Critical book review
Beyond the Corporation: Humanity Working by David Erdal, The Bodley Head, London, 2011. 320 pages.
In his most recent book ‘Beyond the Corporation: Humanity working’, David Erdal, book author and Non-Executive Director at Baxendale Ownership, strongly promotes the superiority of employee ownership. He gives a wide range of best practice examples across industries from various countries, without neglecting the essential theoretical foundation of the concept of democratic employee ownership. The book, which was published in March 2011, builds an argument around the financial collapse 2008 - 2009, when many traditional companies failed, suffered severely, or at the very least were shaken. David Erdal, who inherited Tullis Russell, a papermill business, in 1980s/1990s, which he eventually turned into a majority employee owned firm in 1994, illustrates how and why employee ownership leads to ‘prosperity, health and happiness’ (Erdal, 2011: 245). I have chosen ‘Beyond the Corporation: Humanity working’ for my critical book review for three reasons; the actuality of employee ownership particularly in Scotland (UK government, 2012), its publication in the aftermath of the recent financial crisis and Erdal’s affiliation with the University of St Andrews as an Honorary Senior Research Fellow. However, while Erdal seeks to transform the flawed corporate status quo, which might appeal to most at first, his wishful thinking isn’t a radical surprise (TEDxTalks, 2009), nor is employee ownership feasible for every enterprise (Hansmann, 1998).
The author elaborates employee ownership in four chapters. The first chapter exemplifies the unfavourable traditional work concept by outlining the unequal relationship between owners and employees in organizations. According to the author, they are far too often ruled by capital market discipline, and therefore prioritise short-term profits rather than re-investing, putting employee’s jobs at a high risk. Even though there is a variety of forms for employee ownership such as direct (individual shareholders), indirect (employee trust), combinations of both, or weaker forms of employee involvement like control or earning rights only, the author desires direct employee ownership (Erdal, 2011 & TEDxTalks, 2009). He contrasts the prevailing corporate economy with the stories of four pioneers in the field of employee ownership – the Catholic priest José María Arizmendiarieta from Spain, the British John Spedan Lewis, Giusepe Bucci from Italy, Ernst Abbe who founded the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung in Germany and the political economist Louis Kelso, who is regarded as being the originator of the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).