Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Eminent corporations

March 2011

Andrew Simms  & David Boyle. Constable & Robinson. Paperback. 372 pgs. £8.99

Subtitled ‘the rise and fall of the great British corporation’, this is an overview of how the lofty ideals of companies such as Barclays, Cadbury and Marks & Spencer have, over time, been diluted to an extent that would make even a homeopathist blush.

In all, the histories of eight corporations are examined. Often the biographies are painfully similar, as businesses are lovingly established by families or individuals with a social commitment, only to be blown off course by rampant commercialism precipitated by a change in ownership structure.

Despite the solemn subject matter, it’s a book that’s easy to read – and written in a light-hearted style that makes the depressing message a little easier to stomach. It does, however, veer into flippancy at times, and could pay more respect to the corporate pioneers it features, rather than portraying them (mainly for comic effect) as hair-shirted eccentrics.
Unfortunately the company histories are also rather too long, and could have served their purpose adequately with fewer anecdotes, interesting as some of them are.

Having waded through all the histories, we are then presented with a disappointingly empty concluding chapter that is essentially absent of solutions.  While the authors argue that corporations should be smaller in future – and that we would be better off without the plc – they offer no real suggestion as to how this potentially desirable state of affairs might be engineered.

Peter Mason

Peter Mason | UK & NI Ireland |


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