Cyborg Executive Officer
Fired Merrill CEO John Thain, talking back in October, about the Bank of America merger he helped to orchestrate.
He was asked about layoffs: "There will be redundancies in the combined companies, and most of those redundancies really come on the infrastructure side, so in places like IT, operations, finance—where there's an overlap of the corporate functions—that's where most of the redundancies occur. … we haven't mapped it out in terms of actual number of people, but we are committed to saving seven billion dollars across the combined platforms, and that will be a challenge."
Redundancies, corporate functions and combined platforms. It's all abstract rationality—until we get down to figuring out how many "actual" people will be let go. Then we calculate it not based on how many people we need to run the merged organization, but some number pulled out of a hat and dangled in front of investors.
Scapegoating this Fortune 500 chief lets us forget that most of the other 499 operate at this level of abstraction too—and, to a large extent, we all live our lives at the mercy of what makes "strategic" sense to these rather bad guessers.*
Pity the poor employee comm team that got to try to spin that within both companies. “We’re gonna cut thousands of jobs. We don’t know how many thousand. Maybe two thousand, maybe twenty thousand. But one thing is clear, we will keep cutting until we save $7 billion – that number we know.”
He could have just said, “We’re not yet at a point in our careful planning where we can say definitively how many jobs will need to be cut. Until we’ve figured out those details and talked to our employees about what to expect, I think it would be irresponsible and disrespectful to the dedicated people we have in both companies to speculate publicly about the impact.”
Of course, the guessers aren’t so concerned with responsibility and respect.
Reuben – you’re right. They are, however, concerned about making sure their own personal offices “fit” within the structure of the rest of their peers, with things like $35,000 antique commodes!
The problem is that these executives can parachute in, gobble up huge bonues, and then parachute out without feeling any repercussions from those “guesses” they make. I wish that the contracts for all senior level executives stipulated that if major lay-offs, restructuring, downsizing or financial loss situations occur within 24 months of their tenure, they have to reimburse the company a minimum of 50% of any bonus or incentive payouts they have received.
If it was likely to lighten THEIR bank accounts substantially too, these disgusting people might be a little more careful and aggressive in their research and consideration before they make these “guesses” about the businesses and the people who’s lives they hold in their greasy, greedy hands!
Not that I’m holding my breath for that!
David Murray says
That’s a huge part of it, Kristen—the swooping in and swooping out that turns business into a chess game for these people, and not just employees, but whole divisions and business lines into pawns.
It may be a wee bit late to turn the clock back on the Industrial Revolution … but surely we can hope to work for–and to buy products from–organizations slightly less fleeting, abstract, gaseous and imaginary than this.
David – I agree with you, but it’s actually a lot harder than it sounds to identify the companies who behave in fair and honourable ways.
You know my opinion about the “evil empire” of WalMart, and they have had SO MUCH publicity about how they treat their employees and their suppliers, and that makes it easy to choose not to shop there like I do.
Unfortunately, not all companies who are behaving badly have such public attention focused on them. When you’re a Mom who’s trying to look after her family and her home, plus hold down a full time job, it’s hard to do a bunch of research on every company who’s products you buy or plan to buy.
That isn’t intended as an excuse, but it would be nice if there was a quick and easy way to find out whether the companies you buy from are “good guys” or “not-so-good guys”, you know?
I’m not sure there’s an answer to that, but I like to think I try to patronize responsible companies, so it is really frustrating to discover months, or sometimes years down the road that a company who’s products I’ve used does business in ways that I find offensive or wrong and I had no idea.
David Murray says
Actually, I think the hope lies not in easy-to-use consumer guides but in investors who will increasingly wish to invest in companies whose management can AT LEAST demonstrate a commitment to the long-term viability of THEIR OWN ORGANIZATION.
Wal-Mart, actually, passes this test as well or better than most companies, especially with all the sustainability work they’ve done over the last few years to get their reputation back.
Merrill, not so much.
Maybe it’s time for investors to start doing a little of their own guessing again.
This story is made all the more poignant by the story of the man who just killed his entire family. “Employees” is a word, but there are human beings involved, and their families and futures, too.
As for where to shop, increasingly I find myself using blogs and such to find tiny or small companies in niche markets. For example, I get some of my tea and tea stuff from a dietitian in Colorado and Stash, “green” pencils from a woman in the Northwest, and jewelry from Etsy sellers. I may not always know who their suppliers are, but generally they seem more like community than going to one of the boxes.
David Murray says
The story Diane is referring to: