Executive Times

Volume 9, Issue 9

September 2007


 2007 Hopkins and Company, LLC

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Some executives seem to work so hard that one can imagine them sweating, while others make their jobs seem effortless. Certain executives are the first to arrive at a workplace, and the last to leave. Other executives cause observers to ask where they are and what they actually do. Our thesis is that it is the attitude and personality of the executive rather than the demands of the role that create these images of executive work. The best fit comes when there’s alignment between the way a person likes to work and a workplace there that approach is recognized and rewarded. This issue presents a few examples of different work styles and attitudes about work. As you think about these situations, consider whether your work style and attitude match your organization. Reflect on whether you’ve become a positive or a negative role model for the behavior your organization recognizes and rewards.


Fifteen new books are rated in this issue, beginning on page 5. Two books received highly recommended four-star ratings; twelve books are rated three-stars, and one book eked out a one-star rating. At least five of this month’s selections represent an author’s debut, and are likely to be unfamiliar authors. Test out your interest by reading the excerpts contained in our reviews. Visit our current bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2007books.html and see the rating table explained as well as explore links to all 492 books read or those being considered this year, including 39 that were added to the list in 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 sooner rather than later, let us know by sending a message to books@hopkinsandcompany.com. You can also check out all 2,190 books we’ve ever listed at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/All Books.html.


“The sweat of hard work is not to be displayed. It is much more graceful to appear favored by the gods.” (Maxine Hogg Kingston, The Woman Warrior, 1976). One graceful executive who never seems to display the sweat of hard work is Richard Parsons, CEO of Time Warner. Joe Nocera reported (http://select.nytimes.com/2007/08/25/business/media/25nocera.html) in his “Talking Business” column in The New York Times on 8/25 on a dinner interview he had at a Manhattan restaurant “to drink Mr. Parsons’s wine. In addition to his day job as chief executive of Time Warner, Mr. Parsons owns a small vineyard in Italy called Il Palazzone, which makes a high- quality Brunello di Montalcino. He acquired his taste for wine, he told me, back when he worked for Nelson Rockefeller.” This context provided a backdrop for descriptions about Parsons’ approach to work. “…Dick Parsons would prefer that you never see him busting his chops. All his professional life, he’s wanted to be seen as someone who never seems to break a sweat. … when he first took over the company, he performed nothing short of a miracle, rescuing it from the single worst deal in modern business history, the AOL-Time Warner merger. … Parsons is a listener, a persuader, a diplomat — and those qualities made all the difference. … ‘I want my legacy to be simple: I left the place in good shape and in good hands. … I think of myself as a professional manager. I am not trying to build a dynasty or create a monument. I know this comment will upset some people, but this is my job. It’s not my life. I don’t define myself by this.’” At the end of the interview, Parsons said, ‘“We haven’t talked enough about wine. Do you know what I like about that?’ he asked, pointing to the empty Brunello bottle on the table. ‘Some time ago, those were grapes. We picked them, we fermented them, we bottled them. There is something to show for your effort. We have a product.’ Rumors abound about what Mr. Parsons will do when he leaves Time Warner, the loudest being that he will run for mayor of New York, something he staunchly denies. But I can guarantee he’ll be spending more time at his winery — and doing all the other things he enjoys doing. He’ll live well.” Whether he decides to bust his chops or not, we’re not likely to see him break a sweat.


Are you more likely to be seen busting your chops, or do you come across at all times as calm and collected? When you think about your legacy to your organization, how do you want to be remembered? Is that likely? What will show for your effort?


“Hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don't turn up at all.” (Sam Ervin) We read in the August 27 issue of Business Week (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/07_34/b4047046.htm) that Robert L. Nardelli, the new head of Chrysler said, “I can’t wait to roll my sleeves up and get to work.” What that will mean for the managers and employees at Chrysler remains to be seen. According to Business Week, “Nardelli will have to boost quality and increase lagging productivity at Chrysler's factories. He must bring discipline to a sales strategy of frequent deep discounts to move the metal. And he's likely to shake up management, adding new talent in product development, marketing, and design. … At Chrysler, Nardelli's challenge will be to find the kind of revenue gains he made at GE without creating the problems he caused at Home Depot. His military management style led to 100% turnover among his top 170 managers by the time he left the retailer in January. …  Nardelli says he won't revamp Chrysler's fix-it plan but hints he might speed it up: ‘If we can do it faster and more efficiently, that's what we're going to do.’ Chrysler has trimmed nearly 13,000 workers and closed a factory, but if sales don't bounce back, more cuts could follow. Big changes may be in store for the design and engineering groups, too. Chrysler once was hailed as Detroit's most innovative automaker. But executives say chief designer Trevor Creed and product development boss Frank Klegon now are on the hot seat.” After meeting Nardelli, we expect that Chrysler executives will choose one of the three paths in the Sam Ervin quote above. The seat cools fast when it’s vacant.


After you roll your sleeves up, what follows? How much change can your organization process as an outcome of your active engagement? What would happen if 100% of your top managers turned over?



