From Predators to Icons: Exposing the Myth of the Business Hero

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Overview

In the popular imagination, the business media, and the schools of business and management that train new generations of entrepreneurs and executives, achieving extraordinary success in business is attributed to far-sighted individuals who have taken bold risks, provided innovative leadership, and introduced new products, services, or ideas superior to those of the competition. Amid the growing skepticism about the means by which vast amounts of wealth are accumulated and its consequences, however, this belief is long overdue for reevaluation.

In From Predators to Icons, Michel Villette, a sociologist, and Catherine Vuillermot, a business historian, examine the careers of thirty-two of today's wealthiest global executives—including Warren Buffett, Ingvar Kamprad, Bernard Arnault, Jim Clark, and Richard Branson—in order to challenge the conventional explanations for their extreme success and come to a better understanding of modern business practices.

In contrast to the familiar image of the entrepreneur as a visionary with a plan, Villette and Vuillermot instead discover a far less dramatic process of improvised adaptations gradually assembled into a coherent course of conduct. And rather than being risk-takers, those who are most successful in business are risk-minimizers. Huge gains, these case studies reveal, are most reliably obtained in circumstances where the entrepreneur has established careful provisions for risk reduction. As for the view that innovation makes success possible, the authors find that because innovation is an expensive process that takes a long time to produce profits, innovators first of all require capital; success makes innovation possible. The necessary resources, they show, are most often derived from what they provocatively term "predation": ruthlessly taking advantage of imperfections, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities within the market or among competitors. Finally, From Predator to Icon considers the "practical ethics" implemented during the phase in which capital is most rapidly accumulated, as well as the social consequences of these activities.

Drawing on interviews with some of their subjects and, crucially, close readings of the authorized biographies and other hagiographic accounts of these figures, which eliminates the bias of malicious interpretations, Villette and Vuillermot provide revelatory insights about the creation and maintenance of business wealth that will be profitably read by both the captains and the critics of contemporary capitalism.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"In From Predators to Icons, Michel Villette and Catherine Vuillermot set out to discover what successful entrepreneurs have in common. They present case histories of businessmen who built their own empires and chart what they consider the typical course of a successful entrepreneur's career. . . . The truly successful businessman, in Villette and Vuillermot's telling, is anything but a risk-taker. He is a predator, and predators seek to incur the least risk possible while hunting."—Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker, 18 January 2010

"Michel Villette and Catherine Vuillermot provide a powerful and iconoclastic close read of the careers of spectacularly wealthy businessmen that stands both conventional and scholarly wisdom as to how fortunes are made, kept, and justified on its head. Meticulously detailed and tightly focused on situation, context and action, this is provocative sociology of the sort that Machiavelli, C. Wright Mills, and Pierre Bourdieu would approve. Theories of entrepreneurship, leadership, growth, innovation (and more) come up far short in this indelicate but sharp and highly suggestive account of how to succeed—dramatically so—in business."—John Van Maanen, M.I.T.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801447006
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 10/22/2009
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

Foreword John R. Kimberly ix

Preface xiii

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction 1

Interlude Jean-Paul Bucket 12

Part I The Businessman, an Enigmatic Figure

1 The Businessman in the Scholarly Tradition 17

Interlude Sam Walton the Fournier Defforey Families 30

2 Biographies and Numbers to Aid Understanding 40

Interlude François Pinault Vincent Bolloré 61

Part II How (Good) Deals Are Done

3 Becoming a Businessman 71

Interlude Ingvar Kamprad Jim Clark 92

4 The Good Deal: Key Moment in the Accumulation of Capital 101

Interlude Marcel Dassault 121

Part III What about Morality?

5 Charm, Promises, and Threats: The Good Deal as a Political Practice 131

Interlude Bernard Arnault 146

6 On the Virtue of Businessmen 159

Code Claude Bébéar 175

Conclusion 191

Appendix: Principal Results of the Quantitative Investigation 197

Notes 219

Bibliography 233

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