I spent most of last week in pharma country, giving presentations to the oppressed souls who foist “medicine” onto the unsuspecting public. Most of the people in the rooms had the same look of panic, fear, and desperation. Some aggressively foisted their uncertainties onto the poor vendor (me). Others appeared resigned to their fate or were making the best of their situation. The trip definitely confirmed my decision to flee corporate life.
For our intellectual exercise this week, we shall tie the idea of dying empire to the corporate world. Empires falling are classical historical areas of study, but are typically restricted to nations or tribes. I argue that corporations are similar. When the corporation becomes too large or unwieldy, its leaders shift focus from the original goals of the company to merely perpetuating its size. We must grow larger, assimilate other companies, and expand our power into governments, banks, etc. Employees live in their own bureaucratic world, ignorant of their counterparts in other departments. My job is to ensure this form is filled out properly, and I don’t care that my intransigence is derailing a key project. Team spirit is lost. We are all cogs in the wheel. Eventually, the corporation will self-destruct via greed, over-expansion, or chicanery. (Yeah, I’m cracking out the vocab! GRE test date is April 2.) As Rome fell, so fell Tyco, Enron, etc.
For those who prefer a more artistic expression of corporate oppression, the works of Sinclair Lewis, King Vidor’s The Crowd (a film), and Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons explore the ideas of 1) losing oneself in the corporation, 2) the transition from a rural/simple life to the urban/hectic life, and 3) business as an empire. Orson Welles’ film of Ambersons is excellent, too – though bastardized into a mere 90 minutes. That’s a topic for another day.
For the historians in the crowd, Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of Great Powers is legendary. Read it now.
I’m thinking about some book reviews for next week. Maybe my top 10 favorite history books. We shall see.