Archive for the ‘Real Leadership’ Category

Old Joe P. Checks in from the “Incredible Shrinking Company”

February 5, 2008

Post publication note from The Corporate Cynic: I’ve decided to categorize this post under “Real Leadership”. Joe P. really showed a lot of gumption by sticking up for himself and his operation. Instead of cowtowing to the elites and letting them steal the show, he came prepared for battle. Joe always impressed me as a good honest man. It’s time that Joe and others of his ilk get the recognition that they deserve.

Well, well, well! Joe P. gave me a call last week. Here’s a voice from the past. You’ll remember Joe from the post Honey, We’ve Shrunk the Company! (July 20, 2007, categorized under Never fail to Amaze). You’ll also recall that Joe is still a plant manager for a pretty poorly run corporation where we once worked together a few years ago. Joe may not be highly educated or a smooth corporate type but he’s a standup guy, a damn fine manager and an expert at working with what he’s handed to get the job done. So what’s new at the zoo?

Well it seems that the majority bloc of investors has appointed a new “overseer” to keep on an eye on the CEO. The CEO, in turn, hired a new Chief Financial Officer. Joe reports that this new finance guy is another perfect “fit” for the executive culture at that company. You know the type – a cocky know-it-all and mile-a-minute talker. A young slicked back hair accountant wearing small eyeglasses that refuses to listen to anyone other than the CEO and can’t ever seem to get his head out of his laptop. Boy, I’m glad that I’m not there any longer!

Joe reports that the new “overseer” decided to hold meetings last month at each of the remaining plants to get acquainted with the local management and get a bird’s eye view of what was going on and why. Those present for the meeting at Joe’s operation were the characters mentioned above. Joe, of course, was immediately put on the hot seat.

At first the CEO did all of the talking taking full credit for anything good that had ever occurred there. Then the CFO chimed in. Neither seemed to want to let Joe to get in a word edgewise. But when the CFO began rattling off a litany of poor efficiency and productivity metrics for the plant, Joe decided to defend his operation. Now Joe is most definitely not the most political character one would ever meet. He can be exceedingly blunt, especially when attacked. Joe has a refreshingly honest concept of what’s right and wrong. In this case, he told me that had been prepared for such a crucifixion and brought along a stack of reports that contradicted many of the metrics that the CFO was spouting. He dared to interrupt and take issue with several of the statistics being cited by this new wunderkind. According to Joe, the new CFO reddened with anger and looked to the CEO for support. Sensing a major confrontation on the horizon, the “overseer” decided that a ten-minute break was in order. Joe left to check on the plant. When he returned the meeting reconvened but the subject had changed.

It was now time to discuss opportunities for improvement. The CEO began to read from a list of all the improvements that Joe was now being assigned. Joe interrupted again and this time read from copies of memo’s he had also brought with him to the meeting. A majority of Joe’s new assignments were actually HIS suggestions that he had written in the form of memos to the CEO weeks and months prior to the meeting. Since he’d never received replies, Joe thought it odd that HIS ideas were now being treated as assignments without any credit being given for their original suggestion. As new storm clouds began to form over the proceedings, the “overseer” called for another ten-minute break. When the meeting reconvened, there was no further mention of the subject.

The meeting’s agenda progressed to the subject of capital improvements for the plant and Joe was assigned the task of preparing various requests for capital funds to replace and upgrade worn out machinery and equipment. Joe was prepared again. This time he produced copies of formal requests for the very same items that he had prepared and submitted over the last five or six years (some I had even helped prepare years ago). The CEO had previously rejected all of them. The only comment from the new wunderkind was that Joe’s previous requests had been written on “the old forms”. Joe told me that he was not going to let the “overseer” believe that he was a complete dunderhead. It was time for another break.

According to Joe, the rest of the meeting was rather cordial and mundane. Near the end, as the conversation between the new three amigos turned to college sports and high-end restaurants, Joe, feeling like the “odd man out”, skulked back to the plant to keep things going as best as he could.

Should Joe be worried about losing his job because he lost his cool and put the honchos on the spot? I think not. Joe knows that they know as I know (and as the “overseer” will soon know) that they’ll never find anyone else willing to try and run that goofy operation and put up with their guff. They’ve tried before and failed miserably.

The more things change….

Here’s to sticking up for yourself. Hang in there Joe!


The True Leaders that I have Known

March 19, 2007

Although this blog is relatively new, I have already been criticized for dwelling too much on the dark side of corporate leadership and painting all executives with the same brush.  That has never been my intention.  The thrust of my “rants” has always been aimed at those who destroy morale and create cynicism and malaise. 


