Five Corporate Commandments – The Keys To Success And Failure




Cheap ballpoint pens had just been commercialized in 1952 and each child in my class was given one.  Eight-year-olds like me found them hard to use and not as much fun as real ink.  This was also the year they taught us the biblical Ten Commandments.


I had trouble understanding number 10, coveting goods.  “Father,” I asked, “I like your pen.  It writes easily.  I want one like it.  What’s wrong with that?”  He explained that nothing was wrong with liking his pen.  It was wanting HIS pen, wanting him not to have it, that was the sin of covetousness.  I was puzzled by his answer.  I did not see wickedness in secret envy.  However, I did understand the prohibitions against murder and theft. 


Developed societies today have institutionalized the commandments that forbid killing and stealing, thereby solving the problems of extreme violence and property rights.  These societies are also likely to have global corporations that reinforce peace and plenty, while providing generous incomes to executives who like to sublimate their covetousness in shopping. 


The biblical Ten Commandments apply to individuals, but modern life now depends on corporations.  An equivalent designed for them would encourage corporate continuity and efficacy.  With this belief in mind, I wrote a book, “TheEvilGovernor”, and my colleague Jon Kieran illustrated it with a short story “Overlooking Lake Alois.”  Here is a summary:


Corporate Problem                      Corporate Commandment That Solves The Problem


Excess Risk                                 Do not syndrome mix.  Avoid corruption


Wealth-destroying deals            Suppress narcissism.  Commit to performance


Group think                                  Break up alignments.  Allow all energy


Rigidity                                          Value holistic thought


Excess compensation                  Provide opportunity to new alphas



Before the 2008 crisis, my family company was performing adequately, if not strictly according to these guidelines.  After the crisis, there were needs for less grandiosity, more commitment, less alignment, more holistic thought, less status seeking.  We did the opposite, not out of malice, but because the language of business reform encourages breaking the corporate commandments.  We were advised to:  expand market share, search for deals, adhere to business models, elaborate accounting discipline, issue more stock options to present leaders.  Sales held up, but the balance sheet weakened.  The puzzling language of corporate reform is the language of corporate sin.


The idea applies to political conflict as well as business.  A journal article in 2013 September/October “ForeignAffairs”, The Limits of Counterinsurgency Doctrine in Afghanistan:  The Other Side of the COIN”, illustrates how breaking the corporate commandments wastes life and fortune in war zones.


If we applied these guidelines at critical choice points, we could limit business uncertainty and political failure.  I am retiring from business, but these ideals should continue to inspire.  




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