Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Crazy bosses 2

Crazy Bosses

by Stanley Bing

ISBN: 0060731575
ISBN-13: 9780060731571

Read a Sample Chapter

Chapter One

The Crazy Corporation

There are two ways to look at it. Either (a) the business world is a sane place dominated by a couple of crazy people who ruin everything . . . or (b) the organizations we serve are basically crazy, and you need to be crazy to manage them. After years studying the subject, I'm weighing in on (b).

Too often for it to be a coincidence, or some ailment that afflicts only my friends, I have seen mildly neurotic—that is, normal—individuals transformed by the pressure of office and title into something new and not altogether better.

But don't take it from me. There's objective evidence as well. One need only look at some of the great, stupid mergers of recent years, or the sudden deconstruction of once-functional, marginally sane organizations by ceaseless reengineering, to see people driven crazy by their own business decisions. Think Time Warner being acquired by a bunch of bozos who thought they had all the answers. Think Madison Avenue during the years of ugly consolidation, when every creative little shop sold itself to one oligarch or another. To work for such companies was to go insane, and if you went insane enough you had just a chance to survive and prosper. Only the hopeful, the entirely rational, were doomed.

There are many ways that the world can drive a person crazy. Love can do it. War. And the constant destabilization of the working environment one must live within in order to earn money. This can peel an individual away, leaving nothing left but a small, smoking nugget deep in the limbic region.

I can tell youwhat it's like to have your working world turned upside down every couple of years. At about the time I started, the first wave of moronic dealmania hit, and you had to be able to hold on to your ass with both hands just to remember where to find your chair. On one day at the height of this nonsense, when I'd been at the game for just a couple of years, nineteen major mergers showed up on my newswire—nineteen in one day!

Consider the number of people involved. Imagine the paranoia. The despair. The betrayals both large and small. Was it, perhaps, an unusual day? No. The next day, when I once again entered the command "Search: Mergers" in the database (there was no Google then, you know), I came up with no fewer than thirty more pending mergers, acquisitions, friendly and unfriendly takeovers, and other changes of management. Two small chemical labs were bought by a manufacturer supplying specialty niche products for a wide variety of industries. Vicorp Specialty Restaurants, operators of the Hungry Hunter, Mountain Jack's, and other dinner establishments, merged with Rusty Pelican Restaurants, Inc. Physician's Reimbursement Services, offering health-care services mostly in third-party insurance claims, bought Professional Management Associates, a health-care consulting service mostly in Louisiana. And so on, and on.

Take, for example, the single, albeit long and distinguished, career of that great fomenter of imposed change and organizational chaos, Ron Perelman, who came to our attention in the late 1980s with a cornucopia of wealth creation for the very few. In the space of a few short years back in the day, he seized Pantry Pride in a significantly leveraged deal and sold most of its stores to pay for the deal; bought Revlon for $1.7 billion and sold off all but $300 million worth of its operations, making, as Forbes later wrote, "much more money breaking up the company than [founder Charles] Revson made by building it"; bought 15 percent of Trans World Corporation, which operated Hilton's hotel and food-service businesses; and raided Gillette, the razor people. I don't think it's unfair to say that through-out this amazing run that extends over more than twenty-five years, Perelman has been a model of the genre—creating tons of money for himself while sowing a shitstorm of chaos within the organizations he manages. (Today, one can see him at Michael's and Nobu, looking slender and hot, doing great, leaving a bevy of beautiful, angry women in his wake. What a dude!)

Deals, deals, and more deals. Huge sums of money rocketing across hardwood tables. Enormous wealth. Devastation of existing corporate governments. Exultation among those who manage money. Confusion and terror among those who just have to earn it.

Today, the pace of deals has slowed, since most industries have been consolidated down to just a few players. That's not to say that dementia is ever very far away. Right now, if you have a good idea about how the gigantic digital collective mind can be advanced in some way, it's possible that in a year, maybe less, the guys at Google will acquire your entire operation for billions of dollars. Do those deals make sense? The other day, Google, of which YouTube is now part, reported a 75 percent increase in quarterly profits and its stock rose thirty bucks.

In the new century, the big dudes wear sweaters and lab coats. But while styles may change, however, the crazy core remains the same. Some of the great carriers of mass insanity remain with us for decades. Today, a whole bunch of formerly crazy bosses have turned into major philanthropists—definitely a trend right now, as big, in its own way, as Excellence was in the last century. There's a long history of this kind of thing.