The Business of Building Cathedrals

No sire, it’s not a revolt; it’s a revolution.

—François Alexandre Frédéric de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, a French social reformer, to Louis XVI, the morning after the storming of the Bastille in 1789

“The purpose of a corporation is not to make money!” Jean-Marie Descarpentries, the newly appointed CEO of Honeywell Bull, exclaimed. It was 1993, and I was working at McKinsey in Paris. My colleagues and I had invited Descarpentries to dinner to explore how we could help him in his new role. I had my sales hat on, fully expecting to spend the evening understanding his priorities and pitching him.

But instead, Jean-Marie decided to brief us on what had been discussed at a gathering of French CEOs he had ...

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