This is part one in a series about how our impending identity crisis is funking our souls. I’m really fired up about this subject of identity and soul and I’m planning to use this for some upcoming speaking engagements I have later this fall.
In 1853, Napoleon III issued an Imperial decree for a new company to be established in France called Compagnie Générale des Eaux (CGE). CGE was a utility company providing water to several French cities. By 1880, they would be an international water supplier extending their services to Venice, Istanbul, Portugal and beyond.
One hundred years later, CGE would have 2,100 subsidiaries employing over 250,000 people. In addition to the water business, CGE had diversified into waste management, electricity, transportation, education, health care, catering, communications, real estate, entertainment and casinos.
In 1996, after posting record losses of $723 million and racking up $10.5 billion in debt, Jean-Marie Messier is appointed the role of chairman and chief executive. Over the next several years Messier attempted to streamline CGE by selling off several business units, including the original water utility service. The company name was changed from CGE to Vivendi and later Vivendi Universal after recognizing its major entertainment emphasis including the acquisition of Universal Studios.
In 1998 losses were $13 billion and counting, a historic record for a French company. Jean-Marie Messier is fired and the future of Vivendi looks grim. In 2006 they sold an 80 percent stake in the Vivendi Universal Entertainment unit and NBC Universal is formed.
At the core of the CGE/Vivendi story is a lesson in identity and soul. Who is CGE/Vivendi? What business are they in? How did a successful company that has been around for over 125 years get so far off track?
“It’s too American for France,” said the French, while Americans said it was too French to be American. What happened to CGE/Vivendi’s identity–who they were and what they’re all about? Former president of France Jacque Chirac said that “One should be careful that this company does not fall in the wrong hands.” How did CGE/Vivendi lose their way from being a beloved company that was the pride of France to being a bastard hodgepodge of commoditized conglomeration?
I’m afraid a similar story is playing itself out among our personal lives and in the lives of our churches. We’re in the midst of an identity crisis and it’s funking our souls.
Next, I’ll share some characteristics for what it looks when we’re losing our soul.