Feb 25

The ultra rich are different than you and me

Stephen A. Schwartzman is chairman and CEO of the Blackstone Group, the super aggressive, superSchwarzman
successful private equity firm that recently went public.

A profile in the New Yorker chronicles Schwartzman’s rise to the top, paying particular attention to his Machiavellian management style and his Dennis Kozlowski-like personal excesses.

It’s the latter that registered on my image and reputation radar screen. A recent Schwartzman Christmas party, for example, boasted a James Bond theme, featuring models circulating as ‘Bond girls’ and a tuxedo-clad Schwartzman himself posing as ‘Bond. James Bond.’ I wonder if Moneypenny and Q were in attendance as well?

Not content with merely emulating the Ian Fleming playboy, Schwartzman pulled out all the stops at his recent 60th birthday bash. He literally transformed the Park Avenue Armory into a replica of his $37 million Manhattan apartment, replete with a full length portrait of himself. Dinner was served in a faux night club setting with orchids and palm trees. Comedian Martin Short handled MC duties and Marvin Hamlisch, Patti LaBelle and Rod Stewart serenaded him and his guests.

Not bad. Not bad at all. But, not smart for the CEO of a publicly-traded company either. What don’t the Schwartzman, Ebbers, Schrushy and Kozlowski of the business world get? It’s one thing to live life in an opulent, in-your-face manner if one’s finances are private. But, living the high life a la Stephen Schwartzman, is a sure fire way to attract some aspiring whistle blower’s or district attorney’s attention.

I’m not suggesting Blackstone’s big boy has done anything wrong but, if he has, throwing a 007-themed gala might not be the smartest way to stay under cover.

Feb 19

Bill Lane’s advice for blacks, Asians and women

I suppose there’s a certain liberation that goes along with retirement. Secure in the knowledge that one can say what one wants without repercussions, one is free to wax poetic on anything and everything.

And, Bill Lane does just that in ‘Jacked up,’ his behind-the-scenes’ look at Jack Welch’s GE. Lane’s take is a true page-turner. What makes it interesting to me, though, is the way it intersperses communications strategies between often hilarious tales of Jack’s manic swearing, bashing and overall boorishness.

To his credit, Lane’s not afraid to take on controversial subjects that might have cost him his job in days past. For example, he provides the following ‘presentation’ observation and advice to minorities:

– Black males: ‘…your audience will be sincerely rooting for you, hoping that you are not up there because of some affirmative action boost, and out of your league.’ And ‘…the lurking, unspoken, awful question is about competence.’

– Asians: ‘Asian males need to stand up, look serious and forcefully establish the importance of what they are about to say.’ Lane quotes one Asian as saying, ‘…we are stereotyped as bright, brainy, brilliant…but also as bad leaders.’

– Women: ‘…women, most women, are not thought of by men as REAL leaders…their ability to lead largely male organizations that are still faintly pattered on World War II military organizations is in question.’

Lane says blacks, Asians and women need to out think, outflank and out hustle their white male counterparts to succeed in today’s corporate environment. I’m sure there’s some truth in what he says. But, I wish he’d said while he still had some ‘skin’ in the game.

Feb 11

I’m pretty jacked about ‘Jacked up’

Bill Lane’s kiss-and-tell book all about the lunacy and leadership of Jack Welch’s GE is a ‘must read’ forJacked_up_2
anyone in public relations and anyone looking to lead a business.

In essence, the book distills Welch’s methods for not only transforming GE’s business model but, more to the point, how he totally changed the way company executives communicated.

Welch was absolutely ruthless in the way he coaxed, coerced and chastised company leadership as they’d present in front of him. He’d scream, throw papers at them or get up and simply walk out. And, if Jack walked out, the odds were good the presenter would be walking out of GE on a permanent basis.

Jack’s presentation philosophy was as blunt as the man himself: give the audience something they can act on immediately. Don’t bore them with minutia and pie charts. Don’t wax poetic about the time and effort involved in putting the presentation together. And, by all means, DO share best practices fron within and without the company.

Lane goes on and on about Welch’s egomaniacal ways but comes across as pretty self absorbed himself. In fact, the book jacket laughably calls Jacked up ‘…..the only book a leader or aspiring leader will ever need on effective communications.’ It’s excellent but, c’mon Bill, the BEST ever? What would Jack have to say about that?

Dec 10

I agree with Andy Young

Former UN Ambassador, Atlanta Mayor and Civil Rights Leader Andrew Young says he wants BarackAndrew_young
Obama to be president, but not until 2016. Young believes Obama is too much of an outsider and has not built the infrastructure necessary to be a successful chief administrator. As Young put it, ‘you can’t run a government all by yourself.’

I agree. In fact, I tell would-be entrepreneurs the same thing when I lecture at colleges and universities. To be successful in business, one has to build an infrastructure of contacts, content and experience. In most instances, entrepreneurial success is dependent upon who you know, who can open doors for you and who can pave the way. Sure, the blood, sweat and tears are all yours but, in our case, we knew the key agencies, the key media and the key influencers. And they all helped when our turn came.

