Brandt On Leadership -- Suffocating Under That Golden Parachute?

Dec. 21, 2004
Stop blaming yourself. Fire me instead.

It's not surprising in these days of Sarbanes-Oxley that public companies are quicker than ever to fire their CEOs, whether for accounting chicanery, misguided mergers or general numbskullery. What is surprising is how often the boards of these companies ease the pain of a door hitting a CEO in the backside by padding his wallet with a multi-million dollar severance package just before he tumbles down the front steps. Isn't there some way, you ask, that we can protect shareholders from these shameful, budget-busting payoffs? Sadly, there hasn't been -- until now. Which is why I am proud to announce a new consulting service for anyone faced with the difficult and expensive task of firing a CEO: Fire me instead. That's right: Me. What's more, as part of my new service, you have to pay me only half of what you would have paid your outgoing CEO -- and, let me add, I won't be badmouthing you for the rest of my life, unlike you-know-who. In fact, I can practically guarantee that even at 50% of what's-his-name's $20 million severance package, I'll feel so warm and friendly toward you that you'll get Christmas cards from me for the rest of your life. If you'd like our brochure, please visit www.itwasn'ttheboard' Or call us now at 1-800-BLAME-ME. Still not convinced? Think of the benefits: No nasty confrontation (I'll be bringing bagels and coffee to the meeting. Do you like sesame?). No insufferable, phony bonhomie or press releases. (Say it as plainly as you like: John Brandt screwed up. So we're giving him $10 million to go away.) Fewer shareholders screaming about golden parachutes because, of course, $10 million is half what Old Blowhard wanted, anyway. I know, I know. Some of you are saying: But John, it wasn't your fault. To which I can only sigh and respond: Yes, but there are several million reasons to say that it was. Which takes your CEO -- and you -- off the hook. Others will object: But John, you weren't really the CEO. How can we fire you? To which I say: How much more sense does it make to pay someone twice as much for really screwing up? Especially when he's just waiting for the non-compete to expire, after which he'll go to one of your rivals and beat your brains out. Doesn't it make more sense to fire someone who knows nothing about your business -- who actually doesn't give a rat's behind what you do -- and who can never hurt you by going to work for a competitor? Still others (nasty, prickly sticklers; you know who you are) will insist that what I'm doing -- though less costly to shareholders than the current method of dismissing an incompetent CEO -- still doesn't get at the root of the problem. If the board hired Bozo, you keep saying, then why doesn't the board accept responsibility for its mistake and fire itself? Wouldn't that make boards everywhere put more thought into the choices they make when hiring or firing? Isn't that what we expect of the lowest level managers and employees: That they accept responsibility for their failures? That they not use guile and deception and shopping bags full of money to cover their trails? All I can say to you, you sticklers, is this: You obviously don't understand very much about how capitalism works. Or about the CEOs who sit on each others' boards, practicing the golden rule among themselves against the day when their own parachutes will need some of that gold, too. That's 1-800-BLAME-ME.... John R. Brandt, formerly editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek, is CEO of the Manufacturing Performance Institute, a research and consulting firm based in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

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