Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Louis XIV and Donald Trump

Have just been reading Blenheim: Battle for Europe (by Charles Spencer, brother of Princess Diana) and, just a few chapters in, have discovered an intriguing character in Louis XIV.

We all know him as a bit of a bastard, an egomaniac who, like Napoleon and Hitler after him, wanted all of Europe under his control. This much is true indeed. But notwithstanding that, he had some smart management ideas.
  1. He knew how to delegate. Spencer writes: "The king needed to find men of quality to realise his military dreams. Even as a young man he had been adept at spotting potential in his subordinates, and then delegating. Sir Edward Creasy, the nineteenth-century historian, noted: 'One of the surest proofs of the genius of Louis was his skill in finding out genius in others, and his promptness in calling it into action.'"
  2. He connected rank with competence, not social standing. "Louvois (Louis' chief of army) wanted his professional troops led by the ablest, not merely the noblest, generals."
  3. He standardised and centralised for the sake of communication and economy. "Instead of haphazard camps, tents were to be erected in carefully ordered rows, away from the health hazards of human waste. In place of the white sash that had been the distinguishing feature of French troops in battle, regimental uniforms were ordered. Out went the cheap ragbag of firearms ordered by cost-cutting colonels, and in came standardised muskets: these were interchangeable, all subject to the same drill, all taking the same ammunition."

So far, so smart. But while Louis' professional army, under control of his trusted lieutenants, was the terror of Europe throughout the 1670s and 80s, Louis fell foul of a fatal error in entrepreneurial leaders - he overreached himself.

By the 1690s he had earned the wrath of all his traditional enemies, and some of his traditional friends. His trusted delegates had all but one died. He had overspent, and had to keep spending to maintain his army at sufficient levels. He was in big trouble.

Fast forward to the present. In the mid 1980s, Donald Trump had it made - just like King Louis in the mid 1680s. And that's where he should have stopped, counted his blessings, and planned for a more settled future.

But neither Louis nor the Donald did what good sense dictated. Instead, ego took over. Louis became the egomaniac that legends are made of. Men and women feared him. His smile could mean rapid promotion; his frown could mean big trouble.

Remind you of anything? Perhaps the 'you're fired' segment of The Apprentice? You know, when that show first came out, I thought, this is cool, maybe I'll learn something about the business world.

But so far, all I've learnt is that there are people with big ego problems who go on TV to make themselves feel better. Oh, and to pay off massive debt. Donald Trump is now gazillions of dollars in debt with his casinos, yet he appears as a very successful person financially on TV. Why? He has to. Otherwise the whole series doesn't make any sense at all.

In the end, Louis was laid low by his defeat at the battle of Blenheim. I hope for Trump's sake he doesn't meet his Blenheim in a painful way; rather a gentle waking up to the facts. But somehow, I don't think so.


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