Year after year the same companies find themselves on the Fortune 500 list. One common denominator has been their approach to corporate management. In order for a company to be successful in today’s market, companies
have to have a clear cut vision in the form of a mission statement and create a corporate culture which moves that vision into a reality. Companies cannot fear change, but rather embrace it and view it as a way to take their companies to the next level and become a model for other companies to emulate.
Innovative Approaches to Corporate Management
In 2001, Enron, based in Houston, Texas, was one of the world’s leading electricity, natural gas, and communications companies. Fortune Magazine named Enron as one of America’s most innovative company for six consecutive years from 1996-2001(Enron, 2006). Enron was well positioned in the market, and there seemed to be no stopping this powerhouse corporation. By the end of 2001, Enron had declared bankruptcy and became, arguably, the biggest corporate failure in American history due to poor corporate management (Epstein, 2006). While Enron’s Chief Executive Officer, executives, and managers let corruption, dishonesty, and greed be their mantra for corporate management, successful companies such as Microsoft were flourishing by taking innovative approaches to their corporate management policies.
Microsoft was founded in 1975 by Bill Gates and Paul Allen in Albuquerque, New Mexico and incorporates in 1981 (Microsoft, 2007). Over 30 years later Microsoft has become the leading software company in the world today thanks to the development of a software package called Windows (Microsoft, 2007). Windows is found on virtually every home and office computer in use today. In fiscal year 2006, Microsoft generated over $44 billion dollars and returned $26 billion to its shareholders (Microsoft, 2007). Currently, Microsoft employs over 76,000 people in over 100 countries and continues to expand to new markets (Microsoft, 2007). Microsoft’s overall success can be attributed to their corporate management and corporate governance.
In the 1970’s and early 1980’s companies typically held board meetings, and the executives sat in the conference room to decide the company’s fate in their morning meetings. By the end of the 1980’s and the early 1990’s, companies employed new tactics by hiring so called visionaries to help take their company into the new millennium, but had trouble implementing the vision into a working plan, or they faced resistance from the common worker who could not quite see the “big picture” because they were not privy to all the pieces of the puzzle. Companies like Microsoft were able to surpass their competition by moving that vision from the board room to the quarterly shareholder’s meeting and then to the break room so that they were able to move their vision into execution. A prime example of Microsoft moving vision into execution is the gaming system X-Box.
When Bill Gates first announced the X-Box at the turn of the century, everyone thought he was mad or just plain crazy. Sony was the front runner with the Playstation, and Nintendo was running a close second with the Game Cube, while Sega was bringing up the rear in third place with the Saturn (Chang & Kakuchi, 2000). The gaming market seemed impossible to penetrate given the competition producing such quality gaming systems, but Microsoft was determined to announce their presence with authority in an industry noted for its opposition to outsiders. Gates marketed his vision to produce a gaming console to over 150 developers including the likes of Activision, Konami, Capcom, Eidos, Epic, and eventually Entertainment Arts (Microsoft, 2007). Seven years later, Microsoft has claimed the number two spot, only slightly behind Sony (Ars Technia, 2007).
Having a vision is one thing, however being able to effectively communicate that vision to the lowest level within the company is another approach corporate managers are taking. Corporate communication is essential in determining the success of a business. For a business to run efficiently, good lines of communication must be established between management and staff. Many companies refer to this approach as the “open door” or the “top down” policy. Innovative thinkers realized that senior leadership did not always have the answers or present the best ideas and that sometimes the best ideas came from the hourly employee out in the trenches doing the daily mundane labor. Being open and receptive to such ideas allowed employees to create their own vision and promoted a sense of collaboration. Achieving that “buy-in” from employees and allowing them to feel as if they can affect change is essential to company survival and longevity. Not only communicating vision to employees, but shareholders and customers as well, is also another innovative approach found within many successful companies. Microsoft conducts quarterly shareholder meetings to communicate the current status of the company by giving their investors and customers accurate and honest information concerning financial reports, technologies, employees, and growth plans, just to name a few (Microsoft, 2007). In addition to quarterly meetings, Microsoft also posts the information on their website for the public to view as well.
The team concept is yet another approach prevalent in many of the top companies listed on the Fortune 500. Instead of a senior to subordinate relationship, successful companies are adapting to a teammate to teammate business model. The benefits of team building activities increase team motivation in a fun and relaxed environment: they boost team morale, increase communication, get teams working together, help teams to get to know each other, enhance leadership skills, help teams learn new strength and build trust within companies (Accolade, 2007). Another benefit of team building is the breakdown of traditional barriers that were often the status quo in corporate America. By moving the managers out of their private offices and allowing employees to interact with them on a more personal level, it created an environment much more conducive to collaboration. Corporate managers must be the first to step outside of their comfort zones and lead.
Today, the role of corporate management is to
facilitate change. One approach that Microsoft promotes is the implementation of newer technologies. A research department within Microsoft is “dedicated to conducting both basic and applied research in computer science and software engineering”(Microsoft, 2007). They openly collaborate with many colleges and universities all over the globe. With the abundance of change occurring in the corporate world, and the implementation of newer technologies, the road ahead can be unclear. It is important to create a corporate culture which allows for employees to overcome their fears: fear of the unknown and fear of being wrong. A lot can be said about a company just by taking a look at the corporate culture and the way employees are treated. According to Wong (2002), there are four healthy styles of corporate cultures: Progressive-adaptive culture, Purpose-driven culture, Community-oriented culture, and People-centered culture. Businesses are not multi-million dollar corporations overnight and technologies are not invented in a day. More often than not, a great deal of trial and error goes into the discovery of newer and improved ways to do business and streamlining processes. Eventually the wrongs will turn into rights, the unknown will become clearer, and the vision will become a reality.
Enron, Tyco, Adelphia, and Worldcom are all examples of recent corporate failures (The University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, 2007). Their failures all boil down to one common mistake, poor corporate management. Meanwhile, the same companies consistently continue to make the Fortune 500 list year after year. Looking over the course of history and the growth for each of these companies, their success can be defined by the innovations to their each and own corporate management policies.
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