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.

3 thoughts on “The “E” in CEO should stand for “excess”

  1. I agree. I understand that many CEOs have put in many long hours and have attained a much higher education than many of us. But, I really feel many can make $1 million less in salary or bonuses and spread it to those who keep them in business. And they can watch their step and keep their noses clean when they make that much.
    For instance, my parents who never call off and get measily 10 cent – 25 cent hourly increases each year could really use an extra $1 an hour one year. My father keeps the ovens, refrigerators, etc running for one of the biggest name bakeries in the U.S. yet he made more in 1980 when he worked in the steel mills. When his union wants a little more, they threaten to shut them down. He shouldn’t have to work so hard at 62 at wages that would make many gasp. But they never complain, living each day honestly, although I’m sure many CEOs would if they had to make a bit less.

  2. I think the title of this post should have been that the “C” in CEO stands for “celebrity.” In an age of the celebrity CEO, I have wonder if more CEOs are up to no good, or if they are just getting caught. In the post-Koslowki business climate, consumers, shareholders and the media are much more aware of the CEO’s actions and they are being held accountable in every way.

  3. When you see excesses like this on the part of CEOs, inevitably it’s a sign that they don’t put much stock in working closely with their PR executive or agency. They view PR as a one-way transaction or event, not a relationship building process. I feel sorry for their PR counsel. The CEOS who seem to be adept at either avoiding crises like this, or handling them intelligently after the crisis has occurred, usually are taking the advice of the PR experts they hired. Not always, but it’s usually the case. When they stumble, it’s because they’re either too arrogant or too clueless to understand what PR is.