The world of business has changed remarkably in the past quarter-
century. AT&T is preparing its third split-up, while the government
seeks to break up Microsoft, a company that did not even exist then.
The Internet has opened vistas for business that no one saw even a
decade ago, and the United States is in its longest period of
economic expansion ever.
But amid the progress, what has been lost that was worthwhile? We
asked several people who used to be at the heights of different
aspects of business to assess what they regretted most about the
changes that have occurred. They singled out situations ranging from
the new "villainy" of globalization to the lack of real
thoughtfulness now given to investments.
Following are their responses:
Richard J. Mahoney
Former chief executive of Monsanto; now distinguished executive
in residence, the Weidenbaum Center, Washington University.
Americans doing business in developing countries in the 1970s,
1980s and even into the early 1990s were generally welcome partners.
We brought the desired technology, market access, management skills
and money for investment. I recall being the subject of local
newspaper photo-ops to celebrate the opening of a new facility or
the establishment of a technology collaboration with a local
As the 1990s progressed, however, the headlines changed from
collaboration to exploitation with the appearance of a villain
called globalization. To be sure, the business parties and
government officials still found the agreements attractive, but
opposition emerged, particularly in the "have" countries among
groups protesting the exploitation of the "have nots."
Facts were not necessarily important; appearance was -- the
appearance of exploitation, whether in local wages paid, farm-
cropping practices exported, Western culture "imposed" or a host of
other issues that were embodied at the wild gathering of
international trade protesters during the WTO meeting in Seattle
In the early 1990s, I received an award and an ovation following
a speech I made describing the promise of agricultural biotechnology
to feed the world. My successor as CEO in the late 1990s received a
pie in the face from a protester at a similar forum. What a
difference those few years have made.
No doubt we paid too little attention to potential public
reaction as we in the industry made our program more international,
urged on by our trading partners in the developing world. Perhaps we
should have seen that the same technology that brought instantaneous
trading around the world would foster instantaneous "anti"
communication and organizing.
Whatever the cause of the rise of opposition, it is here to stay,
a cynic would say, as long as strong economies and rising living
standards provide the luxury of protest. But I think it will be even
longer than that.
Still, one yearns to return to a time when enlightened self-
interest -- doing well by doing good in helping to raise living
standards -- was considered progressive instead of profligate. A
time when the results of world trade were considered glorious rather
than globaloney. Alas.
Robert L. Crandall
Retired chairman of American Airlines; now board member of
American Express and Celestica.
The thing I miss most today is political civility. Twenty or 25
years ago, political conversation tended to be a good deal more
issues-oriented and much less partisan and much less personally
The acrimony and the incivility and the outright dishonesty that
is beginning to characterize political life is causing the American
public to lose faith in its government. I think that's a great loss.
We need to believe what our government officials say. They need to
be both a good deal more forthright and more forthcoming.
I don't know when it really started. …