One of the most difficult challenges facing a corporate communications/public relations executive is deciding how best to handle a CEO credibility crisis. As you’ll recall, the RadioShack people did absolutely nothing when their former CEO David Edmondson was caught lying about his college degree. Day after day, as the crisis escalated out of control, the corporate communications department issued one "no comment" statement after another. Finally, RadioShack’s board of directors stepped in and fired the CEO.
Today comes the revelation that Raytheon’s CEO William H. Swanson, the celebrated author of "Swanson’s Unwritten Rules of Management," has been ousted by a blogger who revealed that no fewer than 17 of Mr. Swanson’s bon mots are direct rip-offs of a 1944 book written by a UCLA professor.
Corporate spokesperson, Pamela A. Wickham, said some of Swanson’s rules were "…absolutely on track" with the Bruins professor’s work, but said the final Swanson booklet had been shaped by the CEO’s own experiences. Oh baby, talk about doubletalk.
This crisis could have been averted (and still might) if Swanson had merely given Professor King credit as a source for some of his pearls of wisdom. Instead, he and Raytheon have sat back, published the handbook as original thinking and reaped the image rewards of Swanson’s being positioned as something of a latter-day Peter Drucker. And, sadly, rather than counseling the CEO to admit fault and give credit where credit is due, the PR spokesperson is busy spinning the story in a pro-Raytheon way.
It remains to be seen if the Raytheon CEO’s fudging of the truth will cause the same uproar we saw occur at RadioShack. Regardless, corporate communications/PR seems to have lost yet another opportunity to play a senior strategy role in counseling an executive what to say and do in a crisis. But, as the Nick Naylor character in "Thank for Smoking" likes to say, "Hey, we all have to pay for the mortgage."