At least once per decade for the last 30 years we've seen American business go seriously off the rails. The reengineering fad, Mike Milken and junk bonds, the savings and loan crisis, the dotcom boom and bust, the Long Term Capital Management panic--only a partial, abbreviated history of business disasters--suggest that something systemic is wrong with the way business goes about business. An individual with this track record of crises would be a candidate for an intervention, a time out in a recovery center, and life-long participation in the 12-step program of their choice. Something is wrong--and it's time to face it.
The author then provides some advice for correcting the problem, beginning with teaching would-be executives to ask the last question first: what is the point of the exercise?
Jack Welch famously said it was to maximize shareholder value--a terrible answer in retrospect. Peter Drucker famously said it was to make and keep a customer. What is the answer that fits our situation in 2009, and beyond? Today, business schools need to teach students to ask the last question first--or risk taking their company down the old dead-end path.
I'm no MBA, but I find the question compelling. Do association execs ask themselves often enough what the point of their exercise is? Are they challenging themselves to make sure they are leading something they can believe in? I think we all know some who do and some who don't. But how will those answers change as fewer and fewer Boomers and more and more Xers find themselves in the positions to be asking the questions?