Isolating the Elusive Management Gene


Xconomy Boston — 

They have done it. Finally. Biologists at the National University of Singapore have isolated the Management gene. Now DNA technology will forever change how we think about business—and who runs it. That same rigor that was used to sequence the genome can now tell us who is going to be a good/great manager from the hoi polloi.

It’s about time. Think of the possibilities. Think of the implications for high-tech firms, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists.

Our graduate schools of business can get out of that messy, inaccurate, and flawed job of screening applications by assessing their future competence based on their shrill applications. Applicants will no longer have to lie about all the Lessons Learned in their 15 minutes of business experience. They can save their creativity for their future IRS filings. “Don’t bother renting a suit and a tie, and keep wearing those Birkenstocks and tee shirts, but just ship us a snippet of your hair,” Stanford University will say in the future.

On the other hand, will we even NEED graduate schools of business—why even train what is already there? Did Kobe Bryant need college? Kevin Garnett?

How do businessmen achieve immortality today? Either they fund finding a cure for disease, run for high office, or buy an NFL team. But there is a better way than donating tons of money! With the ability to isolate the Management gene, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates will have a superior option—they can just clone that part of themselves. And no more sucking up to other Billionaires and trying convince the superrich to give away half their fortunes. (“Memo to Bill and Warren: Pound Sand! We don’t do Guilt”—signed, The Forbes 398). Look, if you two guys don’t realize we see through this blatant push to win a Nobel Peace Prize, you are sadly mistaken. Oh no, there is a better way to live forever. The ultimate designer gene: BuffetDNA. If you think the sperm from a Kentucky Derby winner is valuable…

But push it even further. If the DNA for management is valuable, how about the DNA for Mismanagement? If there is a gene for management, there must be one for mismanagement/fraud—right? Now Bernie Madoff and Bernie Ebbers can pay back all that money—by licensing their DNA to the recruiting arms of Citibank, Bank of America, and Goldman Sachs. Applicants can be rejected without having them ever enter the labor force. (“Prisoners Ebbers, 158-382, and Madoff, 147-362, please report with your plastic cups to the infirmary.”)

The evolutionary psychologists have driven management science out of the ice age—the old saw about culture and socialization being the primary determinants of behavioral differences is dead, dead, dead. Now it is obvious: Biology rules! The difference between individuals and their ability to succeed in business is biological.

OK then, what are the next steps? Will 23andMe become 23foraFee? Wait, there seems to be some evidence that the Management gene is passed to the next generation from the MOTHER. If so, this changes everything!

Let’s take your average unmarried, unlovable hedge fund managers (“Please”). Now, you and I think that there should be a bounty on their heads, but look at it from their points of view. In any rational Darwinian world, they would be shunned and never mate, but they do mate and reproduce. Somebody has to build ugly McMansions in Greenwich, CT. But if recent history is right, they are mating with the wrong gene pool: why else would their kids be so dysfunctional? Getting it right with the First Wife is terribly important; much better to get a DNA sample so you can figure out how to have progeny who will not urinate away your inheritance (“I’d like a lock of your hair to remember our first date”).

Remember, it isn’t brains we are after, it’s markers for Management. No longer is it necessary to ask those leading questions (“What was Brooks Robinson’s Lifetime Batting Average?”) to get a read on future Mrs. First Wife. No more worrying that your progeny may wind up Hare Krishnas—plan ahead! Marry someone with the Management gene and you will truly have offspring who can care for you and your money in your old age—where you will still be unloved, but you will be surrounded by the patter of little management tyros.

Think of the advantages for venture capitalists. No more sitting through boring PowerPoint presentations or hearing lies all day (“We have no competition”), or even telling lies all day (“Our money is different”). For the first time, there is a way to separate out the true entrepreneurs from the merely unemployed…And if you could combine both the Entrepreneurial gene and the School Dropout gene, you could get a generation of Steve Jobses, Larry Ellisons, Bill Gateses, and Mark Zuckerbergs.

We have always blamed the financial problems on the economic times. It is time we faced the real issue—incompetent managers. If we could have better managers, would we have had these examples?

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”—Ken Olsen, Digital Equipment, 1977

“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”—Jack Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927

“The concept is interesting and formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.”—Yale management professor to Fred Smith, founder of FedEx.

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”—President of Western Union to Alexander Graham Bell.

And what did we get when the first MBA became President? George W. Bush, a graduate of the Harvard University School of Management. HBS watched their alumni president so mismanage Katrina that they will be citing this for a 1000 years. Wouldn’t they have been better off returning his tuition money for the promise never to mention where he got that degree? Wouldn’t they have been better off never admitting him in the first place? I, for one, never blamed George. I blamed Barbara.

Howard Anderson is the founder of The Yankee Group and co-founder of Battery Ventures. He currently holds the William Porter Chair of Entrepreneurship at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Follow @

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5 responses to “Isolating the Elusive Management Gene”

  1. Michael Ashley Schulman, CFA says:

    So we should short b-schools and go long biotech?
    Any chance we could use a phage to insert the gene into bad managers?
    And could you quantify the market size for managers, please?

  2. Jesssss says:

    I guess there should be a lot of follow up studies about what kind of mix of DNA will produce the banlanced management team of an organization. How should a firm differentiates itself from others. It could happen in one day, but I believe it’s still distant from pure science to real-world management. And the world will be really boring if everything can be predicted, isn’t it?