Enterprise Transformation ~ Lessons from Julius Caesar

Daniel S.  Appleton
Daniel S. Appleton Consultant, DACOM Read Author Bio || Read All Articles by Daniel S. Appleton

They filed into the auditorium, its expanse quite overwhelming to such a small group.  Twelve in all, they were McCafferty's transformation executive, a team committed to enterprise transformation.  McCafferty's job was to lead them in assembling and executing their transformation agenda.  The problem was that they had no coherent idea of what transformation was all about -- only some fractured thoughts like strategic business planning, business process reengineering, IT outsourcing, enterprise architectures, quality circles, business systems planning, ERP, and so on.  Each executive clearly had his or her own end game and strategy.  Some had been educated by IBM, some by BearingPoint, some by Booz Allen, and some by their own staff.  The challenge, as McCafferty saw it, was that their vision of transformation had been all fogged up by these consultants and their technological wizardry.  He wanted to help his team see through the fog and grasp the essential realities of transformation.  His objective, today, was to have them discuss the issues related to transformation without the techno-fog.  Today's experience was his way of doing that.

"Find a seat, folks," McCafferty said.  He looked over the 300 seat auditorium -- a movie theatre he had rented for the morning for a mere $200.  "I suggest you bunch up here in the middle."

"What's this all about?" asked Alan Sverdlow, the CIO, as he shuffled sideways between seat rows, aiming at a center seat.  "If you are going to show us a movie reflecting the current state of affairs in this here enterprise, I have already seen The Titanic."

The group chuckled a little, but murmured their concurrence with Sverdlow's question.

"Well, Allen, I thought it would be useful to get folks out of the office and into a different environment -- an environment where most of us feel pretty relaxed.  Do you remember your high school days when the teacher showed a movie and the class discussed it?  Well, that is what I want to do today.  It won't be The Titanic, sorry to say.  But, I think you will find it enlightening and pertinent.  Actually, it is a clip from a documentary I saw on the History Channel a couple of weeks ago."

"What are we supposed to get out of this so called documentary?" asked Ed Barlow, the CFO.

"Well, I want you to observe a true executive in action effecting an enterprise transformation that lasted over 200 years.  While I am sure you will be taken aback by his style, I want you more to focus on his reasoning and approach.  The executive is Julius Caesar.  The enterprise is the Roman Empire.  The setting is the Roman Senate.  The time is roughly September 15, 46 BC.  The situation is that Caesar has recently been victorious in a civil war against the republicans and Pompey the Great, having decisively defeated Pompey at Pharsalus, in Macedonia.  In winning the civil war, Caesar basically overthrew the Republic, which had been the governing structure of the empire for over 400 years.  But, the Republic had stopped functioning as an effective means of governing what had become a vast empire, an empire that was now under assault in all of her provinces and rotting from within.  Caesar has been made 'dictator for 10 years' by the Roman people."

"Come on, what can we learn from Julius Caesar, McCafferty?" said Sverdlow.  "Isn't this a stretch? I mean, most of our transformational issues these days are technological -- how do we implement the plethora of technologies at our disposal?  You know, intranets, ERP systems, portfolio management, and so on.  That's why we need things like BPR and enterprise architectures and systems engineering.  I doubt that Julius had those issues to deal with?"

"My point, exactly," said McCafferty.  "Caesar did not have computers, cellphones, automobiles, or airplanes. But, my message is that these are all distractions when it comes to really understanding enterprise transformation.  Yes, they are important and necessary.  But, they are not sufficient.  Nor are they silver bullets.  At the end of the day, just implementing new computer software and networks won't mean survival.  Remember when we talked about Enron?  The real issues revolve around effective leadership and the means for changing things through that leadership.  But, let's not get ahead of the game.  I want you to see this show."

He waved at the projection booth; the projector came on, and images began to dance on the screen.  The scene was a meeting of the Roman Senate convened in Pompey's Curia on the Campus Martius in ancient Rome.[1]

"Caesar was already ensconced on the podium in his curule chair, a folding table in front of him loaded with documents he had to find time to read, wax tablets and a steel stylus used to gouge writing in the wax.  He took no notice as men dribbled in, had their slaves set up their stools on the correct tier:  top one for pedarii, Senators allowed to vote but not to speak; the middle one for holders of junior magistracies, namely ex-aediles and ex-tribunes of the plebs, and the front, the lowest tier for ex-praetors and consulars.

"The podium was quite crowded:  Himself and Lepidus, the two consuls, and six of the praetors, including his staunch ally Aulus Hirtius and Volcatius Tullus's son.  That boor Gaius Antonius had his behind on the tribunician bench, along with the other, equally uninspiring holders of the tribunate of the plebs.

