Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page


In Bureaucracy, Politics, Social commentary on March 22, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Americans keep falling in love with CEOs and expecting them to deliver salvation as well as effective government.

In 1992, Ross Perot, former CEO of Electronic Data Systems (EDS), propelled hmself toward the Presidency. Although armed with a $3 billion campaign chest, he didn’t win.

But he got 10 million votes—and that was enough to endear him to Congress. In early 1993, just before Bill Clinton—the winner of the election—was inaugurated, Perot visited Washington, D.C. Congressmen couldn’t swoon enough over him. Clearly, many of these vote-hungry politicians hoped to cash in on Perot’s magic with a certain segment of voters.

In 2008, another former CEO set his sights on the White House: Mitt Romney. Romney. who had headed Bain & Company, tried to buy his way to the White House but lost out to John McCain (who, in turn, lost out to Barack Obama).

And now, running for Governor of California, there’s yet another CEO who’s “ready to lead”: Meg Whitman, former president of eBay.

What’s going on here?

For starters: Far too many Americans equate the amassing of large sums of money with Heavenly blessings: “If Ross Perot has amassed a $3 billion fortune for himself, surely that means he’s God’s favorite.” This is a throwback to the early Puritan heritage that still dominates so much of the thinking of this country.

By that standard, we should be canonizing the heads of the five most powerful Mafia “families” in the country.

Another reason so many Americans embrace CEOs is that they don’t understand why so many men (and a smattering of women) strive to reach that position. For many—if not most—of these people, “CEO” means something more than Chief Executive Officer. What it really means is: Corrupt Egotistical Oligarch.

Millions of Americans actually believe that people lie and slash their way to the top of mega-corporations so they can spend the rest of their lives as Mother Theresa. Some CEOs do, in fact, have an idealistic agenda for doing right. But, for the vast majority of them, the struggle for power and wealth is what it has always been: The struggle for power and wealth.

That’s why so many millions of Americans were actually surprised to find, when the economy collapsed in September, 2008, that what lay behind it was the unchecked arrogance of so many CEOs, whose offficial motto should have been: “Greed is not enough.”

And now Mitt Romney’s gearing up for another run at the White House. He’s just launched (that is, had ghostwritten) his latest effort to keep him in the limelight until 2012: No Apology: The Case for American Greatness.

Americans take a schizophrenic view of their politicians. On one hand, they fiercely attack those whom they believe are on the payroll of “special interests.” On the other hand, they have filled Congress and even the White House with millionaires who come from those same privileged centers.

This is one of the reasons why American politics remain so dangerously gridlocked.


In Bureaucracy, History, Self-Help on March 12, 2010 at 5:20 pm

“Don’t let the bastards scare you.”
–Elmer Davis, newspaper and radio reporter

Remember the artificially-created “energy crisis” of 2000-2001? The time when Enron and a host of other energy companies almost pushed California and the entire Western United States into bankruptcy?

TV news stories on this outrage focused on the gleaming, steel-and-glass towers where many of these Texas-based companies were headquartered. You almost felt you were looking into the face of God–that the decisions made in these towers were being made by deities, not a bunch of greedy, overpaid criminals.

Finally, the media began attaching human faces to this story–like those of Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling. The faces of the criminals behind this scheme. Like the Wizard of Oz after the curtain was pulled away, these seemingly all-powerful men lost their aura of Godlike authority.

Suddenly, viewers–and even the Justice Department–woke up to an important truth: These criminals could be held accountable, after all. Some of them could even be indicted and convicted. (Though, as at the Nuremberg trials, not nearly enough were.)

There is a valuable lesson here for everyone forced to deal with bureaucracies–of public agencies or private companies: The people working in them are humans. They aren’t gods, no matter how highly-placed some of them are–and no matter how Godlike some of them think they are.

So if you get turned down or treated rudely at one level, don’t lose heart: There is nearly always someone else higher up to contact. Very often, that person wants to do the right thing–s/he simply needs to be given the facts of the case.

But often you have to deal with an official who simply wants to shove your problem under the rug. There can be several reasons for this: The official might simply be lazy. Or s/he might be following company/agency policy to do nothing. (Many such organizations consider it a “win” if they don’t have to spend any money or effort helping their customers–even if this makes for disastrous PR.) Or the person might simply dislike you for no good reason.

In any case, you have reason to be optimistic. That official nearly always has a superior–maybe a long line of superiors–who can overrule him. Sometimes it’s his immediate superior. Sometimes it has to be the president of the company or the director of the agency.

And those are the people you need to persuade.

In the posts to come, I’ll share some of my secrets for doing this. And I want you to feel free to share your own experiences–and the lessons you’ve learned from them–with me.


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