Reinventing the Company

Entrepreneurs are redesigning the basic building block of capitalism

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NOW that Uber is muscling in on their trade, London’s cabbies have become even surlier than usual. Meanwhile, the world’s hoteliers are grappling with Airbnb, and hardware-makers with cloud computing. Across industries, disrupters are reinventing how the business works. Less obvious, and just as important, they are also reinventing what it is to be a company.  To many managers, corporate life continues to involve dealing with largely anonymous owners, most of them represented by fund managers who buy and sell shares listed on a stock exchange. In insurgent companies, by contrast, the coupling between ownership and responsibility is tight (see article). Founders, staff and backers exert control directly. It is still early days but, if this innovation spreads, it could transform the way companies work.  

Listing badly:  The appeal of the insurgents’ model is partly a result of the growing dissatisfaction with the public company. True, the best public companies are remarkable organisations. They strike a balance between quarterly results (which keep them sharp) and long-term investments (which keep them growing). They produce a stream of talented managers and innovative products. They can mobilise talent and capital.  But, after a century of utter dominance, the public company is showing signs of wear. One reason is that managers tend to put their own interests first. The shareholder-value revolution of the 1980s was supposed to solve this by incentivising managers to think like owners, but it backfired. Loaded up with stock options, managers acted like hired guns instead, massaging the share price so as to boost their incomes.   The rise of big financial institutions (that hold about 70% of the value of America’s stockmarkets) has further weakened the link between the people who nominally own companies and the companies themselves. Fund managers have to deal with an ever-growing group of intermediaries, from regulators to their own employees, and each layer has its own interests to serve and rents to extract. No wonder fund managers usually fail to monitor individual companies.  Today’s startups will not have it all their own way. Public companies have their place, especially for capital-intensive industries like oil and gas. Many startups will inevitably fail, including some of the most famous. But their approach to building a business will survive them and serve as a striking addition to the capitalist toolbox. Airbnb and Uber and the rest are better suited to virtual networks and fast-changing technologies. They are pioneering a new sort of company that can do a better job of turning dreams into businesses.

See on Scoop.itInternet of Things – Company and Research Focus


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