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A CEO’s Farewell to the Board of Directors (Arrivederci, Idioti!)

March 7, 2022
I would sincerely like to thank you for showing me what it means to hold onto something too long.

Former IndustryWeek editor John Brandt offers a satirical take on the manufacturing world.

Today I’d like to welcome not only the directors and C-level leadership of Bilgewater Inc., but also other executives—mid-level and otherwise—who don't normally attend our quarterly board meetings. Why? Because today’s agenda will offer a developmental opportunity—or suggestion for an exit ramp—to many of you, especially those not named “Bilgewater.”

I also want to let you know—and this will be a surprise to many—that this is my last meeting as CEO. My resignation takes effect later today, unless our chairman, Old Man Bilgewater—all 102 years of him, snoring over there in the corner —wakes up (doubtful), hears my words, and fires me. Should that happen, one of you—preferably someone whose surname doesn't begin with “B”—will preside over the rest of the meeting.

Sorry, not sorry.

Oh. Wow. I’m sort of moved, and sort of amused: I see a multitude of emotions on your faces:

  • Shock (thank you)
  • Despair (sorry, but deep thanks for your confidence)
  • Confusion (mostly among those named “Bilgewater” or married to someone who is)
  • Fear (don’t worry, I’ll help you find new jobs), and …
  • For a few of you, whether long-suffering employees or enthusiastic fans of corporate car crashes—a look of eager, almost carnal excitement, as you wait with quickened heartbeats to see what happens next in this inexplicably dysfunctional company.

Well: I'm about to lay down the function. With a beat.

And it begins with gratitude.

First, I am grateful to all of you for welcoming me into this company two years ago. (Although, admittedly, not nearly as grateful as I am to be leaving).

You may ask: Why leave? Well: I was told this was a family company, which I—34 years old and unschooled in the ways of corporate sclerotocracies—mistakenly interpreted as an organization steeped in caring, traditional “family” values.


What I learned, instead, is that the recruiter and everybody I talked to about this train wreck were trying, desperately, to say in code that Bilgewater was, in fact, a company run by a family—in the sense that a ramshackle chicken ranch, loosely mismanaged by a gaggle of halfwit cousins, is a “family company.” Honestly, as I drop into mid-manager meetings populated by people whose last names begin with “Bilge,” I’m struck by the fact that this family, during the holiday season, probably requires a group meeting to make a cheese sandwich—much less find, cook and eat a turkey.

But I digress from thankfulness. Allow me to continue:

So, next and foremost, to our beloved Chairman, Old Man Bilgewater: I would sincerely like to thank you for showing me what it means to hold onto something too long. And, to be clear: I’m talking about this company, not your sanity or your good sense, which I’m unsure were ever well-established. I will always remember these board meetings fondly, if only for how you demonstrated how important it was to remain awake, pay attention, and to not be sexist, racist, homophobic or a thousand other horrible attributes. I realize those are low bars, but you sailed beneath each of them with flags flying high every time. Kudos.

To our CFO, Mike (The Mercury Flash) Bilgewater: Thanks for once again waiting—despite having a month to prepare—until 11:30 the night before the meeting to email 187 pages of financials, along with a note imploring us to read everything before our 7:30 a.m. start. Well done. As always, I’m especially grateful that your presentation includes typos and malapropisms that alternately make me cry in agony and howl with delight. For everyone's amusement—because I know none of you (except me) had time or motivation to read this idiocy ahead of time—please turn to Page 73, Line 7: the typo/inadvertent pun is both massively inappropriate and erotically delightful.

To Stan (The Dumbest Man) Bilgewater, our General Counsel: I’m grateful you’ve been here, not only for your advice—always as comical as it is useless—but also for the fact that you somehow maintained your role after being nearly sanctioned or disbarred in every single state in which we operate. More on that later, but suffice to say that I owe the rest of my life to you, more than anybody else in my career. Thanks a million—actually, probably, many millions. Stay tuned.

To Dylan (The Villain) Bilgewater, our Executive VP of Marketing: The PowerPoint deck you offered for this meeting is… how shall I say? Your finest work ever. Really. I am in awe at your simultaneous inability to comprehend your role and your backstabbing skill in getting yourself promoted anyway, despite five years of declining sales and an empty product pipeline. And yet: You seem (sadly) to be smartest of the newest squirt of hapless Bilgewater tadpoles, blindly assuming you deserve all the cushiest lotus pads and worker flies you can digest. I am certain your bouncy, idiotic frog legs will fill my seat in short order.

To Bob (The Knob) Smith, VP of Manufacturing:  You weren’t nicknamed for your bald head; it’s because you exhibit the intelligence of a piece of metal on a kitchen cabinet. Yet in God’s infinite jest, you somehow convinced the only smart Bilgewater cousin to marry you—meaning you now run operations. Based on your performance and concern for worker safety, it’s a daily wonder that OSHA headquarters haven’t yet exploded. Words fail me in describing your incompetence, but, suffice to say, although you know that kanban, gemba, and hoshin kanri are important concepts related to lean, you still don’t understand that it’s not enough to just incant them in a deep voice, as if they were Harry Potter spells. It would be nice, for instance, if you could occasionally arrange them into real sentences, instead of turning them into what read like bad translations of… honestly, I have no idea. But I do have a question: those random notation marks you include, from other languages: Are you trying to impress us, or do they just look pretty on the alternate keyboard?

And, finally, to our random, utterly replaceable Outside Directors: We’ve never heard of most of you, because … why would we? The only reasons you’re here are because you’re friends or creditors of one of the nitwit cousins, or a vendor vassal. Anyway, it’s been my special pleasure to deal with your nonsensical questions and deep senses of entitlement for being on this board, even though no other corporation would have you. In fairness, however, let me confess that your services have been a good deal for me; if we had real directors, they’d ask real questions —after which I (or the Old Man, more likely) would have been fired even sooner. How soon? Well, certainly before I had figured out how take advantage of Bilgewater’s dysfunction by founding a new company, serving the same market but unencumbered by Bilgewater genetics. This start-up will be generously funded later today, and launched stupendously tomorrow.

P.S. I am told by my lawyers that the new firm has no competitive issues, thanks to gaping loopholes in my—and all of your—employment contracts, created by Stan and signed by the Old Man.

In any event, I look forward to seeing you in the competitive arena, especially those of you not named “Bilgewater.” As the constant pinging during this meeting can attest, my phone is already blowing up with non-Bilgewaterian texts. Trust me: there's a place for all of you. Because in the end—and in the beginning—IQ matters.

Just not here.

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. He is the author of  Nincompoopery: Why Your Customers Hate You—and How to Fix It (HarperCollins, 2019).

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