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Making sense of memos

Making sense of memos
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First Published: Fri, Sep 23 2011. 10 34 PM IST
Updated: Fri, Sep 23 2011. 10 34 PM IST
This week I’d like to start with a brief message to those among you who are CEOs of technology companies:
Hello there! How are you?
How did that brand new strategic road map you unveiled last week work out? Oh? I see. Yes, I noticed that your stock price immediately dived like the centre forward of a major Spanish football club that has just seen a defender 20 metres away begin to think about considering a hypothetical attempt at a gentle tackle.
Pity. And the stock price hasn’t bounced back you say? Sad tragedy.
Ah, but I see that you have your board’s complete backing and unquestioned support.
You fool. You damn stupid fool.
YOU ARE BEING FIRED NEXT WEEK YOU IDIOT!
And the new guy is already tweeting things like: “Woo hoo! Just became CEO of a technology company that I can only, for now, refer to as Hydrose&Paulose!”
You poor poor fool.
But otherwise, I hope you have a nice weekend.
The rest of you can come back now. Thank you for your patience.
As you may have noticed, it is the season for wanton bloodshed in certain boardrooms all over the world. As we mentioned in this column two weeks ago, Carol Bartz, the once-CEO of the once-Google Yahoo was dumped by her board of directors earlier this month. They did this over the phone.
And just yesterday we received news that Leo Apotheker had been asked to step down from the top seat at H-P. This too, we are led to believe, was not a particularly ceremonious exit.
Now I’ve never been a CEO myself, unfortunately, but I have been fired from jobs once or twice or four or seven times. And each time, irrespective of the reasons for my firing— underperformance, insider trading, stationery cupboard black market, sudden and unexpected loss of petty cash box—I have always felt hard done by.
All of us, I think, are left enraged by being dismissed. Our immediate thought is to create tremendous, irreversible damage to the company. We might want to set fire to a forklift. Or set fire to a forklift and then drive it into the ERP server room. Or, even better, convene an emergency meeting of the board of directors in the ERP server room, and then drive a flaming forklift into it.
Mmmm. Delicious.
But, I have realized, this is not the case with CEOs. Apparently, the first thing CEOs do on being fired and after quickly filing pending expense bills, is to write short, boring memos to their staff bidding farewell.
One assumes these memos are supposed to be confidential. But these days pilfering emails from a company is easier than getting Obama to give a speech. So these memos appear on the web within moments.
But what do these memos really mean? What are the CEOs trying to communicate between the lines? Is there more to it than meets the eye?
First let us look at a condensed version of one such memo:
From: John Gonejovi
To: All Employees
Dear Employees:
This afternoon our company announced my resignation from the post of CEO. I will be replaced by Tom Knifeinbacker.
Tom is a fantastic leader with wide experience in our business. I am sure he will bring all his talent, experience, and energy to bear on our new strategic road map.
My tenure with this company has been wonderful. I have been lucky to work with some truly exceptional talent. It has been a pleasure and an honour.
Sincerely,
John.
Now let use see what he really means:
From: The Old Boss
To: Dungbeetles
Morons:
Today your board of directors—one half tax-evading criminals, the other half perverts whose browser histories I’ve seen—fired me without having the guts to first tell me personally. Cowards. Like the rest of you. Your new, and most probably last, boss will be Tom “The Alcoholic Embezzler” Knifeinbacker.
Ha ha. The Alcoholic Embezzler is just a playful nickname we CEOs call him. In reality Tom is a talentless, manipulative, boll weevil who can’t run a bath, leave alone a company. But to be fair, one of Tom’s great qualities is his versatility. He can work with very small and very large companies and, in just 12 months, bankrupt them to pieces. He is so good at this that we’ve all asked him to write a book on it. With one chapter. The eleventh. Ha ha ha, you morons. Ha ha.
The last 18 months working with you have been some of the most painful times of my career. When I look back on them, I want to throw up and cry at the same time. But I wanted the money. So I persisted. I fired a lot of you in the last six months. I am sorry I could not fire more.
Today I clear out my desk and go home with a severance package of $34 million. Tomorrow Tom will move into my office. And your apocalypse will begin.
Bye bye suckers,
Boom!
See? Who knew CEOs were normal human beings like the rest of us.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life.Your comments are welcome at cubiclenama@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Sep 23 2011. 10 34 PM IST