"'Enough,' thought Caesar, counting more than a quorum.  He rose to pull a fold of toga over his head and say the prayers, waited for Lucius Caesar to take the auspices, then got down to business.

"'Rome's present situation is much the same as it was when Lucius Cornelius Sulla took up the dictatorship -- she needs one strong hand, and in me she has that hand.  Once I have set my laws in place and made sure that Rome will survive to grow ever greater, I will lay down my dictatorship.  However, I will not do that until my work is entirely finished, and that may take many years.  So be warned, and cease these pleas that I 'return the Republic to its former glory.'

"'What glory?' he thundered, making his appalled audience jump.  'I repeat, what glory? There was no glory!  Just a fractious, obstinate, conceited little group of men jealously defending their privileges.  The privilege of going to govern a province and rape it.  The privilege of granting business colleagues the opportunity to go to a province and rape it.  The privilege of having one law for some and another law for others.  The privilege of putting incompetents in office simply because they bear a great name.  The privilege of voting to quash laws that are desperately needed.  The privilege of preserving the mos maiorum in a form suitable for a small city-state, but not for a worldwide empire.'

"They were sitting bolt upright, their faces slack.  For some it had been a long time since this Caesar had last bellowed his radical ideas to the House; for others, this was the first time.

"'If you believe that all Rome's wealth and privilege should remain in the Eighteen from which you come, Senators, then I will cut you down to size.  I intend to restructure our society to distribute wealth more equally.  I will make laws encouraging the growth of the Third and Fourth Classes, and enhance the lot of the Head Count by encouraging them to emigrate to places where they can rise into higher classes.  Further to this, I am introducing a means test on the distribution of free grain so that men who can afford to buy grain will no longer be able to obtain it free.  At present there are three hundred thousand recipients of the free grain dole.  I will cut that figure in half overnight.  I will also make it impossible for a man to free slaves in order to benefit from the grain dole.  How am I going to do this?  By holding a new kind of census in November.  My census agents will go from door to door throughout Rome, Italy, and the provinces.

They will assemble mountains of facts about housing, rents, hygiene, income, population, literacy, and numeracy, crime, fire, and the number of children, aged, and slaves in every family.  My agents will also ask members of the Head Count if they would like to emigrate abroad to the colonies I will found.  Since Rome now has a huge surplus of troop transport ships, I will use them.'

"Piso spoke.  'Be he rich or poor, Caesar, every Roman citizen is entitled to the free grain dole.  I warn you that I will oppose any attempt to impose a means test!' he said loudly.

"'Oppose all you like, Lucius Piso, the law will come into effect anyway.  I will not be gainsaid!  Nor do I advise you to oppose -- it will harm your career.  The measure is fair and just.  Why should Rome pay out her precious monies to men like you, well able to buy grain?' asked Caesar, voice hard.

"There were mutterings, dark looks; the old high-handed, arrogant Caesar was back with a vengeance.  However, the faces on the backbenches, though alarmed, were not angry.  They owed their position to Caesar, and they would vote for his laws.

"'There will be innumerable agrarian laws,' Caesar continued, 'but there's no need for fury, so don't get furious.  Any land I buy in Italy and Italian Gaul for retiring legionaries will be paid for up-front at full value, but most of the agrarian legislation will involve foreign land in the Spains, the Gauls, Greece, Epirus, Illyricum, Macedonia, Bithynia, Pontus, Africa Nova, the domain of Publius Sittius, and the Mauretanias.  At the same time as some of our Head Count and some of our legionaries go to settle in these colonies, I will also grant the full citizenship to deserving provincials, physicians, school teachers, artisans, and tradesmen.  If resident in Rome they will be enrolled in the four urban tribes, but if resident in Italy, in the rural tribe common to the district wherein they live.'

"'Do you intend to do anything about the courts, Caesar?' asked praetor Volcatius Tullus in an attempt to calm the House.

"'Oh yes.  The tribunus aerarius will disappear from the jury list,' the Dictator announced, willing to be sidetracked.  'The Senate will be increased to one thousand members, which will, with the knights of the Eighteen, provide more than enough jurors for the courts.  The number of praetors will go to fourteen per year to enable swifter hearings in the busier courts.  By the time that my legislation is done, there will hardly be any need for the Extortion Court because governors and businessmen in the provinces will be too hamstrung to extort.  Elections will be better regulated, so the Bribery Court will also stultify.  Whereas ordinary crimes like murder, theft, violence, embezzlement, and bankruptcy need more courts and more time. I also intend to increase the penalty for murder but not in a way that disturbs the mos maiorum.  Execution for crime and imprisonment for crime -- two concepts alien to Roman thought and culture -- will not be introduced.  Rather, I will increase the time of exile and make it absolutely impossible for a man sentenced to exile to take his money with him.'

