Executive Times

Volume 5, Issue 3

March 2003

 

ă 2003 Hopkins and Company, LLC

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Pursuit of Happiness

The contentment index seems to be hitting new lows. With war clouds looming, corporate malfeasance stories appearing daily, and the economy in a funk, many executives have little to be happy about these days. And does money buy happiness? The billionaire’s list in the latest Forbes shows that those with the biggest bucks suffer market declines along with the rest of us, although they may have more padding left in their security blankets. Sprint’s top executives thought they found a way to keep their wealth secure, but it looks like they got bad advice, and face giant tax bills. Maybe it’s not all about the bucks. As you reflect on the stories we’re calling attention to in this issue, think about the drivers of your own happiness and personal satisfaction. As a leader, how do you assess the contentment levels of your direct reports? Which of your actions cause the barometer readings in your workplace to rise or fall? Does your leadership add to or subtract from the contentment of workers in your organization? Will your pursuits deliver real and sustainable satisfaction for you and for others?

 

Fifteen new books are rated in this issue, beginning on page 5, two of which received a stingy one-star rating. Turn ahead to check those out. You can also visit our 2003 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/bookshelf.html and see the rating table explained as well as explore links to all 2003 book reviews.

Six Questions
We ran across an interesting survey that’s has been underway monthly by Chief Executive Magazine since October 2002. These six questions are asked every month: 1. How would you rate business conditions in the US currently? 2. How would you rate employment conditions in the US currently? 3. How would you rate investment opportunities in the US currently?  4. How will unemployment change over the next quarter?  5. How do you expect capital spending within your company to change over the next quarter? 6. What do you expect the economy will experience over the next quarter? As you can see, three of the questions apply to today, and three to the future. About 500 of 3,000 CEOs respond to the e-mail survey each month. The February results were released on 2/18 and can be viewed at http://www.chiefexecutive.net/ceoindex/feb03.pdf, and you can expect to see monthly results around the third week of each month. We weren’t surprised that the February results showed that CEOs rated current conditions bad, but rated the future with optimism. “We’re sad today, but we expect to be happy tomorrow.” While the folks at Chief Executive Magazine dice and slice the data, and provide interpretations, we’re a little skeptical about the reliability of the index over the long term, given the random nature of participation, and our unanswered questions about statistical significance. Nonetheless, this can be a quick check for any executive to compare their own answers to these six questions each month to the opinions of other executives.

How do you assess and communicate current and future business conditions to your many interested audiences? How do you gather information from others about their assessment of conditions? What impact do the assessments have on your risk taking, capital spending or other business decisions? On whom do you rely for help in planning for the future of your organization?

 

Funky?
Without using the index described above, Business Week columnist John Byrne assessed the CEO mood as dismal in a recent commentary (2/27/03) (http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/feb2003/nf20030227_8494_db042.htm).  Here’s part of what Byrne had to say:

With a sluggish economy that hangs around like a bad winter's cold and fears over what a war might bring, Corporate America is in something of a stalemate. "A lot of businesses have put themselves on hold," says Colin Crook, an adviser to the Wharton Fellows program at the University of Pennsylvania and former chief technology officer for Citibank. "And the feeling of general economic malaise is worsening it. This is a bleak situation, a double whammy. Nobody sees any positive signs of any sort." In fact, if you add the current business backlash, it's more like a triple whammy. CEOs are feeling understandably swamped by the public outcry against them. The media is more distrustful of corporate leadership than ever before. Shareholders are emboldened by recent governance changes to be more activist. Directors, fearful of increased liability, are quicker than ever to pull the trigger on a chief executive. Employees -- many of them working under the threat of yet another layoff -- are not nearly as admiring, either. Just as many CEOs gleefully assumed much of the credit for their companies' fortunes just a few years ago, they now get the lion's share of blame for slumping stock values that have most investors anxious, if not angry.

When times are good, leaders are venerated. In these bad times, CEOs are taking the blame. Will this mood lead executives to spend less and take less risk? Will that approach just make things worse? Stay tuned.


What’s your current mood? How has your risk-taking changed in the current environment? Have you deferred capital spending? What would take you out of a funky mood?

 

Eye on the Prize

One approach to achieving happiness is described in the March issue of Fast Company in an article titled, “How To Lead a Rich Life” (http://www.fastcompany.com/online/68/richlife.html). Here’s a key excerpt:

We are better paid, better fed, and better educated than ever. Yet the divorce rate has doubled, the teen-suicide rate has tripled, and depression has soared in the past 30 years. The conclusion is inescapable: Our lifestyles are packed with more stuff, but we lead emptier lives. We're consuming more but enjoying it less.

