CHELSEA — They blame the sudden firing of Merrill Lynch’s superman John Thain on “blind spots in attuning himself to differences in corporate culture.”
In today’s FT an outsider is quoted as explaining:
Merrill has a way of being very hard on outsiders coming in. It’s a unique culture. If you come in as an outsider, you’d better be paying attention because it’s a tough game.
In the end the employees virtually chased him out with pitchforks. The company that some called Mother Merrill lost it’s loving ways. It rejected Thain’s tribalism and his efforts to enrich his peers and himself.
They say he never saw it coming.
That’s company culture for you. Stronger than national cultures and often harder to figure out… but built in the heart of the business over many years.
We know how to quantify and manage it. But most people don’t.
Then there’s what seems like to opposite extreme. Subramanian Ramadorai is head of Tata Consulting Services (TCS), which is one of India’s first multinationals. He has a personal history that reads like a textbook of Indian middle-class to multi-national transformation.
And yet his industry is under threat from no less a tricky challenge than John Thain’s. Reputation is the blind spot for the outsourcing industry. The Satyam scandal has sullied the reputation of a business that faces big cultural challenges to start with. The potential rise of protectionism, evident in President Obama’s “buy America” programme, will add to the potential difficulties.
Mr Ramadorai retires soon, but the need for further internationalisation and greater focus on building reputation for businesses like TCS is more stark now than it ever has been.
Hopefully that blind spot will be revealed before it too becomes something that “could have been”.