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CEO Society

CEO Society

Peter Bloom | Carl Rhodes



Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) have become the cultural icons of the 21st century. Figures like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are held up as role models who epitomise the modern pursuit of innovation, wealth and success. We now live, Bloom and Rhodes argue, in a ‘CEO society’ – a society where corporate leadership has become the model for transforming not just business, but all spheres of life, where everyone from politicians to jobseekers to even those seeking love are expected to imitate the qualities of the lionized corporate executive.

But why, in the wake of the failings exposed by the 2008 financial crisis, does the corporate ideal continue to exert such a grip on popular attitudes? In this insightful new book, Bloom and Rhodes examine the rise of the CEO society, and how it has started to transform governments, culture and the economy. This influence, they argue, holds troubling implications for the future of democracy - as evidenced by the disturbing political rise of Donald Trump in the US - and for our society as a whole.

‘A fascinating look at how the near deification of corporate executives has corroded culture across the globe, with dire implications for democracy. This is a wake-up call to rethink our values before it is too late to save hard-won and irreplaceable public institutions.’
Nancy MacLean, author of Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America

‘When the answer to any problem is sending a CEO to the rescue, we are in deep trouble. This smart and insightful book takes a look at the increasing veneration of CEOs, and the damage it is doing to our society.’
André Spicer, author of Business Bullshit

‘In a CEO society, only winners are allowed. In this timely and passionate book, Bloom and Rhodes identify what is at stake as corporate leadership replaces all other models for success. It delivers solace and motivation for anyone who believes that equity and justice should matter in governance.’
Melissa Gregg, Research Director at Intel, and author of Work's Intimacy

‘Bloom and Rhodes skilfully follow the ideology of the CEO into every corner of our society, revealing its sources, its impacts, and the resistance it is generating. Highly recommended for anyone concerned with contemporary capitalism.’
Nick Srnicek, co-author of Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work

'Many of today's CEOs purport to serve the public good. They are wealth takers re-branded as wealth creators. This book illuminates the dangers of CEO worship in an age of entrenched austerity.'
Linsey McGoey, author of The Unknowers: How Strategic Ignorance Rules the World

‘In spite of the thorough and still growing critique of the leadership cult, CEOs proliferate in both private and public sectors. Let us hope that Bloom and Rhodes' book will serve as an antidote.’
Barbara Czarniawska, author of Cyberfactories: How News Agencies Produce News

‘Why do we pray at the altar of the celebrity CEOs? What are consequences of such disturbing worship? Bloom and Rhodes answer these questions, showing us the ugly side of our contemporary obsession and the price we collectively pay in the CEO society.’
Alessia Contu, University of Massachusetts

‘This unique book sheds light on one of the most tragic paradoxes of contemporary life: Why do we celebrate neoliberalism, through today’s “cult of the CEO”? Bloom and Rhodes explain our deep-seated attachments to ideologies that are not only flawed but also dangerous.’
Kate Kenny, Queens University Belfast

‘Essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the contemporary fetishisation of corporate leadership. Rhodes and Bloom trace the rise of the cult of the CEO, mounting a strong defence of democracy in the face of this celebratory authoritarianism.’
Chris Land, Anglia Ruskin University

Peter Bloom heads the People and Organisations Department at the Open University, UK. His research critically examines the everyday practices of capitalism and democracy and their implications for work and life. Peter’s recent books include Authoritarian Capitalism in the Age of Globalization (2016) and The Ethics of Neoliberalism: The Business of Making Capitalism Moral (2017), while his writing has featured in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Independent, The New Statesmen, The Week, The Conversation and Open Democracy among others.

Carl Rhodes is Professor of Organisation Studies at UTS Business School in Sydney, Australia. He has published numerous books and papers concerning the ethical and political dimensions of business and working life. He recently published The Companion to Ethics, Politics and Organizations (2015, with Alison Pullen), and regularly writes for the mainstream and independent press, where his articles can be found in The Guardian, New Matilda, The Conversation, Independent Australia, and Open Democracy.

Table of Contents

Section Title Page Action Price
Cover Cover
About the authors ii
Title Page iii
Copyright iv
Contents v
Introduction: The threat and promise of CEO salvation 1
1. Welcome to the CEO society 17
Life exaggerates art 25
The CEO as a hero of our times 28
Corporate values/social values 35
Executising society 40
Democracy and the CEO way of life 44
2. The idolisation of the CEO 47
Curse of the CEO 49
Executive history 53
The paradox of authority 59
CEO idol 64
Becoming master of the universe 67
Trickle-down empowerment 73
3. Competing in the executive economy 79
The small world of the CEO economy 81
Executive power 84
Ideal fantasies and anxious realities 90
The CEO fantasy 96
The freedom to execute 101
From rags to CEO riches 106
Celebrating the executive economy 111
4. The CEO politician 115
The convergence of political and corporate leadership 117
The political leader as CEO 123
Leading the economy 127
The CEO politician and the executisation of democratic leadership 132
The new business of political leadership 136
5. The CEO as a model for living 141
The executive existence 144
Facing an executive crisis 150
Increasing the value of your life 156
Achieving an executive balance 160
Unleashing the executive within 164
Executive duty 168
Personal development 172
6. The generous CEO? 177
The rising social stock of the CEO 181
Corporate social responsibility 184
The giving pledge 188
Responsible CEOs, irresponsible corporations 193
The CEO autocrat 196
Political CSR 201
The CEO as the model of generosity 207
7. The bad faith of CEO salvation 213
The threat of executive freedom 218
A complete CEO takeover? 220
Brand CEO 225
Bad faith 233
Afterword: The high cost of the CEO society 239
Notes 242
Index 273