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.

 

 

More articles by:

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

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castile’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
Gregory Barrett
“Realpolitik” in Berlin: Merkel Fawns Over Kissinger
Louis Yako
The Road to Understanding Syria Goes Through Iraq
Graham Peebles
Grenfell Tower: A Disaster Waiting to Happen
Ezra Rosser
The Poverty State of Mind and the State’s Obligations to the Poor
Ron Jacobs
Andrew Jackson and the American Psyche
Pepe Escobar
Fear and Loathing on the Afghan Silk Road
Andre Vltchek
Why I Reject Western Courts and Justice
Lawrence Davidson
On Hidden Cultural Corruptors
Christopher Brauchli
The Routinization of Mass Shootings in America
Missy Comley Beattie
The Poor Need Not Apply
Martin Billheimer
White Man’s Country and the Iron Room
Joseph Natoli
What to Wonder Now
Tom Clifford
Hong Kong: the Chinese Meant Business
Thomas Knapp
The Castile Doctrine: Cops Without Consequences
Nyla Ali Khan
Borders Versus Memory
Binoy Kampmark
Death on the Road: Memory in Tim Winton’s Shrine
Tony McKenna
The Oily Politics of Unity: Owen Smith as Northern Ireland Shadow Secretary
Nizar Visram
If North Korea Didn’t Exist US Would Create It
John Carroll Md
At St. Catherine’s Hospital, Cite Soleil, Haiti
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Singaporean Conjucture
Paul C. Bermanzohn
Trump: the Birth of the Hero
Jill Richardson
Trump on Cuba: If Obama Did It, It’s Bad
Olivia Alperstein
Our President’s Word Wars
REZA FIYOUZAT
Useless Idiots or Useful Collaborators?
Clark T. Scott
Parallel in Significance
Louis Proyect
Hitler and the Lone Wolf Assassin
Julian Vigo
Theresa May Can’t Win for Losing
Richard Klin
Prog Rock: Pomp and Circumstance
Charles R. Larson
Review: Malin Persson Giolito’s “Quicksand”
David Yearsley
RIP: Pomp and Circumstance
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail