Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Jack Welch: Companies are so Impersonal

I did think about posting on the UK's budget, our not particularly inspiring Chancellor (who read the budget 'with all the excitement of a man reading out a telephone directory', and the fate of non-doms tonight, but I think I'll keep clear of UK politics.

Better to comment on the US elections instead. Whilst the choice of candidates doesn't seem to have inspired all US commentators, I've found it quite gripping. And I'm envious of the choice in political directions that the US' population is being given.

Having said that, and perhaps it's just that we're receiving more coverage of the Democrats' contest, I'm surprised at the strength of anti-capitalist sentiment that has been expressed at times -for example, Hilary Clinton's questioning whether theories underpinning free trade still hold true in the era of globalisation.


It's the sort of comment you wouldn't get from any major political party in the UK and I guess there are pluses and minuses to this.
Anyway, I just want to go back to this anti-capitalist sentiment again.

In his Business Week podcast, The Welch Way, Jack Welch has been talking about why capitalism and business gets such bad press from politicians and others, particularly during the primary season:

"A corporation is so impersonal. It conjures up in your mind bricks and mortar, big skyscrapers, guys in suits. Every negative image you can think of comes up. This gives people free range to go at it."


In Welch's view, this isn't fair (as my daughter would say). After all, corporations are people:


"In big oil - think of people finding it, in the oil rigs, fighting like hell the rough seas. In big pharma - thousands of people working to cure AIDS, cure cancer, working late in the labs. The people writing about evil corporations - they work for corporations!"


Welch's diagnosis of this is that writers have disengaged from the corporations they work for when they write out corporations. After all, "most people working in organisations love their corporations".

I'm not so sure. Certainly engagement surveys don't generally suggest this level of affiliation.

I think a lot of writers write about evil corporations because they're thinking about their own experience working in them as they write, and they know that the way they're writing about corporations will resonate with their readers too.

So I'd agree with Welch that the solution isn't better PR. But don't think it's just about waiting till the end of the primaries either.

I think corporations need to think about how to make their organisations more personal. To give their people a working experience that's meaningful and energising. After all we don't think of corporations like Virgin or Starbucks as evil. They trust their employees and this trust comes over positively to us. I think that when a few more corporations start to act like this then general perceptions about business and capitalism will start to change too.