BOOK REVIEW / Sold short on psychological insights: Business Elites - Reg Jennings, Charles Cox and Cary L Cooper: Routledge, pounds 19.95

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The Independent Online
Cary Cooper is one of those academics who is not backwards at coming forwards. Whether the subject is stress in the workplace or a guide to the new business organisation, he can be relied upon for entertaining comment.

So it is not surprising that the Professor of Organisational Psychology at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology should show up - albeit as third on the bill as one of the authors of this investigation of 'The Psychology of Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs'. What makes Eddy Shah, Jeffrey (Lord) Archer, Gerald Ronson and the rest run is, after all, a subject of continuing fascination to the public. It is rather more surprising that he should have helped to produce such a volume as this.

For, unfortunately, it does not do justice to the subject. It is slender in more ways than one.

The 159 pages would not be a cause of criticism if they were filled with flashing insights. But when they are restricted to sketchy biographical details of a handful of successful business folk, padded out with gushy references to such matters as how Gerald Ronson's fall from grace after the Guinness affair did not prevent him maintaining his high profile in charitable works, there is plenty of reason for the reader to feel swindled.

Indeed, in their efforts to get at the psychological roots of their subjects' success, the authors seem prepared to all but ignore any brushes with the authorities. Tony Berry, for example, also 'fell from grace' after the successful takeover of recruitment agency Manpower by Blue Arrow when 'insider share dealings by others and an unsecured loan was discovered'. He resigned from the board and lost his place in the list of Britain's richest people. But he is still, we are reassured, a director of Tottenham Hotspur, the football club for which he played as a junior.

There is also a sense - to judge from some of the more surprising subjects in the lists - that the authors settled for people who were happy to talk about their experiences rather than the more obvious choices. There is no great crime in this - journalists have to do it all the time - but it does not help an already embattled cause.

The real theme of the book is valid enough. It is not uninteresting to compare and contrast the attributes of the old-fashioned entrepreneurs such as the aforementioned with the 'elite intrapreneurs', the current coinage for those, such as Nigel Rudd, of Williams Holdings, and David Jones, of Next, who behave in an entrepreneurial way from within established organisations.

But the authors do not seem too sure whether their types are similar or not. Part of the problem is that while the entrepreneurs can - despite operating in a variety of sectors - be seen to exhibit certain common swashbuckling tendencies, the so-called intrapreneurs seem to have little in common. Indeed, the presence of so many scions of family firms - such as Sir Adrian Cadbury, Sir Antony Pilkington and Sam Whitbread - in this grouping would appear to argue for the creation of a third category.

For even if, as the authors argue, the professionalisation of the management of family firms means that descendants of the founder have to prove themselves on their way to the top, their motivations must be different from the selfmade people, such as Michael Guthrie, the former chairman of Mecca. Being sent around the various operations to ensure you are properly prepared to take on the mantle of the family business is, after all, rather different from having to prove yourself as an outsider.

Such naivety is more serious than the willingness to list the philanthropic acts of the subjects of this book. It is also typical of a certain kind of research that comes out of our business schools.

It is almost as if the authors were so carried away with noting how many of their subjects lacked fathers in their childhood, or had humble beginnings, that they deluded themselves into thinking that findings such as the one that members of both groups are 'steeped in the work ethic . . . are intrinsically motivated by, interested in, and find enjoyment in their work' were worthy of comment, let alone publication.

Or maybe they were just inspired by the example of Lord Archer, one of their interviewees, who reflects on life after his own financial collapse: 'I couldn't get a job . . . but they can't stop you writing.'