Reflections of a reluctant capitalist - An interview with Charles Handy

No other management theorist’s world view encompasses the irresistible rise of the flea, their symbiotic relationship with elephants and a written constitution for business.


In addition, Charles Handy calls on the business world to rethink the money-obsessed mindset of executives and to look for a raison d'etre beyond simply increasing shareholder value. Interview by Des Dearlove.​

Charles Handy, the UK’s only home-grown international management guru, has long been regarded as one of the most eminent and influential business thinkers in the world.

Irish-born Handy is a former oil executive turned academic and is now enjoying a third career as a populist social philosopher. For reading the business runes or stretching the imagination, he has few equals. Yet, despite his often revolutionary message, his remains the genteel, civilised voice of management.

Handy worked for Shell until 1972 when he left to teach at London Business School where he was the first director of LBS’ Sloan Management Programme. Since then he was written a number of best-selling books including Understanding Organisations (1976), The Age of Unreason (1989), The Hungry Spirit (1998), and, most recently, The Elephant and the Flea (2002).

Among his best known ideas is that of the “cloverleaf organisation” – later called the shamrock organisation – with a small core at the centre of a system of “leaves” made up of outsourced work, contractors, consultants and temporary workers. Revolutionary at the time, it turned out to be an accurate prediction of the future.

Handy has been challenging the status quo ever since. To him, capitalism is a system – the best we’ve come up with so far – but merely a beginning. It is a stepping off point for what really matters to human beings – their aspirations, families and sense of self worth. His 1998 book The Hungry Spirit warned of the dangers of the mercenary society that corporations had created.

So how does Handy view today’s turbulent business environment? He talked with Des Dearlove.

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