The Smartest Guys in the Room
David Brooks 16.09.2016
When things seem to good to be true, then may be they aren't true.
But when smart guys tell you something is so, it can be tempting to believe. After all they are smarter than you are, aren't they? So what's all this about? Some readers will have noted the title and realised I am referring to Enron. Formed in 1985 Enron's stock was to take a meteoric rise to a capitalisation of 60 billion dollars and the company became the most admired, innovative large company in America. It was applauded in the Forbes Most admired Companies survey, management schools used it to produce case studies, it was 6th placed in the Fortune Global 500, yet by 2002 it had crashed and burned and by 2007 it was gone.
It was only recently reading the book I realised that I had gone through a similar experience in one job, but at a far more modest level. Every chapter in the Enron story revealed fresh evidence that the man driving this company I had joined had probably taken management classes based on the flawed Enron inspired innovations and case studies model. So how did all this happen?
Back in the mid 1980s I suddenly found myself 'head-hunted' for a senior marketing role in an old established British company that was something of an institution in its niche market. It was a small company, a market leader in its sector ... well more of an institution really, whereas the company I left was large and dominated a much bigger market sector. I was interviewed in offices in Covent Garden late in 1985 and after a few days the call came for a final interview in New York, but due to my lack of a visa, the meeting was moved to Toronto. Suddenly here was the entree to a new jet set business existence, a world already far removed from my present job. The interview was hardly rigorous. I managed to remove the cap from a Coke bottle that had apparently defeated the efforts of the company president, meanwhile he read my CV with total amazement, occasionally shaking his head from time to time before asking if I had written it myself. He expressed total disbelief that anyone other than a specialist in crafting CVs could have produce such a document. It seems that my chronological recording of my career to date had amazed and delighted him. I gathered I was hired. We had dinner in a massive airport hotel restaurant which boasted a huge log fire surrounded by glass panels which seemed impressive to me at that time. As the UK MD who had accompanied me on this whirlwind trip and I climbed back on the BA 747, an air stewardess recognised us from the flight out and asked ironically if we had enjoyed the 'day trip'. At Heathrow reality returned, Greenline bus to Watford Junction, the train home on which I met an old school friend who held a mysterious role at the MoD which was something to do with espionage, then back at my desk the next day after just a day off.
At the beginning of January I took up my new post. I had already met the marketing team when I visited the operation after my appointment. But by the end of January the information I had discovered and the response to my reporting this had launched a chain of events that seemed incredible then and only now viewed in the context of the Enron story can be explained in my own mind.
... to be continued
Technical Marketing Book.
Follow and comment on the Technical Marketing Diary.