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What Would Machiavelli Do? The Ends Justify the Meanness by Stanley Bing




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You’re a Prince

Gil Schwartz, executive vice president of communications at CBS, uses the pseudonym, Stanley Bing, in his books and regular column for Fortune. For some time, I’ve been meaning to finally read What Would Machiavelli Do? The Ends Justify the Meanness. As usual, Bing is both clever and funny. If you haven’t read his work before, just think Dilbert without the cartoons. Actually, Bing’s stories and insights often capture executives at their best and worst. Some of the mean bosses named in Machiavelli include Linda Wachner, Ted Turner, Al Dunlap, Martha Stewart and Scott Rudin. How’s that for variety? The short chapters all focus on the mean behavior of executives, in the spirit of how Machiavelli would recommend today’s executive princes to act. Each chapter has a principle, followed by a quote or two from someone recognizable, and then a page or three of Bing’s worthy lines. Here’s the chapter titled “What Would Machiavelli Do? He would acquire his neighbor”:

“ ‘Working on a deal is better than a climax.’
  - D.K. Ludwig, Late Billionaire. Founder National Container Corp.
 Bang! Xoom!’
  - Ralph Kramden

I was on the job for fifteen years before I learned what business itself was all about. Or rather, what it’s not.
It’s not about offering a product or service.
It’s not about running something right, making a difference, winning for the team, talking lunch, brunch, drinks, retreats or loyalty to Uncle Bob.
It’s not about Quality.
It’s not about golf.
It’s about one thing, and one thing only. Getting bigger.
For big Machiavellis who operate macro-style, this means gobbling up other entities and building cash flow.
You could do everything right, and your core business – whatever it is – would only grow 4 percent a year. And that would be fine for the little fellow, you know? But not for Wall Street. Wall Street wants you to grow 15 percent a year! Who can grow 15 percent a year just on improved quality and stuff like that? Nobody.
No, growth that makes Wall Street pop up and stay there requires you to buy your competitor and put him out of business. The prince who wishes to make the stock dance must buy revenue. That is, purchase entire companies whose incoming cash can simply be applied to your own to give the illusion of enormous revenue growth, quarter after quarter, year after year.
This insight is driving the beautiful consolidation progress that’s now taking place in big oil, telecommunications, transportation, publishing, food, and new and old media. ‘Come together,’ wrote John Lennon. And we are! We are!
One day, ladies and gentlemen, and that day is not far from here and now, there will be eight or nine towering, luminous global corporations that are bigger and more powerful than any government this planet has ever seen. Bigger than Rome! Bigger than Byzantium! It’s … [your company here]!
You can be part of that. But only if you start eating the other guy, making his operation a part of yours.
On your level, of course, that’s a pretty meaningless concept. What’s the chance of you eating anything bigger than a sandwich?
It doesn’t matter. No matter what’s the size of your principality, you’ve got stuff to acquire. Look around you. Isn’t there somebody you could control more? Some small person, who works next to you on the floor, say. Or your boss, who is extremely paranoid and needy? How about him?
Inexorably, like a wheat thresher, move across the field before you, eating as much as you can as you go.
Grow! Take things! Come on ! Get going!”

For a few laughs, take some time out to read What Would Machiavelli Do?

Steve Hopkins, March 27, 2002


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