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.