on anecdotal evidence than data, let alone dicta, Kestin largely lets those on the inside of the free-form organization speak for themselves. Although their varied testimony defies summarization, CA folk clearly pride themselves on ignoring as well as breaking rules. For example, the company is a hotbed of nepotism at all levels, including the nominal top, where a pair of Chinese-American brothers named Wang hold sway. Further, there are precious few memo-writers, planners, or MBAs on the payroll, and major decisions are more apt to be made at pickup basketball games than around a conference table. Lines of authority shift ceaselessly, and even putatively top executives find themselves assigned to unfamiliar posts on short notice. Kestin is obliged to conclude that the ad hoc system works because CA offers genuine opportunity to talented, creative individuals able to adapt to its ways. An altogether engaging success story, albeit one that could drive management consultants to drink or worse.

Pub Date: June 30th, 1992
ISBN: 0-87113-524-8
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1992


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