Great to Gutless to Greedy


This week, one of Jim Collins 'Great' companies failed to be great. It's the doom cycle, you see. The other side of the "good to great" transformation is the "gutless to greedy" disorder.

Let's say... Hewlett Packard. It's not so much Carly Fiorina, previously viewed as America's most powerful woman, prancing around like a pop star that is objectionable (Posh is paid for doing much the same with far fewer live performances) but treating the privilege of leading the legendary HP as a chance to be a tantrum throwing, money grabbing despot was awful to behold.

Treating the privilege of leading the legendary HP as a chance to be a tantrum throwing, money grabbing despot was awful to behold We can regret that the number of women running fortune 500 companies in now down to 7 but we need not worry about Carly who picks up $45 million in severance and will soon be working again thanks to the preference of the powerful and rich for the 'rich and famous' that leads them to view the avarice of CEO candidates as proof of competence.

Which is like saying "this gal sure is greedy let's bet the company on her", a kind of "Elvis sells records because he's fat" logic that means that Rick Waller & Michelle McManus go onto dominate the UK charts.

Even Fortune magazine, defender of the corporation's right to waste as much cash as it wants on the most excessive but ineffective executives, thought it necessary to criticize her from the safety of her post resignation powerlessness. As they argued, the merger with Compaq was a disaster, "a big bet that didn't pay off", and one that left HP giving 37 per cent of its profitable printer business away in exchange for a failing company.

HP shares are now worth 13 per cent less now than before the merger while their key competitor in printers, Lexmark, is worth over 60 per cent more.

But that is all so last week. Please forget all we might have learned about to make way for the $57 billion Gillette takeover, with 104 years of history sold out by a chief executive, James Kilts, who was fixated on a strategy for increasing his personal bank balance in the shortest possible time.

The guy who got the call at the Proctor & Gamble end said he was shocked. Of course he was! He got to buy "the best a man could get" because the other man "wanted to grab the most a bad leader could grab" which turned out to be $173 million.

It's almost as unbelievable as the Prime Minister picking up the White House hotline and offering to sell the United Kingdom support in exchange for some personal glory and one of those presidential jets.

But for anyone who had followed Mr Kilts this was sickeningly believable. He had used glamour model-like combination of unhealthy cuts (costs) and out of proportion enlargement (marketing) when at Nabisco – a company he sold to Philip Morris in 2000 shortly before joining Gillette.

Where does that happen? How does it start? Well possibly when the company's muscle is turning to fat. When the company is stupid. When the company has enough bulk to provide cover for the self-serving B-List CEOs and enough fat for the gluttons. When it has forgotten how to think. When the brain and the muscles are so far apart that the body doesn't know it's in pain until it has lost an arm, or a leg, or its heart. When the people with power don't care. And the people who care don't have any power.

The James & Carly show showcase motives that Machiavelli would have applauded but they are also examples of what Barbara Kellerman simply calls "Bad Leadership". But what type of bad? We can choose from her list of incompetence, rigid, intemperate, callous, corrupt, insular, and evil.

Let's discount evil in the darkest sense and perhaps dwell on the incompetence of Carly in being able to create positive change or even her insularity that led her to ignore any view apart from her own in pursuit of the merger.

And for James, perhaps his callous and corrupt disregard of the needs and wishes of most people in his organization. Imagine how many people feel deceived and cheated as they find out that their efforts to make the company great have been rewarded with betrayal.

If great love is to lay down your life, what do we call the actions of someone who accepts 24,500 pieces of silver for each one of his 6,000 fellow workers jobs?

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