THE ART OF CORPORATE SUCCESS by Ken Auletta

THE ART OF CORPORATE SUCCESS

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

It appears that Auletta (The Streets Were Paved with Gold, The Underclass), in search of ""new journalistic territory,"" has succumbed to business-itis--and/or found salvation in Schlumberger Limited, the oilfield-services multinational, and its chief exec, Jean Riboud. Peters and Waterman (In Search of Excellence) cited Schlumberger as a successful company with the requisite ""corporate culture."" The New Yorker, where this small book originated, has a standing weakness for ""paradoxes"" like Riboud: a professing French Socialist with a Third World (Indian) wife, a penchant for modern art, and other un-business-like attributes. The result, in Auletta's worshipful rendering, is an embarrassment of aggrandizement: ""Perhaps this tradition of striving for perfection is what most separates the great from the merely good companies, just as it distinguishes the great baseball team, a great symphony orchestra, university, or nation."" We hear about Schlumberger's origin, its invention of ""wireline logging"" (X-ray measuring) of oil wells, the anti-bureaucratic company ethos, the early years of Riboud (political awakening and personal stiffening at Buchenwald, artistic exposure in postwar New York, attraction to the oil business over banking). We spend four days in Houston with Riboud, hearing him grill managers and field questions from engineers. ""He searches for fighters, for independent-minded people""; he's preoccupied with technological innovation, with the long-view. We walk with Riboud at his French estate, learning more about his Socialist politics. Auletta points out the obvious inconsistencies--Franco-American Schlumberger is incorporated in the low-tax Netherlands Antilles, it stands to profit mightily from high oil prices, it does business with ""right-wing dictatorships,"" etc. He quotes a few affectionate skeptics, raises a few questions about the future. But overall he goes along with both the Peters-Waterman criteria-for-excellence and Riboud's own Japanese-inspired comparison of ""the Schlumberger spirit to a religion."" As either reporting or analysis, a feeble, sometimes fatuous performance.

Pub Date: April 27th, 1984
Publisher: Putnam