Jerry Garcia was benevolent despot

Grateful Dead mainman Jerry Garcia was a benevolent despot whose way of doing business has a lot to teach modern corporations, says Sam Cutler.

The often outspoken former tour manager, who worked with the Dead and the Rolling Stones, believes Garcia’s approach to getting things done is equivalent to Steve Jobs’ success with Apple.

In a blog post Cutler says: “Garcia practiced a form of ‘benevolent despotism’ which his employees were prepared to accept upon the basis that firstly, he was irreplaceable, and secondly, that he was a worthy recipient of trust. People loved Jerry as a ‘wise old bird’ and they loved his music – which was central to the whole endeavour.

“I can think of no CEO that bears comparison in the contemporary economic scene. Warren Buffet and Steve Jobs are the only two that even come close in my mind, and neither of them played in a band.

“They, like Garcia, simply ran companies with unrivalled personal power and authority.

“Apple and the Grateful Dead seemed to have worked on a principal whereby all was fair as long as the mainman didn’t disagree. It allowed for flexibility and innovation, and an environment where people’s ideas were valued and seen as real assets, rather than annoyances.”

The result, says Cutler, was that Garcia’s outfit was able to “remain light on its feet, change its approach when system were failing,” and “alter its strategic planning at a moment’s notice”.

He argues that the collective movement went from strength to strength because it focused on its customers – the fans, known as Deadheads.

“The priority was to make sure their customer base, if you like, always felt involved and catered to by the band’s activities. The Dead made music with them and for them. Every deadhead fetl an intimate connection.”

Culter believes it’s time big business took ideas like Garcia’s into considering if they want to survive. He says: “The old models are outdated. They need to be re-examined fiercely. Throw out the old and bring in the new.”

And although Garcia and Jobs both dabbled with LSD in their time, Cutler doesn’t go as far as to recommend the move. He says the Apple boss is “the only CEO of a major company who gladly credited some of his insights to LSD,” but adds: “It would be a brave man that suggested the captains of industry should all take acid.”

Garcia died of a heart attack during a stay in rehab in 1995. Jobs passed away last year following a cancer battle.

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