Executive Times

Volume 5, Issue 11

November, 2003


ã 2003 Hopkins and Company, LLC

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The best route to success for one executive may be the worst possible path for another to try to follow. That’s one of the reasons why our approach in Executive Times is to offer questions, not answers. In our executive coaching business, we encourage executives to be themselves, and to leverage strengths, rather than try to conform to someone else’s image of an executive. In this month’s issue we’ll take a look at some of the paths being followed and reflect on what these situations might mean for you. After all, it’s your path, not someone else’s, that you will follow.


Fifteen new books are rated in this issue, beginning on page 5, including another “DNR” (Do Not Read) rating for one book. This month’s books may be the most eclectic we’ve read this year. 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.

We’ve always enjoyed asking, but not answering, those quirky open-ended interview questions. You know the ones: “Describe the hardest work you’ve ever done;” “Tell me about some of the mistakes you’ve made at work;” or “Name one of your role models and tell me why you chose that person.” To achieve an executive role, every applicant will encounter dozens of such questions, with full understanding that there’s no road map to follow and there are no correct answers. So each applicant excavates his or her own road, leading toward a successful career move, or away from one. Many executives become rusty at answering such questions, so we were pleased to read in the November issue of Fast Company (http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/76/fasttalk.html) that selected CEOs were asked some of the interview questions their companies ask. The answers are enlightening. Here’s a sample, a question answered by Glen A. Barton, CEO of Caterpillar:
Q. How do you define good performance?  A. I've learned that good performance and true job satisfaction come from exceeding what I expect of myself, not just what others expect of me.
The key to job performance is first to realize that as an employee, I have many customers who expect me to deliver a quality service. And just as every great company works day and night to serve its customers, I must do the same for mine. On the most basic level, I want to satisfy our board of directors, our customers, and shareholders. Good performance shouldn't be judged simply in the results you achieve. It's also determined by how you achieve those results. You have to take what exists and build on it.”
You may want to go through this process yourself. Ask yourself and answer the kind of interview questions you and your organization ask others, and become clearer in your answers.

Do the questions you ask of job applicants tell you enough information about how an individual is likely to perform on the job? Do your own answers to your organization’s typical interview questions confirm that you’re a good fit for your current job?


Most organizations, on advice of counsel, provide very little reference information on former employees. One CEO told us about the punishment he once received from what he thought was a good deed. When called for a reference on a former employee, he confirmed job title and dates of employment. Since he knew the CEO of the hiring company, he said something to the effect, “Between you and me, we suspected fraud by this employee, but chose not to litigate.” The hiring CEO took a pass on the applicant, but when asked why, said “a bad reference from your former employer.” You guessed right: the former employee sued the former employer. Despite increased awareness of such risks, some well-intentioned executives say more than they should on job references. Out of such situations, new services have emerged. We read in The New York Times (10/19/03) (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/19/jobs/19exli.html) that job applicants can hire someone to provide a reference check report on themselves for a fee of less than $100. According to the Times, “Even when companies have policies limiting the information that managers can reveal, people tend to talk, particularly when the former employee was a good performer, according to executive recruiters. ‘We ask each candidate to give names of three previous supervisors or people they've reported to,'’ said Lynne Sebastian, a recruiter with Cornell Global in Wilton, Conn. ‘I find people are very open. We get a pretty complete picture of most of our candidates.’” Some users of the reference checking services want to know what a future employer knows about them to be more prepared at interviews. Other service users may want to sue a former employer.


Does everyone in your organization follow your policies on job references? Beyond name, rank and serial number, are all comments made by the reference providers in your organization backed up by facts, and are released with the authorization of the former employee? How do you know that? What would your references say about you? Is your path to a new job sent on a detour by references?  

