Executive Times

Volume 9, Issue 2

February 2007

 

 2007 Hopkins and Company, LLC

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Celestial

For some executives, navigating the workplace successfully can be an experience like gazing at the night sky without any knowledge of astronomy: things are observed, but meaning is obscured. We call to your attention in this issue some stories about executives who’ve been caught in black holes, and others who have found ways to achieve new orbits. As you reflect on the situations that you face, think about what you can learn from others who have found a path through the Milky Way.

 

Fifteen new books are rated in this issue, beginning on page 5. One book is highly recommended with a four-star rating and fourteen books are recommended with three-star ratings. Visit our 2007 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2007books.html and see the rating table explained as well as explore links to all 223 books read or those being considered this year, including 32 that were added to the list in January. 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.

 

Stargazing
Finding the North Star, or the equivalent of clear direction in the workplace, should be relatively easy. It’s usually the brightest object in the sky, and when in doubt, the Big Dipper (your boss, affectionately of course) points the way. When we read the multiple stories about the firing of Citigroup’s head of wealth management, Todd Thomson, we couldn’t help but think he was looking for direction in the wrong places. We read on page one of The Wall Street Journal on 1/24/06 (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB116960799115885885.html) that, “Citigroup Inc. Chief Executive Officer Charles O. Prince, moving to cut costs at the global financial giant, was jolted last week by an expense item from a senior executive. Todd Thomson, chief of Citigroup's wealth-management unit, had used more than $5 million from his division's marketing budget to sponsor a new television program for the Sundance Channel, people familiar with the matter say. The program's hosts were slated to include CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo and actor Robert Redford. An angry Mr. Prince told Citigroup directors last week that the expense was among a number of lapses of judgment by Mr. Thomson -- from improper use of Citigroup's corporate jet to installing a wood-burning fireplace in his office to spending Citigroup money on functions featuring Ms. Bartiromo, according to a person familiar with the situation.” If Thomson missed the cost cutting messages from his boss, he could have found the North Star by paying attention to another prince. According to the Journal, “Last summer, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, Citigroup's largest individual shareholder, publicly fretted that expenses were continuing to outpace revenue growth. Prince Alwaleed called for ‘Draconian’ measures to trim expenses.” We assume that Thomson was stargazing in all the wrong places.

 

What makes you confident that the actions and decisions you and your subordinates make are aligned with the expectations of your bosses? Are your decisions to run your part of the organization supported by others? Are you sure? Are you operating in a way that allows for an orderly and successful orbit, or are you facing dangers in the asteroid belt of your organization?

 

Navigators

The help of an experienced celestial navigator may be useful, especially when moving from one orbit, or one job, to another. Pilots usually listen to their navigators. We read in the 2/5 issue of Business Week (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/07_06/b4020077.htm) about the success of a set of practices that many HR professionals call “onboarding.”  There’s so little time for top executives to make an impact, it’s important to get off on the right foot. According to Business Week, ‘“Boards are more willing to toss people out and [are giving CEOs] a much shorter leash,’ says Michael Watkins, author of The First 90 Days and a former Harvard Business School and INSEAD professor. ‘Many senior executives feel they have a much shorter time frame to prove themselves.’ That may be wreaking havoc in some boardrooms, but it's creating opportunities in others. Executive search firms, leadership coaches, and consultants are building specialized ‘executive onboarding’ services to add to their client offerings. Onboarding, as the name implies, helps new managers get a running start through coaching that assists them with detecting cultural nuances, accelerating strategic plans, and navigating the personality mine fields of their new teams. The term is also now used to describe orienting new hires. Despite having a name only a consultant or HR professional could love—onboarding is also known as management integration or, worse, assimilation coaching—the practice is taking off. … If such coaching strikes you as either common sense or as the kind of skill you would expect top executives to have already developed, you wouldn't be alone. Tamara Minick-Scokalo, who hired PrimeGenesis managing director George Bradt three weeks into her last job as senior vice-president for Europe of Elizabeth Arden Inc., was skeptical at first, too. ‘I thought that a company hiring you in at that level would expect [that you'd have those skills],’ she says. But Minick-Scokalo, who had worked with Bradt at Coca-Cola Co. in the past, knew her new job would be a challenge. Not only was she switching industries, from wine (she had been European general manager of E. & J. Gallo Winery) to cosmetics, but her role would be a new one, designed to help accelerate the company's international growth. Bradt … helped Minick-Scokalo spot peculiarities in Elizabeth Arden's culture. He assisted her and her team in crafting a strategic plan in three months—about half the time, she says, it would have taken her on her own. And he helped alert her to potential clashes with new colleagues who would no longer have direct access to people who now reported to her. ‘He spotted things I would have tripped over,’ says Minick-Scokalo. In her newest post, as president for global commercial at Cadbury Schweppes PLC, she hired Bradt again, this time to work with her and her team, but also to help her prepare during the weeks preceding the new gig. By the time she started on Jan. 2, she had already had face-to-face meetings with all of her direct reports and had drafted an agenda for her first 100 days.”

