Behind the Wall

Iacocca

by Lee Iacocca, with William Novak
Bantam, 352 pp., $19.95

Iacocca

by David Abodaher
Zebra Books, 421 pp., $3.95 (paper)

Greed and Glory on Wall Street: The Fall of the House of Lehman

by Ken Auletta
Random House, 253 pp., $19.95

The Great Getty: The Life and Loves of J. Paul Getty—Richest Man in the World

by Robert Lenzner
Crown, 283 pp., $18.95

Nightmare: Women and the Dalkon Shield

by Susan Perry, by Jim Dawson
Macmillan, 261 pp., $16.95

Considering its importance in the community, we read and know relatively little about the inner social life of the modern great corporation. I have in mind the way its huge managerial, some would prefer to say bureaucratic, apparatus unites for the purposes of the enterprise, but divides and fights in accordance with the ambitions, beliefs, and personal likes, dislikes, antipathies, jealousies, and hatreds of those who live, indeed spend their lives, in close, inescapable juxtaposition.

Bureaucratic struggles are a commonplace for all who observe and write about public administration. And they are, if in lesser measure, an accepted feature of university and college life—current examples are the well-publicized wars between the president and faculty of Dartmouth and the intensely and, to many, incomprehensibly argumentative factions of the Harvard Law School. In contrast, the largest corporations—General Motors, General Electric, Exxon, the several telephone companies—have, with the rarest exceptions, an aspect of utter outward calm. And from this comes an inescapable impression of inner corporate peace and tranquility—of men and a few women cooperatively at work with efficiency and dedication in pursuit of common goals. The goals are the financial success of the enterprise, the maximum reward to its owners, and, as the public-relations men take a hand, the inspired service to customers, to the public at large, and to the larger reputation of the free enterprise system. All those employed, to repeat, work together in the pursuit of these goals. There is an element of surprise when, in some aberrant organization, some internal fight makes the news. It is also imperfectly, often badly, reported when it does.

The picture of the great corporation as a peaceful cooperative of its participants is more than highly improbable; it is extraordinarily fraudulent. It depends on a compelling commitment by all parties not to avoid dispute, conflict, and hostility, but to keep them out of sight. The modern corporation is socially a theater of all the conflicts that might be expected when hundreds and thousands of highly charged, exceptionally self-motivated, and more than normally self-serving people work closely and interdependently together. But it is surrounded by a thick wall that turns all of these struggles inward upon the participants instead of allowing them to be exploded outward on the public. Explosion is rare; implosion is constant.

The sources of this successful containment of conflict are three. First, the internal politics of the corporation has never been a serious interest of the press; nor is it of the economists or the ubiquitous analysts, as they are known, who presume to maintain surveillance over the corporate world and who are called for comment on corporate affairs, apparently at random, by the financial editors. Their concern is with acquisitions, takeovers, investments, product development, and profits and with the more than occasional aggression—asbestosis, brown lung disease, the dangers of the Corvair and Pinto—against employees, customers, or, as in the case of the waste sites, the community at large. These go far to monopolize …

This article is available to subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $94.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.