Surely we're rich enough to feel better than this. So what's missing? It might help to revisit that threadbare but forever-relevant question, Does money buy happiness? You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who's willing to argue publicly that it does (although few would give up the chance to find out for themselves). The real story is that all signs point to the reverse: Happiness may help you get rich. In study after study, doing work that you love and having a great marriage and a fulfilling family life are all correlated with financial wealth. The tricky part is that you can't "get" happiness (sorry, Thomas Jefferson) by pursuing it. Put your eye on that prize, and you set yourself on the treadmill of ever-escalating aspirations. We think that we'll be happy when: when we get a better job, when we get more money, when we fall in love. But then, as Samuel Johnson put it, "Life is a progress from want to want, not from enjoyment to enjoyment."

Change your frame of reference, though -- focus on the real prize -- and leading a rich life is surprisingly cheap and highly accessible. The most serious obstacle to achieving it is ourselves. What follows, then, is a values-driven guide to mastering the money issue -- revised and updated for a poor economy. It is informed by cutting-edge insights from the new "economics of happiness," three decades of research on the defining values of America's new leadership class and the state of the American dream, and a comprehensive portrait of the highly effective habits of the truly wealthy. To be sure, this guide has more than its fair share of philosophy. But it also has formulas to measure success, questions to reshape your priorities, and tactics to steer your actions.

This article may help you think about the prizes you’re pursuing and what impact achieving those prizes will have on your life. Think about the mix of activities in your life after reading this article, and make the changes that seem right for you.

Are you doing work that makes you happy? Are your interpersonal relationships enriching? Do you love your life? Do you think of your life as “rich”?

 

Poison Perks
Whatever envy an executive may have felt about former Sprint chairman Bill Esrey’s $150 million pay package a few years back diminished when news came out about his battle with cancer. All envy disappeared when the stories hit the press about the tax shelter plan Esrey followed under what may now be the mistaken advice of Ernst & Young, Sprint’s independent auditors. Tax planning for executives was considered a corporate perk, and E&Y presented a way for Esrey and others to avoid taxes on stock option exercises. Now under review by the IRS, the scheme may not hold up. The Sprint stock price has crashed, and almost all of Esrey’s fortune may be wiped out. Some perk. You can read one of the most comprehensive versions of this sad tale in The Wall Street Journal (2/10/03) (http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB1044667321987995320,00.html).

What risks are you willing to take under the advice of trusted advisors? What contingency plans do you have? Do your personal finances and how you manage them have an impact on your organization? Do you think about how your behavior reflects positively or negatively on your organization?

 

Stop That, Stupid!
Whatever skills you’ve mastered to become the multi-tasker you are today, be prepared for the impact of new data on the failure of your chosen pathway to happiness. We read with alarm in The Wall Street Journal (2/27/03) (http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB1046286576946413103,00.html) that multitasking is a big failure. “A growing body of scientific research shows one of jugglers' favorite time-saving techniques, multitasking, can actually make you less efficient and, well, stupider. Trying to do two or three things at once or in quick succession can take longer overall than doing them one at a time, and may leave you with reduced brainpower to perform each task.” As if we hadn’t killed enough brain cells already. We’re ready to focus, if only we could remember what we were about to do.

 

Do your shortcuts take longer? Have you damaged any relationships because of your inattention? Can you estimate the cost to you and others of the way you try to do more than one thing at a time?

 

Follow-up

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

Ř      The January 2003 issue of Executive Times reported that Ford Chairman CEO William Clay Ford might be selling the IPO shares he was allocated from Goldman Sachs. While Billy saw this as a personal investment unrelated to his corporate position a few months ago, we read recently in The New York Times (2/14/03) (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/14/business/14FORD.html) that while a committee of Ford’s independent directors said there was no reason why he was obligated to do so, Billy would be selling the 400,000 shares he acquired, and will donate the profits to charity.

Ř      We’ve paid little attention to stories about mall mogul Al Taubman since we reported in the May 2002 issue of Executive Times about his anticipated jail time and fine for his involvement in the Sotheby’s and Christie’s scandals reported in 2000 (April 2000 and October 2000 issues). We were outraged when we read in Slate (2/25/03) (http://slate.msn.com/id/2079270/) that because of governance changes Taubman shareholders missed an opportunity to make $125 million. According to Slate, while 85% of shareholders supported an acquisition by Simon Property Group, the founding families of Taubman Centers, Inc., retained voting control, an option they exercised six years after their IPO. The families voted to take a pass on the premium offered by Simon.

