Corporate culture is an integral component in the makeup of the American economy and supports the ideals of the free market capitalistic system observed today. Behind the very foundation of a free market, there is the underlying assumption that companies are expected to compete with each other. However, the pitfalls of competition instill a sense of fear within corporations and individuals that serve as extrinsic motivators to stay ahead. Shaped by societal beliefs and expectations, this culture of competition serves as the defining characteristics of a corporation's purpose and reflects the impact it has on its employees. One of the fundamental ideals of the free market system in the American economy, competition allows businesses to function independently of one another and act in their own beneficial interests. More importantly it keeps companies developing to not be left behind and remain competitive in the industry. Although meant to be beneficial for the corporation and market, the consequence of competition is the fear of not being good enough or have the ability to compete. This trepidation is observed on all levels within a corporation. Comparing the actions of the executives in Enron with those of the salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross, it is evident that people in positions of power respond differently to fear than those they lead and create a corporate culture that prioritizes the success of the company over that of their employees.
The concept of competition is dictated by the market and as a result changes the way corporations function to abide by the expectations set. In Enron a play written by Lucy Prebble, it is evident how a company changes its whole structure in order to remain competitive. During the discussion between the Enron executives Ken Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, and Claudia Roe, the plan is made to evolve the company and modernize it to match the demands the market expects of them. In the discussion, Claudia argues for Enron to remain an energy company that would focus on “delivering gas and oil to the world” (page 16). Contrary to that, Jeffrey Skilling believes that Enron should become a trading company and focus on trading natural resources instead, arguing that “it's time to evolve again. We have to. America doesn't have the natural resources anymore…We should be coming up with new ideas, About everything” (Page 18). From the very beginning of the play, it is evident that there is a deep divide between the executives regarding the direction each believes the company should head towards. Roe believes that keeping the company as an energy company and scaling it is the best way for it to stay competitive, but Skilling thinks it should change its whole business model to adapt to the changing market. Although Enron ends up changing to become a trading company, its main motivation is behind the fear of being left behind. This fear is indirectly expressed through the market and helps them realize that if they don't adapt, they would no longer be as successful as its competitors. Throughout the play, the author implicitly expresses the necessity for Enron to always be the best in the industry and become market shifters. Further, this comments on how corporations essentially belong to the market and are expected to corroborate with their demands to still have that power in the market. However, along with the change in business Enron participates in, a different culture is demanded from the company.
When Enron becomes a trading company, its culture evolves as well to meet up with the demands of the market. In the case of Enron, it is evident that the executives have to make a decision on the new “mark to marketing” system as well as the transition of the firm to a trading organization. During this time, people in power are selected to facilitate these business exchanges. Jeffrey Skilling is promoted to the Enron President because of his idea to turn the company into a trading firm, while Andrew Fastow had the idea of pushing debt off to holding companies and is promoted to CFO. From these exchanges, the author makes an important comment on how individuals with novel ideas are rewarded by the capitalistic system set up today. In the economy because of the new business model, Enron could reflect a high stock price and create a burst of publicity for itself. Within the business, Skilling and Fastow were promoted to higher positions. However, with this new business model, an issue arose. During a discussion between Skilling and Fastow, Skilling reveals, “I got a problem, Andy. We got great stock price. We're declaring huge profits using mark-to-market. Correctly. But those actual profits aren't coming through” (page 45). The president is evidently concerned with the fact that the firm isn't generating actual profits nearly close to what it publishes as its earning. Further, this shows how Skilling's position as president has effectively tied him with the company, a unique situation in which the company's problems are reflected back on him. Noticing his frustration, Fastow introduces his ideas on how the company can actually reflect profits. He says, “We could push debt, we could push those losses into this other entity, sell it to this entity, So we make money and move a loss off the books” (Page 47). Fastow believes he has found a solution for the company's problem, but in doing so has given in to corrupt fraudulent practices. Placing the firm's reputation over his principles, Fastow also senses a feeling of belonging. Although both Skilling and Fastow act in self-interest to generate profit in the firm and thus provide larger pay outs for employees, their beliefs and actions have completely changed. This comments on how the very idea of competing compels individuals to develop a “whatever it takes” mentality, even if it may be dishonest or immoral. The changes in a corporation and the beliefs of those in power can lead to a different corporate culture, one that prioritizes the firm over the individual.
