The disposal of Cadbury is some kind of a marker. It was still a successful company and could have continued independently with no problem. It had a proud history which doesn’t need to be repeated here, but it also had a price. And that price was agreed by its board of directors who gained prodigiously from the sale. Cadbury’s loss of autonomy is surely the precursor of many cost reducing decisions taken at its new American headquarters without regard to the old Cadbury stakeholders, notably including its employees. Doubtless, in the end, Cadbury’s Bournville heritage will be preserved merely as yet another industrial museum, the dead remains of the once thriving industrial community. Such relics are strewn across the British landscape, commemorating our once pioneering roles in wool, cotton and silk textiles, machine tools, iron and steel, cycles, motor cycles, motor cars, trucks and buses, china and pottery and hundreds of other sectors where Britain was successful and achieved a strong position but then sold it off for the financial gain of the few and the bitter disadvantage of the many.
The Cadbury board have the legal duty, according to the Companies Act of 2006, “to promote the success of the company for the benefit of all its members and in doing so have regard (amongst other matters) to a) the likely consequences of any decision in the long term, b) the interests of the company’s employees” as well as the interests of other stakeholders. The board appear to have ignored these legal duties in accepting the bid on the apparent grounds that the share price offered is probably higher then the company would be likely to achieve in the next two or three years if it continued its independent existence.
Every day the media reports movements that have occurred in the stock markets and pundits and commentators explain to the people the reasons for those changes. And every day, millions of viewers, listeners and readers think to themselves “If you’re so smart, why didn’t you tell me before it happened?”
The juxtaposition of two editorials in a mainstream broadsheet makes interesting reading. The one argues that Gordon Brown’s advocacy of a tax on global financial transactions, the so called Tobin tax, suggests that the British government has, at long last, given up its slavish adherence to ‘the ideology that believes in deregulated, untaxed, ever-expanding global capital markets as an end in themselves’. The other argues that ‘China must be held to account for its political repression’. The connection between these two lies deep within the aforementioned ideology.
The theory which, over the past three decades, has become the ubiquitous orthodox free market wisdom, is widely assumed to be simply the current version of classical economics originally expounded by Adam Smith. Moreover, it might be reasonable to assume, it being the latest, it is the most insightful and effective, having been shaped by the errors and excesses of previous versions. The current free market model certainly includes Adam Smith in its provenance, but what makes it different from previous models is the fact it is also based on certain theoretical foundations which are demonstrably false and which previous versions did not share. It has become what J K Galbraith described as an institutional truth. That is, not a truth at all, but a downright lie, but one to which all associated must subscribe if their careers are to prosper.
As recounted in ‘The Rise and Fall of Management’, from the earliest days of industrialisation down to the present day, perhaps one of the most striking step changes to take place has been the adoption of the strategic perspective. It was not till the mid 1960s that long range planning and what became known as strategic management received much overt attention. First in large companies, then among consultants and, finally, in academe, strategy became a dominant perspective, widely acknowledged as the lynch pin of management theory and practice.
Justification of bank bonus payments proceeds apace. Despite having in effect gone bust last year, and being only rescued as a publicly quoted company because the Labour Government was so paranoid about nationalisation, the directors of the Royal Bank of Scotland now wish to set aside £1.5Bn of tax payers’ money for next year’s bonus payments. Their argument is that unless the bonuses are paid, their most talented people will leave and they won’t be able to recruit in this highly competitive field. But it’s been said before that it was precisely these individuals who broke the bank. So why should the tax payer worry if they leave and aren’t replaced?