Executive Times

Volume 2, Issue 1

January, 2000


ã 2000 Hopkins and Company, LLC

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From now on, I will …..

Many individuals practice a tradition of making resolutions at this time of year. Often, these resolutions focus on a particular area for self-improvement. Following the holiday eating season, some people resolve to lose weight; others resolve to begin or increase an exercise program. Some individuals resolve to re-allocate their time to align activities with priorities. Some of the most ambitious (or compulsive) among us re-write personal goals at the beginning of each year, and start on to-do lists toward achieving those goals. We remember reading a long time ago that it takes about three weeks of repetitive performance to acquire a new habit. If most of us are capable of keeping focus on a habit for three weeks, why is it then that so many New Year’s Resolutions get broken? Maybe it’s because most of us really hate to change. 


Successful executives, in particular, can become comfortable with their current habits and practices. There’s no good reason to change what seems to be working. At the same time, many executives find their lives out of balance: too much time taken up by some areas of life, and not enough time for other areas. Throughout this issue, we’ll provide some thoughts about resolutions and change and propose ways to make this year a successful one for you and for your organization.  


What resolutions have you made for this year? Have you disclosed those resolutions to someone else who can help you achieve the results you desire? Are your resolutions aligned with your priorities? Are some of your resolutions the same ones you’ve made in prior years? How do you feel about the progress you’ve made? How likely are you to fulfill this year’s resolutions? What do you plan to learn this year, and how will you acquire that learning?


First things first

Dealing with conflicts of interest

The principles and values that we hold as individuals and organizations provide the foundation for success. All observers of individual and organizational behavior can compare what we do against what we say we will do. After questions arose relating to a profit-sharing relationship between The Los Angeles Times and Staples that crosses boundaries between the commercial and editorial components of the newspaper (see The Wall Street Journal 12/20/99), the company took specific actions. Here’s one statement the company made about this issue:

“Recently, our journalistic integrity came under suspicion. In October, we published an issue of the Los Angeles Times Magazine devoted to the opening of Staples Center. As our stories noted, The Times is a founding sponsor of Staples, but we did not disclose to our newsroom or to you, our readers, that we shared the profits on this issue of the magazine with Staples. That was a mistake.”

The Times decided to revisit their policies and published what they call “principles of editorial integrity”. These principles are intended to give direction and guidance to employees, especially when there are choices to consider. The principles clarify that in the event of conflict between the commercial interests of the company and its editorial mission, editorial integrity comes first. (Link here to read the Times statement of principles.) The Times also put one of their media reporters, Pulitzer-prize winner David Snow, to work on an independent report that the paper published in late December. 


Is the guidance and direction you provide to employees adequate for them to behave in ways that are aligned with the principles and values of your organization? In the event of conflict, what comes first? Would employees agree with your answer to what comes first? Would they agree that you act in ways that reinforce the values and principles of the organization? When employees in your organization make mistakes on matters of principle, what happens? 


Core values

Time named amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos as person of the year, so what can we learn from that executive about putting first things first? Here’s one quote: “Amazon credits its Six Core Values — Customer Obsession, Ownership, Bias for Action, Frugality, High Hiring Bar and Innovation — for its success.” Many leaders and organizations define core values as a way to describe the kind of workplace environment that is desired. 


What are your core values? Are those integrated with or separated from your behavior at work? Are your personal values aligned with your organization’s values? How frequently have you had conversations with employees about core values? Is this an area where you can resolve to implement some changes?


Hello Columbus

Home for the holidays

Many marketing companies use Columbus, Ohio as a test market for products because of certain ideal demographics. For three generations of real McCoys, Columbus also served as home base and test market for a banking organization that was recognized for innovation and outstanding success. Known today as Bank One, this was among the first banks to provide drive-in windows, ATMs and Internet banking. John B. McCoy resigned as CEO in December after about six months of performance that disappointed Wall Street. After years of success following a decentralized management model called the “uncommon partnership”, which facilitated the acquisition of many smaller banks, strategies changed. The merger with First Chicago created such a large organization, that a switch to greater centralization was inevitable. Bank One made a big play in acquiring First Card that was meant to be a big driver of earnings growth. Instead, consumers switched cards when certain policies changed, leading to poor overall bank performance. Executive Times reported in July 1999 McCoy’s decision to create www.wingspanbank.com as a start up venture separate from the bank’s own Internet banking site. Now John B. has stepped down, making way for a different leader (Jamie Dimon?) or for the bank to be acquired by a rival (Wells Fargo or Bank of America?). Stay tuned.


How will you know when it’s time for you to step aside? As the prospectus says “past performance is not an indicator of future performance.” Which of your skills will be needed by your organization tomorrow? Are those the skills you want to use, and is this the organization where you want to use your skills? For more on adapting skills, see Jim Barlow’s column in the Houston Chronicle (December 8, 1999).



