All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day
In his book, Made in Japan, one of Sony's two founders, Akio Morita, talked about the differences between major American and Japanese companies. He discounted a lot of the "cultural differences" that were used as excuses for American mismanagement failures. But he put most of the credit for Japan's success upon the fact that, at that time, most of Japan's great companies were still managed by their founders. The founders provided the passion, direction, and focus that drives those successful companies. America's similar example was our semiconductor and software powerhouses. Folks like Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and, even, Steve Jobs are examples of founders who still provide those valuable assets to their companies. Morita's suspicion was that, once Japan's companies were handed over to a second generation, they would be no more creative than American corporate disasters. They'd still be large, powerful, and more-or-less productive, but they wouldn't be dynamic.
One of the great faults in American culture, however, is that many of our company founders turn into second generation impotents before they pass on their inheritance. Far too many American company execs begin to put themselves in ivory towers before they get out of their garage space. As soon as the company produces the smallest level of profitability American mismanagers begin to act like they are heads of state.
That "image is everything" philosophy is partly to blame. Banks, investors, and even customers expect to see illustrations of power from the folks with whom they do business. Too often execs fail to realize that pretending to be powerful to impress these fools is not the same thing as actually being powerful. Posing and pretending gets to be a habit and, pretty soon, that's the only activity the exec is engaged in. Not long after, the reason the exec exists is erased and the company is drifting without a rudder. If the company has developed a critical amount of momentum, useless execs may not be a fatal flaw.
Small business needs active, participatory management. Hell, all businesses need that kind of management. Managers provide services to the people they manage so those people can get work done. When managers are serving themselves, they are pointless resource-wasting energy drains without a reason to exist.