Some executives avoid personal introspection at all costs. Certain organizations conduct personality tests of executives, and share the results as a way to improve personal effectiveness and create better team relationships. Often, mid-level executives engage in this process readily, while senior executives excuse themselves. A Business Week cover story on Dell (11/3/03) (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/03_44/b3856001_mz001.htm) presents a detailed report of the way the most senior executives at that company have responded to the impact of aspects of their personalities on those with whom they work.
When Dell CEO Michael S. Dell and President Kevin B. Rollins met privately in the fall of 2001, they felt confident that the company was recovering from the global crash in PC sales. Their own personal performance, however, was another matter. Internal interviews revealed that subordinates thought Dell, 38, was impersonal and emotionally detached, while Rollins, 50, was seen as autocratic and antagonistic. Few felt strong loyalty to the company's leaders. Worse, the discontent was spreading: A survey taken over the summer, following the company's first-ever mass layoffs, found that half of Dell Inc.'s employees would leave if they got the chance.
What happened next says much about why Dell is the best-managed company in technology. At other industry giants, the CEO and his chief sidekick might have shrugged off the criticism or let the issue slide. Not at Dell. Fearing an exodus of talent, the two execs focused on the gripes. Within a week, Dell faced his top 20 managers and offered a frank self-critique, acknowledging that he is hugely shy and that it sometimes made him seem aloof and unapproachable. He vowed to forge tighter bonds with his team. Some in the room were shocked. They knew personality tests given to key execs had repeatedly shown Dell to be an "off-the-charts introvert," and such an admission from him had to have been painful. "It was powerful stuff," says Brian Wood, the head of public-sector sales for the Americas. "You could tell it wasn't easy for him."
Michael Dell didn't stop there. Days later, they began showing a videotape of his talk to every manager in the company -- several thousand people. Then Dell and Rollins adopted desktop props to help them do what didn't come naturally. A plastic bulldozer cautioned Dell not to ram through ideas without including others, and a Curious George doll encouraged Rollins to listen to his team before making up his mind.”
We can’t hide who we are at work: those who work with us know us very well, and become accustomed to our strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, discussion about the impact of our behavior can lead to changes that improve overall performance. Read the full article and think about how to discuss your own vulnerabilities with co-workers. Repairing a pothole will smooth your path.

How often have you talked about the impact of your shortcomings on those with whom you work? Are there simple changes you can make that allow you to still be yourself, but provide others with the interaction they need with you?


Toll Roads
What brings satisfaction to one executive leads to emptiness in another, especially when it comes to achieving a balance between work and the rest of life. A profile of Virgin’s  CEO Richard Branson in Fortune (10/6/03) (http://www.fortune.com/fortune/subs/print/0,15935,488581,00.html) contained the quote, “’I don't think of work as work and play as play. It's all living,’ Branson says. ‘I'm living and learning every day—it's like being at a university, studying a course you're really fascinated by. And in between all that, I am surrounded by family and friends.’” A long magazine article in The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/26/magazine/26WOMEN.html) (10/26/03), titled “The Opt-Out Revolution,” discussed how certain women have chosen time with family over time at work. Business Week (10/27/03) reported on the recent Catalyst study showing that women today hold twice as many senior management jobs in large American companies as they did in 1995. The cover story from Fortune (10/13/03) (http://www.fortune.com/fortune/print/0,15935,490359,00.html) on the most powerful women in business culled from the same study “that 26% of professional women who are not yet in the most senior posts say they don't want those jobs.” What do you want, at what price?

How do you balance your work life with the rest of your life? Are the boundaries where you want them to be? Does your allocation of time match your priorities? Like Branson, do your work and play overlap? Have you chosen family time over work achievements, or vice versa? Are you comfortable with your choice?

Road Closed
For many executives, there’s a point in a career where a dead end is reached. That could be retirement, firing, or switching careers voluntarily. Some executives experience a deep sense of loss when the end of a road is reached. We read a poignant quote about this in The Chicago Tribune the day after the Cubs ended their current season in tragedy. An article by Julia Keller contained this quote: “As Thomas Lynch, author of ‘The Undertaking: Life Studies From the Dismal Trade,’ wrote, ‘Grief is the tax we pay on our attachments.’” That tax will come due for every executive.

How prepared are you to handle the grief you’ll face because of your current attachments? Do you have an identity or life outside your work? Will your tax be large or small when your job ends?


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


Ø      We called readers’ attention to the Mall Wars between Taubman Centers, Inc. and Simon Property Group in the March 2003 and July 2003 issues of Executive Times. While the Taubmans’ personal stock holdings were relatively small, their voting rights were huge, and they were able to rebuff a hostile offer from Simon, despite the wishes of a majority of shareholders. When it looked like a federal ruling would go against them, the Taubmans pushed Michigan legislators to keep the out-of-state Simons out. All the media reported in October that the legislation passed, and Simon dropped their bid. Sometimes the dinosaurs win.

Ø      On the front page of the October 2002 issue of Executive Times, we gave a long quote from a Tyco party planner about the birthday party extravaganza former CEO Dennis Kozlowski provided for his wife, Karen, half the cost of which was paid by the company. If you’d like to see the 20 minutes of edited videotape the jurors in Kozlowski’s trial viewed recently, you can find links from The Wall Street Journal at http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB106735726682798800,00.html. Edited out of the videotape were some of more outrageous party elements mentioned in the quote we selected.



Walter E. Washington, former mayor of Washington, DC, died in late October. The great-grandson of slaves, Washington irritated President Lyndon Johnson when he turned down an invitation to lead the board of commissioners. Johnson thought any black American would recognize that such an appointment was a significant honor. Washington’s objection was that without authority over the police and fire departments, the job was ineffective, and he would be more of a token than a municipal CEO. Johnson was miffed, but went on to lobby for changes, and Washington eventually accepted a new Johnson invitation for a broader role, and was appointed mayor of the nation’s capital in 1967, just in time for riots to burn acres of land and destroy businesses and homes. During those riots, Washington rebuffed the pressure from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to shoot looters, saying that people were more important than property. Washington appeared at trouble sites in the city, using his personal presence to calm tensions.


