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Selling Your Soul in a Buyer's Market

01.12.2001 | BOOKS

Hundreds of books are marketed to wanna-be corporate raiders every year, all of which promise to actualize your potential, potentialize your actuality, and popularize a few dozen completely made-up words. Most of these tomes feature Machiavelli or Genghis Khan as their models of behavior, or use copious sports metaphors. These are proven methods of getting attention in the world of high finance, and books abound that expand on the business strategies of Lou Holtz or Napolean.

In the past few years, a new market has emerged which asks for higher sources of capitalistic inspiration. On a recent trip to a Major Bookstore Chain, I discovered quite a few books which are using the spiritual to get more of the material. But despite their lofty intentions, the two volumes reviewed below are just as venal as any manual detailing the management skills of Otto von Bismarck.

Jesus, C.E.O.
by Laurie Beth Jones

You may know Jesus as a spiritual leader, water walker, and guy whose name you scream when you smack your head on a kitchen cabinet door. But did you know Jesus the Chief Executive Officer? Laurie Beth Jones does, and has written a slim (in several senses of the word) book that expounds upon the team building techniques that the Prince of Peace demonstrated in Galilee.

The book consists of several dozen very short chapters, which mostly take the form of inspirational affirmations of the Stuart Smalley variety. Paragraphs tend to be very short, as if to demonstrate how thin the premise is stretched. Chapter topics start in pure business language ( He Clearly Defined Their Work Related Benefits ) and veer into Hallmark territory ( He Prized the Seed Rather Than the Bouquet ).

Even if you are not a religious person, I hope you will still find something undeniably crass in using the King of Kings to help people maximize their sales territories or hold efficient board meetings. It's like using a beautifully woven medievel tapestry to blow your nose. Add to this the traditionally tragic results when commerce meets Christianity, and  Jesus, C.E.O  should leave nothing but a bad taste in your mouth.

I was highly entertained, however, by this line from the book:  Even in death, Jesus had his hands stretched out as far as they could go. People literally had to nail him down to keep him from doing more.  I expect to see this quote on bathroom art across the nation very soon, in between the  Hang In There  cat and the  Footprints  poem.

Corporate Religion
by Jesper Kunde.

Forget Steven King. The scariest book in print today is  Corporate Religion,  a text so nakedly and amorally Orwellian that it could turn William F. Buckley into a socialist. More than two weeks after first setting eyes on this evil script, the thought of it still makes me break out in a cold sweat. Presumably, the author's intention was not to frighten anyone, but rather to be the  Mein Kampf  of the globalization movement.

Kunde explains his premise this way:  I use the word religion because it means binding together in a belief. I don't think it's possible to have any meaningful vision of the future without believing in something.  This belief, in his opinion, should be placed in corporations and their products. For their part, corporations need to place themselves in consumers' lives as a religion would, and become a integral, inescapable part of their existences (insert shiver here).

So how does a company go from being a mere corporation and make the leap to religion? According to Kunde, it is a combination of intangible product appeal and iron-fisted control of franchises.  Brands will be increasingly assessed on their non-traditional and emotional values...Subsidiaries will shift from being autonomous municipalities to becoming coordinating units as a reintegrated part of the international company. 

It is fitting, then, that Kunde spends a large portion of the book talking about Disney, which perfectly fits his model of conglomerate as spiritual avatar.  Employees are regarded as participants in a show which makes the audience happy,  Kunde writes of the big rat,  The whole organization's efforts are concentrated on that object. Nothing is accidental. The system covers every action--even at a distance. 

The margins of the book feature charts and diagrams to demonstrate how this is done, and which are often about as scientific as those old cigarette commercials where animation shows how the smoke helps your T-zone. My favorite example of this had two graphs: the first one showing initial public outrage in France being larger than Eurodisney's profits ten years ago, and a second one showing the reverse to be true today. Not since the 9th grade science fair has a graph looked so impressive, yet been so meaningless.

It was inevitable that corporations would acquire techniques pioneered by houses of worship worldwide. After all, they have similar goals in mind: propogation of the faith and subjugation of the competition. In the final analysis, Kunde's only real crime is articulating what companies have been.

About the Author
Matthew Callan blogs daily at MSN Sports Filter. He has contributed to the NY Press, NPR, and "Excelsior You Fathead", a biography of Jean Shepherd. His Freezerbox piece "The Lemon Pledge" was given honorable mention in the 2003 edition of "Best American Non-Required Reading," and his fiction has been shortlisted for contests in Zoetrope: All-Story, Bomb magazine, and other publications.
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