Executive Times

Volume 7, Issue 8

August, 2005


ã 2005 Hopkins and Company, LLC

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Former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers gets a stiff jail sentence for his corporate malfeasance, while HealthSouth’s former Richard Scrushy is acquitted by a jury and may want his old job back. The combination of those stories with reading the 6th Harry Potter book led us to thinking about the wavy, sometimes invisible line between good and evil in the workplace. There’s a line to be drawn, and many of the best executives take the lead in ensuring that all employees understand what behavior is unacceptable. Other executives can push for results, and come across as indifferent to how that success is achieved. Workers wanting to please sang along with Madonna, “Borderline feels like I’m going to lose my mind. You just keep on pushing my love over the borderline.” Maybe some singers replaced the words with “lose my job” and “pushing my team.” Continued success can evade scrutiny, and underlying behavior can be masked. Missteps lead to close examination, and lines are drawn precisely in hindsight. In this month’s issue, we examine a few recent stories in the news about the way some executives deal with drawing lines in the workplace. As you observe what others have done, reflect on your own situation. How can you improve the alignment of your organization to draw a line in the right place, one that will keep you and your organization out of trouble? When you push for results, do you convey the message that “anything goes?” When someone sings about you, will it be the blues?


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 stars; two are mildly recommended with two star ratings, and one book has a one-star recommendation. Visit our 2005 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2005books.html and see the rating table explained as well as explore links to all books we’re reading or considering this year. With the twenty six new books added to the Shelf of Possibility in July, there are 264 books not yet read and reviewed. Only 60 of those will make the cut for our reviews through year end. 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, let us know by sending a message to books@hopkinsandcompany.com.


Readers who haven’t been sated yet by the many stories of borderline practices at AIG under Hank Greenberg’s leadership will enjoy a comprehensive story titled, “All I Want in Life is an Unfair Advantage,” in the August 8 issue of Fortune (http://www.fortune.com/fortune/ceo/articles/0,15114,1086177,00.html). The article opens with a story about a former AIG attorney who resigned in 1992 after just eight months on the job. Attorney Michael Joye heard from an employee that AIG was improperly booking workers’ compensation premiums and cheating state governments. Joye investigated, found out this was true, and discovered that CEO Hank Greenberg knew about it. According to Fortune, “Greenberg’s name—or his initials, by which he was known inside the company—kept coming up. In some 40 pages of handwritten notes, Joye scribbled down employees’ accounts, including such comments as ‘MRG knows the whole prog. & that he wants it this way.’ And ‘You should be aware that MRG knows about this and has approved it.’ According to Joye’s notes, one employee even described a meeting about the matter at which Greenberg had asked, ‘Are we legal?’ When an employee responded, ‘If we were legal, we wouldn’t be in business,’ Greenberg ‘began laughing, and that was the end of it.’” Following his investigation, Joye recommended that AIG “needed to end the illegal practices immediately, fire all those involved, report the violations, and make restitution.” Nothing happened, purportedly because Greenberg said it would be too expensive. Joye resigned, but kept his AIG files, and gave them to New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in 2005. At the end of the article, new AIG CEO Martin Sullivan says, “In the future … AIG will prosper ‘with the right controls and checks and balances in place, and the right level of compliance. And candidly, they're not mutually exclusive.’”

Do you rely on success through an unfair advantage? Have you ever laughed off a statement rather than face an issue? With confusing regulations, where do you draw the line for “the right level of compliance?” What level of non—compliance are you tolerating? What risk does that pose to you and to your organization?


Some readers may have thought “borderline personality disorder” when you read the page one headline of this issue. The title story of the July issue of Fast Company asked, “Is Your Boss a Psychopath?” (http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/96/open_boss.html) Fast Company asks, “Are corporations fundamentally psychopathic organizations that attract similarly disposed people? It's a compelling idea, especially given the recent evidence. Such scandals as Enron and WorldCom aren't just aberrations; they represent what can happen when some basic currents in our business culture turn malignant. We're worshipful of top executives who seem charismatic, visionary, and tough. So long as they're lifting profits and stock prices, we're willing to overlook that they can also be callous, conning, manipulative, deceitful, verbally and psychologically abusive, remorseless, exploitative, self-delusional, irresponsible, and megalomaniacal. So we collude in the elevation of leaders who are sadly insensitive to hurting others and society at large.” The article dwells on the hurting others aspect, and the easy time some executives can have in convincing others that they reciprocate our loyalty and friendship. Two suggested ways to avoid psychopaths at work: psychological tests for screening, and building a “culture of openness and trust.” Amateur psychologists at work will want to administer the self-test at http://pf.fastcompany.com/magazine/96/open_boss-quiz.html to see if you or your boss fits the profile.

