Aug 11

Crazy bosses

Crazy bosses I’m whipping through yet another hilarious business tome by Stanley Bing. This one’s entitled ‘Crazy Bosses’ and is chock full of laugh-out-loud tales of totally dysfunctional leaders. In the book, Bing separates crazy bosses into one of five separate species:

1.)   The bully

2.)   The paranoid

3.)   The narcissist

4.)   The wimp

5.)   The disaster hunter

Although it’s a few years old, the book is as timely as ever, what with the recent meltdowns of BP’s Tony Heyward and H-P’s Mark Hurd, as well as California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman’s alleged misbehaviors while serving as eBay’s CEO.

Hands down, the craziest boss I ever worked for served was the CEO of an international management consulting firm. He’d be listed as ‘exhibit one’ in Bing’s chapter on bullies. This particular boss had been a former NFL offensive lineman (and, he took the word ‘offensive’ as his watchword in the business world). The guy was a hulking menace and resembled a fitter, broader and much meaner Tony Soprano. There was no light side to this chief executive, though. He ruled by intimidation, pure and simple.

Among my more vivid memories are:

– The time I asked for a raise after going two years without one. Fond of screaming obscenities at the top of his lungs, the CEO belittled and berated me for having the nerve to even think about a raise. He said I should be ashamed of myself for taking a dime of the firm’s money. That was his way of saying, ‘Sorry kid. No raise.’

– He was fond of always using the speaker phone for his calls since it made him seem even more powerful. One time, we were on the phone with the head of a London PR firm we’d retained to handle an acquisition. Thinking he’d hit the mute button, the CEO proceeded to tell me what a clown the London PR guy was, how poorly he thought of him and his firm, etc. All the while, I’m waving my arms and pointing to the phone. Finally, I scribbled a note telling the CEO he hadn’t activated the mute button. He smiled and said, ‘David, you hearing all this?’ David responded immediately, ‘Oh yes, Tom.’ To which the CEO smiled and said, ‘Well that ought to light a fire under your ass! Get to work.’

– The CEO was street smart, but poorly educated. He often misunderstood fairly basic words and phrases. Once, as we were discussing the firm’s overall marketing campaign, I happened to say we needed to look at our materials en masse so they had one look, feel, voice, etc. I used the expression en masse a second time. That’s when the CEO stopped the meeting and asked, ‘Who the hell is this guy Maas and what does he do for us?’

– Another time I was reviewing materials with the CEO when a call came in from the president of one of the firm’s many divisions. The CEO interrupted our meeting to begin berating his direct report in front of me and six or seven others. After hearing a few excuses from the division leader, the CEO cut him off and said, ‘Jesus Christ, John. If you can’t do this job, I’ve got lots of other smarter and hungrier people than you who’d love the chance. Turn this thing around by the end of the week or book yourself a one-way ticket home!’ He hung up, laughed out loud and got back to the business at hand.

Misbehaving CEOs are far too common in today’s business landscape. What they don’t understand is the immediate impact their words, actions and behaviors have on the organization’s image and reputation.

There’s a good chance my erstwhile NFL lineman turned CEO’s boorish behavior wouldn’t pass muster with the board of a publicly-traded company in the year 2010. Or not.  We parted ways with a distaff version of my crazy boss not too long ago. She’s the CEO of a publicly-traded company and is renowned for dropping the ‘F-bomb’ and threatening immediate termination of any employee who leaks inside information to the press. I remember her first company-wide meeting in front of 5,000 or so employees. After a brief speech, she asked for questions. A meek, mild engineer raised his hand and asked if he could continue to speak to the media with whom he’d developed a relationship over the years. The CEO sighed audibly and said, ‘What a stupid, stupid question!’

Crazy bosses are epidemic. Who was your craziest boss and in which category would you place her? Any and all input welcomed. Oh, by the way, I’d probably list myself in the narcissist category.  I’m the first to admit I’m all about me.

Aug 09

When your CEO isn’t New York Times worthy

Remember the Seinfeld episode in which Elaine Bennis, running low on contraceptive devices,
Nytimes1 had to decide which boyfriends were and weren't sponge worthy?

The episode came to mind recently when we were fired by a client CEO whose story, despite our very best efforts, was found by reporters at the 'old, gray lady' not to be New York Times worthy.

Never mind that we had scored tons of superb placements in outlets such as Fast Company, general business press, vertical industry and trades. The narcissistic CEO felt his epic tale should be splashed across the front pages of the 'print' edition of The Times. Aside from feeding his Mt. Everest-sized ego, the Times hit was uber critical to the CEO because the other power players in his social circle also routinely appeared in the paper. So, he HAD to be there or else.

Unfortunately, the Times editorial staff disagreed (no matter how many angles we tried). And, since we failed to produce the seminal Times hit, we were summarily discharged.

The CEOs self-aggrandizing misbehavior reminded me of the stereotypical typical dotcom founder who, armed with a freshly-minted Stanford MBA, a me-too business model and millions of dollars in venture capital seed money insisted his mug be front and center on the cover of BusinessWeek. His CMO henchwoman (they were almost always henchwomen, BTW) would nod her head vigorously and add, "How could they not put Halsey on the cover?" Well, nine times out of 10, the professional journalists laughed off the pitch as not being cover worthy and the henchwoman would discard us like yesterday's newspaper.

