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Evil Ceo

Leaked CEO Speech Transcript: A Modest, Unforeseeable Proposal for This Year’s Annual Report

Dec. 15, 2020
Even on Zoom I can see the confusion in your eyes.

December 15, 2020

Members of the Board, this company has faced unique challenges this year. The COVID-19 pandemic has sickened our workforce, dislocated our supply chains, decimated revenues in our legacy businesses, and crippled our ability to invest in new ones. We’ve already violated our bank covenants, and our credit rating is sliding toward the nether regions of the alphabet. Even with a vaccine, I cannot in good faith tell you that revenues will improve before the second half of 2021—or later. Nor can I tell you that this firm will be profitable before 2022 at the earliest.

It's no surprise, then, that investors are calling for my head on a platter— and for all of yours.

But all is not lost.

In fact, even as we have endured unprecedented stresses, we have been presented with a similar, unprecedented, unforeseeble opportunity: COVID-19 itself. And we will be market leaders — innovators! — in capturing this moment.

Even on Zoom I can see the confusion in your eyes. Allow me to explain.

As you know, each year corporations like ours are required by nose-picking regulators to publish annual reports. For the most part, at most businesses, most years are relatively the same—maybe up a little, maybe down—which necessarily leads to the dreary, boring, and safe reports we’ve all come to love and hate. We hire a hack to compose self-congratulatory text about the great job we’re doing, plop it down next to logos of our me-too products, and fill the spaces between with gauzy color photos of diverse groups of happy people, all somehow living their best lives because they bought something they didn’t need—from us.

Honestly, even I can't stand to read our annual reports, and I’m the one getting hosannas for barely meeting our underachieving (but bonus-worthy) goals.

This year will be different.

This year, we will twist the happy, empty smile of our usual annual report sideways into a big, grim “C,” blaming everything on the deadly and—most importantly—unforeseeable COVID-19 pathogen. Not just this year’s troubles, but every stupid decision we ever made in the years leading up to 2020 that contributed to our inability to respond to crisis:

  • Our unforgivable ignorance regarding risk management and contingency planning for COVID-like disruptions? Unforeseeable!
  • Our pigheaded failure to implement new technologies that would make us more nimble in the event of COVID-like societal dislocations? Unforeseeable!
  • Our brazen irresponsibility in crafting a balance sheet so rickety that even the slightest breeze of economic uncertainty causes our bankers to faint? Unforeseeable!

I'm telling you, we haven't had an opportunity to sweep so much accumulated corporate idiocy under the rug since the Global Financial Crisis of ‘08. Maybe even the Crash of ’29. And we’ll do so while appearing empathetic, as we switch this year’s Annual Report design to a somber tone and color palette, with gauzy black-and-white photos of diverse groups of people grateful for our efforts in this time of travail, all somehow being helped and hopeful because they bought something they didn’t need—from us.

I could almost cry.

But here's the best part: We might be the first, but we won’t be the last Board or Corporation doing this. Because if there's one thing I've learned about annual reports over my career, it's that every year, every one of us eventually finds the same, lame excuse for terrible performance and then uses it like a rented sledgehammer to beat the smartass out of cranky investors. Don’t believe me? How many times have you read these classics?

  • A Perfect Storm of [multisyllabic nonsense]
  • Seasonal revenue disruptions due to Hurricane [awkward name and forgettable date]
  • Currency fluctuations negatively impacted expected global revenue as expressed by [incomprehensible, footnoted formula]

In short: We’ll be the first to go unforeseeable, but others will quickly follow. And before you know it—in the blink of an eye, really—all of us will become magically, blissfully unforeseeable together, which—with results like most of us just posted—is exactly where we want to be. Because if all of us can gin up a thick fog of combined unforeseeable and unaccountable results, then none of us individually will be seeable or accountable for everything we didn’t do to make things better, or at least not quite so bad.

And isn’t that what leadership is all about?

John R. Brandt is CEO of The MPI Group, a global research firm. A humor columnist at IndustryWeek since joining as associate editor in 1994, he was promoted to editor-in-chief in 1995, where he served until 2000. His latest book is Nincompoopery: Why Your Customers Hate You—and How to Fix It (HarperCollins, 2019).

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