Those who are rewarded by the nature of competition and are placed in positions of power identify with the firm over the individual. In doing so, Skilling attempts to prioritize the firm over the individual by providing materialistic motivation to feed into the competitive culture. He argues,” Money and sex motivate people, Andy. And money is the one that gets their hand off their dick and into work” (page 29). Through this the author comments on how a major component of the culture is dedication to the corporation. Motivated by money, dedication is bought in the form of time and work to benefit the company itself and not the individual. The enduring cycle of materialistic motivation and competition benefit the firm, when instead those that are a part of it believe they are the ones benefiting. Rather then beginning to identify with the firm, those with lower positions of power are simply used as pawns by those in positions of power and are fired when not needed.
In Enron when the firm tries to lean out to maximize profits, the actions executives perpetuate the competitive culture. When Enron CEO, Ken Lay decides that every six months the bottom ten percent of employees would be fired for underperformance, this damages the culture of the firm. Soon, rather than working as common group, each works for themselves to not be part of the bottom ten percent. In doing so, it shows how Lay has contributed to the competitive culture he experiences an executive and the face of the company by instilling it in his firm as well. Creating this aspect of fear of losing their jobs, he essentially perpetuates the toxic culture that merited him due to his novel ideas. This further exemplifies how those rewarded by the competitive culture are those who perpetuate it and create it for those they lead. Unknowingly, Lay essentially divides his company from working together and creates an “every man for himself” mentality where the only goal is to bring in profits from trading. Although the culture is not directly communicated, it is implied that an employee must be better at their job than his colleague in order to “stay on top” and keep the job. Starting from the market and eventually being a part of a corporation, the culture of competition is dictated by those who have benefited from it.
Similarly in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, there is a strong sense of competition between the salesmen. As a result of slow sales, the firm's owners bring in Blake to motivate the sales team, but rather than actually doing so extrinsically, he instills a fear that the salesman with the lowest sales would immediately be fired. More importantly, the movie comments on the decisions that those in lower positions have to make when a corporate culture can work against them. In this movie, Blake expresses directly that the salesman with the lowest sales would be fired. Blake holds a position of power due to the vast amount of sales he generated for the firm and therefore contributes to developing the culture that he succeeded in. For Shelly Levene, one of the four salesmen who holds the lowest position on the leaderboard, this prompts an urgency to generate sales or compromise his job. Rather than being driven by the extrinsic motivators, such as the new car for the best salesman, Levene is worried about losing his job because he has to pay for his chronically ill daughter in the hospital. As a result, Shelly breaks into the office to steal the good leads that could actually be potential clients to generate sales. In doing so, Levene also commits an illegal act but rather because he is trapped in the culture of competition. For Levene, his priority is providing for his daughter and being able to pay her hospital bills. Without a job, it would not be possible for him to do so, and therefore attempts to steal the leads.
Individuals trapped by the shortcomings of the disastrous corporate culture set by people in positions of power desperately do whatever it takes on the basis of self-interest. Shelly attempted bribing Williamson and even stealing the leads to generate sales and keep his job to provide for his daughter. In doing those illegal actions, Levene responded to the fear created by his superiors and contributed to the culture of the corporation and essentially reproduced it. Although Levene ends up fired, he has worsened the culture for the corporation he leaves. The company incurred a loss of potential clients and the money spent on the leads and had to fire several salesmen who were involved in the robbery. Internal problems such as this can place more pressure on people in lower positions to perform better to stabilize the company and repeats the cycle of the “whatever it takes” mentality.
In both Enron and Glengarry Glen Ross, the culture of competition and fear as motivation existed, but it is evident that people in positions of power respond differently to them. The executives in Enron utilized the fear and competitive culture in their company to create the culture and strengthen it because that allowed them to generate maximum profits. ON the other hand, the salesman in Glengarry Glen Ross submitted themselves to the fear and were trapped in the competitive culture, forcing them to resort to illegal means of keeping their jobs. In both situations the salesman and executives strengthened the culture of the corporation, but the executives were the ones that instilled the culture, and the salesmen unknowingly fed into the illegal and corrupt aspects of competition. Contrasting how people in positions of power respond to fear with how employees that are trapped within do, it is evident that those in power create a corporate culture that prioritizes the success of the company over that of their employees.
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