Obama is a Beltway novice. If he should gain the oval office, I believe he’ll be so stressed in building first-time bridges that he won’t be able to accomplish much of anything. America needs someone who knows the ropes, has an infrastructure in place and can effect change. I’m not saying Hillary’s that person. But, I agree with Andy Young that it sure isn’t Obama.

Aug 17

How NOT to win friends and influence people

Kpbs_logo2_2Ever suffer through one of those never-ending Public Broadcasting fundraising efforts? They’ll debut some
very cool new documentary or concert that will draw you in, but then they’ll interrupt every 15 minutes or so with nattering program managers and pseudo-intellectual, B-level actors or actresses who implore you to give, give,
Splitdoug_2give.

I take no issue with the strategy since PBS does, in
fact, need our individual contributions to continue providing the kind
of content that it, and it alone, seems capable of producing
(Frontline, The American Experience and any Ken Burns documentary come
immediately to mind).


So, why in God’s name, would a local PBS general manager at San Diego station KPBS, go out of his way to alienate current and prospective viewers cum donors with absurd, Neo-Nazi like comments?

This sort of boorish, ‘bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you’ behavior not only undermines the overarching PBS philosophy, it reflects poorly on the organization’s carefully crafted image of being the arbiter of all things liberal, avante garde and sophisticated.

So, here’s one pledge that PBS can count on: you can forget about any donations from this particular blogger/viewer until Neanderthals like San Diego General Manager Doug Myrland are given the hook.

Jul 26

A day in the life

The following is a guest blog by Sophie Hanson, AE, Peppercom London

Hanging out in the poolside sauna yesterday I thought I definitely had the best deal from my job swap with the CEO of Peppercom, Steve Cody.

Last time I saw him he was holed up at my desk knee deep in news searches and press releases in his role as "Sophie, Account Executive for the day."

After some laps of the pool, sitting in the steam room I got to thinking about where you could go with the whole job swap premise. Imagine swapping with your client for the day and having them come into your office. As much as we try to make every client feel most important, the reality there’s a responsibility juggling act going on behind the scenes.

If you flip over from client side to agency side as I have, it’s an eye-opening switch. Working for a large media owner I had incredible expectations of what our agencies should be doing for us, whether PR, advertising or other marketing brethren. Demanding would be an understatement yet they always delivered with a smile. It could have been the steam making me light headed but I was suddenly hit by the realization that yes, I probably was the client from hell.

As a client I’m not sure one ever fully appreciates the art of account handling, but now I realize that the ability to remain positive, enthusiastic and "can-do" even when faced with the most demanding of clients is a skill that can be learned and improved on.

Making the switch to agency side is almost like learning a new language, we don’t just get hits, we "secure" coverage. I’m acutely aware of the need to reinforce pro-activity and have learnt to transfer my client side outlook to the other side. That said, the insight remains unbeatable.

So here’s the thing, I dare a client to spend even just a morning job swapping with an agency contact and prepare to be amazed at how much time we spend working on accounts, and the little things you don’t see us do that deliver such quality work. And similarly, if PROs spent a day in their clients’ office they would soon learn what makes them tick.

As for being CEO for the day, I was surprised that down time wasn’t nearly as relaxing as I imagined, as I constantly wondered how things were going back at the office. Having someone else come do your job is a reality check, it’s easy to get preoccupied with shuttling from one task to another and forget to take a step back to enjoy the fun and creative aspects of the job. Ultimately I learned that all you really need is a blackberry, a phone, self confidence, good team spirit and you can dive right into anything and achieve results from anywhere in the world.

Today I’m back to being Sophie, Account Executive, but as my last CEO task and in true Steve Cody style, I write this guest blog from the train en route to the office.

May 03

If only….

Recently we interviewed some venture capitalists and entrepreneurs who, upon reflecting on their early successes and failures, wished they’d known then what they know now. That thought popped into my head as I addressed a group of University of Vermont college students the other day. It was my third lecture Steve_cody_2 before soon-to-be-graduates in the past six months. As I addressed their questions and concerns, I thought to myself, ‘If only I’d had the opportunity to meet with, and speak to, an entrepreneur/businessperson when I was starting my career.’ Needless to say, I didn’t. As a result, I knew next to nothing when I showed up at Hill & Knowlton as a freshly-minted junior account executive.

So I figured I’d compile my list of ‘If only I knew then what I knew now.’ For example:

– Ninety percent of business is, indeed, just showing up. I never cease to be amazed at how dysfunctional American business & industry is. With a little hard work, inspiration and desire, it’s not too difficult to run rings around the average businessperson. So, check your intimidation at the front door.

– One’s image and reputation is everything. When I was younger, I was quick to accuse and quick to condemn. Happily, I didn’t burn too many bridges along the way. Now, with the possible exception of medical supply executives, I bend over backwards not to offend anyone.

– Networking is fundamental to building one’s image and reputation. I waited way too long to begin building a database and communicating regularly with what should have been an ever-expanding list.

