Saturday, April 19, 2014

Not enough to win, others must lose(?)


UPDATE: Jeremy tweeted me that this is not true. He said he was quoting a New Yorker cartoon (which does exist, and does pre-date his speech, here), and saying he disapproved of that mind-set.  I accept him at his word, and can only assume the newspaper article I linked to was written by someone who mis-quoted him (wouldn't be the first time that happened).

Jeremy Frommer, Wall Street Exec, went to visit University at Albany, his alma mater, and told the audience: "It's not just enough to fly in first class; I have to know that my friends are flying in coach,"[1]

This "I can only win if you lose" attitude is sick and destructive. It is the worst kind of "scarcity thinking"--something most (all?) faith traditions would condemn.

It's not just a question of morality, though. From a purely secular perspective, business leaders who take this view are likely to depart from their fiduciary duty--namely, to act in the best interests of their employer and shareholders. That will often mean striving to come in "first", but it is not always the case. If coming in second, or third, or whatever provides the greatest shareholder value, that is exactly what the executive should strive for, ego be damned. Unlike sports or elections, business does not always confer the absolute clarity of an undisputed victor. Position and success can produce different rankings. When executives reduce business to a personal contest, bad things are prone to happen.

A counter-example to illustrate the point...Apple, Inc, currently one of the most profitable companies in history, has never measured its success by "winning" market share or unit sales. They measure it by profitability. Competitors are welcome to the sales Apple can't make while maintaining it's margins, at whatever profit they provide. So even though they sell only 25% of smartphones, they make more money than the rest of the industry, put together.

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