When an irresistible force meets an immovable object

Jack Griffin's breathtakingly brief stint as CEO of Time Inc. is yet another example of the wrong Empty-office person being in charge of the wrong place at the wrong time.

Griffin was cherry-picked from Meredith Publishing's magazine division to be a change agent and was the very first CEO in Time's storied history to come from outside the company. He lasted all of six months.

The reasons why are obvious in hindsight. According to reports, Griffin's brusque management style rubbed the establishment the wrong way. Several high-ranking executives bolted almost immediately. Others resented some of Griffin's seemingly insensitive words and actions. To wit:

– He retained strategy consultants to help identify what was broken. Old-timers saw that as an indication Griffin wasn't up to the job.

– He insisted his name appear at the top of every Time publication's masthead. (Even this egocentric blogger would never contemplate such hubris.)

– A devout Catholic, he likened Time Inc. to the Vatican as a way of illustrating its prestige and might. (That analogy might have worked well during the Spanish Inquisition, but certainly not now.)

– In his first town hall meeting, he joked that he “…finally worked at a company where he could read the magazines,” a remark that offended many women since his erstwhile employers publishes such titles as Better Homes & Gardens and Ladies' Home Journal.

As someone once said, success has many fathers and failure is an orphan. Griffin is taking the fall for a mistake that should be pinned squarely on the shoulders of the board of directors. They hired him. They misread his talents and management style as well as the culture of the organization. But, the board stays put while Griffin licks his wounds and decides how best to invest his handsome severance.

The real loser in this charade is Time's already-battered image. In an era when magazines are struggling mightily to stay afloat, it's critical to find a leader who listens and learns before acting. That said, desperate times call for desperate measures. So, if any readers know of a CEO who can turn around a set of floundering magazines while not offending the firmly-entrenched establishment, please alert the Time Warner board of directors. Something tells me they can use all the help they can get.

3 thoughts on “When an irresistible force meets an immovable object

  1. I’m actually not surprised this happened at all. Almost 20 years ago, I was amazed at the lack of foresight and vision of the top three people running the mid-sized agency where I worked (Ed spent some time there too). It led to my first real-world insight into how the business world worked: too many times, the boss surrounds himself (and yes, it’s usually him) with people he feels comfortable with. Boards go along with it and don’t want to rock the boat.
    I know it’s not that simple; it’s hard for me to believe Jeff Bewkes pushed for Griffin because he likes having him around.
    But what do these examples tell you?
    – GM goes through bankruptcy via taxpayer, and then installs “Lieutenant Dan” Akerson, a Carlyle Group money guy with no manufacturing experience as its CEO. By all accounts, he’s destroying what little ground they gained with his hubris and once again the Board of Bystanders does nothing.
    – There’s a horrible, nasty little story going on here in NYC over the venerable Gramercy Arts Club, run since 1985 by an autocratic little twit named Aldon James and his mentally unfit twin brother John. They have a long history of suing, intimidating, threatening and badmouthing people. They’re also the modern equivalent of the Collyer Brothers:
    Yet the Board and its members, who include Martin Scorcese and Uma Thurman, is too scared of them to take control.
    – Finally, there’s billionaire NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg, whom I used to admire for his astute talent judgment. First, he picks the former Indianapolis mayor as deputy mayor, who decides to cut back on sanitation spending before the big blizzard, plus no one is around and in charge when it hits.
    – Bloomberg’s even more pathetic decision is Cathie Black, the former Hearst publishing head. At first I was angry at how corrupt the process was that handed Cathy Black the job without any due diligence. Now it’s become pathetic watching her get kicked around as she feebly attempts to run the NYC school system without any qualifications. Every time I see her picture in a public meeting, I almost feel sorry for her. That has to be the most miserable existence. What’s she trying to prove?
    Sadly, I know there are thousands of other examples.
    Isn’t the better business decision when your top people think differently, and make you just a little bit uncomfortable at times?

  2. American business is amazingly dysfunctional. I never cease to be amazed how many times the same mistakes are made. I also never cease to be amazed to see so many failed CEOs land somewhere else. Is due diligence no longer done?

  3. And in the interim their going to manage via management “committee”? And two of the three members aren’t editorial in nature–one is the CFO and the other is their general counsel? Sounds like a good plan–whenever in doubt let the lawyer and the bean counter take charge. Sheesh…