Executive Times

Volume 9, Issue 1

January 2007


 2007 Hopkins and Company, LLC

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As the pages on the calendar turn to a new year, many executives shift from the abstract stage of planning to the real world stage of implementation. For many, a new year entails the continuation of a direction that has been underway for some time. For others, it’s a chance to embark on a new direction. The best executives shed quickly those vestiges of the past that don’t apply in the new plan year, and lead teams to new behavior that best fits the current plan. Clarity about what’s no longer important becomes a key to success when starting a new plan year. As you read the stories we’ve selected for this issue, think about what no longer fits your plan, and find a way to see if those who report to you are aligned with your vision. Check in to see if your team has joined you on the new path to success, and seek out any stragglers who may be proceeding happily down the path toward achieving last year’s plan. Pay particular attention to those who have spent less time thinking about the new plan than you have; chances are they haven’t seen the new direction with the same clarity as you have.


Fifteen new books are rated in this issue, beginning on page 5. One book is highly recommended with a four-star rating; eleven books are recommended with three-star ratings; and three books received a two-star rating. Visit our 2007 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2007books.html and see the rating table explained as well as explore links to all 192 books read or those being considered this year, including 31 that were added to the list in December. If there’s something missing from the bookshelf that you think we should be considering or if there’s a book lingering on the Shelf of Possibility that you think we should read and review sooner rather than later, let us know by sending a message to books@hopkinsandcompany.com. You can also check out all the books we’ve ever listed at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/All Books.html.


It may be time to dial down the intensity of those executives who have been following Oscar Wilde’s advice that, “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” One executive who had been rewarded for controversy found herself fired after she crossed boundary lines that she didn’t seem to notice. Newsweek reported (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15896702/site/newsweek/) (12/4 issue) that Judith Regan’s ReganBooks imprint at HarperCollins generates $120 million in annual revenues, through specializing in controversial topics and authors. “… few hired hands have operated with the same level of autonomy as Judith Regan, the bad girl of publishing behind the O. J. Simpson ‘confession’ book scandal. … Although her ReganBooks imprint is part of Murdoch's HarperCollins publishing arm, Regan only had to present a general concept of the Simpson book to HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman to get the budget approved for the project.” Following negative public reaction, News Corporation Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch announced (http://www.newscorp.com/news/news_320.html) that the company has canceled publication of the book If I Did It as well as the corresponding FOX broadcast network special. Murdoch said: “I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project. We are sorry for any pain this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown-Simpson.” Exactly what part was “ill-considered” remained fuzzy, but in the weeks following the Murdoch announcement, controversy increased instead of diminishing. According to The New York Times (12/18) (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/18/business/media/18regan.html), Regan and HarperCollins attorney Mark Jackson had a phone conversation on 12/15 that, “was described by sources as heated and confrontational, even for the famously forceful Ms. Regan. Ms. Regan’s alleged comments, which came in the midst of a tense conversation in which she berated Mr. Jackson, were directed at him and Ms. Friedman, who are Jewish, as well as toward other Jews, one of the sources said. That source would not say specifically what Ms. Regan is alleged to have said, but characterized the comments as offensive and inappropriate, but not a hateful tirade.” On hearing of the conversation, Friedman informed Murdock, and he ordered Regan’s dismissal. Regan’s celebrity attorney Bert Fields will be filing suit against News Corporation. He said, in part, “It is not true that my client made anti-Semitic remarks. She is not an anti-Semite. She has not got an anti-Semitic bone in her body. If you don't have a defense, you smear the other person and that is what is happening here.” This dispute will make a fascinating celebrity book and broadcast special. Stay tuned.


How much autonomy is too much within your organization? What constitutes excess? Will any of your star performers dispute your assessment that they may be going too far in the pursuit of success?



