Friday, October 22, 2010

How to succeed in politics without really trying

If I live to be 100, and right now I'm just about halfway there, I will never understand the feelings of adoration and respect the workers of this country have for CEOs, and why on this green earth anyone would ever say that a CEO knows how to fix one damn thing, ever.

It's the new economy, which means that people like me are forever having to change jobs in order to progress and stay employed, so I've personally known and worked directly for several CEOs, and I've closely followed the careers of quite a few more from inside the companies they run.  And it's not that they're stupid, necessarily, although quite a few of them are stupid.  It's that they're lazy.  They're greedy bullshit artists, most of them, and they don't deserve your respect.

Here's my disclaimer: many CEOs are quite brilliant.  Those that are, are almost always those who have been with the company since inception, frequently founders, and they understand not only the product, but the market, and their employees.  Mayor Bloomberg in NYC seems to be doing a pretty good job overall, okay, but he's an exception.

Oh sure, you're thinking to yourself, it's compelling to want to believe that CEOs are shallow scheming con men, because they're so rich and privileged and it would be awesome to feel superior to them.  But could they really get where they are if they were?

Absofuckinglutely.   Seen it.  Seen it again and again.  And by all means, feel completely free to feel superior to CEOs, because they are, taken as a lot, simply reprehensible people.

How can that be?  How can they advance in the corporate world if they're such douchebags?  Well, you have to remember that corporations love douchebags.   Douchebag is pretty much their business model.  And besides, most CEOs only really have to know two things:
1. Firing people
2. Driving up the stock price

So, for example, if the corporation is losing money because their supply chain is for shit and they can't get their product to the places where people want to buy it in sufficient numbers to match demand, you think the CEO knows how to fix that?  HELL no.  He just knows how to fire the top operations guy, and bring in one that he hopes will solve the problem.  That's his entire bag of tricks as far as problem-solving goes.  And even the new chief operations guy won't know how to solve the problem - but he'll probably bring with him a bunch of his own guys, and although they won't know how to solve it either, they will either find the guy who does know, and enable him to do it, or ignore the guy who does know, because it's too much work to change the corporate culture/expose a powerful exec/re-write all those SOPs.  And in that case, they'll just ride out the wave of failure until their guy gets fired and they get to move onto the next big gullible dinosaur of lumbering corporate stupidity.

And as far as #2, driving up the stock price goes, that's easy, because it's basically a variation on #1.  The easiest way to drive up the stock price is to increase profits (it's called "productivity," though, so as not to sound quite so craven and soulless).  The easiest way these days to increase profits is to fire everyone you don't play golf with, and send their jobs to India, or Mexico, or China, or just simply make those left behind work harder to absorb the loss of their colleagues.

And make no mistake, that's exactly what Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman did.  Yeah, it'd be pretty hard to find two better examples of unimaginative insipid chief executives pulling their one fucking trick out of their dumbass stock CEO playbooks than Fiorina and Whitman.

So anyway, if you want to vote Democratic on November 2nd because Whitman was mean to her maid, or because she paid off Princeton to make her son's rape accusation go away, that's fine.  If you want to vote Democratic because Fiorina said mean things about Barbara Boxer's hair, or because she's vociferously anti-choice, you'll get no argument from me.  But it would be nice if people also rejected them because CEOs don't make good public servants.  Because public servants serve the public, and CEOs have no fucking idea how to do that.

Nor do they have any inclination to learn.

They're simply just bad people.  Look, let me put it this way: if government is a hen house, and, you know, it kinda is, then they are the foxes.  They're not there to restructure the coop.  They're there to eat chickens and move the fuck on before anyone figures out what it is they've done.

And if you, dear deeply credible voters, still need one more piece of evidence that the whole "what we need is a CEO!" meme is complete fucking hogwash, then I invite you to think back a mere ten years, when Al Gore was beaten over the head with his own lifetime of public service by serial CEO George W. Bush.  

Yeah.  That's what I thought.


RandyLuvsPaiste said...

At least Ebay didn't crash and burn on Whitman's watch. Does NOBODY else remember how Carly Fiorina had to be driven away by HP's board? Condé Nast Portfolio listed Fiorina as one of "The 20 Worst American CEOs of All Time", characterizing the HP-Compaq merger as a widely regarded failure, and citing the halving of HP's stock value under her tenure. She was given a golden parachute of slightly more than $20 million. Why would anybody think she'd be a good senator?

Ben Deily said...