“Real success is finding your lifework in the work that you love.” (David McCullough) Bob Nardelli’s boss is Cerberus Capital Management’s chief Stephen Feinberg, who is profiled in the 8/20 issue (http://money.cnn.com/2007/08/03/news/companies/cerberus.fortune/index.htm) of Fortune. Here’s what Nardelli can expect from his new boss, “Feinberg is an anti-celebrity, man-of-the-people guy who just happens to be a centimillionaire. The 47-year-old son of a steel salesman from Spring Valley, N.Y., he lives in a Manhattan apartment that is modest by Master-of-the-Universe standards and an even more modest house in Stamford, Conn. He drives a Dodge pickup, loves guns and motorcycles, and wears off-the-rack suits. The firm's Park Avenue offices may be the tattiest in the private equity business. Walk down the narrow corridors on threadbare, coffee-stained carpets and you'll see a warren of bare cubicles and rows of gray-steel filing cabinets. The walls are institutional beige or gray, adorned with cheap framed prints that would suit an inner-city nursing home. The overall effect is that of a ministry of finance in a former Soviet satellite state. And that seems to suit Feinberg just fine. If you're doing business with him, expect to be neither wined nor dined, ever. ‘Invariably Feinberg and I would eat sandwiches out of boxes while we worked,’ says Robert Milton, CEO of Cerberus-controlled ACE Aviation Holdings, parent of Air Canada. … Colleagues today say he breaks from work only for hunger, and if he leaves the office at 9 p.m. he'll continue working from home. He expects everyone on his staff to be available 24/7, as he is. To see what Feinberg does care about, observe him in his weekly deal meeting, which all 280 employees are expected to attend in person or by phone. … The questioning is nonstop, and participants are amazed by Feinberg's memory for numbers. ‘He fires off granular questions about cash flow from specific divisions over the trailing 12 months, and you'd better have that answer or get it quickly,’ says one witness to a Feinberg grilling. ‘The questions are insightful. There's no bullshit, no wasting time. His capacity to recall financial details on all the companies they have an interest in, and at the same time have a big picture in mind, is just astonishing. The people at Cerberus say this guy can see through walls.’ … As Cerberus takes its place in the top rank of buyout firms and as a force in U.S. business, it may yet emerge from the shadows. But that will be a struggle. Teach for America recently honored Feinberg for his fundraising efforts, naming him guest of honor at its latest gala. But even in the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom, he was a ghost. Goldman Sachs president Jon Winkelried praised him in a long speech, but when it came time to invite Feinberg to the mike to say a few words, Winkelried instead said thank you and good night. Feinberg didn't budge from his table. Attendees were stunned. It's hard to think of anyone else too diffident even to stand up at a dinner being given for him.” Stay tuned to see how Nardelli answers Feinberg’s questions.


How does your personal style convey what you care about? Do you love working so much that the only time you take a break is when you’re hungry? At meetings, do you waste anyone’s time?



“In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: They must be fit for it. They must not do too much of it. And they must have a sense of success in it.” (John Ruskin Pre-Raphaelitism, 1850). Some executives don’t know how to take a break. We read in Carol Hymowitz’s “In The Lead” column (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118756266967002302.html) in the 8/20 issue of The Wall Street Journal that, “The president of a small manufacturing company in Cleveland told his top marketing manager that he wasn't going to be reachable during a recent weeklong safari in Africa. But midway through the week, the manager received a voice-mail message from his boss inquiring whether he had completed a particular assignment - and telling him which task to tackle next. ‘I felt he didn't trust that I knew how to do my job,’ the marketing manager says. ‘When he got back from vacation and I asked how he'd managed to get a cellphone signal in the jungle, he confessed he'd programmed the voice-mail message to me before he left.’ Fed up with being micromanaged, the manager quit shortly afterward, taking a new job. … ‘The most successful executives presume that employees will act in the best interests of their company and to their full potentials - and don't need to check in with them all the time,’ says Michael Mankins, a partner at consultant Bain & Co. ‘Those who can't step away and trust that decisions can be made without them never get the best work out of subordinates.’” Given their roles, many executives shouldn’t totally disengage, but there’s a big difference between being available and accessible if something critical comes up, and acting as if one hasn’t left the building.


Are your direct reports prepared to make decisions in your absence? Are you prepared to trust their decisions? Are you working to excess?




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

Ø      In the April 2004 issue of Executive Times we noted the flood of business press coverage about Michael Eisner and his travails at the end of his career at Walt Disney Company. We read in the current (9/3) issue of Business Week (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/07_36/b4048046.htm) that he’s been busy recasting himself as a power player. “… he’s got 40 years of entertainment contacts, collected more than $1 billion from cashed-in Disney options, and, most important, still has the hunger to prove wrong the critics who hounded him out of his job in 2005.” One of his current deals, the purchase of Topps goes to shareholder vote on August 30. Whether that deal gets done or not, Business Week says people still want to hear what Eisner has to say. “…he is drawing six-figure fees on the lecture circuit. One recent topic: ‘Leadership: Success by Failing and Other Paradoxes.’”

Ø      In the July 2004 issue of Executive Times, we asked readers to stay tuned to see if corporate social responsibility would rise or fall, as measured by participation in the UN Global Compact initiative. New studies by Goldman Sachs and McKinsey released at a July summit show growing involvement. See http://www.unglobalcompact.org/NewsAndEvents/news_archives/2007_07_05d.html for details.




