Haigh, Gideon. Bad Company: The Strange Cult of the CEO. London: Aurum Press, 2004. ISBN 1-85410-969-3.
In this small and quirky book, Haigh puts his finger precisely on the problem with today's celebrity CEOs. It isn't just that they're paid obscenely out of proportion to their contribution to the company, it's that for the most part they don't know all that much about the company's products, customers, and industry. Instead, skilled only in management, they attempt to analyse and operate the company by examining and manipulating financial aggregates. While this may be an effective way to cut costs and improve short-term operating results through consolidation, outsourcing and offshoring, cutting research and development, and reducing the level of customer service, all these things tend to injure the prospects of the company over the long haul. But CEOs are mostly compensated based on current financial results and share price. With length of tenure at the top becoming ever shorter as executives increasingly job hop among companies, the decisions a CEO makes today may have consequences which manifest themselves only after the stock options are cashed in and his successor is left to sort out the mess. Certainly there are exceptions, usually entrepreneurs who remain at the helm of the companies they've founded, but the nature of the CEO rôle in today's publicly traded company tends to drive such people out of the job, a phenomenon with which I have had some experience. I call the book “quirky” because the author draws examples not just from well known corporate calamities, but also films and works of fiction. He is fond of literary allusions and foreign phrases, which readers are expected to figure out on their own. Still, the message gets across, at least to readers with attention spans longer than the 10 to 30 minute time slices which characterise most CEOs. The ISBN on the copyright page is wrong; I've given the correct one here.

June 2004 Permalink