The gurus had it right all along

To hear most management consultants tell it, you would think that business today is fundamentally different from how it used to be. But a new book of essays suggests that this belief is some way wide of the mark.

Sure, many companies aremaking things that were not even heard of a few years ago. And the people doing that work are probably using very different machines - whether on the shopfloor or in the management suite - and working longer hours. But, as an accountant said the other day, too much store can be set by "understanding" different businesses and emphasising the differences between eras.

To appreciate this, just consider the words of Henry Ford II, written many years ago and collected in The Book of Business Wisdom (published by John Wiley & Sons, pounds 19.99). "In considering a man [sic] for a management job or for other work, every employer must ask himself: 'Would this applicant, if hired, be an asset to my company?' We know many of the qualities that make a man an asset to a business. Here are the main ones," he writes. And the ones he highlights would not be out of place in any guide to young graduates published today.

First, there is "Proficiency in your field". Pointing out that the better- prepared a person is in a certain field, the better their chances of obtaining a job in that area. But applicants should never forget that "specialised training alone is not enough. It may get you that first job; but if it is all you have to offer, it may also bury you in that first job".

Next, "Social competence". Now described as "interpersonal skills", this is what indicates an ability to get on with others.

Thirdly, "Analytical power". This is going a step beyond the reasoning skills developed in class both to find the problem that needs solving and then to apply the solution discovered.

Ford goes on to talk of the need for curiosity and integrity, of the requirement to work intelligently within a system and of the necessity of growing. Ignore the fact that none of this calls on new age-style language and the reader might think it could have been published a few weeks ago. And nor is it the only example in this hefty book edited by Peter Krass. There is the odd guru-type statement such as that by JC Penney of department store fame that "Jesus and Moses were two of the greatest salesmen the world has ever known". But it is filled with pearls of wisdom from people who have really done it.

And lest you get caught up in the worthiness of it all, listen to this from the great maverick of the car industry, Lee Iacocca: "If you make- believe that 10 guys in pin-striped suits are back in a kindergarten class playing with building blocks, you'll get a rough picture of what life in a corporation is like."