Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Incompetent is as .......................

TRD101: Incompetent is as ....................

I've spent 20+ years as a management consultant. I have had the privilege to meet or deal with some of the very best CEO's and senior executives in a variety of companies: from startups to Fortune 100 conglomerates. There is this romantic notion that business CEO's, especially those in large companies, are the best and brightest. Let's stop the romance now.

It was my experience that between 10% and 20% of these senior executives were very competent. The majority were average, at best, and approximately 25% needed a GPS to find their way to and from the bathroom. These less-than-stellar executives were frontmen/salesmen. They weren't very bright, but made their way up the organizational chart on charm, guile, being in the right place at the right time, and too often, sheer dumb luck.

I worked (as an employee) for one of these frontmen at a well-known, highly venture financed start-up high technology company 20 years ago. It was no secret that his executive assistant really ran the company, though she was so deft at what she did, she left few fingerprints about what she did behind.

I was employee number 8 at this company. I had an interview with this executive before being hired. Over 18 months, I had been in group meetings on a variety of topics which he chaired. My role had evolved so that I was the "minister without portfolio" for the company. On any day, I might have been involved with manufacturing, computers, marketing, sales and/or administration issues. At the time, I was getting involved in developing the company's new strategic plan, a plan that would be used for raising the next round of financing.

The CEO's executive assistant saw me walking by and called me over. She had a big smile on her face. She said, "Mike, Mr. (CEO) asked me who you were. He thought you were our account representative from Digital Equipment Corporation. He was wondering why you, as a competitor, were attending so many important meetings. I told him who you were and that you were one of our most valued employees."

And the employee in the process of writing the strategic plan which would greatly increase the value of his stock options.

It's ironic that the Bush Presidency was to be "the CEO" presidency because it has had so many failed CEO's in senior positions. The only excellent CEO amongst the Bush Leaguers, Paul O'Neill, former Secretary of the Treasury and CEO of Alcoa, got quickly pushed out because he wanted to deal with the real issues of the day, not a preconceived and out-of-touch ideological agenda. The best CEO's set a strategic direction, but adjust it to deal with real-world exigencies.

The backgrounds of the remaining CEO's in office are not stellar. George Bush, failed CEO of 2 companies that were bailed out by rich family connections. Dick Cheney, formerCEO of Halliburton, which almost has gone bankrupt by the acquisitio of Brown & Root, entangled in the huge asbestos class-action lawsuit. Donald Rumsfeld, CEO of Searle, which only started to do well again after Rumsfeld, but not before he helped push through the FDA approval of the carcinogenic Aspertame before all of the scientific tests were performed. John Snow, former CEO of CSX Corporation, whose last action in office was to sell CSX's container business to the Carlyle Group, the mysterious investment banking company populated by the Bush family retainers and friends.

The best strategic plan developed by the Bush-Leaguers was the Future of Iraq Project developed by Colin Powell's State Department. If you haven't read it, and you have any interest in what's going on in Iraq, you need to read it. Powell's multi-year effort, accumulating the knowledge and insights of hundreds of experts with different basis of knowledge to develop realistic scenarios on what would happen in Iraq if various actions were taken. The unfortunate course of events that have happened in Iraq, including the impending civil war, were predicted by the Future of Iraq Project.

Instead of this well-researched and well-considered plan, the Bush Leaguers appear to mostly have relied upon the input of a group of "dead-enders" and frauds comprising the Iraqi National Congress, headed by the shady and suspect Ahmed Chalabi. Given that the members of the INC had not been in Iraq for many years, and were subsisting (very well) from US government payments, it should have been obvious that the INC members were going to tell those in power that they wanted to hear, which somehow coincided with the agenda of the ING gaining power in Iraq.

The disaster that is Iraq did not have to happen. What has haapened is sheer incompetency.

TRD101 knows this: incompetent CEO's have incompetent people around them and push out the competent who challenge them. What happens while they are in power are all too predictable. Incompentent is as incompentent does.

And that's the Real Deal's basics for today, like it or not.

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