The ground battle in the war for talent usually focuses on the individual, but some executives find talent through the wholesale importing of effective teams, a practice that executive recruiters call “lift-outs.” An article titled, “I Can't Believe They Took The Whole Team,” (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/06_51/b4014075.htm) in the 12/18 issue of Business Week, says, in part, “Some managers recruit talent one person at a time. Mark Metz hires en masse. In 2001, Metz, the chief executive of Optimus Solutions, a Norcross (Ga.) outfit that sells and services corporate computer systems, recruited a team of 10 people from a local information technology consulting firm. Two years ago, after luring a manager at a network equipment provider, Metz went on to hire the manager's 30-person team in one swoop. This team strategy has been a part of Optimus since Day One. Within 24 hours of leaving his former employer, Metz brought on board seven former colleagues to help start the new company. While that left him mired in a two-year legal struggle that ended in a settlement and gave him pause in recruiting the next two teams, it didn't stop him. Metz knew from experience that enlisting whole teams could help him ramp up a new business line-IT consulting-and forge a new relationship with a tech provider much faster than if he only had poached the group's leader. ‘You get the dynamics of a functioning team without having to create that yourself,’ says Metz. …  When done well, lift-outs can pack a powerful punch. There's no denying the intangible value of team chemistry that doesn't have to be developed from scratch. Such cohesive units can hit the ground running and quickly find scale in new business lines. And lift-outs can also prompt customers who had relationships with departing team members to eventually follow them, too. That, of course, is just one reason lift-outs are controversial and face legal obstacles in most companies and industries.” Executives who are in a hurry to do something new in 2007 may want to consider a lift-out as a way to push forward quickly. There are lots of potholes to avoid when following this approach. As Business Week reports, “bringing in a group of people who weren't exactly loyal soldiers carries risks. If they aren't a good fit with the firm's culture and if efforts aren't made to integrate them once they get there, they could be gone in no time. ‘It's kind of like having an affair with a married woman,’ says Brian M. Sullivan, CEO of executive recruitment firm Christian & Timbers. ‘If you marry her, remember she cheated on her ex. So don't be surprised if she cheats on you.’”


Are there teams within your organization that might be ripe for a lift-out? Would you be sad to see them go? How can you inoculate your organization from this risk? If you’re trying to do something new in 2007, is there a team ready, willing and able to be lifted out of someplace else, and could they fit your organization?



The planning process for most organizations resolves conflicts about the allocation of limited resources. Some projects and initiatives were approved to be implemented in 2007; others didn’t make the cut. Not every organization controls the implementation of improvements centrally. We read in the current issue of Fast Company (http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/111/open_no-satisfaction.html) an article titled, “No Satisfaction at Toyota,” about how Toyota encourages continuous improvement at its plant in Georgetown, Kentucky. “What is so striking about Toyota's Georgetown factory is, in fact, that it only looks like a car factory. It's really a big brain - a kind of laboratory focused on a single mission: not how to make cars, but how to make cars better. The cars it does make - one every 27 seconds - are in a sense just a by-product of the larger mission. Better cars, sure; but really, better ways to make cars. It's not just the product, it's the process. … It's the story of Toyota's genius: an insatiable competitiveness that would seem un-American were it not for all the Americans making it happen. Toyota's competitiveness is quiet, internal, self-critical. It is rooted in an institutional obsession with improvement that Toyota manages to instill in each one of its workers, a pervasive lack of complacency with whatever was accomplished yesterday. The result is a startling contrast to the car business. … Toyota doesn't have corporate convulsions, and it never has. It restructures a little bit every work shift. … improvements aren't ‘projects’ or ‘initiatives.’ They are the work, … every day, every week. That's one of the subtle but distinctive characteristics of a Toyota factory. The supervisors and managers aren't ‘bosses’ in any traditional American sense. Their job is to find ways to do the work better: more efficiently, more effectively.” Perhaps because they don’t like the status quo, workers find satisfaction in their jobs at Toyota.


What process do you use to implement improvements? What changes can your knowledge workers make on their own? Is your workplace a “big brain?” Who cares about making things better? How does it show?



