Being CEO Means More Than Riding Around On The Corporate Jet

I was absolutely flabbergasted to read this on Matthew Yglesias’ blog this morning:

“I think that running a major company is largely a matter of riding around on the corporate jet.”

Later, he writes:

“That a lot of the people succeeding in business are sort of frauds (needless to say, other people get rich by inventing stuff that turns out to be incredibly lucrative and that’s a whole different sort of thing) doesn’t detract from the fact that the most successful among them are good at being frauds and that most people couldn’t do nearly as well.”

I’m not sure what’s more insulting–the notion that being a corporate executive requires no worthwhile skill, or that the most important skill in business is being good at being a fraud.

It is astounding to me that the same writers who will excoriate people for oversimplifying policy issues (like the debate over school vouchers) will turn around and do exactly the same thing to business and economic issues. Do they realize their hypocrisy? They might as well be right-wing talk radio hosts.

I have worked with good CEOs and bad CEOs. I don’t know whether or not management competence is relevant for a Fortune 500 company, but it makes a big difference in the startup world. My guess is that it makes a difference for big companies as well.

If not, wouldn’t the same logic argue that competence is less important in a President than in the mayor of Wassila, Alaska, and that anyone who could do the latter would be qualified to do the former?

Perhaps Yglesias has just been taken in by the media’s focus on crappy CEOs like Dennis Kozlowski and Ken Lay. But by that same logic, we should judge all football players based on Pacman Jones and Rae Carruth.

C’mon, Matt, you’re better than that. Right?

8 thoughts on “Being CEO Means More Than Riding Around On The Corporate Jet

  1. Anonymous

    [Off topic but I couldn’t find a way to email you.]

    Hi Chris,

    I remember you talking about your use of cli.qs because it tracks clicks, but it’s bugging me to death. Not the tracking part, though.

    I want to be able to hover over a link and see where it’s pointing me before I click it. I’ve stopped clicking all of your links because I can’t see where they’re going. Are they going to a news site? A blog? Is it a past article you’ve written? Is it to a company site? Is it a deep link, or is it just a front page? Is it an image, movie, mp3, pdf, or any other type of media? Will it cause me to download something, or can I view it in the browser?

    I don’t mind your usage of cli.qs one bit, but what I would like to see is the hover-text of the URL preserved, even if I’m being secretly redirected through a proxy site. (I believe google does this, or something similar.)

    It probably sounds silly, but I really can’t tell you how annoying it is to not know where a link is going to send me, and it’s enough that I stop clicking them.

    Thank you!

  2. Sparks

    I think Matt just mistyped CEO. I think what he really meant to say was POTUS.

    I know Nov 4th is past us now and it’s a done deal, but we didn’t get the best candidates to choose from.

    McCain has quite a bit more experience and perspective, but his mindset was all wrong. He left us with a lot to be desired.

    Does Obama have all the experience and has he built a career on accomplishment, leadership, and proving himself to be ready? Not in my estimation. I think Obama fits the model of the fraud that Yglesias speaks of. An empty suit who’s main objective and accomplish is self-promotion moving up the ladder. Instead of focusing on accomplishment, he’s focused on his network, pulling favors, making deals, and always having the eye on the next rung of the ladder.

    Apparently, almost 67 million American votors are willing to be swayed and inspired by a guy who can exude confidence and maintain a calm, cool, collected aire about him, and they’re willing to put him at the help.

    McCain despite having much more experience, expressed frustration, a little bit of shakiness, some old school, weakness or reluctance to take a strong stance and not being such a “fighter”.

    I think Yglesias hits on something. There are a lot of people who don’t understand what it takes to be a CEO (or POTUS), but they are willing to follow somebody who appears on the outside to have a handle on things. Body language and the aura matter… a lot… So much so that in many cases, you can almost get away with it… for a time.

    I’ve worked under and directly for some CEO’s. Some were very competent, but more were absolutely clowns that schmoozed their way into the roles and were gone 5 years later after having made one too many bad decisions. The sad part is that despite their poor performances, they always seem to manage to land another CEO job.

    Right now I’m self-employed, so I don’t have to worry about the CEO thing, but I hope our President-Elect lives up to at least 1/2 the hype that surrounds him.

  3. Former Independent - Puneet :-)

    The fact of the matter is that they’re many crappy CEO’s that line their pockets and dupe their shareholders just as theirs many hardworking smart CEO’s that have integrity.

    It’s up to the investors and shareholders to make informed decisions and act unison to make sure things are done correctly.

    If I not an investor or a shareholder and I personally could give a hoot as to how a company is run. I can tell you one thing though…I’m certainly not in favor giving a bailout to CEO’s that line their pockets with multimillions while they’re companies lose Billions.

    The big three automakers flew in on their corporate jets, they’re big shots in their own little world; not mine – and they’re asking me for what?

  4. considering that the Big3 car companies (one of whom continually calls me wanting their money) all just flew to washington to beg for $25 BILLION of our money on their private corporate jets, maybe he has a point…

  5. It’s just the 80/20 times 80/20 problem.
    As in :80% of the people in any job category, CEO’s, bloggers and congressman included don’t do their jobs well.

    Of the 20% who do, 80% of them are assholes.

    That leaves 1.6% who both get it and do it. The good news is that you only need 1.6% to change the world for the better, Any of the 20% can change the world. And the 80% are just trying to get through the day.

  6. CEO’s may be good or bad, just like any other person in a given position. But CEO’s are far more tone deaf to the public about the symbols they use to run the business.

    Flying solo in a corporate jet to beg for money is exhibit number one. Exhibit two: severance compensation packages that rocket to the moon when their performance was a failure.

    If I can’t get a severance package that would set me up for life if I failed the company, why should a CEO?

    And how could anyone understand what it takes to be a CEO when all they see is private corporate jets, $50,000 bathrooms, paid taxes, and millions in severance?

    I don’t think it is incompetence; but all the symbols that people relate to their work are all bad.

  7. The good news is that some executives are starting to get it. The top execs at Goldman Sachs and AIG are going to forgo bonuses this year.

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