Imperial chief executives

From The evolution of everything – how new ideas emerge (2015) by Matt Ridley:

>> The Great Man theory lives on as strongly as ever in one field of human endeavour: big business. Even in the age of the internet, most modern companies are set up like feudal fiefs, with a king in charge; or a god invested with a near supernatural reputation, a very large shareholding and a reverberantly hard name like Gates, Jobs, Bezos, Schmidt, Zuckerberg. Surely it is the height of irony that the most iconic, powerful and imperial chief executives are found today in companies that float in the fluid, egalitarian, dynamic world of the digital economy. Their firms provide cobwebs of horizontal interaction among billions of customers, their employees wear jeans, eat vegan salads and work flexible hours. Yet the pronouncements of their bosses are treated as scripture. Jeff Bezos’s favourite saying is ‘Start with the customer and work backwards,’ but it is repeated as a mantra so frequently by his staff that you cannot help thinking they start with the boss and work forwards. At the death of Steve Jobs in 2011 it was widely assumed that the survival of Apple itself was at risk, and the share price plunged. Did even Genghis Khan have this sort of effect when he died? Why has the autocratic ethos of Henry Ford and Attila the Hun survived unchanged into the twenty-first century in this way? Why are companies still such top–down things? <<

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