Saturday, July 14, 2018

Book Review: 'The Capitalist Philosophers: The Geniuses of Modern Business–Their Lives, Times, and Ideas' by Andrea Gabor

The Capitalist Philosophers: The Geniuses of Modern Business–Their Lives, Times, and Ideas
Andrea Gabor
Times Business (2000)
A brilliant discussion of thirteen “geniuses of modern business”
While preparing questions for another interview, I recently re-read this book (published in 2000) in which Andrea Gabor focuses on Frederick Winslow Taylor, Mary Parker Follett, Chester Barnard, Fritz Roethlisberger and Elton Mayo, Robert McNamara, Abraham Maslow and Douglas McGregor, W. Edwards Deming, Herbert A. Simon, Alfred Du Pont Chandler and Alfred Sloan, and Peter F. Drucker. And frankly, until reading this book, I knew little (if anything) about Follett, Mayo, Simon, and Chandler and thus was especially eager to understand why Gabor included them with the others.
Also of special interest to me is how skillfully Gabor uses several themes that lend cohesion to the provision of her narrative. For example, she notes “the seemingly irreconcilable visions of management – the scientific and humanistic – that have battled fort hegemony both in the corporate workplace and in American society itself.” Gabor traces the development of both the scientific and humanistic traditions from the beginning of the 20th century and follows the battle of ideologies up to the present, 2000. A related theme involves various responses to this question: “What is the purpose of the business organization in American society?” Is it a “pivotal institution of democracy” with complex responsibilities to a host of constituencies (e.g. employees, customers, and the community) or is there “one primary corporate constituent – the shareholder – and a single purpose – profit making”?
Here in Dallas, we have a Farmers Market at which several vendors offer free slices of fresh fruit as samples. Following their example, I now provide a representative selection of brief excerpts from Gabor’s book to suggest the “flavor” of her analysis and writing style.
“Taylor’s greatest contribution was in recognizing that scientific method was the key to the success of industrialization, especially in running the new enterprises that were of a scale and scope heretofore unimaginable – factories so large they used small railroads to transport men around them, factories peopled by thousands of workers operating enormous, power-driven machines.” (Page 5)
“Although Barnard did not refer specifically to the notion of corporate culture, he recognized that the values of an organization reside in the informal organization. He saw that formal organizations generate `customs, mores, folklore, institutions, social norms, and ideals’ – in short culture. They are also a key to communication, which Barnard identified as one of the most important functions of the executive.” (Page 79)
Abraham Maslow coined the term `Eupsychia’ [introduced in his book Eupsychian Management and later reissued as Maslow on Management] to define a `culture that would be generated by 1,000 self-actualizing people on a sheltered island’ and help answer the questions that defined his core preoccupation: `how good a society does human nature permit?’ In the words of Warren Bennis, Maslow approached his material `like a swashbuckling Candide, that is with a powerful innocence that is both threatening and receptive to widely held beliefs.'” (Page 182)
Note: “eupsychia” was Maslow’s term for the ideal society or organization.
The importance of Deming’s philosophy to the information age “was its radical break with many accepted tenets of management: its insistence on constant change and flexibility, its implicit faith in the ability of individuals and the informal organization to generate new ideas, its opposition to hierarchy and its trappings, and its assumption that the greatest competitive advantage could accrue to companies that help employees achieve their full potential.” (Page 211)
“No revolutionary, Drucker is an apostle of great corporations. His great strength is his ability to absorb vast amounts of information, to see patterns in what would appear as a jumble of chaotic events, trends, and economic indicators, and to anticipate – and articulate – each new zeitgeist. His life is also a testament to the American Dream, the ability of an enterprising immigrant both to succeed in his adopted country and to reinvent t himself.” (Page 293)
Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out Art Kleiner’s The Age of Heretics (Second Edition), Joan Magretta’s What Management Is: How It Works and Why It’s Everyone’s Business, Edgar H. Schein’s Organizational Culture and Leadership, Stuart Crainer’s The Management Century, and two books by Chris Argyris: Integrating the Individual and the Organization and Knowledge for Action: A Guide to Overcoming Barriers to Organizational Change.

Editor's note: This review was written by Robert Morris and has been published with his permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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