Corporate apocalypse

Since the 1980s, dealmakers earned fees pushing firms into dodgy takeovers and spurious share buybacks. Self-interested managers abandoned long-term goals to collect rewards as share prices rose. Now that the bomb has gone off, business leaders must find a new way. Simon Caulkin points to beacons of hope in the ruined commercial landscape. Firms that looked old-fashioned in the PE era now seem bastions of long-term values. The tortoise and the hare come to mind...

The bomb that has blown up the heart of the world's financial system was not primarily financial. It's true that finance provided the high explosive in the shape of the structured vehicles, collateralised debt obligations (CDOs) and derivatives devised by the rocket scientists of Wall Street and the City. But it needed a detonator to set them off: the unfit-for-purpose management model that has governed the way our companies work for the last 40 years.

'This is not an act of God like a tsunami or a landslide - people's actions made the crisis happen, all the way from the chairman to the dealing desk,' says Bob Bischof, an anglophile German industrialist who has advised UK governments on manufacturing.

'The crash is an astounding market failure,' notes Julian Birkinshaw, co-founder of the London Business School's Management Labs (an incubator for fresh management ideas) and LBS professor. 'But the interesting thing is that the visible hand of management failed, too. Most big companies just failed to do what big companies are supposed to do.'

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