Dangers for society in CEO worship
CEOs have become celebrities – cult figures, like Elon Musk and Richard Branson – worshipped for their high-flying pursuit of innovation, wealth and success. But a new book warns this veneration could pose a danger to democracy.
CEO Society, written by management professor Carl Rhodes from UTS Business School and Dr Peter Bloom from Open University UK, examines how this management phenomenon is spilling into everyday life.
“Traditionally, if you go back to the 1950s and 60s, chief executives were considered boring, grey suit wearing types, but something happened, from around the 1980s, in line with the growth of the free market economy,” says Professor Rhodes.
Suddenly CEOs became household names – celebrities whose autobiographies were snapped up by an adoring public. Mark Zuckerberg, now at the centre of a controversy over the activities of Facebook, is one of the examples the authors use as someone people looked to as a role model.
The authors argue we now live in a CEO society – a society where corporate leadership has become the model for transforming not just business but all spheres of life, including government, culture and the economy.
“Corporate cowboys are increasingly moving into politics – with Donald Trump the epitome of this new reality. Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull also fits this model of business bosses becoming members of parliament,” says Professor Rhodes.
“The lines between political and business leadership are blurring. Corporate management is based largely on the single person having almost dictatorial control over the organisation, whereas political governance is restricted by institutions.
“Donald Trump may want to declare war via Twitter, but he can’t under the US constitutional system. That decision is up to Congress. But even under George W Bush, the first president to have an MBA, there was a shift towards circumventing these democratic processes,” he says.
Not only in politics but also in the provision of public goods, the CEO is held up as society’s saviour, argue the authors. With CEOs at the head of foundations, supporting charities and choosing aid priorities, private interests are taking over what was the traditional purview of government.
While the book warns of a new era of widening inequality – where civil society is run like a corporation and serves the interests of corporations – it also holds out hope.
It explores some of the ways people have resisted and found alternatives, including international socio-political movements such as The Occupy Movement and political voices such as Bernie Sanders in the US or Jeremy Corbyn in the UK.
CEO Society: The corporate takeover of everyday life is published by Zed Books and is available on Amazon and other online bookstores.