The Headhunters

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

John A. Byrne, management editor for BUSINESS WEEK, writes in an anecdotal, personality-oriented style which makes his book easy reading. Like the magazine he works for, his book is crammed with names and insider business gossip. He is mainly interested in the superstars of the headhunting game. To take one of countless examples, he describes in loving detail how Gerard Roche, a pioneering headhunting genius, lured PepsiCo president John Sculley to Apple Computer in 1983 with a $1 million sign-up bonus and a $1 million annual salary.

The reader is left with an unsettling impression of a new corporate America in which company loyalty is becoming a quaint superstition and management is becoming an abstract art with little reference to products or people. The reader is also left wondering what ails American business that, instead of developing its leadership from within, it increasingly subsidizes the kind of corporate raiding that makes headhunting so profitable.

Top-level headhunters have developed a semblance of a code of ethics because they have become image-conscious from being so much in the media spotlight. Byrne, however, ignores the legions of smaller and more voracious headhunters whose prey is limited to middle management; this is a disappointing omission.

Stock market investors should find this book suggestive. When an ailing corporation succeeds in capturing a superstar as its new chief executive officer, the value of its stock usually rises dramatically, first because of speculation and next because the new leader often does turn the company around. Byrne cites many examples, the most famous being Lee Iacocca’s move to Chrysler. This recurrent pattern suggests that investors could realize both short- and long-term profits by monitoring the movements of headhunters and superstars in their game of corporate musical chairs.