Welcome to the Vital Integrities Blog

Built to Last; Dismantled in an Instant

It's been twelve years since Built to Last hit the best seller lists, and I think the book's authors owe readers some revisions. The eighteen companies that Jim Collins and Jerry Porras examined in 1994 may once have been, in their words, "premier institutions--the crown jewels--in their industries, widely admired by their peers." But a dozen years later, we recognize some of those companies more for their disgraced leaders than for their endurance. Consider the following examples of recent scandals involving a third of the companies profiled in Built to Last:
Citigroup CEO Sandy Weil convinced the company's telecommunications analyst Jack Grubman to manipulate AT&T's stock price in 2000 by making excessively optimistic forecasts; afterward, Weil intervened to secure a hard-to-obtain place for Grubman's twin daughters in an exclusive New York City preschool.

In 2004, Boeing's board fired its CEO after the company illegally bid on Pentagon contracts--twice. Hoping to repair its tarnished image, the board lured former Boeing president Harry Stonecipher out of retirement and gave him the CEO position. Fifteen months later, the board tossed Stonecipher for having an extramarital affair with a company office manager.

In more than twenty thousand current lawsuits filed against Merck, plaintiffs accuse company officials of withholding knowledge that the arthritis drug Vioxx posed potentially fatal cardiovascular risks in patients who took it for extended periods.

After announcing a staggering third-quarter 2006 loss of $5.8 billion, Ford disclosed that it would have to restate financial results for the past five years to correct the way it accounted for certain transactions.

In a twenty-seven-page memo leaked to the media, Wal-Mart benefits director Susan Chambers suggested some "bold steps" to control the company's rising employee-benefit costs. Her recommendations included incorporating some physical exertion into every job description, to "dissuade unhealthy people from coming to work at Wal-Mart."

California's attorney general indicted Hewlett-Packard's former board chair Patricia Dunn on charges of authorizing an illegal investigation into which HP board member was leaking information to the media; private investigators hired to find the mole impersonated board members, employees, and reporters in order to obtain their phone records.
Through their questionable behavior, the present-day leaders at many of the Collins and Porras built-to-last companies are proving just how easy it is to dismantle their organizations. It seems the authors overlooked a critical criterion when choosing their subjects: good old-fashioned business ethics. Perhaps a sequel is in order.
Bookmark this post on del.icio.us

What do you think? Post a Comment
Vital Integrities Blog - Blogged