Beautiful corporations. Corporate style in action

By: Paul Dickinson, Spring 2000

This book was written in 1999 and published by Financial Times Prentice Hall in 2000. It is offered here in abridged form with some added emphasis (in bold).

Download the original PDF here:

Beautiful corporations

Corporate style in action

Does your company create a strong sense of identity for you, your suppliers and your customers?

Whoever said looks aren’t everything was lying. Fortune magazine’s 1997 review of the best managed companies showed that a strong sense of purpose and identity were two of the factors which made the best companies stand out from the crowd. In other words, if you’re good looking you will have an edge.

The dictionary defines beauty as “delighting the senses and pleasing the mind”. Truly successful, sustainable businesses need to recognize the contribution of designers, architects, stylists and other specialists who can influence potential for growth and dignity in successful organizations.

Beautiful Corporations focuses on an area previously regarded as simply as intangible to show how excellence in total communications style, attitude and execution can and will, if properly managed, deliver tangible business benefits. It shows how successful managers combine business practice with a certain style and thereby communicate positive corporate attitude to gain sustainable competitive advantage.

In this millennium, communicating positive attitude through all available media will be the prerequisite of survival.

Foreword by Anita Roddick

Business dominates the global stage. It is faster, more creative and wealthier than governments, particularly the governments in developing nations who depend upon its expertise. Listen to the economists, and you get the sense that, if we just get our of the way of big business, an unregulated global economy will knit the peoples of the world together into a seamless quilt. In that world, workers earn decent wages, work in modern conditions, and spend their money on goods and services they only dreamed about before. In that world, human rights follow increasing prosperity, and nations are more and more reluctant to go to war with one another because they have too much at stake in each other’s economy. In that world, multinational corporations are the driving force for the common good.

But multinationals are also the driving force in this world, where the flipside of globalization is glaringly obvious: forced labour, sweatshops, children forced to work long hours, the poisoning of air, water and land, the dislocation of entire communities, brutal dictatorships, gross inequalities of wealth. Global planning institutions, like the World Bank, the IMF and especially the World Trade Organization, are part of the problem. They ignore mounting evidence of a very real social catastrophe: poverty, not just economic and spiritual but also poverty of the imagination.

The reality is ugly. Paul Dickinson’s antidote is obvious: beauty. If that sounds too glib to countenance, give his proposition some deeper consideration and it starts to make sense. I share his belief that business needs an aesthetic dimension to communicate its messages. Attention to aesthetics appeals to our finer instincts. So the more ‘beauty’ there is in business, the more it functions as a force for positive social change.

What Dickinson attempts to show is how this evolution is not a superficial process. As he so rightly points out, business has overtaken politics as the primary shaping force in society, which means consumers are ‘voting’ every time they flex their spending muscle, and that in turn makes the vigilante consumer into a powerful organism, capable, as we have seen, of humbling even the likes of Shell and Monsanto.

And how are businesses going to reach this consumer in the future? Dickinson would answer truth, beauty, goodness. Romantic? Perhaps. But there is real pragmatism here as well when he outlines the problems of identity management and the repercussions of ‘values-free’ business practices.

We are already rethinking our approach to the global role of business. The beautiful corporation is an honorable goal.

Anita Roddick, Chairperson,
The Body Shop International, plc.

“This book brings together ideas associated with aesthetics, sustainability, social justice and the business bottom line, to tell a new story of the emerging role of corporations amidst changing world conditions. If part of the task of creating a positive future is to imagine its shape, Dickinson’s practical optimism in the face of challenge makes a significant contribution.”

Gill Coleman,
Director, New Academy of Business

“The idea of Beautiful Corporations is a critical one. The time is perfect for this book to arrive. The corporation that will dominate tomorrow’s business landscape will pursue the social as well as the financial agenda.”

Sean Blair,
Design Director, Design Council

The successful 21st century manager will have to learn to migrate from the muzak economy of the shopping centre to the Mozart economy to mass customization and a richer quality of life.

Everywhere companies and their brands are shouting for our attention in the global language of design. Only the most memorable win. Consumers now expect to experience the pleasing sensations of style and beauty from the companies they deal with.

Beautiful Corporations shows how a strong corporate “personality” is a competitive advantage or differential that the most successful companies utilize as part of their overall strategy.

Corporations rule the world. Beautiful Corporations is about their design and attitude. “Paul Dickinson argues for businesses that increase their profits by being responsible and sustainable. But this is not the dull choice; it requires integrity of organizational design, readily apparent as beauty. As citizens we can recognize and reward beautiful corporations. I welcome Paul’s hopeful messages and his challenge to act from values as a consumer and non-consumer.”

Professor Judi Marshall
University of Bath School of Management



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