By Harvey Mackay
A few weeks ago, the day that John Walter was named the new CEO at AT&T, the stock dropped 2 points. It was the corporate equivalent of the traditional bone-jarring sack that greets rookie quarterbacks.
“Welcome to the NFL, kid.”
Welcome to the corporate big leagues, John.
Leading the corps of business blitzers was “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap, who got his nickname by sacking 11,200 employees when he headed Scott Paper.
According to Dunlap, John Walter was not what “suffering shareholders are looking for.”
Well, neither was Walter’s predecessor, Bob Allen, another job-slasher, who pared 40,000 employees at AT&T. This year, while the Dow Jones industrials are up 16 percent, AT&T stock is down over 18 percent. Needless to say, employee morale is also in the tank. On the day his selection was announced, Walter said he regards the job as “25 percent strategy and 75 percent execution.”
I hope he means it. The best way to prove it would be for him not to set foot in his office for 75 percent of his first month on the job and spend the time with his troops in the field.
Many years ago, another Bell system chief executive named Bruce Foraker was head of the phone company in New York City. One frigid January night, upon leaving the theater, Foraker noticed an open manhole in the street. Realizing that Bell employees were below, splicing cable in the freezing weather, Foraker dropped down and joined them for a little chat. It wasn’t unusual behavior for him. He was called the “man of 10,000 friends” because his employees held him in such high esteem.
CEOs of major corporations have a duty to employees, customers, shareholders and the communities they operate in. They cannot afford to ignore any of them.
These days, you have to add a fifth constituency to the stew, the media.
Robert Dilenschneider of The Dilenschneider Group, a strategic counseling and public relations firm, recently spoke on “The Public Aspects of a Chief Executive’s Job: Helping Chief Executive Officers Become Part of the Solution.”
“If the shareholders are unhappy, they will drop the stock,” said Dilenschneider. “Estranged employees, studies show, are not as productive. Customers just walk away if they are not treated well, and the community can freeze the CEO and his team out, making it hard to recruit on the one hand and live on the other.”
Al Dunlap says that when you find a corporate CEO that takes time away from his principal business to serve on numerous outside boards, particularly non-profits, you’ll find a company that’s underperforming. I disagree.
I say that when you find a CEO doing just that, you’ll find a CEO doing his job.
Cost-cutting, down-sizing and plant-closings are short-term solutions. So is just focusing on shareholders.
The name “Dayton” is synonymous with community participation in my town. The executives of this retail giant, Dayton-Hudson Corporation, are found on almost every civic and charitable organization board in town.
Like Bruce Foraker, Don Dayton liked to get out and mingle. He never took an elevator up to the corporate offices above the department store that bears his name. He always took the escalator so he could see more of what was happening on each floor and talk with customers and employees.
A few years ago, when the inevitable takeover attempt was directed at Dayton-Hudson, the Minnesota Legislature held a special session and adopted legislation that stopped it cold.
The reason was stated over and over: We can’t lose Dayton’s. It’s part of the community.
A lot of names have disappeared from the retail scene, but not Dayton’s.
This year, Dayton’s stock is up over 43 percent.
Not bad, Al, for an outfit where the bosses spend so much time away from their desks.