Sunday, May 27, 2007

Business Book for the Left

When I sorted out my Journal Sentinel this morning (i.e., tossed aside the advertising sections), I noted that Crossroads published a column by Lee Iaccoca (actually by his "co-author") trotting out the left's creedal faith on the Bush administration and making the point that a Leader of Men like, oh Lee Iaccoca, knows from leadership and this ain't it. I didn't read it.

Patrick McIlheran did and points out that Lee's plain talk is actually puerile oversimplification. I have now read the piece and, while I agree with Patrick, I have another observation.

Lee Iaccoca was the prototype for the modern CEO Hero. He was one of the first CEOs or owners to place himself in his company's commercials. This has been much repeated, bringing us the likes of the Men's Wearhouse's George Zimmer. Lee should be shunned for that alone.

Of course, you put the CEO Hero in the commercial because the success or failure of the enterprise turns upon him. He can't be paid too much. Lee was a critical stepping point in the process that brought us Richard Grasso.

His subtype is the Common Man At the Top. (Harry Truman is the political version.) This guy is a genius because he doesn't bother with those complexities that bedevil lesser men and women. He cuts through all the horses*** (apparently a key concept for Lee) and gets things done.

It is tempting to look to such people for political advice. The difficulty, of course, is that while such people may know their own business quite well and have done a wonderful job within it, they have no particular insight or expertise that can be translated into the political world. Making money at Chrysler or EDS tells us nothing about how or whether you could govern your state or your country.

Translated in to politics, the Common Man CEO Hero usually calls for an end to ideology and a rejection of the controversies that most of the rest of us are arguing about. This can be very seductive. Cf. H. Ross Perot. The problem, of course, is that, in business, we generally agree about the ultimate objective, i.e., we want to make money. In politics, we don't (or at least we have prioritze differently) and that's what much of the argument is about. Competing views of the good and of the way in which the world works are likely to be far more complex than adding two points to gross margin (which can be a daunting task). A bit more tolerance for debate is required. While Iaccoca argues that Bush is insular, the tired old stuff that he trots out in support of his position suggests that he may need to expand his own reading list.

Lee's (actually Catherine Whitney's) column is just a condensed version of the literary adjunct to the culture of the CEO Hero, the modern business book. It requires some mnemonic device (S.W.O.T.; in this case, the 9 "C"s) or metaphor (i.e., the hedgehog or moving cheese) that the author rides past the point of collapse. I know that some people find these things helpful and they sell like crazy. I guess they can serve as a way to stay focused on what you already know, but they are rarely anything more than tricked up banality.

Like "Iaccoca's" column.

That all this is trotted out in service of the left's disgust with Bush is a tad ironic, no?


Anonymous said...

Lee Iaccoa is a "leftist." Only in the America could someone get away with labeling corporate CEO as a "leftist."

Reason: the right has done a brilliant job of defining anyone -- anyone -- who doesn't agree with its most extreme ideology as an extremist or leftist. It politically powerful and effective but intellectually empty and destructive.

Rick Esenberg said...

I am not saying that he is a leftist. I don not know and do not care. But here he he rehearses the left's standard talking points. I can get this stuff on Daily Kos from people who don't need a ghost writer.

Anonymous said...

Iacocca is just trying to make himself relevant. He's merely rehashing old ideas about how politics should be less about ideas and more about pragmatism, and trying to make them sound fresh by grafting them onto popular anti-Bush sentiment. This is neither bold, daring, or original. Moreover, Bush is commonly acknowledged as trying to govern based on the model of a corporate CEO, which is what Iaccoca seems to argue for.

Anonymous said...

The notion that the relationship of worker to CEO pay may be a indicator of a healthy, functional economy is a "left" notion?

And, not to quibble, but the statement that he was "trotting out the left's creedal faith" seems the same as calling him a leftist.

Are conservatives simply pro-really really high pay for CEOs. Or, are they just concerned about certain measures discussed to address it?

Anonymous said...

Iaccoa is right, our policians are worried more about job security then they are worried about doing the right thing. Bush's hand are tied with these types of people.

We need more leadership in all branches of goverment to do the right thing as well as more people from the private sector speaking out when the goverment does the wrong thing.

We should expect our leaders to get the job done and to do the right thing. We do not have leaders now and I haven't recognised one that is running for office.

The closest thing I've seen to leadership lately is the appeals court that overturned and freed Thompson. That was leadership and we need more of it.

Anonymous said...

Let's remember the salient point about Iacocca: His name is an acronym for I Am Chairman of Chrysler Corporation America.

Mike Plaisted said...

Wasn't one of Junior Bush's selling points that he was a CEO with an MBA and that this experience was going to make him somehow a better president? Never mind that he ran various businesses into the ground -- this was supposed to be one of his strong points.

But now Iacoca, the longtime and actually successful CEO is somehow incompetent to offer an opinon on the Bush disasters. We'll remeber that next time some other CEO develops a different conclusion and is held up as some sort of insightful leader.

But we are used to this. Anyone of substance who brings a cogent criticism of Bush is diminished and attacked as unqualified, uninformed and somehow compromised.

What I would like to hear, Rick, is what you think about the actual substance of the article. Let's start at the top: "We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car." Let's fact check: "clueless bozos"? Check. "corporate gangsters stealing us blind"? Uh-huh. "we can't even clean up after a hurricane"? That would be correct.

Does it make any difference that "the left's standard talking points" are correct or that Iacoca and his co-writer may have come to the same conclusions on their own? I think it is significant when a corporate establishment-type makes strong statements about a failed administration -- he has probably come a long way to get there.

And, if not Iacoca (and retired generals and seasoned diplomats and other kinds of very government-knowledgeable folk), who are we supposed to listen to, Rick? If not Iacoca, who is qualified?Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling? Limbaugh and Hannity? What are their credentials and what makes them so smart?

The fact is that if Iacoca came down with something supporting Bush, you and McIlheran would be falling all over yourselves about what a great genius he was and is. But, no. It's really about what they say, not who says it.

Jim Bouman said...

As a non-practitioner of business, I have, at least, tried to learn a few things about how corporate goals are set then pursued. I've worked at understanding the lingo and the rudiments of how to read the financial reports common to business planning--ratios, cost of goods sold, retained earnings, etc.

The blogger (would that be the shark or the shepherd?) referred to the daunting task of businesses in "shaving two points off gross margin".

Why, this guy wonders, would that be a business objective?

I wonder whether Lee Iaccoca knows the answer.

Rick Esenberg said...

Good point. I was thinking cost reductions and writing something else. Shows you why I'll never run Chrysler.

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Rick Esenberg said...

The spam makes my point.