Executive Times

Volume 6, Issue 9

September, 2004


ã 2004 Hopkins and Company, LLC

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Some executives recognize that there is no “back to school” season for them: learning has to go on all the time. In recognizing September as a traditional time to focus on education, this issue of Executive Times will offer one piece of educational advice for executives: learn how to micromanage effectively. Over the past twenty years or so, attention to detail by executives has been discouraged by many advisors, giving way to extensive delegation to lower level managers. Executives asking too many questions were viewed as meddlers who were over-controlling operations. We think that’s rubbish. The best executives know the details of what makes their organizations work effectively. Attention to those details produces success. As you read some of the stories we’ve noted about attention to details in this issue, think about the questions you’ve not been asking of your direct reports, and think about the degree to which you may need to reallocate your time to increase the time you spend in some areas where your attention has been light. Examine the holes in the data you gather to become well informed about your organization. Establish your own learning plan for this school year in your workplace to fill the gaps about details you’ve overlooked.


Fifteen new books are rated in this issue, beginning on page 5. Eleven books are recommended with three stars, two are mildly recommended with two stars, and two books earned a single star rating. You can also visit our complete 2004 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2004books.html and see the rating table explained as well as explore links to all 2004 book reviews. You can also check this same bookshelf to see what other books we’re reading or considering. Forty five new books were added to the “shelf of possibility” during August. 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 at books@hopkinsandcompany.com.

Bruce Tulgan and the folks at Rainmaker Thinking in New Haven have conducted research concluding that there is rampant undermanagement, according to the August 23 issue of Fortune (http://www.fortune.com/fortune/careers/articles/0,15114,676804,00.html.) “In what Rainmaker defines as the five management basics—clear statements of what's expected of each employee, explicit and measurable goals and deadlines, detailed evaluation of each person's work, clear feedback, and rewards fairly meted out—it seems hardly anyone is consistently stepping up to the plate. Only 10% of managers provide their direct reports with all five of the basics at least once a week. Only 25% do so at least once a month. And about a third of managers, it seems, fail to get around to the basics even once a year.

So what? Well, without regular attention to these matters, things can go off the rails pretty fast. ‘Neglecting the five management “musts” means you're not in a position to anticipate problems, so you spend all your time putting out fires,’ Tulgan says. ‘You can't delegate, so you end up needlessly tangled in the details. This is why, when people tell me they don't have time to cover all five basics consistently, I tell them they don't have time not to.’” Employees want bosses to provide guidance and direction. Hands-off bosses end up with results that represent surprises that can often be career threatening for the executive. You can download Tulgan’s research at http://www.rainmakerthinking.com. The remedy proposed to cure undermanagement? “A rigorous fitness program for management exercise.” It’s time for managers to get back to managing, according to Tulgan. nHHHHHH

Would your direct reports describe you as being a hands-on manager? Would you describe yourself that way? How often are you engaged with your direct reports on the five basics that Tulgan describes? Are the managers who report to you engaged? What can you do to improve your management fitness and that of your direct reports?


There’s an interesting profile of Wells Fargo CEO Dick Kovacevich as the cover story in the August 16 issue of Forbes (http://www.forbes.com/free_forbes/2004/0816/090.html) that provides insight into the importance of attention to detail, especially choosing the right targets and the best way to achieve results. According to Forbes, efficiency analysts say that Wells’ payroll of 146,000 people is too many based on the bank’s assets. “Kovacevich doesn’t listen to them or share their obsession with cost ratios (overhead as a percent of revenue). He’s got his eyes fixed firmly on the top line, not the cost line. He likes to sell. 

The key to profitability in retail banking is selling a panoply of products to the customers you already have. At Wells that requires sifting through data on some 23 million current customers to find thousands of the best prospects, then lashing together hundreds of products and prodding tens of thousands of employees in rival tribes from past takeovers to share customers, commissions and the credit.” One of the ways Kovacevich helps prod those salespeople is by spending time with them, helping them have fun, and letting them see him as one of them. “… he rallies the staff with trips to Las Vegas and Hawaii for the best performers and with parties where branches compete for ‘best team spirit.’ At his annual four-day sales conference in Orlando recently, his 1,250 best cross-sellers were treated to the spectacle of the boss lip-synching to the Beatles in a mop-top wig. It was apropos of nothing. The crowd howled and cheered anyway. ‘I hate doing it, but I know it influences my company more than sitting in my office thinking of the next big idea.’” Think for a minute about the CEOs of the five largest American banks. Can you picture any of the others paying this kind of attention to the hokey details that produce outstanding results? As Forbes reports, Wells has the highest return on assets of this top five, and the fattest interest margin. Maybe it’s the mop-top wig.


