Power Electronics

Do Old Corporate Cultures Ever Die, Or Do They Just Fade Away?

An Industry Business Source Says Corporate culture encompasses the moral, social, and behavioral norms of an organization based on the values, beliefs, attitudes, and priorities of its members. Corporate culture can be transformed, but sustaining anything that sweeping must come from the leadership at the top.

Within the electronics industry, IBM is a good example of the corporate culture that existed during the 1960s and 1970s. I interviewed for a job after graduating from college and didn't want to follow such a formalized existence, which included a two-year IBM class. After that visit to Endicott, NY I received a copy of the “IBM Song Book,” which provides some insight into the company's culture.

Apparently, IBM people used to sing songs like “March on With IBM,” “Hail to The IBM,” “IBM School Song,” and “IBM Country Club Song.” I understand that an employee's existence at IBM was somewhat similar to the one described below for Proctor & Gamble, but IBM has since changed.

The 2009 book A Savage Factory: An Eyewitness Account of the Auto Industry's Self-Destruction by Robert J. Dewar describes two vastly different corporate cultures: Proctor & Gamble (P&G) and Ford Motor Co. Dewar notes that he quit P&G because he didn't fit their mold and didn't see eye-to-eye with them in 1970.

“As a P&G manager you have to become a corporate robot,” Dewar writes. “They control your life around the clock. If you want to advance you have to have a P&G wife, P&G kids, live in a P&G suburb, go to a P&G church, and do P&G things with P&G people. Your success depends entirely on how well they can condition you to become a Proctoid.”

Dewar defines a Proctoid as someone “who turns his entire life over to the company to mold and shape like a wood carver turns a block of wood into the piece that he wants it to become. He lets P&G control his entire existence. His career path is determined not by how much he knows or how hard he works; it is determined by how good a Proctoid he becomes.

“A Proctoid always wears the P&G uniform He has closely cropped hair, perfectly in place. He always wears a white shirt, never a colored shirt. He has a narrow tie. He may or may not wear a vest, but he most certainly wears an expensive suit, always dark never light usually pinstripe.”

About 30 years later, this description of P&G is probably different now.

Dewar recounts a different, albeit similarly toxic, corporate culture at Ford Motor Company. It's not foreign imports, poor fuel efficiency, or bad design that brought down the American auto industry. Dewar believes that poor management is to blame as he witnessed firsthand the demise of the industry from the inside out.

“I went to Ford after having gone through the complete P&G management training program, and was shocked by the incompetent management,” Dewar says. “There was a constant war between management and the union. Management's weapons were written discipline all the way up to termination and the UAW's weapons were sabotage — slowing down production and doing as little work as possible.” Not surprisingly, quality suffered in this never-ending war.

“The only quality rule at Ford was that the transmissions last past the warranty period. “We made transmissions,” notes Dewar, “that killed 200 people and injured 1,400. Ford received the largest recall in auto history, 23,000,000 vehicles for defective transmissions. If the Reagan Administration had not intervened, Ford would have gone bankrupt by 1983.

In the book Dewar reveals:

  • How poor management — not foreign imports — caused the problems in the auto industry
  • The decrease in quality that made American-built cars an international disgrace in the 1970s
  • An in-depth view into auto plants — how they functioned more like prisons than factories
  • The dehumanization of the American hourly worker
  • The sexual harassment of female factory workers in the 1970s

Time changes corporate cultures, so let's hope Ford, Proctor & Gamble, and IBM are all different companies now.

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