In response, I would like to offer this list of the characteristics of the real leaders that I have known and admired throughout my career.  I have always done my best to emulate these qualities in my role as a manager, a role that I have held for 31 years.


Steven M., The former Controller and CFO of a $700M per year nationally known corporation.  I worked both directly and indirectly for Steve for 10 years.  He was the first real “big time” executive that I ever met.  Steve is the model by which I judge all managers and executives:

·        Unpretentious.  There were no airs about him.

·        Even tempered.  Never flew off the handle.

·        Thoughtful.  He never made a rash decision.  He would always think things through.

·        Supportive. If one needed help, he was always available.

·        Well spoken.  Never used a profanity, only measured clear and concise words.  Always made sure that what he said was understood.

·        Responsible.  The first one to admit when he made a mistake. 

Steve had the respect of the entire staff as well as that of a multitude of others in the organization.  Even the malcontents respected him.  He beamed with a low-key aura of self-confidence. He knew who he was and what role he filled in the company. He very seldom ever threw the weight of position around and never with the staff. If you did a good job, he’d make sure and tell you.  If you screwed up or got out of line, you’d hear about that too.  His praise or criticism were always aimed what you had done and never about you personally.  He could mix it up with the staff at the Christmas party but always remained slightly aloof.  If Steve had any personal idiosyncrasies or peculiar habits, they were never evident. He was much more respected than liked but he was a likable guy. He looked, acted, and sounded like an executive.  Steve was not a stodgy old man either, only about ten years older than I was.  I was in my mid twenties when we met.


Under Steve’s leadership, a great deal of issues confronting the organization were solved.  There was no fanfare or accolades.  We knew that we were just getting done what needed to get done.  If Steve asked you to put out more effort to get a project completed, you just knew that it was important to the corporation.  He didn’t have to tell you that.  He’d never send you off on a wild goose chase or waste your time.


A new president was appointed to the company back in the 80’s who had different kind of style – if you get my drift.  Steve was moved around to a variety of other positions and then retired early.  A great loss.


Warren L. The former VP of Human Resources for the same firm.

·        Unpretentious.  Like Steve, there were no airs about him. 

·        Even tempered.

·        Trustworthy.  Would never betray a confidence unless he obtained one’s permission.

·        Well spoken.  Never used a profanity, only clear and concise words.

·        Respectful. Treated everyone with dignity.  

Warren possessed all of the traits and characteristics that you would expect in a Vice of Human Resources.  He could spot a problem employee or manager a mile away.  Always acted with ultimate discretion.  The Human Resources Department was just that.  It was very responsive to the needs of both employees and management.


Warren fell to the same fate as Steve.  The new president replaced him with an attorney.


Phil B.  CFO of a $100M manufacturer where I worked as Corporate Controller

·        Even tempered.

·        Thoughtful.  He never made a rash decision either.  He would always think things through.

·        Well spoken.  Never used a profanity in public, only clear and concise words.

·        Respectful. Treated everyone with dignity.

·        Hard Worker.  Very hands on.  Would never dream of asking anyone to do anything that he wouldn’t do himself.  If pressed, I believe that he actually could have done everything himself.

Phil had a pretty tough time keeping the president of the company in line.  The CEO was a pretty arrogant so and so.  I suspect a little of that had rubbed off on Phil or that he had to take on some of that in order to deal the big cheese.  On balance, rock solid and one of the most intelligent people I have ever met.  He knew when the handwriting was on the door and left to become the CFO of a prestigious organization.   


The old place is in a serious state of decline.


Charlie F.  Crew Chief under whom I served as a volunteer fire fighter and EMT

·         Courageous

·         Dependable

·         Respectful

·         Self-effacing

By trade, Charlie was a blue-collar worker. He was not very well educated.  Charlie was a Vietnam veteran whom I had suspected suffered from PTSD.  Charlie was not good at paperwork and did not like administrative tasks.  He was very aware of his limitations. 

In a fire or some other bad situation, you stuck with Charlie.  You just knew that he was not going to let anything bad happen to you.


No one that I ever spoken with about these individuals has ever mentioned respecting or admiring these people for being workaholics, closing “big deals,” saving millions of dollars, or having TV shows.  These leaders never blew their own horns and dissuaded others from doing so on their behalf.  There was a humility and a dignity that they brought with them to work every day. It was self-evident.