All of which reminds me of a superb observation the legendary Manhattan PR wizard Howard Rubenstein shared with a PRSA audience many years back. When a prospect or client CEO demanded to be on the front page of The New York Times or the cover of Fortune, Rubenstein said he'd let out an exasperated sigh, lean over, pull open his desk drawer and produce a toy gun. “You want to be on the cover of Forbes? Fine. Go murder someone and I'll get you on the cover of Forbes.” I think that sums it up beautifully.

Stanley Bing's book "Crazy Bosses" contains a hilarious chapter about the care and feeding of self-absorbed, narcissistic maniacs who believe the sun rises and sets with their every move. My only addition to Bing's pearls of wisdom would be to determine expectations BEFORE a relationship begins. If you run into the next George Steinbrenner who needs his ego stoked with one front page feature after another (and you believe the actual news value akin to what Lindsay Lohan was served for breakfast in the L.A. County jail, walk away). Tell the prospect he or she isn't client worthy.

Jul 22

RepMan’s Recommended Readings

Every now and then, I come across a book that alters my point of view on a subject or provides
Reading-a-book-on-the-bea-001 fresh thinking that stops me dead in my tracks. When those seminal events occur, I like to share what I’ve stumbled upon with others. And, in this case, all three recommended readings touch on image and reputation in some way, shape or form. So, drum roll please, here are three recommended reads for your summer pleasure:

1.)    “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins. Regardless of your religious persuasions and beliefs, you owe it to yourself to read Dawkins’ treatise on creationism vs. evolution. He explores both the Old Testament and New Testament as well as the Koran, the writings of Confucius and every other latter-day spin-off (think Joseph Smith, Sun Myung Moon, etc.) In the text, Dawkins argues very convincingly that there is no afterlife. Dawkins doesn’t see atheism as a downer however but, rather, as a reason to live a fuller, richer life and to make the most of the precious time we have here on earth. The book is also chock full of amazing quotes, such as this one from Emily Dickinson: “That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.” The book also contains a fascinating chapter on Stalin and Hitler, and the possibility that the latter’s Catholic upbringing may have planted the original anti-Semitic views in his mind.

2.)    “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein. This is a MUST read for any animal lover in general and dog lover in particular. In my humble opinion, it runs rings around “Marley and Me”. The beauty of this book is that it’s written entirely from the dog’s, Enzo’s, point of view. In doing so, it provides some surprisingly insightful views on human behavior. “Art” also contains more plot twists and turns than a Formula One racing course but sadly, like Marley, ends with Enzo’s demise. Surprise, surprise, though, there’s a very cool epilogue that will leave you panting for more.

3.)    "100 Bullshit Jobs… and How to Get Them" by Stanley Bing. I love anything Bing writes. This 2006 handbook on the 100 easiest jobs in the world is a laugh out loud page turner. Bing skewers every occupation from personal publicist and media trainer to industrial psychologist and Tarot card reader. In the process, he ‘ranks’ the bullshit level of each job from 1-200 (with 200 being attained only by Donald Trump who, Bing says, cannot be topped for round-the-clock pure bullshit). In each job description, Bing provides such observations as ‘The Upside, The Downside and The Dark Side.’ In his description of someone who holds a top job at the strategic consulting firm, McKinsey, Bing’s upside is: “License to kill comes with the job” (referring to all the downsizing that McKinsey types do when they’re hired). The downside as: “People run away and hide in the AV closet when they see you coming” and the dark side as: “You are found with a chicken skewer through your neck at the client retreat in Boca.”

So, there you have it. Three totally different books with three totally different POVs that open one’s mind, make one think and cause one to laugh out loud. What more could a blogger ask for? Oh, one criticism of the Bing book, though: how did he not list medical supplies executive as one of the top 100 bullshit jobs of all time?

Feb 29

No apology necessary for not apologizing

Stanley Bing’s blog about the inadvisability of apologizing makes some smart, savvy and, as always, funny
points about a recent tempest in a teapot at Maxim Magazine.

In a nutshell, Bing argues that Maxim management called unnecessary
attention to a blunder by publicly apologizing for it. Lots of Bing readers disagreed, though, and believed it disingenuous to not apologize for the transgression.

Well, yes and no.

Bing is right that Maxim did escalate an otherwise forgettable event with its printed apology. And, Bing’s readers are right to say that apologizing is the only ethical and transparent thing to do in this crazy, post-Enron world in which we live.

Bing’s point, though, is that formulaic crisis management isn’t ALWAYS the smart solution. In fact, Hollywood’s version of crisis management is so pathetically predictable that the apology is seen as the sham it really is.

Bing is a top corporate strategist in ‘real life’ and would, I think, argue for a full apology and complete transparency if a Fortune 500 company were to find itself between a rock and a hard place. That said, I do think there are many shades of grey in any crisis and, sometimes, just sometimes, not apologizing is the way to go.