Friday, November 14, 2008

Consumer Revolt?

Daily Kos

It isn't often that you read the former Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School dressing down the American corporate community for "failure to understand and respect your own consumers, customers, employees, and end users."

Even rarer is to read such a condemnation--and a lengthy, nuanced, back-to-Jesus one at that--in Business Week. But Shoshana Zuboff, author of The Support Economy [see also], provided a truly stunning analysis in that publication just a few days ago.

Titled Obama's Victory: A Consumer-Citizen Revolt (and subtitled--ominously for the business community--"The election confirms it's time for sober reappraisal and reinvention within the business community. If you don't do it, someone else will," Zuboff opens with a withering salvo:
This column is dedicated to the top managers of American business whose policies and practices helped ensure Barack Obama's victory. The mandate for change that sounded across this country is not limited to our new President and Congress. That bell also tolls for you. Obama's triumph was ignited in part by your failure to understand and respect your own consumers, customers, employees, and end users. The despair that fueled America's yearning for change and hope grew to maturity in your garden.

Millions of Americans heard President-elect Obama painfully recall his sense of frustration, powerlessness, and outrage when his mother's health insurer refused to cover her cancer treatments. Worse still, every one of them knew exactly how he felt. That long-simmering indignation is by now the defining experience of every consumer of health care, mortgages, insurance, travel, and financial services—the list goes on.

Obama was elected not only because many Americans feel betrayed and abandoned by their government but because those feelings finally converged with their sense of betrayal at the hands of Corporate America. Their experiences as consumers and as citizens joined to create a wave of revolt against the status quo—as occurred in the American Revolution. Be wary of those who counsel business as usual. This post-election period is a turning point for the business community. It demands an attitude of sober reappraisal and a disposition toward fundamental reinvention. If you don't do it, someone else will.
And that's only the opening. As she proceeds through the in-depth indictment, she explores decades of consumer and worker despair, ruthless bottom-line management, the erosion of citizen trust in big business, and, finally, citizens discovering the ability to educate and inform themselves in a new digital age. Even entrepreneurs in the new, cutting-edge technology sectors are not spared, as the Facebook and Google CEO's are held up as warning signs of slippage, still focusing on monetizing "eyeballs" and devising "two classes of stock intended to insulate top management from investor pressures."

Solutions to the economic crisis, it's clear, are going to have to be long-term and systemic. It remains to be seen whether Zuboff's advice to Wall Street corporations to take responsibility for the financial crisis will be followed in the wake of a change election ... or whether that change is read by the CEO's to apply to government only.

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