Archive for the ‘corporate governance’ Category
Writing from the home office in Switzerland, Tim draws my attention to a conference for management PhD scholars interested in development. From the call for papers for the UNDP Development Academy:
The oikos UNDP Young Scholars Development Academy 2012 provides PhD students and young scholars working on poverty, sustainable development, and the informal economy from an Organisation and Management Theory perspective a platform to present and discuss their on-going research projects with fellow students and senior faculty.
Research on inclusive business models, market development and sustainability between the informal and formal economy is a promising and challenging field for young researchers and PhD students. It calls for a multitude of methods, combination of disciplines in strategy, organisation studies, sociology, anthropology and economics, and new research designs, e.g. market ethnography in organisation studies.
Great opportunity for orgtheory PhD students and tenure track/post docs. Check it out.
I was reading through some of his work and much of it links with important issues in organization theory. For example, one of Ribstein’s areas of focus was “uncorporations” — see his book The Rise of the Uncorporation (Oxford University Press). Uncorporations are forms of association and governance like limited liability corporations (LLCs), partnerships etc. These uncorporations represent 1/3 of all tax-reporting entities (the stat is from the above book) and the form is growing rapidly. These forms deserve attention given their unique structure, approach to contracts and incentives, etc.
So if you want a very good primer on corporations and uncorporations (frankly, this should really be part of the “yleissivistys” of any good org theorist), then get this book (here’s Chapter 1 on SSRN). While we have some good work on partnerships and related forms (e.g., I like this piece by Royston Greenwood and Laura Empson), nonetheless I think there is much opportunity to do further research in this area.
Another piece that might interest org theorists is Ribstein’s 2010 piece on the Death of Big Law, Wisconsin Law Review. The article discusses the many pressures faced by big law firms: deprofessionalization, competition from small law firms, the rise of in-house council, diseconomies, changing incentive structures, etc.
For more, here’s Larry Ribstein’s bepress page.
Bob Sutton teaches us that @$$holes are a bad thing. They take up our time, they decrease our productivity. But what do we make of the Steve Jobs biography? According to one headline, it shows that Jobs was a “jerk and a genius.” What gives? Was Sutton wrong?
Here’s my take. Yes, in general, jerks are a bad thing. Research and personal experience show that they are. For every mean boss who succeeds, there’s a legion that just make their co-workers miserable and unproductive. Early in his career, Jobs was the paragon of the jerk who pulled everyone down with him. One of the reasons he was run out from Apple was that he constantly fought with other factions within Apple.
So how did Jobs break out of this trap? A few ways. First, he became better at his job over time. Even though there were some problem products later in his career, nothing compared to the bomb that was the Lisa computer. It’s easier to command respect and compliance when your batting average goes up, way up. The benefits of working with Jobs now outweighed his negatives.
Second, Jobs restructured the organization and eliminated people who didn’t buy into his personal style. Early in his career, he had to work with people who were older than him and knew him before he became famous. They might not always buy into the “reality distortion field.” Later, Apple leaders were mainly people groomed by him. All the old leadership had retired or were fired upon Jobs’ return.
Third, Jobs was fairly interactive. Yes, he was a bit of an @$$hole, but the biography shows many cases of where he built strong bonds with people. A lot of @$$holes never balance the aggression with positive reinforcement.
Bottom line: I still believe in Sutton’s rule, but Jobs was exceptional. Almost no one had his deep knowledge of the high tech business or such an acute sense of style and design. Few can build an organization tailored to their personality. Most @$$holes will never be in Jobs’ league and will merely make our lives miserable. Long live the no @$$hole rule!
The coverage of Steve Jobs taught me a lot about Apple’s organization. For example, Steve Jobs did not believe in middle management. He believed in having divisions run by specialists. Advertising is run by people with a deep knowledge of advertising or graphics, not a generically trained manager:
Specialization is the norm at Apple, and as a result, Apple employees aren’t exposed to functions outside their area of expertise. Jennifer Bailey, the executive who runs Apple’s online store, for example, has no authority over the photographs on the site. Photographic images are handled companywide by Apple’s graphic arts department. Apple’s powerful retail chief, Ron Johnson, doesn’t control the inventory in his stores. Tim Cook, whose background is in supply-chain management, handles inventory across the company. (Johnson has plenty left to do, including site selection, in-store service, and store layout.)
Jobs sees such specialization as a process of having best-in-class employees in every role, and he has no patience for building managers for the sake of managing. “Steve would say the general manager structure is bullshit,” says Mike Janes, the former Apple executive. “It creates fiefdoms.” Instead, rising stars are invited to attend executive team meetings as guests to expose them to the decision-making process. It is the polar opposite of the General Electric-like (GE) notion of creating well-rounded executives.
Also, apparently, Jobs didn’t believe in human resources, until very recently.
Two comments: First, Jobs, as Kieran noted, was a charismatic leader. He also had an amazingly deep set of skills, derived from having worked in high tech in some capacity since age 13. He also managed a company that produced highly related products. These issues obviate the need for generic managers.
Second, there’s little evidence that having a flat structure is necessary. In high tech, we see a wide range of business models that are highly successful – even revolutionary. Google is wildly successful and seems to have a very different culture and structure. I wouldn’t draw general lessons from Jobs’ disdain for management. Apple’s structure flows from Jobs’ personality and his specific career (e.g., after returning to Apple, Jobs ejected all the old school management).
A little while ago, we asked: what’s the deal with Joel Podolny and Apple University? A few press releases and then … nothing. Well, Steve Jobs’ passing has yielded some revealing press coverage. An LA Times article discusses Apple and Podolny:
Reporting from San Francisco— Apple Inc. now has to get down to the business of surviving its founder… It’s something that Apple — and Steve Jobs himself — had been painstakingly planning for years.
Deep inside its sprawling Cupertino, Calif., campus, one of the world’s most successful and secretive companies has had a team of experts hard at work on a closely guarded project.
But it isn’t a cool new gadget. It’s an executive training program called Apple University that Jobs considered vital to the company’s future: Teaching Apple executives to think like him.
Apple University, as suspected, is in house management training. The article is personality profile – Podolny has had a stellar academic career – and I wish there were more about education. How would this differ from previous forms of management education? Unclear. How do they plan to transplant Jobs’ highly unique style and vision to the next generation? Also, unclear. But it does shed light on how Apple plans to continue the record of excellence created by its founder.
I take a special interest in the Moneyball movie because I used to teach the book in a class. Before I get to the academic comments, I’ll give the movie a thumbs up. It’s a fun movie and, as usual, Brad Pitt puts in a believable performance as a conflicted manager. It’s slow for a modern film, but I liked it. If you are a sports fan and you have a tolerance for chatty films, then you’ll probably like this.
Anyway, the reason I went to see the movie is that tor a while, I taught IU’s course on organizations and work. I used Moneyball to explain two concepts – market imperfections and organizational culture.
Markets are imperfect when buyers and sellers do not incorporate all the available knowledge. Moneyball is really about taking advantage of the fact that most sports team managers don’t use some very basic data to choose players. Organizational culture simply means the shared ideas in an organization that are used to interpret things and motivate behavior. Moneyball is about the conflict between people who think baseball can be successfully quantified and those who think that good coaching should be based on experience and gut feelings.