– Voracious reading is fundamental to success. Monday’s UVM business class, for example, depended almost exclusively on the web for news and information. Despite the fact that most were business majors, few, if any, read The Wall Street Journal.

– Voracious reading fuels an expanded vocabulary which, in turn, drives clear, consistent writing (a commodity that is becoming increasingly scarce in business & industry). I believe the best public relations writing mirrors that of the Journal. Wished I’d known that earlier on in life.

– Multi-tasking is imperative. It’s amazing how much productive work one can get done on a conference call. That’s when I wrote this blog.

There’s much, much more to share and reflect on. But, I’d like to ask readers to contribute and answer the same ‘if only’ question: namely, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?

Apr 13

The new trickle down theory

Is the Rev. Al Sharpton the single most powerful man in the country? Is he the most dangerous? Or is he a combination of both?

Boyz_n_da_hood_dj_self_p_diddy_mixt

There’s no doubt in my mind that Sharpton’s assault on all things Imus forced the major marketers to pull their advertising support of Imus (or run the risk of a Sharpton-inspired product boycott). The networks, in turn, fired Imus in order to placate the advertisers. And Imus is gone and we’re left contemplating a new type of trickle-down theory: the loudmouthed activist with an agenda scares the advertisers who, in turn, scare the networks who pull the plug on the politically incorrect source of the controversy.

So, Sharpton has won. And the double standard reigns supreme. It’s ok for Sharpton to pile on the Duke lacrosse players and never be held accountable for his reckless statements. But, Imus, apology or no apology, is gone.

The losers here are the kids. What signal are we sending them? Are we saying it’s ok to say what you want as long as it’s politically correct? Are we saying you needn’t worry about accountability if you’re attacking the mainstream, power sources (i.e. White society)?

The other loser is the already battered image and reputation of American society. What must America watchers be thinking of this latest charade?

I’m all for fairness, justice and equality. But, not when it’s a one way street. So, Rev. Sharpton, when will you start holding Hip-Hop artists to the same standards you’ve held Don Imus?

Apr 12

Where are the apologies?

Dukescandal_2While Imus is apologizing nationwide to the Rutgers women’s basketball team and to the African-American community at large for his stupid comments, where are the apologies from the African-American leaders to the Duke lacrosse students who "went to hell and back" as one of them stated today? Where are the apologies to the innocent students for presuming them guilty and for ruining their reputations?  Where are the apologies to the country for creating a racial incident when none existed? 

Why is no one — at the very least — saying sorry?

And, why do we allow this to happen in our country?  It’s criminal for us to just let anyone get on a soapbox — and shout to the world — without having hard evidence as to someone’s guilt or innocence.  In the Imus case, the disgust is justified and the evidence is as hard as it gets.  But, in the Duke case, which is now similar in many ways to the Tawana Brawley case, there was no hard evidence that these boys were possibly guilty. 

On April 19, 2006, Al Sharpton was a guest on the Bill O’Reilly Show on the Fox News Channel.

The topic was the Duke case. Toward the end of the interview, Sharpton admitted that he didn’t know yet what really happened, and said, "I don’t know yet and I think that the proper thing to do is to support those that want justice."

OK, Al, what justice now do the boys get? Don’t they, at the very least, deserve an apology.

Feb 13

The “E” in CEO should stand for “excess”

America’s CEOs are a class unto themselves who, despite their credentials and experience, continue to come undone one after another.

In just the last 10 days or so, we’ve seen Bob Nardelli and his obscenely high pay package at The Home Depot (enough, no doubt, to underwrite the upkeep of American homes for the next quarter-century) come unglued by irate shareholders.

Nardelli’s no-no was followed by The Cartoon Network’s Jim Samples and his staff’s ill-advised (but quite intriguing) guerilla marketing stunt to drive awareness of the network’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force by placing flashing electronic boxes in various cities. Outraged citizens, homeland security specialists and medical supply executives alike formed an unlikely coalition that forced Samples to stand down on Friday.

Last, but not least, comes news that Doug Parker, the CEO of US Airways was arrested for drunk driving just hours after his company’s $9.8bb bid for Delta Air Lines had been rejected. Talk about drowning one’s sorrows!

Why are chief executive officers coming a cropper in record numbers? Is it the stress placed on them by an unforgiving Street? Is it an inability on their part to keep apace with the revolutionary changes we see in every part of society? Or, as is the case with politics, is the system itself scaring away the best and brightest candidates? I know I would never aspire to be chief executive of a Fortune 500 company. The scrutiny and intense, unrelenting 24×7 pressures simply aren’t worth the pay package.

That said, it’s been fun to watch the Richards, Carlys, Chainsaw Als, Bernies, Kens and Jeffs publicly self-destruct. It’s also been fun to watch the next generation of Bob’s, Jim’s and Doug’s have their moment of infamy. The one thing that does seem to bind them all together is their mutual excesses: whether it’s excessive pay, excessive play or an excessive belief that the rules of society simply don’t apply to them.

So, here’s a vote for officially changing the ‘e’ in CEO to ‘excess.’ I can’t think of a better way to describe what we’re seeing.