Why Don't Business Leaders Assassinate Competitors?

Billions of dollars are at stake in the global market, and cutthroat competition often crosses the line into illegality. Corporate espionage is commonplace.

But why stop at stealing your competitor’s ideas? It’s relatively easy to hire an assassin, and research shows that the death of a CEO can cause marked decline in profits. So, the Overcoming Bias blog asks a good question: Why don’t more business leaders have each other assassinated?

Is it for the same reason that international custom expressly prohibits political assassinations?

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  1. Mike B says:

    I think that for the most part CEO’s are either fungible, immaterial or even counter-productive to the operations of a company. The CEO works with a whole staff of C-level officers who serve at the pleasure of a board of directors who represent owners/shareholders. Corporations are notorious for their diffusion of responsibility so targeted attacks against a single person would cause more trouble than it is worth.

    Now, there are many situations where, like dictatorships, the corporation and its power is an extension of a CEO or owner. Steve Jobs and Rupert Murdoch are good examples. In those cases cutting off the head would effectively cripple the company or at least set it on a path of long term decline. In these cases assassination might actually make sense.

    The real problem is that it is very hard to pull off a covert assassination and not get caught. Without the resources and mentality of a nation-state intelligence entity a corporation would have a great deal of trouble keeping its hands clean. Even the rumour of involvement could render a company vulnerable to reprisals to those with political power.

    It will be interesting to see what happens when corporate entities begin to take over nation states and become state-level actors themselves.

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  2. Uber Desi says:

    Simple. *Most* business decisions are logical, while those related to a nation are ideological.

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  3. Sean says:

    I think it comes down to risk/benefit.

    If I’m a CEO and I order the assassination of a competitor, I’m assuming all the risk of being caught. However, the benefit of the damage to the targeted competitor is shared among all other competitors in that space. I’m taking all the risk, but I share the benefits.

    On the other hand, if I order my CFO to cook the books I’m still assuming the risk of getting caught and thrown in jail. However, this time the benefit is exclusively mine (and my company’s). Nobody else benefits from my illegal act and the risk I’m taking.

    Factor in the chances of being caught and its not worth it to have somebody assassinated. You can get a bigger bang for your risk-buck elsewhere.

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  4. cy says:

    Paula, as a key part of an assassination is keeping the identity of the responsible party secret, why would businesses or executives be worried about “publicizing their incompetence”?

    In the event that their responsibility for the assassination becomes public, people’s knowing of their incompetence (in business or assassination) would be the least of their worries.

    I think Nicholas has it. As soon as one businessman goes after another, they all become fair game.

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  5. Appetite says:

    I think the following arguments are the best ones:

    1) CEOs are paid handsomely whether they fail or succeed

    2) CEOs probably have more respect for each other being in the same class. I have no doubt that major corporations order the murders of ‘little’ people that might lead to a hit in their stock. Look at Ford and Chile for example. How many union leaders do you think have been murdered by corporations?

    I think this question is posed in a way to suggest that business leaders are irrationally moral, but I just don’t buy it. They tend to take more weaselly approaches to immorality such as instituting policies that revoke the insurance coverage of cancer patients on mere technicalities. And they prefer to hide beneath the corporate veil than to do anything that would incriminate them personally.

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  6. Robin says:

    I agree with Sean’s (#19) line of reasoning, but it goes further. As a CEO ordering murder, I’m assuming all the risk personally. Even if none of my company’s competitors benefit, how does the CEO benefit enough personally to take such a risk? Not only do I risk legal punishment, but I’ve also essentially put a price on my head and perhaps on my family as well. The disincentives seem to far our way the incentives to me. If you don’t kill anyone, you’ll still probably be rich.

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  7. Jack Stromberg says:

    Well, here’s an assasination of a former partner/wife that happened in Los Angeles last week:

    http://www.economicpolicyjournal.com/2008/08/three-million-in-gold-bullion-seized-at.html

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  8. Danny L. McDaniel says:

    Businessmen never took the idea into consideration until this article. Now they will reverse engineer the idea and assasinations will be the hotest trend in global business, which will soon be incorporated into MBA degree programs.

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