We welcome guest writer Stephen Schmalhofer to the PowerBlog with this review of Good Profit: How Creating Value for Others Built One of the World’s Most Successful Companies by Charles Koch (Crown Business, 2015). Schmalhofer writes from New York City, where he works in technology and venture capital. He is a graduate of Yale University.
Charles Koch’s Metaphysics of Business
By Stephen Schmalhofer
Adam Smith, that venerable a supporter of free enterprise, held businessmen in low regard, alleging that their every meeting “ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” While deference is due to the Scottish master’s lasting insights into the sources of the values of men in The Theory of Moral Sentiments and their success in The Wealth of Nations, I observe that many executives tout their “core values” but not all of these companies are successful. Businessman and philanthropist Charles Koch is successful by any financial measure and his unique approach to the creation of value and values at Koch Industries in Wichita, Kansas, where he is chief executive officer, positions him against Smith’s caricature of scheming backroom businessmen.
Since 1967, Koch has overseen operations at Koch Industries where he developed and implemented “Market-Based Management.” Following a large acquisition by Koch Industries in 2004, he urgently systematized the method and continues to share it with the fervor of an evangelist. Koch’s first book on the method was grandiosely titled The Science of Success: How Market Based Management Built the World’s Largest Private Company but in 2015 he re-entered the marketplace of ideas with a more accessible version — Good Profit: How Creating Value for Others Built One of the World’s Most Successful Companies.
Removing the pretense of science from the title better reflects the method’s foundation in the ideas of spontaneous order and the price system articulated by Austrian economist F.A. Hayek rather than in the pseudo-scientific central planning opposed by the Nobel laureate. Koch Industries’ business model is based on acquiring complementary companies that either enhance, or can be improved by, the performance of existing Koch business units. Koch managers seek to integrate these new acquisitions into the company’s operations to realize the expected gains from economies of scale and knowledge sharing. But this integration can blunt the information signals provided by external networks as well as create wasteful internal political battles, especially over budgets and other signs of corporate status unrelated to “good profit.” (more…)