An article by law professor Richard Epstein in the December issue of CEO Magazine (http://www.chiefexecutive.net) offers a suggested New Year’s Resolution: stop doing special deals to get special concessions for individual companies. “In this regulatory arena, the first duty of the CEO is to place the interests of the firm above those of the marketplace writ large. Yet that approach, if left unchecked, can do serious damage to the overall economic vitality of the nation. … Ever since Adam Smith, economists have warned against the twin dangers of mercantilism and protectionism. Their constant message has been that market competition can thrive only in a regime that meets these simple but vital minimum conditions: strong protection for property rights; faithful enforcement of contracts in accordance with their terms; low taxation over a broad base; and a steadfast resistance to legal barriers to entry by new firms, foreign or domestic, into established markets. Most CEOs champion these principles in the abstract. Too many, however, quickly jettison them to advance the short-term interests of their own firms. … The competitive marketplace takes a horrific beating every time CEOs lead the charge to get special immunities from the antitrust law for their overt and antisocial schemes of market division. … Those special ad hoc exceptions are always for the birds.” Ouch.


Is there a divergence between your company’s interests and those of the market at large? At the same time you say you want to compete in an open marketplace, are you taking actions to create special protections for yourself?



Here’s an update on stories covered in prior issues of Executive Times:

Ø      We’ve covered Enron in many past issues of Executive Times, and we expect that most readers are aware that Jeff Skilling has started his 24-year prison term, and Andy Fastow received a reduced sentence for his government cooperation. After traveling to Minnesota to watch Skilling report to prison, Houston Chronicle business columnist Loren Steffy commented on 12/14 (http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/business/steffy/4403666.html), “For Enron's victims, the employees and investors who lost so much in the company's downfall, seeing Skilling standing inside the doorway of the federal prison here no doubt brings some satisfaction, perhaps even relief. Enron, though, wasn't just Jeff Skilling. Nor, for that matter, was it just Ken Lay or Andrew Fastow or any of the others whose names are now so notoriously tainted by the scandal. It wasn't even just the hundred or so unindicted co-conspirators who drew prosecutorial scrutiny but were never charged with crimes. All of them were simply key ingredients in a far larger stew of ethical and moral failure. Enron was a laboratory of temptation, deception and hubris that illuminates not just the failings of a few men and women, but a far broader human frailty that resides in us all. Enron is our story. It's a tale of greed and glamour and highflying business only on its surface. Underneath, it's the story of incredibly ordinary people who became ensnared in an extraordinary web of lies and treachery that Enron nurtured. … the underlying cause of Enron, the human capacity for deceit, for manipulation, for betrayal, will never go away. It lingers in the halls of corporate America, in the break rooms as well as the boardrooms. It's carried like some latent disease in us all, hidden in our hearts, checked only by our own vigilance.” Stay vigilant.

Ø      We said in the September 2005 issue of Executive Times that despite having called John Bolton a bully in the May 2005 issue and giving space to Stanley Bing calling him a lousy boss in our June 2005 issue, we were prepared for his performance in his role as ambassador to the United Nations to exceed our expectations. They did, but he still resigned in December, having faced the reality that a Democratic congress would not approve his appointment. In accepting his resignation President Bush said, (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/12/20061204.html) in part, “I am deeply disappointed that a handful of United States Senators prevented Ambassador Bolton from receiving the up or down vote he deserved in the Senate. They chose to obstruct his confirmation, even though he enjoys majority support in the Senate, and even though their tactics will disrupt our diplomatic work at a sensitive and important time. This stubborn obstructionism ill serves our country, and discourages men and women of talent from serving their Nation.” We can expect more obstructions to follow in the New Year.



One of the most tangible forms of leadership appears when one has followers. Sometimes it takes the action of a single person to shift a large group of individuals. One figure who epitomized such a shift was former United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, who died in mid-December. A life-long Democrat, she wrote an article for Commentary in 1980 titled, “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” that caught the attention of presidential candidate Ronald Reagan. They met, liked each other, and forged an alliance that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Kirkpatrick also made it easier for other disaffected Democrats to cross the bridge into the Republican Party. Some of us may not have agreed with her, but we respected her convictions and her leadership.


