While Harry Truman was president, he was invited to speak at a Pan-Hellenic group’s annual convention. The president was preceded on the program by an array of influential speakers, all of whom catered to the audience by praising the contributions to Western civilization made by the ancient Greeks.
Truman, not being one to pull a punch, took a different tack. He started his speech by saying he also knew something about Greek history. He went on to point out that because the Greek city-states could never agree on anything or unite in common defense, they were an easy mark for the Romans, who toppled them one by one.
Not only did the Greek city-states not unite–rather, they fought each other continuously. The most remembered such conflict was the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. After 27 years of fighting, the victorious Spartans had absolutely nothing to show for this long and debilitating effort.
I had long since concluded that our industry had learned a lesson from the ancient Greeks, and, having at first hand experienced the value of being united, would always strive to remain that way. One does not have to venture far into our history to find examples of damage wrought by disunity and also positive achievements when we faced opponents with a united front.
Today, I am having to re-think that conclusion, for the signs of our industry straying into isolated spheres of interest seem to be growing. I hope you noticed that I used the term “spheres of interest” rather than “spheres of influence.” One does not accrue much influence when positioned in isolation.
Perhaps the most visible sign of our industry splintering is the loss of important memberships in the American Council of Life Insurers. Some of those who have left are the very people (or companies) one would naturally look to for leadership.
It is interesting, I believe, to note that when the plastics industry came under fire from environmentalists and consumerists, it was the largest companies (Dupont, Dow, et al) that led the industry into a massive public relations campaign to win back market share and to dampen criticism.
Our business cannot afford the loss of leadership that can only be provided by large and powerful companies. In like manner, such companies need the support of strong industry associations, but all too often they dont realize it until it may be too late.