When do certain qualities of personality become disorders? What behavior are you willing to overlook when results are being achieved? How tolerant are you of behavior at work that hurts others? Does your culture attract individuals with personality disorders? Does your screening include psychological profiling that may assist you in avoiding hiring those who will wreak havoc at your organization?



All executives set a tone for what personal topics are taboo and what ones are appropriate for sharing in the workplace. Sue Shellenbarger’s Work and Family column in the July 21 issue of The Wall Street Journal (http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB112190387436791556,00.html) explores what personal topics some individuals choose to disclose or keep quiet about at work. According to Shellenbarger, more workers seem to be opening up at work about topics that had been taboo. While “Sharing information is required to build trust,” and “…in a few good workplaces, employees already are able to break all the rules,” it’s probably wise for most workers to keep quiet about medical issues, intimate matters, and anything that is “so deeply emotional that they risk offending someone who might feel differently.” “Today's new openness has done more than confuse people, however. Down the road, as we figure out case by case where to draw the line, it will have major benefits, breaking down old prejudices and expanding the potential for constructive change at work.”


What personal topics are taboo in your workplace? What personal topics do you encourage others to tell you about? How sensitive are you and others in your organization to the challenges faced by the fellow human beings with whom you work?


Recent surveys show that things that are said and done in many workplaces by many individuals continue to be on the wrong side of the line that executives may have set. Marketwatch reported in a story on July 8 (http://www.careerjournal.com/myc/diversity/20050708-coombes.html?mod=RSS_Career_Journal&cjrss=frontpage) that, “When it comes to racial or ethnic slurs, sexually inappropriate language or ageist remarks, about the same percentage of workers report overhearing such language as did two years ago, according to the latest survey conducted for Novations/J. Howard & Associates, a consulting firm in Boston.” We read in The Boston Globe (7/17) (http://bostonworks.boston.com/globe/out_field/) that a recent report by Delta Consulting showed that almost all companies have policies and procedures forbidding workers from downloading child porn and are terminating employees who violate the policies. “Alain Recaborde, principal of Delta Consulting, said he was taken aback that 26 percent of the managers polled by his company did not know that looking at offensive images at work could lead to charges of sexual harassment or creating a hostile work environment. In addition, only 25 percent were aware that the distribution and consumption of child pornography is now a primary priority of the FBI. Nor were 50 percent of the respondents aware that when accusations of sexual harassment or hostile work environment are made, one of the first areas that investigators search for evidence are the employers' computer files. Instead of the legal ramifications of such behavior, Recaborde said, the study revealed that many employers were more concerned that downloading would introduce viruses into their computer systems.” There may be ample opportunities for executives to reinforce what should and should not be said and done at work.


How does your workplace deal with slurs? Would someone who overhears inappropriate remarks know what you expect them to do? Do you know what you would expect them to do? What do you do when you hear an inappropriate remark? What actions does your organization take in monitoring and enforcing appropriate computer use? Is your organization at risk for accusations of a hostile work environment because of offensive images? What have you done to communicate what is offensive and unacceptable at work? Where have you drawn a line? What lines may need to be drawn? 




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


Ø      We examined Lance Armstrong and the Tour de France in the August 2004 issue of Executive Times from a variety of perspectives. Now that he’s won Le Tour for the record seventh time, and is retiring from professional cycling, we’ve found out one reason for his success that we hadn’t mentioned earlier. We happened to read in The Journal of Applied Physiology (http://www.edb.utexas.edu/coyle/content/armstrong%20article%20JAP.pdf) that University of Texas Human Performance Laboratory researcher Dr. Edward Coyle has measured Armstrong over eight years, and recorded growth in the size of his heart (which started out larger than usual) and concluded, “It appears that an 8% improvement in muscular efficiency and thus power production when cycling at a given oxygen uptake is the characteristic that improved most as this athlete matured from ages 21 to 28 yr. It is noteworthy that at age 25 yr, this champion developed advanced cancer, requiring surgeries and chemotherapy. During the months leading up to each of his Tour de France victories, he reduced body weight and body fat by 4–7 kg (i.e., 7%). Therefore, over the 7-yr period, an improvement in muscular efficiency and reduced body fat contributed equally to a remarkable 18% improvement in his steady-state power per kilogram body weight when cycling at a given V˙O2 (e.g., 5 l/min). It is hypothesized that the improved muscular efficiency probably reflects changes in muscle myosin type stimulated from years of training intensely for 3–6 h on most days.” We’ll be real disappointed if after years of negative drug tests, it turns out that Lance crossed the line and used some performance enhancing drugs. This article shows that Lance’s large heart beats real fast while cycling, and rests in the range of 32 beats a minute. With a large fast-pumping heart, and lighter weight during the Tour, Lance sent consistent and enduring power to his legs proving his success as a superb and unique endurance athlete.