SEVENTEEN YEARS in the business world, and Oh My Sweet Christ is every word you said true.

The seeming veneration of CEOs can only (I conclude, in bafflement) be based on a bunch of hollywood film tropes, a couple of sympathetic TV portrayals, and--what?--Steve Jobs?

I mean, no one--NO ONE--who had regularly worked with people bearing the title of Chief Executive Officer could possibly buy into the ludicrous notion that by having that on their resume, someone would be even vaguely *capable*--let alone additionally qualified--to serve in public office, where fuckups actually have real-world consequences.

I could curdle and chill your blood with stories. Let's just keep it simple and succinct & say, people are irrational. Regardless of what you've been told by libertarian free-marketeers and the COC, *business* is irrational. And yes, Virginia, business *decisions* tend to be irrational. (I've seldom seen one that wasn't, at its core.)

This is what it seems that most people who haven't done time in corporate America are blithely (& sometimes willfully) unaware of: when private capital is involved, there's suddenly this wonderful wiggle room--let's call it an advantageous shared delusion--in play: the person/people who paid the money want to feel smart. The people making decisions want to feel smart. Why wouldn't they? They're human.

So everyone--sometimes consciously, usually unconsciously--colludes.

Folks "make executive decisions." (In my experience, they confer with the guys at their gym/club--other CEOs, natch--or their wives, or husbands, or mistresses, or astrologers, or 8-year-old nieces (real example). They ask a magic 8-ball. You get the idea.) Choices are made. Money is spent. And then stuff happens. And WHATEVER HAPPENS, a story is made up which casts things in a good light...OR, someone new comes in and the old guy (yes, usually a guy) is fired.

My hand to God.

Thus, so much for consequences. Answering to "the market" isn't even REMOTELY as risky and serious as answering to a population of citizens: if you fail in the market, BlueRush Flavor Mountain Dew tanks--and maybe someone gets fired. You fail in public service? People fall into poverty, or wars get started, or entire classes of citizens get stripped of constitutional rights.

The notion that there's an reciprocal relationship/similarity between "managerial success" in the world of business and in the world of public policy & governance is a cruel and pathetic joke.

kittens not kids said...

I haven't spent time in Corporate America, and I have nothing but loathing and distaste for most CEOs.

The other thing I find frustrating about the CEOs-for-public-service (which is very much like "let's run your elementary school like a business") is that as CEO, you have total control. Yours is the final say. You can just fire people. You can give orders and people have to follow them. The world of politics does NOT work like that - there are just too many other actors, too many checks and balances. And everyone seems to forget that.

Fiorina was briefly interviewed on NPR the other day, and was singularly unilluminating. I felt sorry for the good people of California.

Dad E said...

Spent my entire career working for corporation and every CEO I ever came across rose to their level of incompetence and the worst of them were sons of the founder. And remember they got there not because we elected them, but because they were a part of a self perpetuating clique. I remember we had to think of a way to let them believe they thought the solution of a problem was their idea. One who like to pound desks and fire his underlings, spawned his managers to form a united front to lie if necessary to protect each other. That way he never knew what was going on and who to blame. I could go on and on. I have a lot of stories.

SkylersDad said...

This whole off shore and outsourcing means of getting the bottom line up has seriously screwed us as a nation that could actually make things. We have lost the feedback loop that used to exist between the people that make a product, and the people that support the product and therefore make it better in the next version.

Some Guy said...

We have a former CEO running for governor here in Michigan. Rick Snyder (Gateway) is running as "one tough nerd". No thanks.

Marshall Park Slope said...

"Fire and Drive" much like, "Shock and Awe"!

Another Bullseye!

dguzman said...

Brilliant, Vik. I don't know why more people don't understand that in our corporatocracy, one simply does not and cannot get as rich, powerful, and bulletproof as douchebags like Fiorina, Whitman, Countrywide's Mozilo, or Home Depot's Nardelli are without being a complete douchebag. And douchebags pretty much don't give a shit about who they fuck over or fire or kill, as long as they have their power and money. That is not a good modus operandi for a public servant.

Mnmom said...

Uber-rich snots, CEOs, and powerful politicians like to surround themselves with other guys in ugly golf pants who tell stories about their drunken college days at (fill in Ivy League School). That's why the Brown guy when from head of an Arabian Horse operation to head of FEMA. Why GW went from failed oil man to POTUS. Why idiots at AIG are counting their gold.

Larry Jones said...

Looks like it worked, Vikki. I only wish more voters in Wisconsin had read this.