 

Are you likely to get a jump start for your next move? How can you accelerate your progress? Would onboarding present you or your direct reports with help in moving your group to the next level of performance? As you pilot in your current role, what navigators are helping you?

 

Supernova
One former CEO has moved like a shooting star from success at a major company, to a paragon of good governance as a corporate director, and now to trying to teach government about the lessons that could be learned from business. Andy Grove, Intel’s former CEO, wrote an op-ed in the 1/22 issue of The Wall Street Journal, (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB116942729333183265.html) saying in part, “… I have long been intrigued with the relationship between strategic principles applied to nations and strategies pursued by businesses. … The first question that needs to be examined is this: If business's task is to generate revenue and profits for its owners, what is the equivalent task for a nation and its government? The principal measure is the Gross Domestic Product of the country. Changes in this number are commonly used yardsticks of economic health. … An important task of strategic analysis is to determine the sources of power that affect our business. If competitors, customers or suppliers have undue influence over the behavior of our business, we lose control of our destiny, to our long-term detriment. As an example, if the control of a scarce ingredient that we need in our business is tightly held by other players, can we afford to be indifferent? Oil is just such a scarce resource. Its availability determines the growth of a national economy. … This kind of dependence gives great power to other nations over our destiny. It is not inconceivable that our foreign policy could be determined by them, using energy availability as a lever. … When corporations do not produce, they become irrelevant and often perish. In other words, if the brutal facts are not faced by the leaders, the brutal reality sets in. By contrast, our national strategy-setting and -execution machinery often seem broken. Consider this: Could we pull off the Manhattan Project today? With its complexities of planning and execution, under extreme time pressure? I doubt it. … Why not study how businesses set strategies and execute them, and adopt the best methods to address the overwhelmingly important issues facing our society?” Grove has the credibility to deliver these messages and the communication skill to be clear and blunt. We wonder who’s listening, and who may be prepared to see the light coming from Andy Grove’s corporate star.

 

How do you translate your knowledge and experience from one area to another? What has “long intrigued” you, that you can engage yourself in bringing light and wisdom to others? What brutal facts do you need to face, and once faced, what will you do next?

 

Stardust

In the middle of all the attention in recent weeks to Robert Nardelli’s compensation for his unsuccessful leadership of Home Depot, we ran across an article that made us realize that not all of the stardust sprinkled on departed leaders comes in the form of money. We read in the Moneybox column of Slate on January 15 (http://www.slate.com/id/2157289/) about the swag that appears in SEC filings. “When Sharper Image CEO Richard Thalheimer ‘departed’ the company in late September, he took the 7-foot-tall Superman statue that used to stand in his office. In his separation agreement,  filed on Dec. 29, Thalheimer agreed to pay half-price for the $5,000 Man of Steel statue and for a $15,000 statue of Star Wars' robot C-3PO … In late July, Jacuzzi Brands CEO David Clarke stipulated in his retirement agreement that he would be able to take his ‘photographs of his personally owned sailboats’ when he left at the end of August. … A month earlier, Mannatech's former chief legal officer Bettina Simon requested her office furniture—a desk, executive chair, and two side chairs—as part of her separation agreement. Perhaps my favorite farewell perk—certainly one that many execs will covet for themselves—is provided to retiring Anheuser Busch Chairman August Busch III: ‘draught beer services and packaged products to your residence.’ There's no better way to while away retirement (or forced unemployment) than sucking down a cold, frosty one from your backyard keg.”

Some executives on planet Earth consider swag like this to be out of this world.

 

When you depart, what will stay behind, and what will you want to take with you? Will there be room for everything you want in your space capsule? What farewell gifts will you get, and what will you give?

 


Follow-up

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

Ř      We’ve covered management issues at the Ford Motor Company in many past issues of Executive Times, and note that in recent weeks, the company mortgaged all its assets, recorded a $12.7 billion loss for 2006, and has decided to turn itself around by becoming smaller. There’s a profile of Ford CEO Alan R. Mulally and his challenges in the 1/26 issue of The New York Times that you can read at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/26/automobiles/26ford.html. The Times notes, “Mr. Mulally is in a honeymoon period and has escaped any blame for Ford’s poor results last year, even though the worst performance came last quarter when he was in charge. Ford executives in the past have also made similar claims about breaking with tradition, installing new ways of working and accepting reality. In the end, Mr. Mulally will be judged as much by Ford’s success or failure in the marketplace as for his management techniques.” 

