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. unstable equilibrium says:

    I’d thought about this for a while, and am not convinced by any resolutions that I’ve heard from my friends

    I like to think about the related issue of why hitmen don’t just finance themselves by shorting the stocks of companies whose officers they would hit (or go long on companies whose CEOs are incompetent, and then arrange for a “change of management”).

    After all, these individuals already have the relevant expertise in house, while most firms would either have to diversify or outsource the work to such a specialized firm, anyway.

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  2. Scott says:

    Funny how nobody included the “Godfather” in this analysis — American business at the extreme. The CEOs (Dons) are eliminated when necessary — whether it is for power, money or both. Modern day CEOs are not as ruthless as the Corleones and thus the risk of getting caught (legal system/morality) is a big factor. Remember that classic scene when Michael killed his rivals while his son was baptized — he renounced Satan even though he simultaneously had other mafia members assassinated.

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  3. mannyv says:

    The reason it doesn’t happen is people in the US don’t really think about it. Given the huge number of factors that go into the success or failure of a business, the removal of the CEO won’t have much impact in most companies.

    The fixation on the CEO shows a willful ignorance about how a business actually operates. For the vast majority of companies in the US, the executive team is more important in many ways than the CEO. The CEO may set the direction, but he doesn’t necessarily steer the ship.

    In many other parts of the world (and in some US businesses) the CEO is the linchpin of the organization. For those CEOs, I’m sure they’re aware of the issues.

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  4. David says:

    For the same reason drug dealers avoid shooting up someone else’s neighborhood? It was covered by Levitt’s first TED speech, I don’t recall if it was also mentioned in Freakonomics. (probably)

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  5. Jason Malloy says:

    It’s relatively easy to hire an assassin…

    You lost me at this premise. Your link does not support this assertion. First of all the story was from Mexico, where it’s stated homicides routinely go unsolved. Did anybody check the business death rate in Mexico; it would not be surprising if it was higher.

    Second, the police didn’t know if the advertisement was authentic. This, I imagine, would be a major obstacle to hiring an assassin — for the company to hire the assassin, his services and reputation have to be somehow advertised enough for them to know about him. But if his reputation and deeds are this open and verifiable, then he could also easily be caught and charged for his crimes.

    What is more surprising to me is that self-motivated political assassins are not more common. It would seemingly take only a single man with a minimal amount of training and conviction to take out a cruel dictator like Mugabe, Chavez, the late Castro, etc. It amazes me that there are more low-status sociopaths seeking a name by shooting their innocent class-mates, then by attempting to move world history.

    It would have taken a single politically inflamed farmhand with a clear shot to prevent WWII. Why aren’t there more such people?

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  6. Yury says:

    Who says they don’t?

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  7. Carey says:

    Given that commercial assassinations are an actual established practice in Russia this suggests a promising topic for a business PhD dissertation – comparing the economic, legal and social environments in Russia vs the West that make assassination a comparatively attractive technique in Russia, but not elsewhere (but, it is not unknown even in the U.S. though typically with smaller businesses, for example where partners are targeted).

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  8. Kais Salhut says:

    Two possible reasons:

    1) Assassinating a political figure creates a legacy out of him and draws in more followers to his cause (e.g. Hamas in Palestine). Assassinating a CEO creates a legacy out of his company and could draw more attention and sympathy to the deceased’s company.

    2) Billions of dollars are at stake between mature industries where the number of players is thin. Assassinating the CEO of company X in a market dominated by X and Y will immediately point the fingers at company Y. Hence, if companies want to venture into assassinations then they are probably better off assassinating (sacrificing) their own CEO or an executive to draw more attention and conspiracy theories to their own favor.

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