Executive Times


Volume 10, Issue 3





 2008 Hopkins and Company, LLC

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Most executives can handle any pitch thrown at them (is anyone thinking about spring training?). We see an issue, and deal with it, hit or miss. Trouble often arises with what hasn’t been seen, or with what was observed and overlooked. Most successful executives have mastered ways of uncovering those pockets of concern that could lead to crisis if not addressed. Sometimes, it’s a matter of finding the missing pieces. One executive referred to the biggest challenge as that of managing the white spaces on the organizational chart: finding those things for which responsibility and accountability have not been identified or clarified. Leaking natural gas could lead to disaster if not detected promptly, so a foul smell is added to what would otherwise be both invisible and odorless. As you read the stories in this issue, think of what you can do in the coming weeks to detect something invisible or odorless in your organization, but if not being done properly could lead to disaster, or at least a big stink, for you or your organization. You can add real value when you fill in those missing pieces.


Fifteen new books are rated in this issue, beginning on page 5. For the first time, all 15 books are recommended with three-star ratings, which either means that there was nothing really good on this list, or nothing sufficiently annoying to lose a star or two. Visit our current bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2008books.html and see the rating table explained as well as explore links to all 225 books read or those being considered this year, including 30 that were added to the list in February. 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.



The world press has been saturated with stories of the way the actions of Jérôme Kerviel, a low-level trader at Société Générale, led the bank to lose €4.9 billion. We read in the International Herald Tribune (2/5) (http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/02/05/business/05bank.php) that Pascal Decque of Natxis, an analyst who covers Société Générale, commented, ‘“Socgen was brilliant in their achievement, they were the world leader in derivatives. Maybe when you are that good, you think you will never fail.’ … In meetings with investors in recent days, Société Générale's chief executive, Daniel Bouton, has admitted his bank's internal systems did not keep up with the pace of growth in the derivatives business. ‘He told them while our derivatives business was going 130 miles an hour, risk control was only going 80,’ according to one analyst who covers Société Générale but insisted on anonymity. He added that with traders making so much money, the analyst added, ‘they were untouchable; they had the power.’” A preliminary report on the investigation into the huge trading loss may send chills up the spines of many executives. You can read the detailed report in French from a link at http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/02/20/business/socgen.php. We read in The Wall Street Journal (2/21) (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120353823417080689.html), “The report said most of the people in the back office who were processing Mr. Kerviel's trades had adequately fulfilled their job descriptions. But they didn't go beyond. ‘Only in a few cases did employees fail to perform their jobs,’ the 22-page internal report said. ‘The required controls were performed, but they didn't trigger alarms that were loud enough or persistent enough.’ The report said, for example, that officials in the back office often didn't inform their supervisors when they noticed irregularities in Mr. Kerviel's transactions, even when the trades involved abnormally high amounts, ‘because this was not specifically part of their job description.’” One employee who initiated an investigation about a trade apologized to Kerviel for using excessive zeal in carrying out his job. The Tribune noted, “The derivatives group started in the 1980s as a small team of highly trained and highly regarded engineers and mathematicians from the best schools. They quickly became known as ‘les moines-soldats,’ the soldier-monks. And as their importance inside the bank grew, their confidence, even arrogance, grew with it. Like the devout and disciplined fighters they were named for — the monks who fought in the Crusades — the soldier-monks of Société Générale prided themselves on rising above the passions that moved the masses. Similarly, Société Générale's soldier-monks believed that they could manage both the risk inherent in betting on the markets — through complex computer models — and the ardor of their regular traders, through controls.” When the investigators apologize to the traders for asking annoying questions, the controls are unlikely to work.


Is there a group within your organization that operates “above the law?” Do you and others overlook some of their actions because their contributions to your success appear to be strong? Is there some area in which you are confident that you could never fail? When was the last time you looked for weaknesses there?


Now that this issue has touched on the culture of some French workers, we have to address boredom, as depicted so well in that DHL ad from a dozen years ago in which an employee of Voila! Express sits at a café bemoaning the “bourgeois businessmen waiting for their packages,” while his delivery truck is being towed and the packages are falling onto the road. “Let them wait.” Lots of studies have shown that boredom can lead to workplace accidents. As shown in the article above, workers who follow procedures without engaging their minds can lead to disastrous outcomes. Success can also lead to boredom, as we read in Career Couch column in the 2/17 issue of The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/17/jobs/17career.html). ‘“Sometimes your very success can lead to boredom,’ said Rachelle J. Canter, a career coach based in San Francisco and author of “Make the Right Career Move” (Wiley). ‘If you continue to do the same thing again and again, and you’re good at it, people are going to keep asking you to do that one thing,’ she explained. That may be fine as far as your boss and the company are concerned, but it means that you may be unfulfilled and that ‘your professional skills are declining over time,’ she said. It is easy to become stuck in a situation like this and even to blame your boss, she said, but only you are in charge of your career growth and career happiness. Your boss’s job is to get the job done.” One remedy proposed for boredom is to volunteer to take on a project at work that uses the skills you want to develop. Everybody loves a volunteer. 