What is that you hate to do, but know has a big influence on your organization? Do observers of your organization get obsessed with some comparative measures that you are consider less significant? How do you respond? How well do you understand what drives revenue growth in your organization? What do you do personally to influence that growth? If hokey works, are you willing to be hokey?

Another detail that has the significant attention of many executives involves security, or more accurately, vulnerability. Increases in global terrorism places workers and physical assets at higher levels of risk, which requires executives to spend more time and attention to some of the details of security that have in the past been left to others. The minimum wage workers who check ID badges are a modest way to reduce vulnerability to security risks. We read a great quote in Forbes (9/6) (http://www.forbes.com/business/forbes/2004/0906/064.html), “Companies want brain stems on their security people, not walking refrigerators.”  The quote is from Nirmalya Bhomick, a Thai kickboxing champion who has headed security details for senior Microsoft executives on overseas trips, and who has started a school, the California University for Protection and Intelligence Management. Expect to see graduates from that program as the finest bodyguards in the business. One detail for many executives to examine should involve the way security employees think and are prepared to act. Another preventive approach toward reducing vulnerability appeared in Fortune (8/23) (http://www.fortune.com/fortune/articles/0,15114,678530,00.html). More companies are spending more money on private intelligence gathering to assess risks from terrorism and organized crime. “Many of these private intelligence analysts were trained by the CIA, the FBI, or the military or in spy organizations in Russia, Israel, and other foreign lands. One of Stratfor's top analysts, for example, is a former Soviet army colonel who, as a military intelligence officer in Afghanistan, got to study Osama bin Laden's tactics firsthand. But the analysts are equally likely to be bright young scholars or tweedy librarians who sift vast amounts of public data, mixed with reports from human operatives around the globe, to find information crucial to a decision, say, to build a new plant in a country whose name ends with "stan" or to evacuate employees from the Middle East. Jane's Information Group helps clients assess geopolitical risks from terrorism to organized crime, as well as security for buildings, pipelines, and ‘offices and subsidiaries in places that are sensitive or difficult,’ says Alfred Rolington, the group's CEO.” Some reports from Jane’s are available for a few hundred dollars, and might be well worth an executive’s attention.


How vulnerable do you and your employees feel you are to security threats? How much time have you spent examining security issues in recent months, and what improvements have you made? What conversations have you had with your direct reports to gather their thoughts on improving security in your workplace?


At this moment in your career, if you haven’t yet concluded that success is a function of being both good and lucky, and that errors can help or hurt you and competitors, examine the strange events at the Summer Olympics and the men’s gymnastics all-around. Many of us will long remember watching Paul Hamm’s fall on his vault dismount and roll into the judge’s table. Hamm’s recovery from 12th place to 1st place was, according to Sports Illustrated (8/18) (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2004/olympics/2004/gymnastics/08/18/hamm.gold.ap/), “… one of the most amazing comebacks in Olympic history. Hamm performed the two most spectacular routines of his career Wednesday to win the gold medal by the closest margin ever in the event.” Then, we learned the judges made an error and the gold medal should have gone to Korea’s Yang Tae-young. Three judges were suspended by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG). Because the Korean Olympic Committee protested too late under FIG rules, the results stand. In an 8/27 letter, FIG President Bruno Grandi leaves the choice to Paul Hamm to give his medal to Yang in fair play.


How do you deal with the inevitable ups and downs in your life and work? When errors by others impact your results, how do you respond? What does fair play mean in your organization? Would you give back rewards? 


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

Ø      In the Legacy column of the February 2004 issue of Executive Times, we called attention to the accomplishments of the late Reginald Jones, former CEO of General Electric Company. When we read Testosterone, Inc. recently (see summary review below), we found what author Christopher Byron called Jones’ dying words, how he wanted to be remembered: “Leadership requires ethics, morals, and values.”

Ø      The merger of Compaq into Hewlett-Packard received coverage in the December 2001 and February 2002 issues of Executive Times. According to Business Week (8/13) (http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/aug2004/tc20040813_4553_tc120.htm), the departure of Compaq talent because of H-P culture misfit has produced sub-par business results.



