The ‘Managerial Revolution’ is Over: They Won?

[Originally published October 28, 2011]

“Income Data Services, which totted up pay, bonuses and various share awards, says the average FTSE 100 executive director pocketed a 49 per cent rise in the last financial year to bring their remuneration to £2.7m a year. Chief executives had to make do with a 43 per cent rise, poor lambs.”

James Moore, The Independent, 28 Oct 2011.

This week [October 2011] I was teaching one of my MBA classes about ‘power in and around organizations’, which was also the title of a book written by the academic Henry Mintzberg back in 1983. Thirty years ago Mintzberg concluded that most of the evidence suggested that the power of senior management within corporations has massively expanded and that it was now they, rather than the technical owners – i.e. shareholders – who really controlled the organizations.

What Mintzberg did not say, because at that point it wasn’t quite so obvious, was that having seized power it was only a question of time before the new corporate ruling class also started to seize the money.

According to the High Pay Commission, an independent pressure group in the UK, “Executive pay in the UK has rapidly increased in the past 30 years, after remaining relatively flat in the preceding 30 years.” Between 2010 and 2020, on current trends, they forecast pay of the Chief Executives of the FTSE 100 companies to increase from 145 times average wages to 214 times.

The analyses of the increasing power of the ‘managerial class’ of course goes back a long way before Mintzberg in 1983. Back in 1942 a former Trotskyist called James Burnham wrote a seminal book called “The Managerial Revolution” in which he forecast the transition from a bourgeois society, where owners of capital were the ruling class, to a ‘managerial society’, where a class of managers became the de facto ruling elite. For Burnham both the Soviet East and the capitalist West were undergoing this transition to a ‘managerial society’, albeit from different starting points.

During the 1990s there was a partial rearguard action by the owners of capital in the form of the ‘shareholder value’ movement, attempts to improve ‘corporate governance’, and other reforms to protect the interests of shareholders against the increasingly predatory power of elite managers. How far they succeeded can be partly judged by the trend in top executive salaries.

It is tempting to argue that what we have seen in the past 3 decades has been the final triumph of this transition. There are those that argue that ‘managerialism’ has become the dominant ideology of our times, with the massive global growth of business schools, MBAs, management books and magazines, and so on. The increasing influence of the ‘managerial class’ within many western Governments and public administrations, has been well recorded, as has the increase in the ‘revolving door’ between politicians and civil servants on the one side and business managers on the other.

So is what we are witnessing in executive pay merely the final installment in Burnham’s ‘Managerial Revolution”? Having got the power, the new managerial elite now want the rewards too? Perhaps it is not quite so ‘simples’ as that, but……

2 thoughts on “The ‘Managerial Revolution’ is Over: They Won?

  1. I am highly critical of CEO pay, but the idea that CEO pay = managerial pay is far fetched.

    A typical CEO in a FTSE 100 company gets say £5 million in basic pay, bonus and other non-share based incentives. But many of his (4-5) direct reports will be on a base of perhaps £200,00, with a bonus of say £140,000 on average.

    Thus the best-paid non-CEO/CFO in a company will be on perhaps 10 times the salary of the average worker, but the CEO is on ten times or more of that highest paid “manager”. And there will be a pretty good link between each pay grade, in the sense that are few big jumps between one role and another more senior role.

    And of course there’s only one CEO, so in reality, why do we care? It is only if we think that the riches the CEO gets are somehow indicative of the entire management that we should worry, but they are not. Yes, CEO pay is stupidly high, as it rests on two basic false assumptions – first, that only one person could do the job really well and second that board can identify that person. But if we have a few hundred over-paid people out of 30 million, and that pay is not taken from others in any meaningful way, shouldn’t we not care very much?

  2. You might want to switch this analysis of the managers turning into owners away from stupidly overpaid CEOs to their eventual resting place – private equity. Here the nasty nexus of ample capital, ex investment bankers, ex CEOs fuses together in dark pools of money boasting huge fees (frequently on cash), lashings of leverage and opaque returns. Crucially though these ex CEOs operating as trouble shooters pocket hundred should of millions and en up owning the show. Managers become owners in the most rotten bit of capitalism. Despite all this the pension funds – our capital – continue to shower money on this most alternative of asset classes.

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