What signs of boredom have you observed in your organization? Are you relying on the skills of successful people who would rather be doing something else? Have the procedures become so routine that the meaning of the work is no longer understood? What can you do to keep the workplace stimulating for all? 



Whether they are mowing the lawn or shoveling the snow outside your office building, chances are the maintenance workers have more job satisfaction than the cubicle workers inside, according to Jared Sandberg’s Cubicle Culture column in the 2/19 edition of The Wall Street Journal (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120338000214975633.html). “In the information age, so much is worked on in a day at the office but so little gets done. In the past, people could see the fruits of their labor immediately: a chair made or a ball bearing produced. But it can be hard to find gratification from work that is largely invisible, or from delivering goods that are often metaphorical. You can't even leave your mark on a document in increasingly paperless offices. It can be even harder trying to measure it all. That may explain why to-do listers write down tasks they've already completed just to be able to cross them off. ‘Not only is work harder to measure but it's also harder to define success,’ says Homa Bahrami, a senior lecturer in Organizational Behavior and Industrial Relations at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business. ‘The work is intangible or invisible, and a lot of work gets done in teams so it's difficult to pinpoint individual productivity.’ … Employees have to wait for the gratification that comes with seeing a goal finally realized. ‘The average delay is much, much longer for the average worker today,’ says Robert Frank, a professor at Cornell's Johnson Graduate School of Management. And behavioral science notes we have difficulty with a reward delayed.” One suggestion for addressing this problem is to set more meaningful short term measures of success. Good luck.


How do you define success for you and for those who work with you? When you can’t see the tangible results of your work efforts, what provides you and others with job satisfaction? Do those who report to you consider that the measures of success you use don’t reflect what is meaningful or important or gratifying to them? How do you measure individual productivity?



Most effective executives have become reconciled to the notion of living in a fishbowl where almost everything they do and say can be observed and judged. What can be surprising is that some executives seem to forget this lack of privacy when it comes to e-mail or text messages and cell phone calls. We read about this in a Chicago Tribune (2/24) (http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/lifestyle/q/chi-0224_honesty_d_k_nfeb24,0,947741.story) article titled, “In the Era of No Privacy, the Secret is Honesty.” According to the Tribune, “…a 2006 study by University of Newcastle researchers in England showed people are much more likely to be honest when they think someone is watching. Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick recently found himself on the receiving end of that lesson. His affair with his chief of staff is documented in text messages they sent to each other on city-owned equipment. If they had used their personal cell phones instead of the fancy Skytel network, their secret might have been safe. Instead, the messages ended up as part of a legal case that gave Detroit a $9 million bill. … With all the ways that our lives can be tracked, it pays to be honest, because you'll get caught if you're not.” The article goes on to describe how hard drives shot with guns or tossed into lakes have had data recovered; how GPS in cell phones can pinpoint our whereabouts; and the ubiquity of cameras in public places document everyone who comes and goes. There’s no advice on how to get the shouters of confidential information into cell phones to shut up. Nor is there a way to alert those executives who talk about confidential issues with each other on planes or in restaurants and expect that no one is paying attention. Maybe they think they have a cone of invisibility that protects them from being seen or heard.


How alert are you to matters of privacy? Do you pay attention to who might be in earshot when you are speaking or when you are listening to someone else? Have you reconciled yourself to the reality that the cell phone in your pocket reveals where you are, and all of your electronic messages may be retained for posterity?



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


Ø  All of the articles in the March 2004 issue of Executive Times dealt with talent management. Readers with strong interest in that topic should check out Talent Management magazine. You can read the current issue at http://www.talentmgt.com/current_issue.php. Here’s one interesting perspective from this issue: “What happens to relationships when someone leaves to move on to another opportunity or retires from the workforce? How can organizations continue to maintain, cultivate and mine these relationships and the associated institutional knowledge for business value? The solution: Build lifelong relationships with employees to ensure an ongoing dialogue and connection that can be leveraged even after they have left. Many organizations have viewed the employee life cycle as "hire to fire" — a typical variance on sourcing, recruiting, hiring, on-boarding and development, ending with eventual off-boarding. But attitudes have come full circle. Brick-and-mortar companies first encouraged lifelong employment. Later, as business models evolved, they moved toward a model of just-in-time employment and the hire-to-fire cycle. Today's organizations rely on knowledge workers rather than on bricks and mortar to build value, and thus must focus on lifelong relationships with their employees — in many cases this is similar to their customer approach — rather than lifelong employment or the hire-to-fire modality.”