Executives searching for a role model can find much to emulate from the life of someone whose achievements aren’t as well-known as the malfeasance of some more prominent contemporary CEOs. J. Irwin Miller was born into a family of bankers in small town Columbus, Indiana in 1909. He majored in Greek and Latin at Yale, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1931. Following a masters degree from Oxford, he became a manager at hometown Cummins Engine Company in 1934, a company with 100 employees. By the time he became chairman emeritus in 1977, his family owned a third of the company, which generated $1 billion in annual revenue at that time. He also spent twenty years leading Irwin Financial Corporation. For both enterprises, his business acumen and leadership provided shareholders with outstanding performance. Miller’s leadership went further and deeper. As the largest employer in Columbus, Miller looked for ways to improve the community. With a lifelong passion for good architecture, Miller saw a way that civic pride and community vitality could increase in a setting with finely designed buildings. Through the Cummins Engine Foundation, Miller agreed to pay the design fees for Columbus buildings, provided the architect was chosen from a list provided by the Foundation. As a result of this incentive, the foundation has paid almost $14 million in architect fees for 42 buildings, including work by Eero and Eliel Saarinen, Harry Weese, I. M. Pei, Robert Venturi, Richard Meier, Edward Larrabee Barnes, William Rawn, Gunnar Birkerts, Edward Charles Bassett, Eliot Noyes, Romaldo Giurgola and Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer. Thanks to Miller, the citizens of Columbus find beauty in their lives every day, in the form of some of the world’s finest buildings, almost everywhere they look in their home town. That physical legacy can and will be seen for many years. Some of Miller’s actions as a business leader need also be remembered. While he led the National Council of Churches in the early 1960s, he co-sponsored Martin Luther King’s march on Washington, and urged the churches to fight segregation and help the poor. He pushed Presidents Kennedy and Johnson to support civil rights legislation. As a protest against apartheid, Miller closed a Cummins factory in South Africa. Here’s one quote from Miller about work: “Work very hard to learn. Never play it safe. Take the big risk. Failure is not the worst of things … And always be ashamed, in a world which God loves, to be bored.” The ideals he learned growing up in Columbus, and the ones he learned from the classics at Yale, influenced his business actions, to the benefit of us all.

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 2004 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2004books.html).


Title (Link to Review)



Review Summary


Pull Me Up: A Memoir

Barry, Dan

Struggle. Lyrical, finely-written memoir tells a story well of a journey from a 1960’s Long Island childhood to writing for The New York Times, while cancer surviving author and family struggle with life’s challenges.

That Distant Land: The Collected Stories

Berry, Wendell

Community. 23 short stories arranged chronologically. Superb writing that captures human nature and community life in all its complexity.

Testosterone, Inc.: Tales of CEOs Gone Wild

Byron, Christopher

Stampede. Sensational revelations about the character and integrity of Jack Welch, Ron Perelman, Al Dunlap and Dennis Kozlowski, all of whom author posits are driven by overdoses of testosterone. Some chuckles, nothing insightful.


Chace, James

Quartet. Escape from the 2004 presidential election to the one in 1912 when four viable candidates vied for office. Agree or disagree with author’s premise that 1912 changed the country, but enjoy his telling of the story and the issues.

A Chance Meeting

Cohen, Rachel

Networking. 36 imaginative essays on how 30 writers and artists “probably” interacted based on extensive research. General readers will enjoy how well Cohen portrays artistic connections and interactions.

Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination

Fielding, Helen

Romp. Light reading, presenting new and witty 007 bumping into Osama bin Laden look-alike and conducting comic international espionage. If you’re ready to laugh about Al Queda this is the novel for you.

To Have and To Hold

Green, Jane

Reality. Well-developed, complex and interesting characters figure out what they want in life and from each other and act to achieve what they want through commitment, infidelity and manipulation.

The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality

Greene, Brian

Weavings. Gifted teacher presents readable understanding of the issues explored in modern Physics, including string theory, the uncertainty principle and evolutionary cosmology.

Catch and Release: Trout Fishing and the Meaning of Life

Kingwell, Mark

Thinking. University of Toronto philosophy professor focuses on what makes trout fishing so great: the ability to spend a lot of time just thinking. Engaging family stories and plenty of philosophizing.

Goat: A Memoir

Land, Brad

Pledge. Troubling memoir of fraternity hazing, violence, coming of age relationships and the alienation and isolation that can be part of adolescents searching for identity.

The Debriefing

Littell, Robert

Indistinguishable. Reprinting of well-crafted cold war era espionage novel that displays few differences in behavior between the good guys and the bad guys when it comes to deceit and using power.

The Codex

Preston, Douglas J.

Reunion. Too much bad writing, even for what should have been a perfect beach novel. Weak dialogue, erratic character development, predictable plot patterns, and too many clichés.

The Radioactive Boy Scout: The True Story of a Boy and His Backyard Nuclear Reactor

Silverstein, Ken

Neighborly. A Michigan teenager learned enough from many sources to build a nuclear reactor. Makes one wonder what our own kids and neighbors might be doing.

The Naked Corporation

Tapscott, Don and David Ticoll

Barely. Timely topic with some interesting examples and models, but mostly repetitious and aggregated snippets from recent business books.


Tickle, Phyllis A.

Imagistic. Using artwork to illustrate how the portrayal of greed has evolved over 2,000 years should have made it easier to understand the author’s premises.


ã 2004 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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