 

Legacy

Calm and Comfort
Growing up, millions of workers formed their expectations of a comfortable and safe workplace when they watched and listened to the calm and comforting messages from Fred Rogers presenting ways for them to deal with life’s challenges on each day’s Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Millions of managers fail to meet the expectations of those millions of workers, perhaps because the managers grew up watching The Three Stooges, Howdy Doody, The Mickey Mouse Club and Bozo’s Circus. The younger workers received messages that helped them feel good about themselves, and the importance of respecting others, while the managers absorbed messages about funny pranks, pies in the face, slapstick humor, and the value of conformity over individuality. It’s no wonder there are some generational clashes in the workplace, given the influence of television on both workers and managers. The generational split doesn’t necessary divide between workers and managers, but also among peers. Often, the framework for making the workplace like a comfortable neighborhood, doesn’t receive the communication appropriate for the importance of the issue. All of us want our workplaces to feel safe and comfortable for all workers. One obituary (The New York Times, 2/28/03) (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/27/obituaries/27CND-ROGERS.html) commented, “Long ago, in the days before grownups learned how say to "mission statement," Mr. Rogers wrote down the things he wanted to encourage in his young viewers. Self-esteem, self-control, imagination, creativity, curiosity, appreciation of diversity, cooperation, tolerance for waiting and persistence.” That sounds a lot like the kind of workplace environment executives are looking to create all over the world.

 

The legacy of Fred Rogers should also remind all of us to find ways to talk about important things at work, especially in a calm and reassuring manner.


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 2002 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/bookshelf.html).

 

Title (Link to Review)

Author

Rating

Review Summary

Purchase

A Box of Matches

Baker, Nicholson

One a Day. Each chapter opens with the lighting of the fireplace with a match. Readers are invited into the mind of the lighter which Baker exposes day by day in multiple ways. Quirky and interesting.

Finders Keepers: The Story of a Man Who Found $1 Million

Bowden, Mark

Stupid Addict. An account of a week in the life of Joey Coyle who tried to get away with keeping the $1 million that fell off an armored truck, and that he found on the street. Depressing.

Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World

Critser, Greg

First Circle of Fat Hell. A tedious and fascinating account of how we’ve gotten so fat, and why Earl Butz takes a lot of the blame. Some interesting case studies and a shocking view of the future.

Leadership

Giuliani, Rudolph W.

Like a Rock. Whether you like Rudy and his positions or not, you’ll enjoy reading his 14 points for leadership and his many practical examples of leading effectively.

Rude Awakenings: Overcoming the Civility Crisis in the Workplace

Gonthier, Giovinella

Excuse Me. More than you’d ever want to know about solving problems in the workplace. Readers who experience a civility crisis in the workplace will probably love this book. The rest of us are the case studies. Take a pass.

The King of Torts

Grisham, John

Reform. Warning: this book only worth reading by rabid Grisham fans or people who want to read whatever’s popular. Weak characters, poor dialogue. It’s all here.

Disturbance of the Inner Ear

Hackett, Joyce

Lingering Melody. Debut novel embraces the cello, grief, concentration camp life and its aftermath, love, loyalty, and survival. Tightly written inner and outer journey of a fascinating woman and a cello named the Savant.

The Kingmaker

Haig, Brian

Uncle. Haig pumped out too many pages without honing his writing skills. With his latest, we cried “uncle.” Predictable plot in military, legal non-thriller.

The Dinner Club: How the Masters of the Internet Universe Rode the Rise and Fall of the Greatest Boom in History

Henry, Shannon

Fly on the Wall. The moguls let a reporter sit in on the dinners of their monthly investment club. She lets readers in on what happened behind closed doors and how the investments of this group of experts performed.

When the Women Come Out to Dance

Leonard, Elmore

Moves. Leonard presents tightly packed short stories with memorable characters, skillful dialogue, and great imagery.

Benjamin Franklin

Morgan, Edmund S.

Statesman Scientist. As Morgan says early on, this is a short biography “meant only to say enough about the man to show that he is worth the trouble.” It’s no trouble at all to turn the pages of this well-written life of Franklin.

Changing the Rules: Adventures of a Wall Street Maverick

Siebert, Muriel

Mickie’s Moves. Entertaining chronicle of how the first woman to buy a seat on the New York Stock Exchange did it, and how she’s since vanquished many of her adversaries.

Final Witness

Tolkien, Simon

Inheritance. Yes, J.R.R. Tolkien’s grandson can write. Come to the Old Bailey and find a trial, an interesting set of characters, well-crafted plot and good dialogue.

The Courage to be Catholic: Crisis, Reform and the Future of the Church

Weigel, George

Fiddling with Fidelity. Weigel’s clear cut and direct solution to the current crises in the Catholic Church: return to the faithfulness you never had.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Wicker, Tom

Like Ike Lite. Think of this book as Ike Lite. Chug it down and move on. Lovers of stout should read something else.

 

ă 2003 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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