Outa here

We watched another executive accept responsibility for performance when Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper resigned following the debacle at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle. (See the Seattle Times, 12/7/99).  Some call Stamper a scapegoat for Seattle Mayor Paul Schell; others praise him for being honorable and stepping down. Some recall Stamper’s contentious relationship with the police union and perceived him as an absentee leader; others call attention to his accomplishments, including lower crime rates. What appears clear is that police officers were provided unclear direction from the top, and were too restrained early on during the WTO, and then too aggressive later on. 


When it becomes critical for your direction to be followed, will employees follow you? How clear and confident is your direction? When and if something goes awry, what are you likely to do? What resolutions can you make about improving contentious relationships? How prepared are you for leading in a crisis?


Managing by the numbers

How many?

We’ve always enjoyed Peter Drucker’s guidance around facts: you have to measure the right things, but you’ll never have all the facts you need to make the most important decisions as an executive. As the calendar turns, there seems to be increased reports about numbers and data. Here are a few of the reports that we’ve noticed in recent weeks. The Washington Post reported on December 14 that 50 million people a year suffer from mental illness, and many fail to get treatment. That may explain some of the workplace dynamics that cause you concern, eh? The Census Bureau released the 119th Statistical Abstract of the United States recently, and you can examine numbers in that document to your heart’s content. Here’s one counterintuitive factoid: there’s more farmland in the U.S. today than there was in 1900. On reflection, since there are more people today, we need more food, hence more farmland. Enjoy. 


What numbers are important to know for you to succeed as an executive? What trends are taking place that you’re trying to understand? How well do you share facts with others? Is this an area where some new resolutions may be in order?


Giving away trust

Batteries not included

Dale Dauten is a syndicated business columnist, and we read recently one of his pieces in the Arizona Central about trust in the workplace. We were amazed to read of a company (unnamed) that sent a memo to employees in December stating that all supply requests that include batteries require a supervisor’s signature. The bond of trust between workers and companies is made and broken in all the ways that trust is extended and trustworthy behavior reinforced. If we knew the name of the company, we’d sell them short.


As a leader, how trusted are you by employees? To what degree does your organization extend trust to employees, customers, and other constituents? When trust is violated, what happens? 


Stressed relationships?

Take time out and pay attention

One of our favorite columns in The Wall Street Journal is Sue Shellenbarger’s Work and Family feature. If by any chance, job stress has created friction in your marriage or in other relationships, you may want to read some of the tips from readers in her column of December 22. The basic advice is: spend time together and pay attention.


If you consider certain personal relationships to be higher priorities than your work, what are you doing to build and maintain those relationships? How are your juggling skills in balancing work and home life? Is this an area where some new resolutions may be in order? Have you considered asking for suggestions from your significant ones about how you could improve your side of the relationship? Do you have suggestions for others?



Eschew obfuscation

We were pleased to read in The New York Times (12/8/99) that the Securities and Exchange Commission renewed efforts to push companies to use plain language. We’ve all spent entirely too much time re-reading the same sentences in a futile search for meaning. Simpler writing reduces costs. We’ll even consider reducing the number of dependent clauses per paragraph in future issues of Executive Times. Here’s one of the clearest executive comments we read in December: “General Motors Corp. Vice Chairman Harry Pearce said the No. 1 auto maker's management has ‘absolutely not delivered’ on commitments to raise market share.” (The Wall Street Journal, 12/7/99). Sometimes bad news can be the easiest to communicate.

How clearly do you communicate orally and in writing? How well does your organization communicate with customers and other constituents? How much jargon do you and your employees use every day? Is that necessary? Consider listening through the ears of a new employee, and make those changes that preserve meaning, but eliminate confusion.


Follow Up

Here are selected updates on stories covered in prior issues of Executive Times:

Ø      It took the Major League Baseball umpires a little longer than we forecast, but they finally ousted Richie Phillips as their union leader.

Ø      We’re not impressed by the reforms announced by the International Olympic Committee.  We still haven’t seen a change in leadership, and after reading The Wall Street Journal's (12/7/99) cover story on Juan Antonio Samaranch’s past as a follower of Franco in Spain, we’re more convinced than ever that without a change at the top, it’s business as usual at the IOC.

Ø      The Coca-Cola Company surprised the market when former CEO Doug Ivester announced his resignation in December. Readers of Executive Times were less surprised since we raised issues about pricing in December 1999 and about the difficulties of following Roberto Gouizeta in April 1999.



Service for all people

Most of us walk by homeless people without paying very much attention to them. When we hear sirens in traffic and see fire trucks in our rear view mirrors, we pull over, often with some irritation at a delay in our journey. Six firefighters in Worcester, Massachusetts completed their life’s work in December when they died in a fire after entering a flaming building where they thought some homeless people might have been trapped. The next time you hear someone say, “I’m just doing my job”, think about what such dedicated service means to so many individuals. Say “thanks”.



