Victory: Applying the Proven Principles of Military Strategy to Achieve Greater Success in Your Business and Personal Life

Peter A. Schneider (Associate Professor, College of St Elizabeth Morristown, NJ USA)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 1 October 2004




Schneider, P.A. (2004), "Victory: Applying the Proven Principles of Military Strategy to Achieve Greater Success in Your Business and Personal Life", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 21 No. 6, pp. 439-440.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Are the principles behind military strategy applicable to business? The author thinks so and he is not alone. In Marketing Warfare, advertising executives Ries and Al Trout (1986) applied the theories of the Prussian strategist General Karl von Clausewitz to marketing. Other authors have claimed that various leaders, including Abraham Lincoln, the Florentine diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli, the first Queen Elizabeth, and even Attila the Hun, have something valuable to say to modem managers.

Although I enjoyed reading this book, I am not convinced that the premise is accurate. First, if there were similarities between the military and business, then it would be reasonable to expect the same person to do well in both fields. There are, however, numerous examples of individuals who did well in wartime, but were less successful in peacetime. These include Abraham Lincoln, whose general store failed, and Ulysses S. Grant whose poor investments following his presidency forced him into bankruptcy. Even Winston Churchill, who was an accomplished author and statesman, was dreadful at managing his personal finances. Likewise, there are also examples of individuals who did well in the private sector, but were less successful when it came to fighting wars. General George McClellan was successful in building railroads, but to this day remains a controversial figure for his successes and shortcomings during the Civil War. More recently, Robert McNamara found out that what worked at Ford did not work at the Pentagon. Apparently, competing with General Motors and Chrysler was not the same as fighting in the jungles of Vietnam.

My second objection is empirical. The author is not systematic, but very selective in the examples he chooses and the conclusions he draws. He cites Field Marshall Erwin Rommel as proof that “the offensive almost always has the advantage” (p. 38). Tell that to the generals of the First World War who sacrificed their men in futile offensives along the Somme and at Gallipoli, or even to the managers who came up with Arch Deluxe, the Edsel, New Coke, and other marketing disasters. Likewise, in his chapter on Unity of Command, the author criticizes General Robert E. Lee for failing to maintain contact with his subordinates during his second attempt to invade the North. According to the eminent Civil War historian Catton (1960), the town of Gettysburg accidentally became a battleground when Rebel forces scavenging for supplies ran into Union cavalry. There were numerous twists and turns over the course of three days in which the battle could have gone either way. On the first day, Union troops were driven out of the town and regrouped along Cemetery Ridge. The Confederates tried to outflank the Union on both sides, but narrowly failed to do so. If Stonewall Jackson had not been killed in an earlier battle or if General Gouverneur Warren had not summoned reinforcements to protect Little Round Top, the battle might have ended in a massive Union defeat. Also, if Confederate artillery had been aimed properly, General George Pickett's charge at the Union center on the third day might have succeeded. After reviewing the details of that battle, I find it very difficult to come away with any useful lessons for modern managers.

My third and final objection in applying military strategy to business is ethical. An exchange of gunfire is not quite the same thing as an exchange between producers and consumers. The purpose of war is to break things and kill people, thereby enabling you to impose your will on the enemy. For that reason, General Clausewitz believed that war was an extension of politics. Ideally, exchanges between producers and consumers are win‐win situations that benefit both parties. What is war? In the Ascent of Man, the philosopher and scientist Bronowski (1973, p. 86‐7) believed that war essentially is a criminal act. He wrote:

Of course it is tempting to close one's eyes to history and instead speculate about the roots of war in some possible animal instinct:…But war, organised war, is not a human instinct. It is a highly planned and co‐operative form of theft. And that form of theft began ten thousand years ago when the harvesters of wheat accumulated a surplus, and the nomads rose out of the desert to rob them of what they themselves could not provide. The evidence for that we saw in the walled city of Jericho and its prehistoric tower. That is the beginning of war.

This view of warfare was shared by General William Tecumseh Sherman who, after slashing a 60 mile wide path of devastation from Atlanta to Savannah, remarked that “War is hell.”

The worst thing about using the military analogy is that it lends credibility to the harshest critics of business, like Karl Marx, who associated capitalism with class warfare and oppression. Those authors who want to apply military strategy to business should pause to consider the implications of doing so. Perhaps, businessmen might be more successful if they were to adapt the Golden Rule and love their customers rather than spend so much time trying to outmaneuver their competitors.


Bronowski, J. (1973), The Ascent of Man, Little Brown, Boston.

Catton, B. (1960), The Civil War, Doubleday, New York, NY.

Ries, J. and Al Trout (1986), Marketing Warfare, McGraw‐Hill, New York, NY.

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