Former BP chief executive Browne (Seven Elements that Changed the World: An Adventure of Ingenuity and Discovery, 2014, etc.) teams with McKinsey & Company principal Nuttall and former McKinsey consultant Stadlen to call out some systematic failures of businesses, including the failure to learn from the past.
The authors interviewed more than 80 corporate leaders from companies around the world, and McKinsey's research and surveys back the work. High on the authors’ list is the absence of adequate corporate policies and methods to deal with potentially catastrophic issues involving the communities in which they operate. They prominently flag environmental issues, including climate change in general and specific events like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Also significant are corporate corruption, scandals, and criminality. To demonstrate the convenient amnesia of corporate leaders, the authors pair recent developments—Europe's 2013 horsemeat scandal—with historical precedents such as the dreadful conditions of the meatpacking industry in early-20th-century Chicago. Browne believes that the community outreach programs known as Corporate Social Responsibility are ineffective because they are “disconnected from commercial activity and from the needs of real people.” What are the actual roles of corporations, ask the authors, “if they are no longer the drivers of employment in their industry or their local community?” Through their interviews, the authors portray a world in the midst of social upheaval and technological revolution; one result has been the large-scale loss of lesser-qualified and unqualified positions. Artificial intelligence technology, robots, and software-driven platforms—e.g., Uber, which is greatly disrupting the taxi industry—are likely here to stay. As the authors rightly note, government still has a role to play. The authors cogently argue that businesses must develop more focused “mapping” of their operations. Clearer, more precise conceptions of aims and purposes are also necessary, and outreach must be more finely honed at every level.
A timely and provocative discussion of big business and its uncertain future.