FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Mavericks at Work

by RALPH NADER

William C. Taylor was a rosy-cheeked Princeton intern when he began his rise to fame and fortune, working with the Multinational Monitor magazine. As a freshly minted Princeton graduate, he worked on the book The Big Boys: Power and Position in American Business as a co-author with me. After that it was the Sloan School at MIT, editor of the Harvard Business Review, and a co-founder of the sensationally successful Fast Company during the dot-com craze. Now comes the co-author (with Polly LaBarre) of the forthcoming (October) sure-to-be bestseller Mavericks at Work.

I’ve read the galleys and find it a multi-splendored information engine about innovative business approaches ­ so much so that when you get over its exciting, fluid prose, you are left with more questions than the book answers. Which means, given its genre, that it is a very good book indeed, steering you, as it does, to explore your own “maverick” territory.

Taylor and LaBarre take you swiftly through a journey of interviews and insights that reveal the success of “unlearning” of “undoing” traditional business practices, of doing just the opposite of conventional commerce and succeeding. Like Southwest Airlines does.

The opening chapter introduces the readers to the most unlikely banker, the founder of ING Direct USA, Arkadi Kuhlmann. He attacks the banking industries’ exorbitant fees, rails against credit card rip-offs and the sales push to get people “to save too little, invest too recklessly, and spend too much.” This is sedition, with fast-growing rewards. ING Direct is presently taking in a billion dollars a month in deposits. Now the country’s largest internet bank is giving higher interest rates to depositors and charging lower rates to its mortgage customers, say Taylor and LaBarre.

Their treks across the country has produced story after story of maverick behavior in a remarkable range of companies ­ a construction company, an ad agency, a cable network, little known startups with revolutionary breakthroughs in telecommunications and data-center automation, blazingly creative toy and game designer and vendor. A gold mining company provided formerly confidential data for its Internet $500,000 contest invitation to get the world’s smartest geologists and scientists helping them find the next 6 million ounces of gold on its lands.

There is the anarchically successful huge annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival for artistic talent in Scotland. Can there be a new idea in selling sandwiches? Try Potbelly Sandwich Works creating a ‘cauldron of consumer passion’ around its aesthetic delights of sound, color, and the unusual décor. Reasonable prices for good food, write Taylor and LaBarre.

The book’s description of the state of the art recruitment entrepreneurs, such as Michael Homula of FirstMerit Bank, was one of the most rewarding parts of the book. How to find experienced people by imaginative techniques.

DPR Construction, Inc. out of Redwood City, California catches the reader’s eye because it is determined to show how to be “quantifiably different and better, a truly great construction company,” declared cofounder and president Doug Woods.

The touted standards DPR sets for itself are breathtaking. Listen to Woods’ interview: “This industry hasn’t changed the way it does business a whole lot in the last hundred years. We stand for something.”

Taylor and LaBarre note that DPR “takes on and remedies some of the most notorious pitfalls of construction, the designed-in headaches that give the industry such a bad name: unreliable price estimates, endless cost overruns, delays and slipped schedules, completed projects with a never-ending list of fixes, lawsuits and recriminations between builders and clients.”

I found the least persuasive choice for a Maverick in the book to be Commerce Bank. The authors conceded that the Bank offers lower interest rates in return for personal, wowee service and an atmosphere of exotic friendliness and team spirit by the employees whose official company exclamation is Wow!

Commerce Bank culture is indeed spirited and colorful and seemingly in perpetual motion. Some irritating practices like other banks’ exploiting your deposited check’s float are rejected.

But the Mavericks profiled by Taylor and LaBarre prompt a larger question about the book: if these astute and imaginative ways of doing business are so profitable, what keeps them from diffusing promptly into the canyons of the giant corporations that are mired in mediocrity or the traditional industries that are profitably stagnant. Where is the mimicry if not by copycat, then at least in attitude?

Well, maybe Taylor will cover some of these curiosities on ABC’s Good Morning America where he is supposed to appear four times in October on the theme ­ Maverick of the Week ­ or in both authors’ extensive nationwide tour. The last thing they need is a “gee whiz” reception about their selected companies. Maverick readers have to be skeptics and push the envelope not only further ­ to what benefits for the people ­ but also deeper too ­ will these companies be around in ten years?

As Tom Peters learned some years ago after he published his super-best seller In Search of Excellence, some “excellence” just didn’t have the legs.

 

 

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

More articles by:
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
Robert Fisk
The Hypocrisies of Terror Talk
Lee Hall
Purloined Platitudes and Bipartisan Bunk: An Adjunct’s View
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of Collective Punishment: Russia, Doping and WADA
Nozomi Hayase
Cryptography as Democratic Weapon Against Demagoguery
Cesar Chelala
The Real Donald Trump
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Propaganda Machinery and State Surveillance of Muslim Children
Denis Conroy
Australia: Election Time Blues for Clones
Marjorie Cohn
Killing With Robots Increases Militarization of Police
David Swanson
RNC War Party, DNC War Makers
Eugene Schulman
The US Role in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict
Nauman Sadiq
Imran Khan’s Faustian Bargain
Peter Breschard
Kaine the Weepy Executioner
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail