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Lean and Mean: The Changing Landscape of Corporate Power in the Age of Flexibility.

If you bought into the idea that small businesses are the primary engines of economic growth and represent the future of business in an emerging global economy, guess again.

In Lean and Mean, The Changing Landscape of Corporate Power in the Age of Flexibility, Bennett Harrison debunks what he calls the "myth" of small business dominance. Instead, Harrison argues--rather convincingly--that large, multinational corporations continue to dominate the world's economy and that governments and businesses must accept this in order to adapt to an evolving marketplace.

He opens the book with an anecdote about a recent trip to a trade show of companies in the steel business. Harrison recalls that few small, high-tech, independent companies were represented; rather, most of these firms were created by consortia of companies from different countries, or they were branches, subsidiaries, or divisions of multinational companies.

Harrison provides ample evidence to back his claim that large companies are the true engines of economic growth. For example, he notes that in 1987, 85 percent of all U.S. computer companies employed fewer than 100 people and only about 5 percent of all computer makers had 500 employees. Yet, that 5 percent accounted for 91 percent of all employment and sales in the industry that year.

Harrison refers to the trend of networked production as "concentration without centralization." Networks include multinational corporations, government agencies, big banks, research hospitals, and major universities. These imposing networks form the heart of business today.

"How to even think about network forms of production has become a necessity to a national government determined to work actively with the private sector in promoting economic growth," Harrison writes.

But what about all the "downsizing" and layoffs among large companies that seem to make headlines every week? Harrison acknowledges that the big companies--especially manufacturers--are cutting their payrolls, but he adds, "What we have witnessed over the last decade constitutes the lopping off of the tip of an iceberg more than it does a meltdown of the old prevailing structure."

Despite the layoffs, Harrison notes that workers in large firms earn higher wages and enjoy better benefits than their small firm counterparts.

Due to the dominance of large multinationals, Harrison urges government leaders to "rethink their beliefs about the myth that small is both beautiful and bountiful." Networks are wreaking havoc with traditional approaches to business regulation, necessitating policy changes.

In addition, Harrison examines topics such as the changes in distribution of income, global business trends, the need for companies to have a "home base," and flexible production.

The key to Harrison's success with this project comes from his ability to challenge popularly held beliefs about big business and effectively tear them down. Lean and Mean is a readable, fascinating look at the future of business and the steps we should take to adapt.

Reviewed by Kevin C. Naff, editor/communications associate, Business Credit. (Lean and Mean, Basic Books, New York, N.Y., pp 324, $25.)

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Author:Naff, Kevin C.
Publication:Business Credit
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1994
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