History: how things came to be the way they are — and how things could be

One of history’s virtues is that it gives us insights into how things are by helping us understand how they came to be and how they may look down the road.

When I was much younger, I believed that all company presidents and senior public officials were brilliant people who graduated at the top of their class and never made mistakes. The prospect of working for one was very appealing because great companies built great people and treated them well.

As it happens, companies stumble. Some right themselves, some don’t. Whatever happened to The Montreal Star or Control Data or DEC? Where can you buy a new Pontiac or Oldsmobile? Does anyone remember Eastern Airlines or Pan Am? Who’s gone from Wall Street?

The implications for stable and long term employment are obvious. The review of The Three Rules: How Exceptional Companies Think by Michael Raynor and Mumtaz Ahmed in the July 13th issue of The Economist describes the book as “a more rigorous attempt to dissect the corporate mind and its effect on success”.

If you were on the market right now, which of the following (listed alphabetically) would you want to join? Air Canada, Apple, Barrick Gold, Bell Canada, Boeing, California (the state), Campbell Soup, Canadian Pacific, CBS, Chrysler, CN, Coca-Cola, CP, Dell, Ford (as in Henry, not Rob), GM, Google, HP, IBM, Intel, Kraft, Lamborghini, Loblaws, Maserati, Merrill Lynch, Microsoft, Motorola, Nabisco, New York Times, Porter Airlines, RBC, Research in Motion (now BlackBerry), Rolls Royce (owned by whom?), Samsung, SONY, Northern Telecom, Walt Disney, Xerox.

Which ones are thriving? Which ones have changed the way they do business over the last 10 years? Which ones have changed their original focus? How many concluded that the needs of the business would be better served by contracting with third parties to operate what they considered to be non-strategic functions? Clicking here will take you to a discussion of the kind of thinking that went into Canada Post’s decision to do just that. The deal was done and Canada Post continued to deliver mail and packages to the entire country.

Many other employers came to the same conclusion. The practice continues today. Service bureaus like Data Crown and Canada Systems Group were among the first to offer faster processing speeds, newer equipment, enhanced data storage, state of the art data centres and IT professionals whose skills were always at the cutting edge, all at lower cost. Some companies have returned to in-house computing, some haven’t. You might find it interesting to research what happened to both of those companies.

Pre-packaged applications software took over from in-house systems analysts and programmers long ago. It’s produced by people who will likely never meet the users of their product or set foot on their customers’ premises. Microsoft Word and Excel and QuickBooks are three well known examples. Corel and Adobe defined the desktop publishing industry and changed the face of typesetting.

Information Technology is one of many functions being outsourced. The trend will continue. Does this apply to all employers? You’ll want to find out. What will it mean for career development in general and for the industry that interests you in particular? Is there a correlation between measures like outsourcing and being included on Canada’s Top 100 Employers list? What are smaller companies with bright futures doing? How much of what they do revolves around the Internet?

The role of permanent headcount has changed and will go on changing. Which of the companies and organizations you’re thinking of approaching are looking to reduce to the bare minimum the number of core employees they need to operate the business as you’re reading this? Are smaller companies still more likely to be sources of employment and professional development opportunities than larger ones? We know that they tend to be less hidebound, more agile than larger ones and often more innovative. That’s why they exist. Click here for some thoughts about Apple.

Are you entrepreneurial enough to start your own business?

The Canadian economy isn’t running out of steam or innovation as much as it’s shifting gears. Personal Due Diligence believes very strongly in the benefit of researching the history of the work you’re thinking of doing and of the industry in which you’re thinking of doing it. It could influence your decision about what you study or when would be the best time to change employers. We’re here to guide you in conducting and evaluating the results of that research.

As you consider companies on and off the list of Canada’s Top 100 Employers, ask yourself whether their values have historically aligned with yours. Do or will they offer an environment and a culture in which you’ll feel as though you count? Will you want to wear the company T-shirt and baseball cap? Will you look forward to going to work in the morning? How much of a life do you want to have away from the office?

While we’re on the subject, what do you think someone who works for SNC-Lavalin would have to say about its recent corporate history? Or BP’s?

Collectively, the people of PDD have experienced more corporate cultures than most working people will in a lifetime. How those companies came to be what they are and what that means for you should make for very interesting reading. And a powerful basis for preparing for and pursuing the work around which you’ll be building your life.

After all, isn’t that all that really matters?

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