Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) is a prominent Italian philosopher who is widely known for his works on politics and the art of governing. One of these most famous works is the treatise named The Prince, which provides much useful advice to those who have gained or would gain some of the most influential political posts in their state. At the same time, many principles and recommendations provided in The Prince can be successfully employed in the modern world of business.
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In this paper, we will analyze several quotes from Machiavelli’s The Prince, and, after explaining their political meaning, will provide a possible reading that they may have for the world of business. Further, we will consider whether the principles expressed in the quotes can be used to describe the modern motor vehicle company, Bayerische Motoren Werke, which is widely known simply as BMW.
“He who has relied least on fortune is established the strongest.” “Those who by valorous ways become princes… acquire a principality with difficulty, but they keep it with ease”
Chapter VI of Machiavelli’s book deals with the problem of dependence on retaining the principality upon the way through which it was acquired. The author emphasizes that “he who has relied least on fortune is established the strongest,” and that “those who by valorous ways become princes… acquire a principality with difficulty, but they keep it with ease” (Machiavelli 16, 17). The philosopher stresses that principality can be obtained either via skills and ability or via luck and fortune (Machiavelli 16). The chapter states that an individual who has become a prince via significant personal effort, hard, work, and the application of one’s skills, has deserved their position, and it will be easier for them to keep it; on the other hand, after becoming a prince simply via the fortune of fate, one will have to struggle hard to retain it.
This claim appears to be true for virtually any political system. Both a monarch who not simply inherited the throne but made much effort to prepare for their future position, and a contemporary politician in a parliamentary democracy who gained their position via lengthy and hard work, will at least be used to working hard, and they will be much better prepared to face the challenges of the politics. It is also noteworthy that continuous effort will be required in the position, and their previous experience and acquired skills will prove useful in making this effort, which will help them to stay on this post for a longer period by deserving the respect of the subordinates or the voters.
Machiavelli’s statement also seems applicable to the world of business. Indeed, if an enterprise becomes successful only as a result of luck, it might be hard for it to resist any adverse conditions that may emerge in the market. For instance, if an entrepreneur is lucky to find an area in the countryside where people live, but where there are no shops, and they open a shop that offers low-quality products for high prices, they may be initially successful due to the lack of proper alternatives; but should any new shops open in the area, the entrepreneur will have to adjust the quality and price of their goods, which may take much additional effort.
On the other hand, if a business operates in a highly competitive market, and from the very beginning it strives to provide its customers only with good value for their money, this company will be accustomed to the rough conditions of the market and will be more resistant to its competitors, both the current and future ones.
The discussed principle appears to hold for the Bayerische Motoren Werke. BMW has become the leader of the market because the vehicles it builds are comfortable, reliable, and provide some of the best values offered in the marketplace for the customers’ money. Because of this, BMW has better positions in the vehicle market than, for instance, Mazda or Toyota.
Of course, BMW still has to stiffly compete with Audi and Mercedes-Benz, but the fact of being used to this competition stimulates BMW to watch its rivals and promptly respond to any innovations or enhancements that they implement in their cars. Therefore, it can be stated that BMW uses this principle offered by Machiavelli; having achieved its “principality” in the vehicle market through skill and effort, and the company remains the leader in the marketplace. Even if Audi or Mercedes-Benz takes the leading position in the future, BMW will likely retain its position as one of the top manufacturers of cars in any case.
“Whoever shall fortify his town well…will never be attacked without great caution,… it will be seen not to be an easy thing to attack one who has his town well fortified and is not hated by his people”
In Chapter X of his work, one devoted to measuring the strength of principalities, Niccolo Machiavelli states: “Whoever shall fortify his town well…will never be attacked without great caution,… it will be seen not to be an easy thing to attack one who has his town well fortified and is not hated by his people” (Machiavelli 29).
In this chapter, Machiavelli provides a way to assess the strength of a prince – whether he can support himself by employing the resources of his own, or if he has to rely on others. For the second type of the prince, the one who has to rely on others, and thus is unable to gather a sufficient army, the author advises to “fortify his town” and not to defend the country, for he will be unable to do the latter; however, he may very well be able to do the former if his people do not disdain him and value him.
This quote applies directly to the art of ruling a country or a city, but some conclusions can also be drawn for business. If a business has clients who do not hate the enterprise, but, on the contrary, respect it and like it, it will not be easy for competitors to “attack” the firm and lure these loyal clients away from the business in question. It is also interesting to point out the fact that Machiavelli emphasizes that a prince who has the support of his people will not be attacked (29); this statement can also be used to describe another feature of the modern market, namely, the risk of new rivals entering the marketplace.
If a business is known for satisfying its clientele well by providing them with high-quality goods or services for which it is hard to create a substitute of similar quality at an approximately the same price, this will decrease the chance of the market entrants to be able to compete with the business in question, for it will be difficult for them to meet the quality standards that were already set by the leading enterprise. Therefore, high standards of the product, as well as “the absence of hatred of the people,” have a positive effect on the situation of the business.
