LIFE AND DEATH ON THE CORPORATE BATTLEFIELD by Paul & Thomas Friedman Solman
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LIFE AND DEATH ON THE CORPORATE BATTLEFIELD

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An adroit, unorthodox examination of ""how business really works""--rationally and irrationally. Journalists Solman and Friedman, of the PBS series Enterprise, structure their chapters around salient personalities, their experiences and views. And with each shift of focus, the perspective alters. As regards competition, corporate strategist Bruce Henderson expounds on the theory of the ""product niche"": ""that combination of customers and services with respect to which [a single company] has a competitive advantage."" The key to competition therefore is difference. The key to survival, says Henderson: knowing when to play hawk, or dove. Next, Harvard Business School's Steven Star browbeats a class into recognizing that Butcher Wax appeals to the top segment of the market (""floor fetichists and snobs""); the indicated marketing strategy therefore is heavy, dealer-oriented promotion. ""Everything was systematic and inter-connected."" In Elon Kohlberg's class in Competitive Decision Making, classmates are pitted against one another: ""For the managers of America it is individual success that is crucial."" Solman and Friedman then trace the passage from the Age of the Buccaneer to the Era of Scientific Management, explaining the niceties of diversification, product proliferation, and market-cycles. ""But you can never replace the need for a judgment call,"" says ex-IBM exec Bob Moore. And on that note we move into the gaps between theory and practice. What managers try to maximize is ""the return to themselves."" (Stockholders, after all, can always diversify.) So: much time is spent unproductively; and much ""cost/benefit analysis"" is suspect, along with much market research; while (one interviewee remarks) ""the all-knowing oil companies have no better idea of the future than the rest of us."" In subsequent chapters, venture capitalist Charlie Waite tells how he minimizes risk (""You tend to do what you already know. It's that simple""); innovative engineer/entrepreneur Henry Kloss--hi-fi, wide-screen TV--explains that he can't get money; ""our friend Ed"" relates his misadventures in the killer-bee honey business; Solman and Friedman report on the demise of their alternative-enterprise, The Real Paper; and more. Smart reportage-cum-analysis, with implications galore. The season's winner for business-watchers.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Simon & Schuster