It used to practically be a proverb: your business is only as good as your people. Now, the new proverb might as well be something like: your business is only as good as your ability to be a weasel.
That is, to grift like there’s no tomorrow.
Take for example, a recent defense of Elizabeth Holmes from one of the first investors in her failed company, Theranos. Recall that Holmes’ famous fall from grace is a story filled with accusations of fraud from a company that, by many measures, wasn’t even real.
The quote, from a rather high-profile businessman, is short and sweet…
I’d back her as chief science officer, not CEO.
WTF! While author and reporter John Carreyrou, who wrote one of the first pieces exposing Holmes, believes initial investors in Theranos were simply investing in Holmes’ vision, and not, say, being bilked out of big bucks, this quote suggests otherwise. What is remarkable about it isn’t that the investor and Holmes are friends (and therefore, part of the same elite club). That’s a given in the last days of empire.
No, what’s remarkable is that he would hire her again at all.
Think about that: he would, despite her last company becoming an insane, textbook example of failure in business responsibility, put this wild-eyed, off-brand Steve Jobs right back at the highest levels of enterprise.
And people wonder why I think the business world has a problem these days.
Ordinarily, I would try to remember, when it comes to dealing with organizations, that we don’t have the whole story. Or that there’s some level of office politics playing out. And many founders and CEOs are prone to overselling their wares. But in this case, I seriously doubt that’s all that’s going on here given what we know. If it was, I’d be inclined to hire Holmes myself, since she seems a natural at getting rich people to fork over cash for things they haven’t seen or don’t understand.
My kinda girl, even if she looks like a nutter.
However, recall that we’ve talked about Holmes when we compared organizations where dishonesty is under-the-radar and so, probably not terminal versus ones were dishonesty is all out in the open. And therefore, institutionalized since no one gives a shit. And it seems that, increasingly, no one, anywhere, gives a shit how fake anything is.
For this quote, we get a glimpse at a culture that is so barefaced about its grifting that there is zero shame in sharing it publicly. Or in lauding it as a worthy trait of employment. For the most part, when I first got into business, it wasn’t this way. Sure, like I’ve said in the past, there was fraud and shady dealings. And people, including myself, have sometimes made a career out of finding some of it. Of course, when someone got caught they still tried to pretend they thought it was scandalous.
Today, there is little left of that sense of shame. Or the desire to pretend to it.
Still, I also imagined that you had to have a certain level of savvy to stay ahead of the game. After all, if your information is bad, for instance, or the news you use to make decisions on is wrong, it’s going to be much more challenging to do business. Or keep things under control. Once upon a time, you had to have some idea what was going on, if not in the broader world, in your business, at the very least.
Nonetheless, in short order, the notorious Elizabeth Holmes will likely be at the helm of another corporation.
What does this suggest about business culture in the US?
Well, in the past few years, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. And that’s small and medium-sized business owners talking almost exactly like financialized corporations. At least in my gentrified metro, they mime arguments they’ve heard from the talking heads at CNBC and often shill for whatever the flavor of the day is in the corporate space. Sometimes this is “the cloud.” Other times, it’s their favorite payment processor. More often than not, right now, it’s how the economy is roaring back to life. Or how the Federal Reserve is going to save their city, so now might be a good time to raise prices again, even as they face supply shortages that they’re unable to comprehend, let alone deal with. Many of them can’t wait to sell their small business to the highest bidder, if the day comes.
You get the point.
Graft is so out in the open in the US now that even many small and medium businesses hold beliefs and act on completely fraudulent information. And they’re starting to incorporate this strategy in their business decisions and processes. Plus, they don’t seem to care either. After all, if stimulus checks pay the bills, who cares if your traffic is down 50% year over year and you’re not making margin? Or that you had to lay off half your staff because there isn’t any work? Or that your business is ordered to close for a fake pandemic?
Much of this leaves me wondering where that puts me as a sane, honest businessman. Perhaps it’s telling that that initial investor in Holmes, the one who said he’d hire her as a Chief Science Officer today, also can’t stop talking about how much he loves entrepreneurship and working with entrepreneurs. As venture capitalists, the elite can’t wait to buy out some of those small businesses I know, even when these too have often become another grift.
A little creative account there, a dash of stimulus there. Presto, chango, you’ve got a winning acquisition under your belt!
The moral of the story here might just be that there is no part of our economy left that hasn’t been touched by financialization.
Or lies and cronism.
It’s simply become too out in the open now, at the national and local levels. And it’s finally fully institutionalized from top to bottom. But mark my words, within our lifetimes, because of it, we will see things like planes unexpectedly falling from the skies because no one bothered to perform the most routine of tasks on them.
And it will be lauded as normal, maybe even a form of progress in business. After all, I believe that initial investors in Theranos simply wrote off the failure on their taxes. No biggie, guys!
Hell, come to think of it, we’re already seeing this prediction of mine come to fruition with Boeing planes.