"'Aiming for Plato's ideal republic, Caesar?' Piso sneered; he was taking the greatest offense.

"'Not at all,' Caesar said genially.  'I'm aiming for a just and practical Roman republic.  Take violence, for example.  Those desirous of organizing street gangs will find it much harder; for I am going to abolish all clubs and sodalities save those that are harmless of intent -- Jewish synagogues, trade and professional guilds -- and the burial clubs, of course.  Crossroads colleges and other places where troublemakers can meet on a regular basis will disappear.  When men have to buy their own wine, they drink less.'

" 'I hear,' said Philippus, who was a huge landowner, 'a tiny rumor that you have plans to break up latifundia.'

"'Thank you for reminding me, Lucius Philippus,' said Caesar, smiling broadly.  'No, latifundia will not be broken up unless the state has bought them for soldier land.  However, in future, no owner of a latifuindium will be allowed to run it entirely on slaves.  One-third of his employees must be free men of the region.  This will help the jobless rural poor as well as local merchants.'

"'That's ridiculous!' yelled Philippus, dark face flushed.  'You're going to introduce legislation to tamper with everything! ...  You, Caesar, are deliberately setting out to strip Rome of any kind of First Class!  Where do you get these insane ideas from?  Help the rural poor indeed!  A man has rights, and one of them is the right to run his businesses and enterprises exactly how he wants!  Why should I have to pay wages to one-third of my latifundia workers when I can buy cheap slaves and not pay them at all?'

"'Every man should pay his slaves a wage, Philippus.  Can't you see,' Caesar asked, 'that you have to buy your slaves?  Then you have to build ergastula to house them, buy food to feed them, and use up twice as many workers to supervise these unwilling men?  If you were any good at arithmetic or you had agents who could add up two and two, you'd soon realize that employing the free is cheaper.  You don't have the initial outlay, and you don't have to house and feed free men.  They go home each night and eat out of their own gardens because they have wives and children to grow for them.'

"'Gerrae!', Philippus growled, subsiding.

"'What, no sumptuary laws?' Piso asked.

"'Sheaves of them,' Caesar answered readily.  "Luxuries will be severely taxed, and while I will not forbid the erection of expensive tombs, the man who builds on will have to pay Rome's Treasury the same amount of money he pays his tomb builder.'

"He looked down at Lepidus, who hadn't said a word, and raised a brow.  'Junior consul, just one more thing and you can dismiss the meeting.  There will be no debate.'

"He turned back to the House and proceeded to tell it that he intended to bring the calendar into line with the seasons for perpetuity, so this year would be 455 days long:  Mercedonius was over, but a 67-day period called Intercalaris would also be added following the last day of December.  New Year's Day, when eventually it came, would be exactly where it was supposed to be, one-third of the way through the winter.

"'There isn't a name for you, Caesar,' Piso declared as he left, his whole body trembling. 'You're a -- a -- a freak!'"

The screen went black and the lights came on.  Everyone just sat there in deep thought.

"Amazing," said Barlow, breaking the spell.  "I actually felt like I was in the Senate with those guys, listening to the Dictator reengineer the Roman Empire.  Do you think this sort of thing actually happened?"

"I do," answered McCafferty, "and more than once.  Caesar was actually preceded by Lucius Cornelius Sulla who literally spent 3 years, from 81 to 79 BC, as Dictator rewriting the Roman constitution.  Sulla retired and died before his system of laws became fully inculcated, and Caesar had to add to them and reinforce others roughly 40 years later.  Sulla tried to reestablish and reinforce the Republic, which had existed since 510 BC when the last King of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus, was banished.  Sulla, you could say, was trying to reengineer the Republic.  Caesar, on the other hand, was intent on transformation.  He loathed the Senate, which, as he said in the beginning of the movie, was rotten to the core and not a form of government appropriate to running a worldwide empire.  The transformation he was seeking -- if I may be so bold -- was to move the Roman business model from one appropriate to controlling a city state, to one capable of ruling a vast empire.  He believed that the new business model could only be implemented by changing the Roman law so that it embraced the notion of empire and dealt with its realities."

"Probably," inserted Barlow, "a transformation as radical to the Romans of the time as was the transformation of Enron from a company expert in transporting gas through its pipelines to a company expert in the development and sale of derivatives."

