Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was the Renaissance-era politician, writer, philosopher and name-sake of the adjective “Machiavellian,” frequently used in political discourse to refer to achieving power through cunning, manipulative, cynical, ruthless and immoral means.
“So Nick, thanks for coming in for an interview. We are very interested in having you join our M&A department. I understand that you have been in practice for a number of years. Prior to this, you were an Italian historian, statesman, and political philosopher. Your legal tactics epitomize cunning and duplicity. Even your name conjures up negative thoughts. To be called a Machiavellian lawyer can be the worst form of insult.”
“It is much safer to be feared than loved,” Nick replies.
“Interesting, I see. It really seems that you have one of those ‘rags-to-riches’ type of story. Did that impact you in anyway?”
“He who has relied least on fortune is established the strongest,” Nick says.
“What does not kill me makes me stronger. Yes, I have always liked that approach,” the interview continues. “You became quite active in mergers and acquisitions. Do you have an eye for businesses ripe for a takeover?”
Nick briefly considers the question. “He who does not properly manage this business will soon lose what he has acquired.”
“So looking for a poorly run business seems a good approach. I understand that when you helped your client, Mr. Prince, for your last acquisition, it was a hostile takeover. Did you have to clean house a bit? The directors may have been upset.”
“The prince, with little reluctance, takes the opportunity of the rebellion to punish the delinquents, to clear out the suspects, and to strengthen himself in the weakest places,” he answers.
“Yes, I read that you moved out most of the directors who opposed you. Was this ‘shock and awe’ tactic pivotal?”
“Hence it is that all armed prophets have conquered and the unarmed ones have been destroyed,” he says.
“Well, that is a bit dramatic, but I take your point. I hear you managed to reverse some declared but unearned options for the individual directors. That must have hurt.”
“Men ought to be well treated or crushed, because they can avail themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge,” Nick declares, crossing his arms with self-assurance.
“Sounds a little harsh, but seemed to work. The new board certainly believed in your new direction. Do you think they will stand behind the new CEO?”
“And thus it is necessary to take such measures that, when they believe no longer, it may be possible to make them believe by force,” he replies.
“Get on the bus, or get under it. That is really tough leadership. And you helped implement some new business plans I understand. How did you view the staff who remained?”
“Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed, they are yours entirely,” Nick says matter-of-factly.
“You are saying that as long as you are reaching your goals, people are happy. Did you have any problems with management and the new strategies you were suggesting?”
Nick took a deep breath, exhaled and looked at the ceiling, before replying, “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”
“I’m with you on that. Boy, we implemented this new accounting package and the backlash caught everyone off guard. How did the rest of the staff respond to the fast paced changes?”
“In seizing a state, the usurper ought to examine closely into all those injuries which is necessary for him to inflict, and to do them all at one stroke so as not to have to repeat them daily,” Nick says.
“Yes, if you are pulling off a band aid, better to do it all at once … ”
Nick interjects, “For injuries ought to be done all at one time, so that being tasted less, then offend less: benefits ought to be given little by little, so that the flavour of them may last longer.”
“What sort of leadership qualities did the new CEO Mr. Prince have that really stood out?”
“It is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them,” he says.
“Fake it till you make it. Got it. But to be a good leader, do you agree that credibility is one of the most important criteria?”
“It is necessary to know well how to disguise this characteristic, and to be a great pretender and dissembler; and men are so simple,” Nick says, “and so subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived.”
“I hear you. A leader has to put on a front for staff and can be himself for family and friends. Do you have an open-door policy, you know that speaking truth to power thing?”
“But when everyone may tell you the truth, respect for you abates.”
“I see. Did you implement some sort of bonus retention plan to keep the key staff?”
“He who believes that new benefits will cause great personages to forget old injuries is deceived,” Nick says.
“Ok, so money may not smooth over past slights. Do you have particular ways to discipline staff that may not be following your directions?”
“Leave affairs of reproach to the management of others and keep those of grace in their own hands,” he says.
“Seems like a good idea to pass out the roses yourself, and leave the real dirt to someone else. I know this is confidential. But what can you tell me about any future takeovers?”
“He ought never, therefore, to have out of his thoughts this subject of war, and in peace he should addict himself more to its exercise than in war,” Nick replies.
“Yes, business is like war, and all is fair in love and war. Do you have any guidelines you follow to make your clients a fortune with M&A?”
“Fortune, who shows her power where valour has not prepared to resist her,” he says. “And thither she turns her forces where she knows that barriers and defenses have not been raised to constrain her.”
“Got it. Go for the weakest underbelly. I read something like that in Art of War or something. Thanks for your time Nick, and we will let you know. People certainly are talking about your working approach.”
“Hatred is acquired as much by good works as from bad.”
“Good to know. Have a nice day!”