The seventh chapter in Business Adventures by John Brooks is all about oligopolies, price fixing (read my reviews on chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6).
The story of the oligopoly that included the likes of GE and Westinghouse resonates with me a number of ways. One is that these companies are still around, still huge, and no one associates them with price fixing or stealing money from the government. No, they are thought of as good or bad brands based on other facets of their operations and their past… at least this far in the past is not held against them.
John walks through the story of the switch gear market, the customers, the players, and how culture at GE was such that a ‘wink’ at the end of a superior giving out an assignment was understood to be a signal that the subordinate should behave differently. I can’t imagine how sick their culture would have to be that a shady wink might mean that an employee should go out and make a secret phone call to contact with an assumed name and talk about changing the prices of non-existant products from non-existant competitors as a way of hiding from the government’s inevitable discovery that I was breaking the law. What culture could empower so many people to break the laws so willingly and defend their actions so vigorously? One wonders if the cultures at GE, Westinghouse, and the others is still full of flaws like these or if they’ve turned them around.