GENEEN by Robert J. Schoenberg


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An unauthorized but lackluster biography of the ultimate numbers man, whose management style--best displayed in two decades at the helm of ITT--served as example and reproach to fast-trackers everywhere: ""You think you are dedicated? . . . a tough-minded, illusionless servant of reality? You call yourself daring? a workaholic? Look-on Geneen and despair."" Compared to today's M.B.A. wizards, however, Geneen started slowly, serving a long apprenticeship with a C.P.A. firm before moving up the corporate ranks in Bell & Howell (his style didn't mesh with Chuck Percy's, though they stayed friends), Jones & Laughlin (modernizing ""100 years of bean counting""), and Raytheon (the first flowering of his ""inquisatorial technique""), finally reaching the top job at ITT in 1958. Then, zoom: an acquisition-fed growth burst that took annual sales from $765 million to over $22 billion, featuring over 50 straight quarters of increasing profits. Schoenberg emphasizes that Geneen didn't do it the easy way--he didn't buy earnings, strike oil, or board a high-tech product skyrocket. What he did was manage like crazy: super financial controls (budgets, planning, standard costs, emphasis on key ratios); profit-and-loss responsibility pushed far down the line; exhaustive monthly management meetings to root out the facts (Geneen always felt management decisions ""required no intuition or brilliance, just ventilation of the unshakeable facts""); personal attention to tiny details (he even tried, without success, to write ad copy for Avis); and a workaholic lifestyle designed to show the ""moral force of his plainly superior dedication."" Despite the odd misstep (the Levitt homebuilding debacle showed that Geneen's approach didn't fit an ""intuition-intensive"" business), it all held together until ITT's image took a bad hammering in the early 1970s, as unsavory details emerged about the Hartford/Grinnell antitrust case settlement and Chilean political involvement--though the account of both scandals here adds little to Anthony Sampson's in The Sovereign State of ITT. Despite an avalanche of facts and figures (one suspects Geneen himself would like this approach), this book fails as biography; Schoenberg never penetrates Geneen's colorless public persona to explain his monumental drive. The bottom line, then: not a tells-all antidote for Geneen's recent bland autobiography (p. 947).

Pub Date: Jan. 28th, 1984
Publisher: Norton