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"Monte Stellar" <[email protected]>
"Biff Chatsworth" <[email protected]>
The New You

Dear Monte:

Well, here we are again. Another quarter gone by.

As you know, I ordinarily use these missives to bring you up to date on the public perception of Monte Stellar, star CEO of Amalgamated Smelting. (And on this count, there's nothing to worry about: No snarky little mentions of your executive compensation package in the popular press; even the so-called "independent analysts" have started to tout the stock.)

But as we approach the beginning of your fourth year at the helm of this enterprise, I've decided it's time to focus on the future.

So I want to couch this memo in terms of the new paradigm set down by the latest modern management guru: Donald Rumsfeld. The Secretary recently laid out a set of principles to which all CEOs must abide. "As we know," he said, "there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns ... things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know."

How does this apply to the Monte Stellar Brand of executive leadership?

Things We Know: After four years at AmSmelt, you've reshuffled the operating units, cut the fat, streamlined the management chain. But this is also the most dangerous time for an outsider CEO: The easy stuff is fixed, and the gains going forward are likely to be incremental. We also know that Tompkins -- the operations guy who was passed over to bring you in -- is still sitting in his office, seething.

Things We Know We Don't Know: The economy. Whether anything is going to come of that SEC inquiry into FY01 earnings. What Tompkins is telling Otto and Carl, the founder's 61-year-old twins, during their weekend rounds at Pinehurst. And what -- precisely -- Fox News's Neil Cavuto meant when he said AmSmelt "is one to watch. Closely. Very closely."

Things We Don't Know We Don't Know: Eliot Spitzer. The smelting demand curve. Monte Jr.'s preschool interviews. And a bunch of other stuff neither of us wants to contemplate.

So what, then, can we intuit from all this, Monte?

Basically, I'm afraid the days of "charisma and vision" are over. You can't reinvent AmSmelt -- not again. So let's reinvent Monte Stellar.

It's time to take your image -- bold, young, demanding, risk-taking CEO -- and shift it just slightly, positioning you as the King of Continuity. I envision a virtuous circle: The adults are running the store. Man of Steel. Man of Iron. Man of (yes!) Smelting, who has not only the vision, but the experience to guide us through the uncharted waters ahead.

I'll have my team work up the right buzzwords. Maybe something like "Deep-Water Management." (In the meantime, next time you're in NYC, I want you to see my hair guy: He does wonders with a little silver around the edges.)

And what of Tompkins? Sure, it would be easy to put him in charge of the Bulgarian subsidiary. But I'd go the Machiavelli route, via Welch: Promote him. Get him some press. And when Otto and Carl walk into your office to tell you about his multimillion-dollar job offer, just shake your head sadly, and say, "I agree. It's a terrible betrayal."

I'll be in touch --

The Biffster.

P.S. One last thing. I'm not totally sorry to hear that #1 son has decided to drop out of the movie business. Yes, I'll do what I can to help get him into cooking school.