If Google.com were to rank all its worldwide users in terms of time spent on the site daily, this writer would probably figure somewhere right on top. Along with all other journalists and management consultants.
So much so that I no longer even bother switching on my brain when people ask me questions. The nervous impulses generated by such a question bypass my brain and go directly to my hands, which then reach for a computer or mobile phone.
Therefore, my Google search history includes: “Do we have any coffee left?”, “What plans for the weekend?”, “Do I look fat in this?” and “Are these your socks in the microwave?”
So at this point in my relationship— with Google—I’d assumed I’d had as much fun as I could manage. Especially when it comes to office culture. Thanks to this column, most of my Thursdays are spent desperately looking for developments in that arena.
But I’d never searched for the term “CEO step down” until this week. What delight ensued!
Little did I know that right now, even as you are reading this, CEOs are stepping down in droves. Perhaps it is due to all the economic distress. Or maybe companies are rebounding, and need new CEOs who dabble in derivatives again. We can speculate about reasons, but there is an epidemic of CEO-stepping-down-age happening globally.
Pfizer, Cathay Pacific, Kellogg, Fairfax Media, TNT are all just some of the companies going through turbulence at the top. And that’s just this week.
(I am tempted to fire out a few copies of my resume. Who knows? And if I goof up, I can always step down.)
Now the reason for my search was an interesting story I read on the Fortune magazine website. The report said that Barry Diller, of online media conglomerate InterActiveCorp, was stepping down as CEO.
What’s new you ask?
He said he was stepping down because he felt that the “company wasn’t being managed correctly”. So after naming a successor, Greg Blatt, Diller said he was going to change tracks: “I never thought I was a very good manager. I mean I am decent, but I want to go back to what I am good at, which is looking for opportunities to grow the business. Greg is a better manager than I am.”
I don’t know what kind of CEOs you hang around with, but this seemed entirely unique to me. A CEO stepping down not because he was too old, or tired, or had failed miserably. But because he thinks someone else will do it better.
Feel free to Google for “CEO step down” and you will understand what I mean.
In most cases it isn’t “stepping down” as much being led to the staircase under the guise of innocent conversation— “The board is pleased with the bounce- back in this quarter’s numbers, Mr CEO…”—and then being pushed over the railing. The CEO comes crashing down in front of an HR manager who hands him a handsome severance package.
Or holds him down till the police arrives.
Browse through the headlines and it is remarkable how few CEOs leave amicably. Most departures follow internal board-level power struggles, shady accounting, stock price crashes or other business downturns.
One fellow says he is leaving because he was too tired. Another says he is leaving for legitimate health reasons. The vast majority, though, sound like departures under duress. Like they are being booted out of the boardroom. In order “to spend more time with the family and explore personal passions”.
To me it makes the office of CEO sound like a curse. Yes I am sure you get paid very well. But how do you move on? What next? Is there any way to exit the office with any grace?
Wait. Maybe they don’t want to exit at all. And I can hazard a guess as to why this is so.
Becoming a CEO is usually made out to be the epitome of professional achievement.
If you are an MBA, think back to the problems you solved or the case studies you discussed. My guess would be that in most cases you analysed it from the perspective of the founder or the CEO:
You in business school classroom: “Our study group has decided that the future of Lijjat Papad is in e-commerce and iPad apps. This is a mock of our patented iPapad app.”
Professor: “Did you say iPad app? (Claps). Everyone please note the CEO potential of this student!”
And how many times have we heard recruiters say that they are looking for “future CEO material”?
The “system”, then, encourages you to aspire for nothing less than CEO-dom. Once there, however, you have nowhere else to go. So you cling on to it with dear life. You don’t need the money. But you need the title. You can’t go back and become a VP again.
Cling, squirm, hem, haw.
But I am merely hypothesizing. I am sure the CEOs among you will have an opinion. Kindly send a confidential email. Is Diller a role model? Or a mental case? We will not share a word with your board of directors or shareholders.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
To read Sidin Vadukut’s previous articles, go to www.livemint.com/cubiclenama