Friday, 6 April 2012

Big Business Vs The 99%!

I had a friend who told me the best years of his working life were when he went to work in a small start up company where the people in charge were working to create something out of love and a passion for the product. Working conditions were great and anything anyone did that contributed to the advancement of the product was recognised, understood and rewarded.

This is the story of every company ever created. First generation management are glorious. During those times when they still aren't sure if they are going to survive, thrive or die, all they can do is strive to produce the best product they can and hope the market rewards them.

When the market does, they celebrate and often those original employees get some of the riches as the company goes from success to success.

But now the company's successful and the original manager/owner has been working hard for 10 years. The passion's waned and the product hasn't altered its successful formula in a number of years. And an offer comes in from Richard Head of Richard Head industries, a multi national company and they offer to buy the small startup for 10 million. The company founder and owner sells - why wouldn't he? He knows the company's overpriced at the price, he knows all the hidden problems and the likelihood that their unchanged product may become less successful over time.

Now the second generation managers roll into town. They usually come with a management expert at the helm who knows and cares about only one thing, numbers on a balance sheet. Any excess gets cut. People's jobs get doubled up. Office space is halved and hallways suddenly become open plan offices. In fact every worker below those making the office layout decisions are forced into open plan offices, under the con that open plan helps employee communication and peer learning. The truth is open plan layouts make people less inclined to waste working hours checking facebook, if you can be seen at all times you are likely to work at a higher efficiency and this is all new management care about. The fact open plan offices  rob a person of privacy and self worth isn't even considered.

So now we're ready for third generation company management and all those that come after. Introducing Hugh Janus. He comes into a system already bastardized by the second generation of managers, he has little idea of the product or how its made. All he cares about is that it keeps getting made at the lowest possible price and then sold at an even higher markup profit. He's not interested in the rights or happiness of the employees, short of making sure they get the job done and should one quit he's happy to hire another and rush them into service to learn on the job. All the time the product gets smaller, is of poorer quality or delivers  less while the price goes up.

This company has now reached the fuck you stage or a company's life. This stage comes well after the original creators and owners of the company have moved on, after every single dollar that can be saved has been saved and after the company has been listed on the stock market making managers huge profits along with initial stock owners. But the most glaring attribute of the fuck you phase of a company's life is the fact they couldn't care less about the individual purchaser. They only care about the many. If there's bad press or some other reason customers band together and make demands on mass, management will front the media and get their publicity spin working. This is something all of us are now familiar with because we see it so often. A company who is suddenly facing bad press because of something done in the normal day to day operations of their business, that for some reason attracted media attention, triggers a response from the company's PR face who stands and shouts loudly how, "We (this company) is shocked by this and we're taking steps to makes sure it never happens again, and by the way we sponsor a rainforest and saved this puppy from being euuthanized." But one customer no longer matters because these companies deal in tens of thousands of customers. Everyday they gain hundreds more - so dropping a few who become disgruntled along the way isn't any big deal.

The problem I have, is that I can't see a solution. Once companies get too big to care about the individual, they are big enough that we need them more than they need us. Once this happens they can change their product in any way they want. They will have squeezed out all other opposition so their's will be the only widget left to buy. It may be dangerous, life threatening, over priced and such poor quality it lasts for only one use - but what choice do we have other than to use it?

We stand at the counter and scream in frustration.
"I've shopped here for X years and you have no idea how much money I've spent in this store - well, no more. You'll be sorry, because you're losing a very valuable loyal customer."
And out the door we stomp - point well made.

The reality is, you might just as well have gone to the Grand Canyon, thrown a grain of sand over the edge and screamed at the river below to get ready to stop flowing.

The pessimist in me fears this is what the 99% are doing.
The optimist hopes they can move a mountain.

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