The People's Executive

By: Teena Rose


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Being a good executive isn't always easy. There's a fine line sometimes between keeping the customers, shareholders and employees all happy. It's a constant juggling act that sometimes results in executives dropping all of the props and making a huge mess of things.

There's no shortage of executive missteps and bad behavior. Think Enron and you have the poster child for the poor executives. But Enron crossed the line into criminal behavior, which is more the exception than the rule. There are plenty of incidences that outline what to do and what not to do from the executive suite.

A recent example involved the struggling media giant Tribune Co. As the industry has continued on a downward spiral over the past few years, Tribune executives received millions in bonuses after securing a deal to take the company private. Originally, a pool of $6.5 million was set up to pay 32 executives when the transaction closed.

Two weeks after the bonuses were made public, including a $400,000 windfall for Scott Smith, president of Tribune Publishing, the company set in motion another round of job reductions throughout its properties. The idea that executives were receiving lavish bonuses one week, while cutting back its workforce to trim costs the next week, naturally created a high level of resentment among Tribune employees. Smith, who later forfeited his $400,000 bonus, insisted that the pool was appropriate and that "there were others who worked exceptionally hard and are very deserving." Nevertheless, the actions and Smith's comments are perceived by compensation experts as a major misstep by a company that's struggling to connect with a disgruntled, disenfranchised rank and file.

Tribune executives aren't the first, and certainly won't be the last, to make bad decisions that alienate their employees. There are, however, standards that can be followed by the CEO's, CFO's and all the other C's at a company to remain in the good graces of their human capital, while still hitting the bottom line.

For starters, a good executive must understand the business. Some believe if you've managed a company that makes widgets, you should be able to manage one that makes computer chips. Wrong. If an executive comes into a business as an accounting or marketing wizard, he or she should have a working knowledge of how the new business works before making critical decisions.

Second, executives in charge of other managers must build a team around them. One that focuses on expanding the footprint of the business and taking on responsibility. There really is a skill set to delegating assignments. It's something that can make or break an executive.

Finally, avoid the hatchet man/woman label. The only thing employees resent more than executives who lavish themselves with riches are the ones whose only solution to pumping up the stock price is to get rid of the workers. In business, cutting loose employees are sometimes a necessary evil, but all too often it's the first resort instead of the last.

2007 Teena Rose. All Rights Reserved.