Joseph Heller died in December at age 76. His own World War II experiences were the basis for what Heller fictionalized in Catch-22, and this anti-war, anti-military novel sold more than 10 million copies especially to those for whom Vietnam was a bungled mess. The book’s title became shorthand for the nature of bureaucracy. We enjoyed reading his autobiography, Now and Then: From Coney Island to Here, and found Good As Gold to be among his best works. We’ve read that we’ll see his last novel next fall, titled “Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man.”


You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown

Charles Schultz announced his retirement in a recent letter to readers. In part, he said, “I have always wanted to be a cartoonist, and I feel very blessed to have been able to do what I love for almost 50 years.” We think that’s a great statement for all workers to take as their own: if you love what you’re doing, do it as long as you can. It also reminds us of a quote from C.S. Lewis “Don’t postpone joy.” Schultz went on to say that he wanted to spend what time he has left with his family. The last original Peanuts strip runs on January 4. We can expect years of reruns.



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Get a life

We turned page after page wondering when the author would run out of comparisons or stories between parenting and business. We reached the end at page 275 and Tom Hirschfeld still hadn’t coverrun out of steam in Business Dad: How Good Businessmen Can Make Great Fathers (and Vice Versa). We’re amazed that we hung on to the very end, and we recommend you take a pass. On the other hand, this might be a good gift for that serious new parent with an MBA that gave a permanent business lens through which all life is viewed. Consider giving it to someone you may not like who fits in that category.


Where Everybody Knows Your Name

We’ve enjoyed listening to Ray Suarez’s National Public Radio program Talk of the Nation, and now we’ve learned that his writing is also terrific. Perhaps because like Ray, we grew up in Brooklyn, and now live in the city of Washington, DC, his messages in The Old Neighborhood: What We Lost in the Great Suburban Migration resonated with our experience. The sense of community that many of have experienced in the richness of city life has been difficult to coverreplicate in the suburbs, and the city problems that many suburbanites fled ended up arriving on suburbia’s doorsteps. Read this book to gain a new perspective on the challenges in cities as diverse as Miami, Cleveland, New York and Chicago. The December issue of The Atlantic Monthly also contains an interesting article titled “Urban Affairs: Divided We Sprawl” which advocates what the authors call “metropolitanism”. The closing lines of that article summarize the issue the authors and Suarez raise:

“Suburbs are not new. They have been in existence in the United States since the nineteenth century.  But hypersuburbanization, decentralization, and sprawl are new---less than two generations old. Americans are now discovering how hard it is to live without a center. In a typical attempt to move simultaneously in opposite directions, they are moving out but also trying to come back. This is not merely nostalgia for some dimly remembered era of civility and good cheer. People are honestly trying to balance the frantic privacy of the suburbs with some kind of spontaneous public life.  By now it seems clear that continued sprawl will make this public life very hard to achieve---at the edges of metropolitan areas, where there are no places to gather, and at the cores of metropolitan areas, where the gathering places are unsafe or abandoned. Is this really a good trade for a big back yard?”


Chimp change

Before reading Reason for Hope, we thought of Jane Goodall as the chimp lady, one of the poster coverpeople from National Geographic. After reading it, we have a different perspective about the animal rights movement, and the complex life Jane Goodall has led. The book is sub-titled “A Spiritual Journey” because at this time in her life, that’s the perspective she has to offer the rest of us. This book is a great example of what we look for in the story of someone’s life: a perspective that’s very unlike our own. Read it. 


Politics unusual

coverEvery presidential candidate seems to have a book out that spins their life stories and political philosophies in ways that we’re likely to hear on the campaign trail all year long. So far, we’ve avoided each of these books equally.  Instead, as a way of girding ourselves for a long campaign year, we read a novel by former Massachusetts governor, William Weld, Mackerel by Moonlight. It’s a well-written story and is one of those quick weekend or long flight pleasures. One reviewer compared Mackerel favorably to Christopher Buckley’s Thank You for Smoking. We laughed out loud throughout Buckley’s book, but it took until around page 158 for us to snicker with Weld. We still recommend Mackerel.


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ã 2000 Hopkins and Company, LLC.  Executive Times is published monthly by Hopkins and Company, LLC at the company’s office at 3800 Cathedral Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20016. Subscription rates for first class mail delivery of the print version are $60.00 per year (12 issues). E-mail subscriptions are $30.00 per year. Single issues: $10.00 print; $5.00 electronic. To subscribe, sign up at www.hopkinsandcompany.com/subscribe.html, send an e-mail to hopkinsandcompany@att.net, call (202) 486-3816, or fax to (202) 338-0065. For permission to photocopy or e-mail Executive Times, call (202) 486-3816 or e-mail to hopkinsandcompany@att.net. We will send sample copies if requested. The company’s website at www.hopkinsandcompany.com/archives.html contains the archives of back issues beginning in the month after the issue date. 



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