FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Why Do We Worship CEOs?

Things have gotten out of hand in regard to the admiration we have for CEOs. Not only do we over-compensate them, we idolize them. People complain about professional athletes being overpaid, but don’t bat an eye when some hapless CEO who earns $6 million a year gets fired for incompetence, and then collects his $10 million Golden Parachute. We act as if the relatively straight-forward concept of “the main boss” is beyond our comprehension.

I once knew the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. I shall call him “Fred.” While our relationship was tenuous and one-sided, as president of the labor union representing one of the corporation’s important facilities, I was able to maintain his attention (if not his respect) by virtue of the fact that our union was willing to go on strike at the drop of a hat. He knew it and I knew it. We had already done it twice.

Basically, Fred was a decent guy. Even though almost everything he ever told me was either disappointing or depressing, I appreciated him leveling with us, giving us the unvarnished truth, something management people were usually loath to do. Whereas most managers liked to indulge in platitudes and generalities and smarmy seminar-speak, Fred insisted on being brutally honest.

Accordingly, our final meeting was quite brutal. I had invited him to the mill to make a pitch for starting up some idle machinery. We had six production machines on the floor, but only two were running. I assured him that if they started up the other four machines, our unit cost would drop dramatically. We all knew that a 2-machine operation could never compete, cost-wise, with facilities that had their overhead costs spread over as many as 10 machines. It was simple economics.

Fred somberly noted that the reason those machines had been shut down was because they were under-performing, but I reminded him that our numbers had vastly improved. While he agreed that we had made progress, he said he had an obligation to the shareholders. As CEO, he wouldn’t be able to justify giving additional assets to a facility that had proven it couldn’t run the assets it already had. Even though I must have looked crestfallen, he asked if I had ever heard a “Newfie” joke. I told him I hadn’t.

Fred had spent time in Canada. He said that Newfie jokes were jokes Canadians told about people living in Newfoundland (“Newfies”), jokes that depicted them as being more or less simple-minded, sort of like the old “Polack jokes.” I didn’t care much for ethnic jokes, and had no idea where he was going with this, but considering his earlier comments about stockholders and additional assets, I had the distressing feeling I was going to hate it.

His joke: Two Newfies, Joe and Sam, bought watermelons from a farmer for 40-cents each. They then rented a truck, filled it with melons, parked it on the corner, and posted a sign: “Watermelons: 3 for $1.00.” At the end of the day, after selling all the melons, they found that they had lost money. Perplexed, Sam asked Joe what they should do. Joe replied confidently: “We need to get a bigger truck.”

Fred’s joke implied that if he were to green-light the start up of additional machinery, he would be behaving like a Newfie. In other words, behaving stupidly and recklessly. It was crushing news.

In 2016, that mill will have been in operation for 60 years, which, for a smoke-stack industrial site in this day and age, is truly remarkable. During that period it has not only been wildly profitable, it has used only union workers. For almost 60 years, every hourly employee in the facility has been a union member. That said, the department in question—the one with only two machines running—was eventually shut down. The stock market demanded it.

Despite being the consistent bearer of shit news, I liked Fred’s modesty. He wasn’t one of those CEOs who needed regal perks—the helipad, the country club membership, the limousine. Moreover, he gave credit where it was due. He freely acknowledged it was the engineers, marketing people, asset leaders and hourly workers who were responsible for our success. People need to scale back their adulation. Believe it or not, CEOs are just hired help.

David Macaray is a labor columnist and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor, 2nd Edition).  Dmacaray@earthlink.net

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

December 13, 2018
John Davis
What World Do We Seek?
Subhankar Banerjee
Biological Annihilation: a Planet in Loss Mode
Lawrence Davidson
What the Attack on Marc Lamont Hill Tells Us
James McEnteer
Breathless
Ramzy Baroud
The Real Face of Justin Trudeau: Are Palestinians Canada’s new Jews?
Dean Baker
Pelosi Would Sabotage the Progressive Agenda With a Pay-Go Rule
Elliot Sperber
Understanding the Yellow Vests Movement Through Basic Color Theory 
Rivera Sun
The End of the NRA? Business Magazines Tell Activists: The Strategy is Working
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Historic Opportunity to Transform Trade
December 12, 2018
Arshad Khan
War, Anniversaries and Lessons Never Learned
Paul Street
Blacking Out the Yellow Vests on Cable News: Corporate Media Doing its Job
Kenneth Surin
The Brexit Shambles Rambles On
David Schultz
Stacking the Deck Against Democracy in Wisconsin
Steve Early
The Housing Affordability Crisis and What Millennials Can do About It
George Ochenski
Collaboration Failure: Trump Trashes Sage Grouse Protections
Rob Seimetz
Bringing a Life Into a Dying World: A Letter From a Father to His Unborn Son
Michael Howard
PETA and the ‘S’-Word
John Kendall Hawkins
Good Panopt, Bad Panopt: Does It Make A Difference?
Kim C. Domenico
Redeeming Utopia: a Meditation On An Essay by Ursula LeGuin
Binoy Kampmark
Exhuming Franco: Spain’s Immemorial Divisions
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Democratizing Money
Laura Finley
Congress Must Reauthorize VAWA
December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail