cover image And Dignity for All: Unlocking Greatness Through Values-Based on Leadership

And Dignity for All: Unlocking Greatness Through Values-Based on Leadership

James DeSpain. FT Press, $24.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-13-100532-7

Ending the struggle between workers and bosses is the agenda of this frank but tendentious memoir-cum-manifesto by former Caterpillar vice-president Despain, who worked his way up from floor-sweeper to VP and general manager of the tractor division where he started. In his climb up the corporate ladder, Despain gained an intimate knowledge of the ongoing shop-floor strife between arrogant, abusive managers and recalcitrant, feather-bedding union workers. But in an overseas posting, he got a look at Japanese factories where harmony and mutual respect reigned, and he later triumphed by inspiring unskilled but eager Mexican workers with his quality-boosting ""excellencia"" system. Recalled to run Caterpillar's ailing Peoria complex, Despain instituted a new management ""vision"" emphasizing ""people-based versus power-based principles"" built on values like trust, teamwork and empowerment, which he credits with restoring profitability and morale after the bitter 1994 strike that ended with the union returning to work without a contract. Despain offers many valuable first-hand insights into workplace conflicts, and he is unusually forthright in placing unions, a topic that many management theorists side-step, at the center of his discussion of labor-management relations. But his treatment is one-sided; while he even-handedly condemns excesses on both sides of the labor-management divide, his tacit conclusion is that it is the union that must give way to management's high-minded human-relations initiatives. His call for labor-management solidarity is laudable, but some workers may see it as the velvet glove on the mailed fist. (Apr.)