When a company becomes identified with an individual executive, there can be great success or monumental failure. In the case of Leona Helmsley and the Helmsley hotel chain, both happened. Following an aggressive ad campaign in the early 1980s featuring company president Ms. Helmsley and the high standards she set for the Harley Hotel, ads for the Helmsley Palace referred to her as the queen for a decade. Occupancy rates soared. Thanks to this ad campaign, an impersonal hotel now had personality. Guests were led to expect high levels of service because the queen was on guard to be sure that would happen. Problems began to arise in the late 1980s as that personality became better known. In the late 1980s, she was involved in a jewelry scheme to evade paying sales tax on purchases. Also in the late 1980s, she and her husband, Harry, were indicted on multiple charges of federal tax evasion. A hotel housekeeper testified at the trial that Ms. Helmsley once told her that, “Only the little people pay taxes.” We read (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/21/nyregion/21helmsley.html) in The New York Times that, “a series of prosecution witnesses described a spiteful, extravagant, foul-mouthed woman who terrified her underlings. … Mrs. Helmsley’s lawyer, Gerald A. Feffer, did not deny the truth of such testimony but told jurors not to hold her personality against her, saying, ‘I don’t believe Mrs. Helmsley is charged in the indictment with being a bitch.’” She was convicted of tax evasion and spent eighteen months in prison. According to the Times, “She was barred from executive involvement in the Helmsley Hotel organization and was supposed to perform 750 hours of community service during the next three years. The sentence was later increased by 150 hours when a federal judge determined that employees had performed some of her service. They had not done it out of kindness. Mrs. Helmsley had difficulties getting along with her employees for most of her career.” Ever after, she was referred to as “the Queen of mean” and became a symbol of the arrogance and greed that marked some quarters in the 1980s. Leona Helmsley died in late August at age 87. Thanks to her, many companies have become very cautious about becoming too closely identified with a single personality.


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)



Review Summary


Twenty Grand

Curtis, Rebecca


Characters. Debut collection of 13 short stories featuring complex characters, mostly young women leading bleak lives, displays skilled literary talent.

Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich

Frank, Robert


Boom. Wall Street Journal columnist writes an informative and entertaining examination of the lives of the wealthy in America, including the challenges and opportunities of the haves and the have-mores.

The Dangerous Book for Boys

Iggulden, Conn and Hal Iggulden


Reference. Great book for fathers and sons to let boys take risks and grow up. Includes loads of how-to’s, heroic stories, illustrations, and even grammar lessons.

No One Belongs Here More Than You

July, Miranda


Extremes. Debut collection of sixteen stories in which the characters leap to extremes in a quest for love and acceptance. Conversational and quirky storytelling.

Little Heathens

Kalish, Mildred Armstrong


Formative. Finely written memoir about growing up on an Iowa farm during the Depression, with insights for all readers on the formation of sound character.


Lively, Penelope


Accidents. Fine prose with deep and rich multigenerational characters who explore what life is all about, and conclude that it’s mostly accidental, with one thing leading to another.

Writing in an Age of Silence

Paretsky, Sara


Courage. Novelist’s memoir minces no words, and exudes with passion for social justice and for not standing by when our liberties are placed in jeopardy. Along the way, she tells her own story.

The Manny

Peterson, Holly


Romance. Aggressively promoted debut novel by billionaire’s daughter provided more entertainment than expected. Hard to have empathy for any of the characters, but the story came across as a sweet romance, something like the printed version of a chick flick.

From the Bottom Up: One Man's Crusade to Clean America's Rivers

Pregracke, Chad and Jeff Barrow


Mission. Inspiring and exciting story of how a teenager decided to clean up the garbage in the Mississippi River, and did it. Throw out Who Moved My Cheese and have your team read this tale of hard work, accountability, teamwork, and persistence.

The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family

Raddatz, Martha


One. TV reporter writes about one 2004 battle in Iraq and what it meant for the soldiers and their families. Descriptive, detailed and teary story of sacrifice.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Rowling, J.K.


Finished. The last book in the series contains 784 pages, almost half of which would not be missed. Be part of the global cultural experience and read it now, or wait for the movie.

The Secret Servant

Silva, Daniel


Intense. Israeli spy and art restorer Gabriel Allon returns for the seventh novel in this series. Non-stop heroic action to foil the bad guys, and sidebar preaching to hammer the messages home leaves no time for art restoration this time around.

Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine

Sloan, Richard P.


Systematic. Logical and factual support of the premise that the efforts to link religion and health are not good science, not good medicine and not good religion.

Mergers and Acquisitions

Vachon, Dana


Vacuous. Debut novel by author who worked at JP Morgan after his 2002 Duke graduation features interns at investment banking firm and their relationships. Unimpressive writing, weak and undeveloped characters and some humor.


Vance, Lee


Faithfulness. Fast-paced and well-written thriller novel in which a husband suspected of his wife’s murder races to find the real killer. Complicated plot, complex characters and motifs that hold together throughout this debut novel.


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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