Ø  In many issues of Executive Times, there have been quotes from executives who may have preferred that their words had not been taken out of context. Those who want to avoid this problem may benefit from an article in the 2/19 edition of the Financial Times, which said, in part, “There are lessons for anyone who speaks to the public. First, what you say will be summarised, so provide a clear conclusion, such as ‘on one thing there can be no compromise: we are all subject to British law’ and repeat it at every opportunity. Second, think about how your words can be used, whether by journalists looking for a story or by your opponents. If you say the Republicans had good ideas, insert ‘not that I agree with them’. Finally, if you are speaking a language other than your own, make sure someone is ready to jump in to correct you the moment you say something embarrassing.” (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/27228772-de91-11dc-9de3-0000779fd2ac.html)



The image of a union leader sitting down with management to devise creative solutions to common problems may be considered a rare sighting by many executives. One union leader who epitomized this approach was Douglas A. Fraser, the head of the United Automobile Workers union from 1977 to 1983. While most of the credit for the Chrysler turnaround at that time went to Lee Iacocca, none of it would have happened without the creativity and cooperation of Doug Fraser. Fraser lobbied for government guaranteed loans for Chrysler, accepted a $3 per hour wage cut, and the elimination of 100,000 jobs, in exchange for a greater union role in corporate governance. Many of Fraser’s predecessors and successors would not have had the courage to act as he did. Fraser became the first union executive to join the board of an auto company, where he was the lone vote against granting stock options to Iacocca and other executives. Fraser spent his life trying to improve the workplace, ensure more effective labor-management relations, and create ways in which all individuals would be treated fairly and with respect and dignity. He died in late February at age 91. A successful leader would do well to model Fraser’s approach to work. 


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 2008 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2008books.html).


Title (Link to Review)



Review Summary


Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality

Chen, Pauline W.


Worrying. Finely written memoir by liver transplant surgeon which shares her introspection and reflections on being with patients who face death.


Tipperary: A Novel

Delaney, Frank


Grand. Historical novel set at the beginning of the 20th century uses multiple narrators, past and contemporary, to present stories of love, of people, freedom, land and buildings, during a volatile era.

The Killing of Major Denis Mahon: A Mystery of Old Ireland

Duffy, Peter


Troubles. Mahon was landlord to 12,000 tenants on his land in County Roscommon at the time of the potato blight, and was killed in an ambush in 1847. This book describes the context, the politics, the trial and the injustice of those troubling times.


King of the Club: Richard Grasso and the Survival of the New York Stock Exchange

Gasparino, Charles


Operatic. Engaging tale of Grasso’s rise and fall at the New York Stock Exchange, both gossipy and insightful about a charismatic and flawed leader.

Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black

Gordimer, Nadine


Origins. Thirteen provocative short stories riff on a theme about history and the past: open at your own peril. Octogenarian author still packs a punch.


The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World

Greenspan, Alan


Charm. Who would have guessed he can communicate clearly? A delight to read this memoir and inside view from former Fed chief. A delight to read whether you loved or hated what he did and what he failed to do.


Dog Days: Dispatches from Bedlam Farm

Katz, Jon


Harmony. Not just a dog story, but graceful writing about the search for harmony among people, animals, and with the land on a farm in upstate New York.


Pontoon: A Novel of Lake Wobegon

Keillor, Garrison


Foibles. Freed from the constraints of radio episodes, Keillor can expand with abandon on the foibles of human behavior. This novel is a celebration of living life to the fullest, no matter where that leads us.


Duma Key

King, Stephen


Forces. One-armed protagonist moves to Florida and creates paintings with more power than is natural. 600 pages of reading pleasure that cause shivers and shakes, leading to regret by the end that it was over so soon.

The Squandering of America: How the Failure of our Politics Undermines Our Prosperity

Kuttner, Robert


Democracy. Author calls for active citizens to vote for managed capitalism to regulate markets and extend prosperity from the wealthy few to the average American. A call for adult supervision over financial markets.

Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff

Mahoney, Rosemary


Travels. Author’s fine prose relates her travel to an unfamiliar place (Egypt) where she gets do what she loves (row). Best for the unhurried armchair traveler’s reading at home by the fire.


The Senator’s Wife

Miller, Sue


Forgiving. A novel about marriages through the lens of two couples leaves readers wondering why people do what they do. The title refers to Delia, wife of a philandering Senator.

The Book of General Ignorance: Everything You Think You Know Is Wrong

Mitchinson, John and John Lloyd


Humility. After reading this Q&A trivia book, readers are likely to be a bit more cautious about things that we think we know. Read this and show the smarty pants in your life where he or she is ignorant.

Rumpole Misbehaves

Mortimer, John


Anti-social. Several cases of anti-social behavior, including Rumpole’s own, come together in the latest finely written tale of the Old Bailey’s boisterous barrister.

Gods Behaving Badly

Phillips, Marie


Imaginative. Entertaining debut novel tells us what happened to the Greek gods: they’re living in a rundown London house, on the brink of losing their immortality since people no longer believe in them.




2008 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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