Latest Books Read and Reviewed:

 (Note: readers of the web version of Executive Times can click on the book covers to order copies directly from amazon.com.  When you order through these links, Hopkins & Company receives a small payment from amazon.com.  Click on the title to read the review or visit our 2007 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2007books.html).


Title (Link to Review)



Review Summary


Moral Disorder

Atwood, Margaret


Tangles. Finely written interconnected short stories trace one Canadian family from the 1930s to the present, linking memories, loss and all the tangles that become families.

Yes You Can!

Black, Jonathan


Mumbling. Part expose on motivational speakers, and part how-to. Questions, but not answers, on why so many are paid so much for so little.


Boyd, William


Secrets. In 1976, a teacher receives a manuscript from her mother that tells of life as a spy during World War II. The past and present merge, along with the shifts in the mother-daughter relationship.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

Bryson, Bill


Recollections. Memoir of growing up in the 1950s in Des Moines, packed with humor and recollections of morons, television, toys and superheroes.

The Moral Center

Callahan, David


Selfish. Author claims self-interest is the root of the deterioration in moral values in these aspects of life: family, sex, media, crime, work, poverty, and patriotism. Proposes ways to restore shared moral values.

The Language of God

Collins, Francis S.


Credentials. Scientist-author headed the Human Genome Project and is a fundamentalist Christian. These credentials allow him to tell his personal faith story and explain science clearly.

The Inheritance of Loss

Desai, Kiran


Contrasts. Well written tale of the inherited expectations of two characters, one living with a remote grandfather near the Himalayas during the Nepalese independence movement of the 1980s, and the other struggling to work in Manhattan. Won the Man Booker prize.


Doctorow, E.L.


Cogent. Collection of sixteen powerful essays, mostly about American writers and their works, each finely written and full of cogent analysis.

Saving Graces

Edwards, Elizabeth


Optimism. Moving memoir in plainspoken style has readers caring, and smiling or crying as Edwards describes what others have done to support her, and what she has done to try to help others.

The Lay of the Land

Ford, Richard


Thanksgiving. Ford reprises protagonist Frank Bascombe for a week of emotional intensity during Thanksgiving 2000, punctuated by clear updates on what Frank’s life has been like.


Just, Ward


Disquiet. After an American ex-pat’s French wife is killed by terrorists near their home in a Pyrenees village, he grieves, feels responsible, and considers vengeance or the best friend of the elderly: forgetfulness.

Beauty Junkies

Kuczynski, Alex


Mortality. New York Times writer and cosmetic surgery junkie tells her story and that of millions of others who have sought any means possible to forestall aging, improve appearance, and become somehow enhanced.

End in Tears

Rendell, Ruth


Exposition. This installment of the Chief Inspector Wexford series was the first Rendell novel read, and it may not have been an ideal starting place. Somewhat tedious, with lots of unnecessary exposition.

The Conservative Soul

Sullivan, Andrew


Doubt. While neo-con fundamentalists demand adherence to faith, author claims real conservative strength comes from doubt, and doubt and faith can and should co-exist.

Kicking the Carbon Habit

Sweet, William


Grim. Factual and scientific exposition of the problems with coal and global warming, and a reasonable set of potential solutions in pursuing alternatives to coal.


2007 Hopkins and Company, LLC.  Executive Times is published monthly by Hopkins and Company, LLC at the company’s office at 723 North Kenilworth Avenue, Oak Park, Illinois 60302. Subscription rate for first class mail delivery of the print version is $60.00 per year (12 issues). Web version subscriptions are $30.00 per year. Single issues: $10.00 print; $5.00 web. To subscribe, sign up at www.hopkinsandcompany.com/subscribe.html, send an e-mail to executivetimes@hopkinsandcompany.com, call (708) 466-4650, or fax to (708) 386-8687. For permission to photocopy or e-mail Executive Times, call (708) 466-4650 or e-mail to reprints@hopkinsandcompany.com. We will send sample copies if requested. The company’s website at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/archives.html contains the archives of back issues beginning in the month after the issue date. 

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