In 1943, Mary T. Washington became the first African American woman to become a Certified Public Accountant (the second was in 1968). She started her own accounting business in her basement while a student. “Her first business partner, Hiram Pittman, once described it as an ‘Underground Railroad’ for aspiring black C.P.A.'s, who came from across the country to work there because they needed the experience to earn the accounting credential.” (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/obituaries/chi-0507140293jul14,1,667928.story) “’Mary was a very driven woman but also very conscious of people and their feelings,’ said Frederick Ford, vice chairman of the board at Draper and Kramer Inc. He cut his accounting teeth as a staff auditor with her firm in the late 1940s and early '50s. ‘She was a stickler for details and for getting it right, and, for me anyhow, it was a wonderful place to get a start. I learned how important it was to do as nearly to perfect work as you could.’” (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/obituaries/chi-0507140293jul14,1,667928.story) Her firm went on to become one of the largest black-owned accounting firms in the country. Thanks to her leadership, there were more black CPAs in Chicago in the 1960s than anyplace else. She died in July at age 99 and is remembered for her role in forging a path for many others to follow.


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 2005 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2005books.html).


Title (Link to Review)



Review Summary


The Wonder Spot

Bank, Melissa

Progressive. Chick lit novel provides vignettes in the life of Sophie Applebaum and gradually reveals her struggles in relationship with family, work, and men.

Babes In Boyland: A Personal History Of Co-education In The Ivy League 

Barreca, Gina

Estrangement. Finely written memoir of journey from Brooklyn to Dartmouth in the 1970s when women weren’t welcome on that campus. Witty and wise.

Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America's Independence  

Berkin, Carol

Partners. A popularly written history of what famous and ordinary women of all races and classes did during the extraordinary time of the American Revolution that will increase the awareness of all readers.


Erian, Alicia

Abuse. 13 year old narrator describes her sexual coming of age amid ethnic and racial prejudice abuse and inappropriate behavior by a variety of one dimensional characters.

The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent   

Florida, Richard

Thoughtful. If certain workers are made to feel more welcome elsewhere, America will lose its advantage in attracting global talent, and economic growth will suffer.

The Sky’s the Limit: Passion and Property in Manhattan

Gaines, Steven

Status. Past and present stories of the best people and places jockeying for status in the world of Manhattan real estate. Can seem like a foreign land to those who have never lived in Manhattan.

Downtown: My Manhattan

Hamill, Pete

Heartfelt. Finely written memoir of Hamill and the city he loves, Manhattan, especially the streets of downtown. Learn of the building, the demolishing and the rebuilding of the city and society.

A Long Way Down

Hornby, Nick

Support. Novel creates four strangers who meet unexpectedly on a rooftop to commit suicide on New Year’s Eve, and end up supporting each other to continue living. Four first person narrators and wit.

Dr. King's Refrigerator and Other Bedtime Stories

Johnson, Charles Richard

Simple. Eight simple and focused stories that, if read at bedtime, will lead to a restful sleep. One story, “Executive Decisions” focuses on the choice between two differently qualified job candidates.

Everything Bad Is Good For You

Johnson, Steven

Contrary. While you may not endorse watching more TV or playing more video and computer games after reading this book, you’re likely to think differently about your judgments of what’s good or bad for you.

House of Lies

Kihn, Martin

Sloppy. Replete with humor, especially relating to the language of consultants, but weak on content and writing that needed more care and attention, this book might entertain, but won’t inform.

The Good Wife

O’Nan, Stewart

Faithful. Finely written lyrical novel reveals the ordinary life of Patty Dickerson who remains faithful to her husband, Tommy, during his 28 year incarceration while she raises their son, doing what we all do: the best we can in the circumstances.

A Whole New Mind

Pink, Daniel

Proficiency. A finely presented case for increasing proficiency in right-brain dominance, along with resources to help improve right brain aptitude.


Robinson, Marilynne

Legacy. Pulitzer prize winning novel structured as a 1956 letter from a 76 year old preacher to his 7 year old son, with prose that’s packed with beauty, insight, truth and spirituality.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Rowling, J.K.

Terror. Potter’s a year older, and his maturity leads to deeper and more complicated relationships, as Hogwarts and the wizarding world face terror from Voldemort and his followers and not all turns out well in the end.


ã 2005 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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