Cringely winds up his series on IBM with some interesting reflections on where Big Blue is headed.
Here is the bottom line
Just like Ford deciding it was cheaper for a few customers to die than to improve Pinto fuel tank safety, IBM decided to deliberately cheat its customers. The result is today’s IBM, rotten to the core.
You might compare that with these final words from a review of Steve Coll’s new book about Exxon Mobil
It’s a company that’s (finally) begun to care what we think of it. It seems to now want a good response to the following question, posed by a corporate-responsibility specialist to an Exxon Mobil executive, albeit in more graphic language than can be printed here:
What are you going to say to your grandkids when they say, Grandpa, why did you screw up the planet?
The message is simple and a bit stark. Large private sector institutions are not charities. And they are not like human beings (though in the eyes of the law they are treated as such). To be more precise, they are not like your friends. Instead, they operate in a “culture” that is hardened by the need to “get the job done”. What job? To profit, of course. So even when Exxon Mobil hires a “corporate responsibility specialist” (as mentioned above) they are hiring an adviser — not acknowledging an obligation to behave like nice girls and boys. I think this quote is apt
(Oil) takes great effort to acquire. “Unlike Walmart or Google,” Mr. Coll writes, “the object of Exxon’s business model lay buried beneath the earth,” often in unstable countries. The company learned, over time, that is was necessary to play Darwinian hardball to survive. “Compromise,” Mr. Coll writes, “was not the Exxon way.”
Darwinian hardball? Well, whatever it takes I guess.
Does this mean I am anti-corporation? A wild eyed leftie? Not at all. But from a community perspective, I do think that we should re-think how we deal with corporate interests. Our dialogue with corporations is not just warm and fuzzy. To get them to shift behavior in ways that are more socially responsible, we should be ready for some tough and ongoing bargaining.
FOLLOW - And this type of bargaining becomes more critical when privatization is on the agenda - like in education. Gail Collins writes an interesting piece for NYT on the challenges. She says
We’re now in a world in which decisions about public education involve not just parents and children and teachers, but also big profits or losses for the private sector.
And we should not expect to see the affected private sector actors just sit back and wait for the decisions like choir boys.