Since the first of the year a new man has been running ITT, the most famous and least loved of all our multinational conglomerates. He is Lyman C. Hamilton who, according to the business press, is as competent and as sure-footed an executive as any megacorp is likely to get.
He is also perfectly invisible to the outside world and therefore the diametric opposite of Harold Geneen, the man he replaced Mr. Geneen, whatever blame should attach to him for the sinister part his company played in the murder of Salvador Allende, was a man of dramatic profile.
Mr. Geneen was known to arrive at work as late as noon and to work late into the night, waking up his subordinates at the most ungodly hours, ungodly that is if you are a person of regular habits. Regularity in all aspects and human possibilities has become a summum bonum among us. Not only do those who regularly go early to bed have the promise of longer life but also of promotion to high places.
Mr. Geneen, who by the most normal measures applied on Wall Street, was fantabulously successful in building ITT, was nevertheless a throwback to the entrepreneurial age of the founder-proprietors, the age of the Captains of Industry, a term that was a cliche 50 years ago and is now never used.
Captains of industry, finance or most anything else have creased to exist. The notion of the uniquely bold man, the iron-souled visionary who imagined and then built some great enterprise - such a person has become a preposterous fable. Vivid men and women of crushing force of character, of inspirational power aren't to be seen at the head of any of our institutions.
Half a century ago they were common and not only in boardrooms but in education and the church. In place of the Fords, the Carnegies and the Morgans, we have battalions of anonymous chaps, all doubtless very good at their work and insipidly dull as far as the general public is concerned. The same with the universities. Men like Eliot at Harvard, Harper at Chicago and Butler at Columbia were national figures, names known to millions and deferred to by them. Now we have none. Outside the alumni and the educational writers of the periodical press, who even knows the name of the president of Harvard, certainly a good man but scarcely preeminent in the American consciousness.
The only man is higher education alive today who might lay claim to that distinction is Father Theodore Hesburgh of Notre Dame University. Yet his church, like most others, has suffered a decline in excitingly large perscnages. Even a generation ago - whether you agreed with such conservatives or not - Bishop Fulton Sheen and Cardinal Spellman of New York used to light up the air with pronouncements and opinions which at least commanded attention. The same with a subsiding Billy Graham and a host of facelessly earnest committees.
This changeover from the heroic single person to the skillful committee member was first described in the military. By the end of World War I, it was obvious that an equestrian statue could never again be erected. The emergence of Dwight Eisenhower was the emergency of a new kind of herotype. Heretofore throughout western history, the honored and heroic captains of men were figured as fierce, intrepid, brutal perhaps, but certainly audacious and occasionally geniuses. Then comes the staff officer, the facilitator, the general whose greatest conquest isn't the foreign enemy. It was vanquishing the inertial sloth of his own military organization which made like great. This is a collectivist era. We think of collectivism as being a communist form of human organization; however it is a capitalist one also. Like primitive people who also must work in close organizational conjunction with each other, collectivists can't work well if they surrender to individualism.
So those who can collaborate best, the team ball players, get the preferment. These not very amusing, utterly uninspiring collectionsof people have accomplished amazing things. In the lab, in the office, on the battlefield, these indistinguishable personalitities have often been perfectly acceptable subsitutes for genius. Maybe we don't need the supra-talented anymore. Maybe seven or eight well-organized people can do the work of an Einstein without Einstein's proclivity to say disturbing things on behalf of world peace.
So goodbye, Mr. Geneen, invisible competence is supplanting you and individual greatness is now restricted to the Reggie Jacksons, the athletes and the jugglers of this world.