The Perks, Power and Perils of Riding a Boss’s Coat Tails

One of my readers (Marti) gave me the inspiration for this post. Marti had commented on He Gave one for the Team – an Appropriate Remark for a Real Jackass. That post retells the antics of Roy, a Vice President who had been canned by another company and then foisted upon ours by Ed, the new Chairman of the Board. Roy had previously worked for Ed at the company where Ed had been CEO.

Riding the coat tails of a former boss or having connections does have its benefits but there is a downside as well. Whether you call it networking, cronyism, or simply arrogance and abuse of power, it’s difficult to see the “value added” to an organization from these transactions. Here are few more stories about some of these dynamic duos.

Mark and Gary

Mark had been hired as the Senior Vice President of manufacturing, a very powerful position within the company and second only to the president. He had many years in the industry and was a formidable character in his own right. A few weeks after Mark’s hire, Gary arrived on the scene. Gary followed Mark from one company to another. Mark had always engineered that. They had apparently known each other for many years. Gary was installed as a manager in our headquarter’s manufacturing operations group. Gary had a very hot temper and would fly off the handle at the drop of a hat. He was extremely loud and vulgar. Not the type you’d expect in the corporate headquarters of a major nation-wide corporation. Gary constantly boasted about his relationship with Mark.

Gary’s personality and behaviors were so disruptive that after a few weeks, the director of the group made it clear that it was either he or Gary. Gary was transferred to another division and even relocated to another state where he was appointed manager of a small repair facility. That was fine with Gary. He loved the power and still continued to crow about his personal relationship with Mark. According to Gary, he had always taken care of Mark and now it was Mark’s turn to take care of him.

The chain of command meant nothing to Gary. If he needed resources or wanted to complain about something or someone, he’d call Mark directly. No one really knew how much power Gary actually wielded but in a small and out of way operation, no one was going to test it. If anyone, even from corporate headquarters, got on Gary’s wrong side, he’d threaten to make of his “personal phone calls.” There were lots of myths and rumors about Gary actually getting people fired and receiving apologetic telephone calls at home from those who had crossed him.

I had a few opportunities to visit the operation where Gary was stationed. I got along fine with him but always watched what I said. Gary had begun building his own empire and boasted about how he had replaced some of the facility’s workers with people he liked. Gary made no pretense about the fact that they ran personal errands for him, mowed his lawn, painted his house etc. – all on company time. “Anyone got a problem with that?”

This kept on for several years. I guess that the other corporate elites had decided that Gary was best “out of sight and out of mind”. Then Mark retired and the chickens came home to roost. Gary was caught up in a major scandal involving the misappropriation of company funds. While his parachute was not golden, it did open and he landed safely into retirement.

Steve and Vaughn

Steve came on board as the Senior VP of Engineering. Steve had been a highly respected chief of engineering at a major global manufacturer in our industry. Vaughn came along too. At first, we could not figure out exactly what Vaughn did or where he fit in the organization. Vaughn was straight laced and highly educated but he was not an engineer by training or education. Based on what we saw from Vaughn during the first six months or so, he seemed more like Steve’s personal secretary. He prepared all of Steve’s presentations, wrote most of Steve’s letters and memos and always accompanied Steve to meetings and out of town conferences. During these events, Vaughn would actually conduct the presentations. Steve would simply sit by and smile. Steve was very low key and unassuming. It began to look like Vaughn was the real power behind Steve. It became sort of a joke around the company.

Vaughn instituted a meticulous reporting program for the engineers to log the hours that they spent on various projects. He was extremely diligent about his program and pestered the engineers constantly to account for every minute spent at work during each week. On Fridays, he would go from engineer to engineer insisting that they complete their timesheets with precision. Vaughn would also call lengthy meetings where he would review these statistics and berate those that either not filled out their logs correctly or those whom he felt spent too much time on particular projects. Steve participated but was always silent. He just sat and smiled.

