I say a lot of critical things about CEOs.
These days, as rentier economics is taking over, they earn my negativity.
Articles like this one prove my point.
The way many CEOs run their businesses today, I think of the words from a meme I recently saw. I believe it was for the AFL-CIO:
“No more lies. Jobs are not being sent overseas because America doesn’t have enough skilled workers. Jobs are being sent overseas so corporations, banks and stockholders can make huge profits off the backs of non-unionized, uninsured, desperate people living in third world poverty.”
Looking at this quote, who is steering this ship? CEOs.
These types of CEOs create company cultures that run on the brand of fear that inspired my book.
When I see people running our country into the ground so a few at the top can profit, I point this out. I get critical when I see stories about CEOs getting big payments while their companies lay people off.
This opinion is partially based on the fact that my father has served as CEO of three different companies.
Not giant global publicly-traded corporations—smaller technology companies, in all three cases.
But still: the one thing I know about that job from being his son is that when you are CEO, the company’s buck truly does stop with you.
A strong person needs to be in that job.
My dad’s first company, when he started, employed under 20 people. When he left it, they employed more than 100.
The second, his self-financed venture, went under in the months after 9/11. He lost a significant portion of my folks’ retirement trying to make that company work.
The third company gave my Dad a good selling story for himself. He helped that software company attain financing, then a buyer, during a down economy.
But for his first months on the job as this company’s CEO, he was unpaid.
After the company received the initial financing he helped secure, he took a paycheck that made him one of the more-underpaid CEOs out there. Once the company was fully sold, he got compensated. After 18 months of being unpaid, then cheaply paid, he deserved it.
(On a personal note: he didn’t bitch about paying the tax bill for this compensation, either. He wrote the check over to Uncle Sam because he knew that’s what he should do. I say this because I remember him telling me. He was an ardent Republican talking about paying his taxes without any disgust or self-victimization in his voice.)
Now, I won’t say that my Dad has a universal approval rating during his time as CEO. I’m assuming there are former employees/business associates who would say they didn’t enjoy working with Pat Maley.
In order to do anything in life, you have to ruffle feathers. (A lesson my father taught me.)
That being said, I met a lot of people over the years who told me my father was one of their better bosses. In many companies—ones run by bad CEOs—politics outweigh performance. Former employees of my father told me he tolerated none of that. I never fished for this comment, either. Multiple people volunteered this insight to me. For some reason, they wanted me to know this about him.
People said my dad wasn’t their friend or after-work drinking buddy, he was their boss. But they knew he cared.
Over the years, I had conversations with my father when those businesses were at different stages.
Every layoff he ever did hit him in the gut. Every time he promoted someone he was proud.
During the final stages of negotiation for the one company’s big sale, I remember conversations with my mom about my father sleeping maybe one or two hours a night for the final months. She’d get up to him pacing and talking to himself about what to do the next day when negotiations were to continue.
This little amount of sleep isn’t good for a man with heart problems.
But I knew my dad was sweating bullets trying to get the best deals he could for the people under his employ. Sure, he was thinking of the money people, too, but he was never a CEO of a publicly-traded company where the investor’s agenda was first with everything else secondary. He knew the people who worked for him, they weren’t some department that could be cut in the short-term.
When he dissolved his self-financed company, employees were telling him to just wait the economic craziness out and give it another go. When he did, they wanted to come back.
From talks with my father, I understand how alone someone at the top of a company can feel. Most business issues, CEOs can’t talk about them. They can’t casually mention to the CFO that the sales force seems a little off lately, because that CFO could say this to another employee in ways that could be misconstrued and start an employee panic.
We live in a world where apprehension from people in leadership positions is a sign of weakness. We need our (white male) leaders to appear infallible. (Or at least, the white males who appoint themselves the leaders think this.)
When I think of Pat Maley, the former CEO, I think about the similarities and the differences of his job world versus the CEOs who receive eight-figure annual commissions to run companies into the ground—or at least figure out every which way to squeeze out another penny for the investor.
Looking at my business, advertising, and the Mister Omnicom and the Mister Publicis who spent so much time, money and resources negotiating their own golden parachutes and ways to not pay taxes, only to then screw the deal up in the eleventh hour—our business world has too many CEOs like that.
In today’s world, the investor has replaced the customer at the top of the food chain. The gambling-casino economics of Wall Street embraces the get-rich-quick mentality that every one of us was told, as children, wasn’t the right way to treat people.
The practice of laying people off to stimulate a company’s near-term stock price has become commonplace among the “bigtime” world of business.
I’m honored to be the son of a CEO who would never make it as CEO of one of those companies.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.