Ř      We’ve been watching the wind and water controversy with State Farm on Hurricane Katrina claims, and last commented about this in the November 2006 issue of Executive Times. The company announced (http://www.statefarm.com/about/media/media_releases/scruggs_katrina.asp) on 1/23 that, “State Farm will participate in a court supervised resolution process to reconsider and fully resolve claims from Hurricane Katrina in three Mississippi coastal counties.  The process is part of an agreement reached through the settlement of a class action lawsuit against the insurer by families who believe their damage claims were not adequately resolved. This agreement can affect some 35,000 Mississippi families, if approved by the U.S. District Court in Mississippi overseeing hurricane litigation.” One of those policyholders, Senator Trent Lott commented, “We’ve been waiting for a development like this. This is good for Mississippi and is so important to people along the Gulf Coast and in South Mississippi in getting on with their lives and rebuilding their homes.” Lott didn’t add, “especially me” to his comments.

Legacy

Laughter

What possible lesson could there be for executives in examining the legacy of a syndicated humor columnist? After listening to and reading many of the eulogies for Art Buchwald following his death in January, a common theme emerged that provides a great example for executives to emulate. He brought joy with him wherever he went. While he may have skewered others with his biting humor, causing some offense at times, he never made enemies because he jokes made people smile, and he never attacked personally. He made friends everywhere. He never disclosed his political orientation. He enjoyed life to the fullest. He smoked big cigars, and ate rich food most days. His longtime friend Mike Wallace commented to The New York Times, (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/18/washington/17cnd-buchwald.html) “No matter what went wrong in his life, he could make a job out of setbacks, out of things that had gone wrong.” When he was surprised that he didn’t die last year after he decided to forego kidney dialysis, he wrote a book about his hospice experience. Read our review of his final book, Too Soon to Say Goodbye, at http.www.hopkinsandcompany.com/Books/Too Soon to Say Goodbye.htm. All executives can learn a lot from how Art Buchwald lived and died.

 


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)

Author

Rating

Review Summary

Purchase

Too Soon to Say Goodbye

Buchwald, Art

***

Graceful. The late syndicated columnist uses his fine wit to tell the story of his decision to forego kidney dialysis, enter a hospice, have his friends say goodbye, and then not die as soon as expected.

Heat

Buford, Bill

***

Delicious. Entertaining story of the author’s experiences at Babbo with celebrity chef Mario Batali, followed by sojourns to Italy where he explores the centuries of experience in preparing great food, and in finding the best ingredients.

Imperial Life in the Emerald City

Chandrasekaran, Rajiv

****

Turf. Former Baghdad bureau chief for The Washington Post tells the story of incompetence, turf battles, and the dominance of ideologues in Iraq under Paul Bremer’s leadership of the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Next

Crichton, Michael

***

Patented. Entertaining and thought provoking fiction about the exploitation of human genes. The author’s note and bibliography will lead some readers to think there’s more fact than fiction here. Perhaps there is.

Killer Instinct

Finder, Joseph

***

Cheating. An ensemble of cheating corporate characters, and thrilling plot momentum, no matter how improbable the situations are. Great for reading on a business trip.

Golden Country

Gilmore, Jennifer

***

Promises. Finely written debut novel with well developed characters and great stories of their immigrant experiences in mid-20th century Brooklyn.

All Aunt Hagar’s Children

Jones, Edward P.

***

Craftsmanship. 14 finely written short stories of life in 20th century Washington D.C., packed with intricate crafting of plot, character and dialogue.

Leap Days

Lanpher, Katherine

***

Surprising. A collection of essays combine to become a memoir of life in the Midwest, a move to Manhattan, marriage, divorce and childlessness, with every page full of wit, honesty and humility.

Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War

Lemann, Nicholas

***

Supremacy. The story of Mississippi’s provisional governor after the Civil War, and how the violence during Reconstruction formed the South.

The Wicked Son

Mamet, David

***

Punchy. Aggressive and authoritative polemic that pokes at anti-Semites and Jews who disdain their own culture. Difficult to read and intentionally controversial, it packs a punch.

The Trouble with Diversity

Michaels, Walter Benn

***

Class. The growing gap between rich and poor and that social cost is ignored while the free aspects of supporting diversity become universal. Author claims inequality, not racial or cultural differences, should be the focus of our political agenda.

Andrew Carnegie

Nasaw, David

***

Unpredictable. Finely written biography, replete with the many contradictions of character and behavior that frustrated those with whom Carnegie interacted. Lots to learn on these 800+ pages.

Black Girl/White Girl

Oates, Joyce Carol

***

Guilt. Exploration of the ways in which two freshman roommates in the mid-1970s from different worlds become transformed.

Truck: A Love Story

Perry, Michael

***

Restoration. Fine writing about author’s life in rural Wisconsin and the ways in which the restoration of an old pickup truck leads to changes in his life.

There Goes the Neighborhood

Wilson, William Julius and Richard P. Taub

***

Coalitions. Sociologists and their students research four Chicago neighborhoods and discover the key to strong community: active coalitions of common interest that unite individuals.

 

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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