After being reappointed twice as mayor by President Richard Nixon, the laws changed, the citizens of Washington, DC were given their first opportunity in 100 years to choose their own government, and they selected Walter E. Washington as the city’s mayor. Walter Washington’s dignity and presence allowed the citizens of the city of Washington to convince skeptical members of Congress that self-government was appropriate for that special area of America. (While DC voters can elect some officials, they still have no voting representation in the US Congress, which is why local license plates contain the slogan “Taxation Without Representation.”) Washington knew which battles to fight, and which ones to avoid. His leadership allowed for an effective transition in governance. His character calmed the powerful and the powerless.

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 2003 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/bookshelf.html).


Title (Link to Review)



Review Summary


The Five People You Meet in Heaven

Albom, Mitch

Otherworldly. A harmless, sentimental effort to imagine life in heaven being introduced to the recently departed by five people whose lives you affected in some form or other while you were on earth.

Brick Lane

Ali, Monica

Elsewhere. Readers take an enjoyable journey into the immigrant Bangladesh community in London through Ali’s skilled mastery of description, dialogue and plot.

Ready For Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life

Allen, David


Oz. Wizard of productivity takes readers behind the curtain where they find: not much. 160 pages of recycled, repetitive, rambling drivel. Take a pass and do something productive instead.

You Look Nice Today

Bing, Stanley

Worklife. Few novels capture what real office work is like. Here’s the exception, with the occasional exaggeration for pleasure. Interesting times when a comment like that in the title can lead to a sexual harassment suit.

Envy: The Seven Deadly Sins

Epstein, Joseph

Green. Witty, thoughtful, exploration of the many dimensions of envy and the variety of forms it takes during our lives.

Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them … a Fair and Balanced Look at the Right

Franken, Al

Truths. Had Fox not complained about the title, we might have skipped reading this one. Turns out to be less humorous and more serious than we expected. Franken may not be the best spokesman for his positions, but he presents enough facts to cheer those who are weary of the Right.

The Greater Good: How Philanthropy Drives the American Economy and Can Save Capitalism

Gaudiani, Claire

Generosity. Have you concluded that America is rich because we are generous? You may increase your charitable giving after reading this book.

The Bishop Goes to The University

Greeley, Andrew M.

Academic. Greeley reprises detective Bishop Blackie Ryan who solves a murder mystery at The university (which all know is the University of Chicago). Pleasant and entertaining, but dialog gets tedious after a while.

Losing My Faculties: A Teacher’s Story

Halpin, Brian

Instructive. You don’t need to be a teacher to enjoy and learn from this reflection on what makes us happy or sad at work. Bosses, co-workers and situations resonate for anyone who has ever worked.

Where the Truth Lies

Holmes, Rupert

Secrets. Fine writing offers plot, dialogue and memorable characters in the context of a study and reflection on how self-interest, friendship and relationships interact.

Journal of the Dead: A Story of Friendship and Murder in the New Mexico Desert

Kersten, Jason

Dry. Journalist takes sensational and macabre story and presents it a piece at a time, with little insight and flair.

The Pleasure of My Company

Martin, Steve

Neurotic. Memorable, obsessive-compulsive narrator unveils Everyman beneath the disorder. Creative and interesting, but not as well written as Shopgirl.

Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938

Scotti, R. A.

Stormy. Not a print version of the Weather Channel, but a captivating and riveting story of places and people who faced an amazing storm that caught New Englanders by surprise.

Triangle: The Fire That Changed America

Von Drehle, David

Burning. Absorbing combination of three stories: immigrant working conditions in NYC; a devastating factory fire that killed hundreds, mostly women; the political shift to the left laying a foundation for the New Deal. Read and see if you agree that a single event can lead to dramatic social changes.

The End of Advertising As We Know It

Zyman, Sergio

Results. Don’t spend another penny on advertising until you decide where you agree and disagree with Zyman, known as the Aya-Cola for his former job with Coke. Ample stories of what works and what doesn’t.


ã 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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About Hopkins & Company

In addition to publishing Executive Times, Hopkins & Company engages in a variety of other activities focused on helping executives succeed, including:

Ø      Coaching: helping individuals or teams find ways to do more of what works for them, and ways to avoid what's ineffective

Ø      Consulting: helping executives solve business problems, especially in the areas of strategy, service to market, performance and relationship management

Ø      Communications: helping executives improve their written and oral messages

To engage the services of Hopkins & Company, call Steve Hopkins at 708-466-4650 or visit www.hopkinsandcompany.com.