David Brooks: How change happens
Comment of the Day

May 24 2012

Commentary by David Fuller

David Brooks: How change happens

This interesting article published by the NYT and IHT goes to the heart of the US presidential election debate. Here is the opening:
Forty years ago, corporate America was bloated, sluggish and losing ground to competitors in Japan and beyond. But then something astonishing happened. Financiers, private equity firms and bare-knuckled corporate executives initiated a series of reforms and transformations.

The process was brutal and involved streamlining and layoffs. But, at the end of it, American businesses emerged leaner, quicker and more efficient.

Now we are apparently going to have a presidential election about whether this reform movement was a good thing. Last week, the Obama administration unveiled an attack ad against Mitt Romney's old private equity firm, Bain Capital, portraying it as a vampire that sucks the blood from American companies. Then Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. gave one of those cable-TV-type speeches, lambasting Wall Street and saying we had to be a country that makes things again.

The Obama attack ad accused Bain Capital of looting a steel company called GST in the 1990s and then throwing its workers out on the street. The ad itself barely survived a minute of scrutiny. As Kimberly Strassel noted in The Wall Street Journal, the depiction is wildly misleading.

David Fuller's view I do think this topic is at the centre of the US presidential debate, or at least it should be. I remember the earlier corporate transformation that David Brooks refers to. My own take on the subject is that it moves in cycles and that corporate America became bloated and complacent again in the 1990s.

In the worst excesses, management was gaming the system with golden hellos, short-term contracts for CEOs, lucrative option schemes and golden parachutes, even for poor results. Some of the best US companies were losing competitiveness in the early days of globalisation.

The wakeup call came in 2008. Corporations, and not just in the USA, went into survival mode, reduced overheads and upgraded their technology. Today, many are much more competitive, with strong balance sheets, boosted by earnings from all over the globe. They are also looking after their shareholders by increasing dividends. These are the corporate Autonomies and Dividend Aristocrats which Fullermoney prefers.

Today, Europe also wants growth in addition to debt reduction austerity, but will it opt for an even bigger public sector or create more business friendly policies?

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