Managing the Unmanageable

The author is aggressively positive about the appropriateness of conglomerates and their potential value to society as a whole, though he does not hesitate to admit that some conglomerates have been badly managed or are irrational unions of various lines of business. His defense of conglomerates scores some good points but is not fully satisfying, perhaps because of its relative brevity. The question of conglomerates is complex, and Leontiades fails to rout the opposition in the less than fifty pages he has allocated for it.

The larger part of the book--on managing conglomerates--is better. His notion of “distinctive competence” as a way to build a conglomerate is insightful, and he has other interesting suggestions, but even this part of the book has a tentative feel to it. Many times the author admits that only time will tell whether such a strategy that has been adopted by such and such a conglomerate will succeed. Quite often one feels one is listening to a post-game analysis when the game is still in the third quarter. This can be seen as a refreshing humility on the part of Leontiades: He does not presume to know all the answers to managing conglomerates and quite explicitly recognizes the difficulties involved. Still, the title might give the reader the impression that this book will be more magisterial than it in fact is.

This book then, is really much more of an exploration of the issues involved in managing conglomerates than it is a handbook on how to do so. It is more valuable as an instigation to reflection than as an apologia for conglomerates or a reference book about managing them.