AT LARGE: Fava beans and chianti

AT LARGE: Fava beans and chianti

So Kerry Packer needed a kidney, and one happened to be easily on hand, its previous owner a loyal employee. Handy, that. Interesting, isn't it, that the owner of said kidney had been Packer's personal helicopter pilot for several decades. I can just imagine the conversations they've had over the years, flying from place to place. The weather, the cricket, baccarat, and by the way what's your blood type?

I presume I'm not the only person who finds it just a little bit disturbing that Packer's employees know whether or not they are tissue-compatible with their boss. Looking at it from the other direction, it's very disturbing if Packer knows which of his employees is a compatible donor. Gives me the wiggies.

Of course, it might explain a few things. How many people do you know who've been in the same job for 20 years? Not many, right? Me neither. Of the people you do know who've been doing the same thing for decades, how many are in high-stress jobs like piloting helicopters? I'm sure your answer is similar to mine. Without wanting to cast aspersions on the qualifications of Mr Packer's loyal pilot, I wonder if his healthy, compatible kidney might have been a factor in career longevity. He is, after all, not only compatible but highly mobile. Keep your friends close, as they say, and your organ banks even closer.

And certainly it could help clear up closely contested bids for promotions and plum postings within the corporation. Say, for example, that a senior position is open, and there are two obvious candidates for the job. Both are equally qualified, both have similar experience and service to the company. Both are well regarded in their current positions. Why not give the job to the one with the boss's blood type?

And if they're both the same blood type, why not differentiate on platelet count? All other things being equal, why not see who's got the healthiest pancreas, or might be willing to part with a retina? Someone sufficiently compatible to provide a mogul with a heart-lung transplant might have quite a future to look forward to. Sort of.

Of course, this kind of practice, if continued over a period of time, would result in a media hierarchy dominated by those with close tissue compatibility with the big bosses. Observe the proximity of James Packer to the top job in that empire, despite not having proven his skills outside his father's company. And, in the other major media corporation, witness Lachlan's continuing rise. No wonder - if it comes to it, these people can donate bone marrow.

Without wishing to sound too sanguine on the subject, those of us in technology could learn something from this. For several decades now, the computer industry has put its faith in intangible qualities such as intelligence, skill, management ability and, most vaporous of all, "vision", when choosing senior executives. I don't think I need to tell you that this has led us to a very precarious position. Who is to say that someone who demonstrates these qualities at one company will continue to do so at another? (Gilbert Amelio's move from National Semiconductor to Apple leaps effortlessly to mind here).

And what about when a transition becomes necessary, such as when Bill Gates decided to step away from the CEO position at Microsoft to become the company's official mascot? The company was forced to replace him with Steve Ballmer, a man whose only qualification is a demonstrated ability to do the job. This will not do. Where is the continuity? Where is the sense that the job Bill started is being carried on by a man as similar to Bill as possible?

And what of the other corporations led by persons of singular quality? Who out there is like Steve Jobs or Larry Ellison? How can we be confident in their successors, if and when the time comes for them to move on?

The only way to be sure you've picked the right person is with detailed DNA testing. I presume that these eccentric billionaires have samples of tissues and vital fluids stored away for future reference. These should be used to screen potential employees and candidates for promotion. The process need not be intrusive - a swab here, a needle there, fill in this medical history, take this cup down the hall, first on the left, there's a dear.

The opportunity here is great. Which recruitment agency will be the first to sign a licensing deal with the Red Cross for access to a worldwide database of potential employees, already typed and cross-matched? Or (here's a thought) has Kerry already lined that one up?

Matthew JC. Powell is group A, Rh (D) positive and keeps his kidneys fit. Contact him on

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