The described implications of the quote from Machiavelli apply to the company of BMW. The BMW’s products are widely known for their high quality; the company strives to provide its clients with ultimate driving vehicles and unique pleasure of driving. This forces the new entrants to the market to spend large amounts of money on marketing, creating a new brand and attracting customers, as well as to invest much in high technology and design. This serves the company of BMW well, for, as a result, the threat of new entrants to the BMW’s target market is low to moderate; potential enterprises are forced to “attack” the market with “great caution.”
“Every prince ought to desire to be considered clement and not cruel”
In chapter XVII, Machiavelli discusses such characteristics of a prince as cruelty and clemency and states that “every prince ought to desire to be considered clement and not cruel” (44). However, the author then comes to a question: is it better to be loved or feared? The philosopher states: “one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with” (44). This issue is directly applicable to the sphere of politics; indeed, if a politician is considered clement, they will have additional respect and support from the people, whereas a cruel politician risks earning hatred for their acts.
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On the other hand, if a politician is feared, but, at the same time, is not considered cruel (this may be reached via building the image of a very lawful person who judges perhaps harshly, but justly), they are capable of earning respect for such actions, while at the same time being (relatively) safe from the enemies who will be afraid to attack them. On the other hand, if a politician is loved, but not feared, it is a possibility that they will not have any support in a crucial and dangerous situation, for the politician’s subordinates will not care about the politician, for they will know that they, being clement, will forgive them in any case.
At the same time, it should be stressed that this statement is true for such forms of government as monarchy, where the monarch has rather much power and is doubtful e.g. parliamentary democracy, where politicians share power with numerous colleagues and opponents, and where they have to regularly compete with rivals to gain more votes from the country’s population in the elections.
Both these quotes can be interpreted to describe the modern world of business, but the first one appears to be more applicable to it. Indeed, it is useful for any firm to be considered clement and not cruel. Being clement here can be understood as taking part in charity events, providing good working conditions and high salaries for the employees, caring about the environment, supplying high-quality goods or services for the customers and caring about them. It is clear that all these traits will significantly better the image of a business and attract new clients, talented workers, and other important stakeholders to the enterprise.
Google is known as such a company; even though the company has gained its fame for an extremely effective search engine, its efforts aimed at being sustainable and creating reliable, user-friendly products attract even more clients to the firm. On the other hand, being cruel can be understood as transferring the factories to the “cost-effective nations” and establishing sweatshops where employees would be forced to work overtime while being underpaid, not caring about nature and e.g. building ecologically dangerous factories or other constructions that pollute or ruin the environment and have adverse effects on the health of the local population, and so on.
The second type of business will gain a negative reaction from many people, perhaps attract the attention of social and environmental activists, and suffer from losses due to the adverse reputation among clients.
The second quote, one that states that it is preferable to be feared than loved, apparently does not apply to the world of business. Indeed, because a company (normally) does not have power granted by law, it is incapable of making somebody fear them; because people can choose whether to buy from this business, invest in it, etc., the enterprise has to earn the trust of the stakeholders (and it is good if “love” is also earned).
At the same time, if a business is trying to become feared, it will only incur the wrath of some people, which will harm its reputation and lead to a drop in profits. For instance, the recent actions of companies that are currently attempting to build dams on several rivers in Honduras, and are harassing and murdering the social activists that are trying to resist their construction, have led to media reports, the wrath of many people, and to even more social campaigns aimed at stopping the construction of the dams (Watts n. pag.).
BMW adheres to the principle provided by the first quote. For instance, Hall provides some examples of how BMW supplies good conditions for its factories’ workers (n. pag). Also, it is known that the company strives to create more fuel-efficient cars, and endeavors to design the vehicles in a way that would allow them to meet all the emission and environmental standards. This, along with the high quality of the company’s product and a high degree of attention to the customer’s service, has supplied the company with the respect and support of its clients, employees, and numerous other shareholders. The company does not attempt to be “feared’ by anybody, for, as it was noted, it would only harm its reputation.
To sum up, it should be stressed that Machiavelli’s principles can not only be applied to politics but also the world of business. It is worth emphasizing that The Prince can supply several useful insights that may help one to conduct business. At the same time, not all the recommendations provided by the philosopher can be useful for an enterprise; some of them might even be harmful in the modern world of politics. Therefore, before using Machiavelli’s recommendations in any sphere, it is necessary to critically assess them and check whether they are still applicable to politics and if they can be used to improve the situation of an enterprise.
Hall, Alan. Built by Mature Workers: BMW Opens Car Plant Where All Employees Are Aged Over 50. 2011. Web.
Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince. n.d. Web.
Watts, Jonathan. Berta Cáceres, Honduran Human Rights and Environment Activist, Murdered. 2016. Web.