Steve retired a few years later. No one really talked about any of his accomplishments. No one really could think of any. The engineering group was reorganized and the Senior VP position was eliminated. Two new VP positions were established, R&D and manufacturing. Too young to retire himself, Vaughn stayed on board. He continued to prepare presentations for the two new VP’s but was relegated to the role of running the slide projector. The new VP’s now conducted the presentations. Vaughn became super-anal about his engineering time logs. His incessant pestering and nasty E-mails really drew the wrath of the engineers. They were spending almost as much time logging their hours as working on projects.

It all ended during an all-engineering department meeting with our new “no nonsense” president who went around the conference room asking everyone what he or she did. Vaughn was fired shortly thereafter.

Miles and David

Miles had been brought on as the new VP of purchasing and logistics. He had hired a director of logistics from outside company. The new director was a really sharp fellow. I had been assigned as a cross department liaison with the logistics group to work on a major project.

I was in the director’s office one morning when his phone rang. It was the receptionist who informed him that his new employee was in the lobby. The director was perplexed and told the receptionist that she must have been mistaken. He had not hired a new employee and knew nothing about it. We continued our chat after he hung up but the phone suddenly rang again. It was the receptionist who claimed that there was no mistake. David was waiting for him in the lobby. The director hung up and called HR. They knew nothing about David either. A half hour later, the director’s phone rang again. This time it was Miles. Miles informed the director that David was in the lobby and that the director was to put him to work – in an important and high paying position of course. The director sheepishly excused himself and ended the meeting.

Miles had personally hired David without informing anyone. You see Miles belonged to a prestigious organization outside of the company where he had befriended David’s brother who was a high-ranking official. David was out of work and Miles had promised to take him aboard and find him something important to do. Miles must have really had a lot of power to get away with something like that in our “lean and mean” corporate headquarters. No one had ever heard of anything like that before in the entire history of the company. David’s background did not really fit into any positions in the logistics arena. Nonetheless, he was named supervisor of something or other. He had no staff and no one knew exactly what he did. He just sort of helped out.

It was rather humorous to watch Miles and David at company events. Miles would always ignore the director and make a beeline straight for David. With his arm firmly around David’s shoulder, they would talk lovingly about David’s family, particularly David’s brother.

Two year’s later our company went through its first ever reduction in force. This was a cathartic episode for our firm. No one really had any experience with such a reduction and so the senior staff set down the ground rules. All positions had to be justified and individuals would be retained or let go based on company need and seniority. David could not be saved.

There was a glimmer of hope, however, for those who had been furloughed. The laid-off employees were told that if economic circumstances rebounded, employees could be called back if positions were re-justified. To qualify, the employee had to fit the position’s requirements and hold seniority over any other employees who had been displaced.

Nine month’s later, David was back. In fact, David was one of the first employees to be called back and ahead of others with more seniority. Through some sleight of hand, a position had been created and justified in the purchasing department. Purchasing was also under Mile’s control. You cannot imagine the uproar from those who knew other employees who had been laid off and not called back. Sometime later, David’s brother managed to get David a better position at another firm.

Glen and Jack

Glen was hired as Senior VP of worldwide operations. Glen knew Jack from another company and liked “the cut of his jib” or something equally goofy. Anyway, Glen decided to put him on the payroll. Jack lived in a far western state considerably distant from any of our operations. Glen assigned Jack to special projects and the company footed the bill for his extensive and expensive travel.

Due to simultaneous resignations of operations managers, two openings occurred on the East Coast. Although our corporate succession-planning program had already ensured that several candidates had been adequately groomed for the positions, Jack was appointed as director over both operations. A new level had even been created on the organization chart for him. He had no real experience as an operations manager and so his function was to be more administrative. He would “learn the ropes” all right but from the top down instead of the bottom up. There was no doubt, however, that Jack was in charge. Since the budget could not justify a director and two operations managers, one internal candidate was promoted but forced to actively manage both operations. This called for the manager to travel every other week, splitting the manager pretty thin. Jack received a phenomenal relocation package. The new manager had to stay in “budget” hotels and take “red eye” flights to even out the costs.

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