Today is the 500th anniversary of the coronation
of Henry VIII,
King of England.
Given he was responsible for the premature, and often very
unpleasant, deaths of thousands – including two of his six wives, and numerous
saints – is this something to celebrate?
A lot of people, including perhaps Henry himself, would have
been a lot happier if he had been something other than an absolute monarch with
the power over life and death. In particular, his record shows that he might
have done better as a CEO in the 21st Century.
He had the natural talents for the job. It is generally acknowledged
that he was intelligent, energetic, decisive and ruthless: Thomas More remarked,
perceptively, that he thought Henry loved him as much as anyone but would cut
off his head without hesitation if it gained him a city in France.
That is certainly the attitude shareholders now expect of
He also had the ability to select excellent subordinate
managers, including More, Cardinal
Wolsey, and Thomas
Cromwell, even if his man management skills were poor – he often ended up
executing those subordinates.
His record is that of a very successful manager of change.
If he must take the blame for immense human suffering, he must also share the
credit for the amazing transformation of his kingdom, from medieval backwater
to a wealthy and dynamic Renaissance
power at the heart of European affairs.
He and his management team restructured the government and
the economy, and he passes the first test by which all corporate CEOs are
judged in that he died rich – thanks to a hostile takeover of
He did not, however, die happy – it is said that he was
haunted at the end by the ghosts of the monks he had killed.
Modern managers might envy his absolute power, but most have
less cause for regret.