I don’t know enough about the financial aspects or the technical ‘reasons-why’ behind the crisis facing the likes of Citibank and the US Auto Majors. It seems fair that the current CEO of these companies is taking the heat – the buildup to the crisis may not be his doing entirely, but hey, who else you gonna blame?
But I was struck by the enormous insensitivity, even stupidity of some of these CEOs in handling the crisis – specially from a media management angle. Imagine this – the chief executives of the Big Three automakers opted to fly in their corporate jets to Washington for their hearing before the Senate. Essentially, going to beg for a bailout with the taxpayer’s money while sending out a message that they are literally burning it while doing so! Sure, the CEOs have all the right to get around in their private jets. But the symbolism at this particular event seems to have lost on them. The grilling that they were put through, perhaps a tad excessive makes for great reading. As one of them was asked: ‘couldn’t you all have downgraded to first class or jet-pooled or something to get here?’. Ironically, they spent much of the session ‘declaring what a fine job they’ve been doing in Detroit’ sounding like TV commercials. When they were asked if they would be willing to work on a salary of US$1 a year (as a symbolic gesture), the chief of Ford said: “I understand the intent, but I think where we are is okay”. When pressed for his own response, he said: “I think I’m okay where I am.” His current compensation: US$ 21.7 million.
With that kind of a compensation, I would be more than OK. But if I knew that as a CEO, every word that I speak to the media will be monitored, specially in an industry which is almost the lifeline of US, wouldn’t I more careful about the things I say? And the signal it sends out? No wonder these guys are being panned in media.