"Great metaphor, Ed," said McCafferty.  "Maybe we should think of Caesar as the CEO of the Roman Empire.  In his view, then, transformation of the social contract was critical to the survival of the society -- he had to believe that if change did not happen, the society would crumble.  All around him was eloquent testimony that the traditions of Rome were no longer sufficient to hold the society together -- his war with the Republicans was the third civil war in less than 50 years.

Susan broke in, "What is this thing he kept referring to as the mos maiorum?  It sounded pretty important.  Was it part of this decaying social contract?"

"Well, my translation of the mos maiorum is the 'conventional wisdom,' or 'the way things have always been done," said McCafferty.  "Over the nearly 500 years of its existence, the Republic built up a lot of inertia, much of which was represented in its governmental form and its institutions.  It never had a formal constitution, per se, at least if it did, we have no record of it.  Actually, there is little documentation of what the empire was like before 100 BC.  After that time, documentation flourished -- witness Caesar's voluminous writings.  We know a lot about him and what he did.  And, we know that he felt that the only way to preserve Rome was to change its laws."

"So, is that the major point of this adventure, McCafferty?" asked Sverdlow.  "Are you saying that transformation is effected through changing laws?"

"Anyone?" queried McCafferty.

"Well," offered Susan, "I was impressed that he changed the calendar.  He seemed pretty frustrated with the idea that the months of the year did not align with the seasons.  Not only did he name one of the months after himself -- July, I think it is -- but he aligned the months with the sun, not the moon.  Clearly, he felt that the Roman concept of time was critical to its well being.  He was obviously correct in what he did, since we still use the Julian calendar."

"This is an important notion, Susan," said McCafferty, "something that Julius understood while his peers did not seem to get it.  Caesar designated January 1 as the beginning of the year.  Days within the month were originally counted from designated division points within the month:  Kalends, Nones, and Ides.  The Kalends was the first day of the month.  The Ides was the thirteenth of the month, except in March, May, July, and October, when it is the fifteenth day. The Nones was always eight days before the Ides.  Dates falling between these division points were designated by counting inclusively backward from the upcoming division point.  Intercalation was performed by repeating the day VI Kalends March, i.e., inserting a day between VI Kalends March (February 24) and VII Kalends March (February 23)."[2]

"So what is the big deal here," asked Sverdlow.  "What does the calendar have do to with transformation?"

"Well, Alan," said McCafferty, "the common theme of calendar making is the desire to organize units of time to satisfy the needs and preoccupations of society.  In addition to serving practical purposes, the process of organization provides a sense, however illusory, of understanding and controlling time itself.  Thus calendars serve as a link between mankind and the cosmos.  It is little wonder that calendars have held a sacred status and have served as a source of social order and cultural identity.  Calendars have provided the basis for planning agricultural, hunting, and migration cycles, for divination and prognostication, and for maintaining cycles of religious and civil events.  Whatever their scientific sophistication, calendars must ultimately be judged as social contracts, not as scientific treatises.  Caesar was committed to changing the social contract -- to having a measure of time that was consistent enough to be valid throughout the empire, not just for the Romans."[3]

"What was this business about the latifundia and slaves?" interjected Barlow changing the subject.

"Sounded to me like it was a lesson in economics," said Susan.  "My take was that staffing the latifundia entirely with slaves was part of the mos maiorum, and by changing the law the way he did, requiring that one-third of the workers be free men, Caesar was demonstrating that the conventional wisdom was dis-economic."

"Yes, and one more thing: he was setting in motion -- with a slight nudge -- what would be a systemic change in the economic structure of the empire.  You could say he was changing the labor codes, but in reality he was changing the very concept of wealth generation in the empire.  Not only was he introducing free men into the latifundia, he was suggesting that slaves be paid.  What he was banking on was that with this slight push, economic rationality would win out and free men would start working for a living, rather than living off of the dole.

"How about the issue of the grain dole.  What was going on there?" asked McCafferty.

"Another economic ploy," offered Barlow.  "I would guess that he was not excited about using money from Rome's Treasury to buy or subsidize grain for the rich.  Makes sense.  Again, I guess he was confronting the mos maiorum -- which, unless I did not understand, said that the state would buy grain for everyone."

"Right you are, Ed," said McCafferty, "but there is more to this story than meets the eye.  Basically, in times of famine, Rome took it upon herself to feed Roman citizens.  Her objective was to keep the Head Count from rioting because they had no food in lean times.  She imported her grain from Sicilia and what was known as her African Province.  These provinces were governed by Senators who, as Caesar pointed out, were usurious.  On the one hand they would charge lots of money for the grain sold to the state, and then turn around and take the same grain for free.  Again, a minor change in the law set lose seismic waves through the aristocracy.

"He went after them in other ways, too, as was reflected by his logic regarding changes to the court structure.  Notice how he kowtowed to the mos maiorum by not introducing either execution or imprisonment for crimes, but accomplished his goal of crime reduction by increasing the time for exile and not allowing those sentenced to exile to take their money with them.

"Bottom line, though," he continued, "Caesar understood that Rome was its social contract and that contract was a combination of the mos maiorum and its laws; that the two interacted in important ways; and that to effect transformation, a leader had to start by restructuring the social contract, that is, by changing the way people think."

Susan raised her hand to get the floor, receiving a nod from McCafferty.  "I kind of think I encountered the social contract in college in my Poli Sci 1A class.  I think I read about those things when I studied Rousseau, Hobbes, Locke, Plato, Socrates, and the like.  As I think about it, though, given today's modern perspectives, I think I would say that the social contract in a modern enterprise is what we are calling the 'enterprise architecture.'  I think the as-is architecture is the enterprise mos maiorum coupled with its formal rules, aka, its laws.  The to-be architecture would probably come into existence by first changing formal rules -- to reflect the new business model -- and then working the new rules -- ah, laws -- to transform the mos maiorum.  That is exactly the way Caesar seemed to be approaching things."

"Very well, Susan," replied McCafferty.  "It is important to think of the social contract, enterprise architecture or whatever you want to call it as the thought structure that underlies the behavior of large numbers of folks, i.e., an enterprise.  It is that thought structure -- that is, the cognitive map or ontology -- that determines collective behavior.  If you want to change behavior in any group, then, you must first change the cognitive map they share."

"Oh, boy," said Sverdlow, "now, McCafferty, are we going to get another lecture on cognodigms."[4]

"Sure, Alan, but not tonight.  Tonight, on your way home, I want each one of you to think what you would do if you were in Caesar's place.  What if you perceived the empire was in dire straits and it devolved upon you to save it, to transform it?  How would you approach the task?  Would you attack the constitution?  Would you change the laws?  Would you seek to change the mos maiorum?  Would you develop a mission statement, strategic plan, performance metrics, and a new business model?  If so, how would you proceed?"

"Interesting session, McCafferty," said Barlow, and the rest of the group nodded in agreement.  "I know how Sverdlow would approach Caesar's challenge.  First, he would spend about 10 million sesterces building an enterprise architecture for the empire; then use up the rest of the treasury implementing BPR projects to improve the grain dole process (instituting a means test, of course), the consular election process, the latifundia staffing process, the grain supply process, and so on.  He might even send a team to the Kingdom of the Parthians to check out King Mithridates' best practices."

"Don't forget the tiger teams, Alan," said Susan on her way out the door.


[1]  All of the quoted text regarding the Caesar 'documentary' was taken from The October Horse, by Colleen McCullough, Pocketbooks (November 2003), pages 456-463.  return to article

[2]  L. E. Doggett, Calendars, Explanatory Supplement to the Astronomical Almanac, P. Kenneth Seidelmann, editor, with permission from University Science Books, Sausalito, CA 94965.  return to article

[3]  Ibid.  return to article

[4]  Dan Appleton, "Cognodigms," Business Rules Journal, Vol. 4, No. 3 (March 2003), URL:  http://www.BRCommunity.com/a2003/b146.html  (See also The McCafferty Chronicles, at www.dacom.com/mccafferty)  return to article

# # #

Standard citation for this article:

citations icon
Daniel S. Appleton , "Enterprise Transformation ~ Lessons from Julius Caesar" Business Rules Journal Vol. 6, No. 2, (Feb. 2005)
URL: http://www.brcommunity.com/a2005/b220.html

About our Contributor:

Daniel  S. Appleton
Daniel S. Appleton Consultant, DACOM

Daniel S. Appleton has long been a respected consultant and thought leader in the field of business engineering. He has over 35 years of management and consulting experience in both the commercial and government environments, and he has held line positions as Director of Strategic Planning, CIO, and CEO. In 1984, in a series of Datamation articles (including his often-referenced article, "Business
Rules, the Missing Link"), Dan set forth the concept of 'business rules,' portraying them as the primary bridge between IT and the user community, and the primary determinant of organizational behavior in an information age enterprise.

Dan's essential skills lay in his ability to construct and subsequently to implement business models that work and that create value. He has received numerous honors and awards for his leading edge thinking.

Dan is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and has an MBA from American University.

Read All Articles by Daniel S. Appleton

Online Interactive Training Series

In response to a great many requests, Business Rule Solutions now offers at-a-distance learning options. No travel, no backlogs, no hassles. Same great instructors, but with schedules, content and pricing designed to meet the special needs of busy professionals.