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Every Day I Write the Book

(originally published by Booz & Company)

Dear Monte:

Well, here we are again. Yet another successful quarter at the helm of Amalgamated Smelting. No surprises, no late-night phone calls from the EPA, the SEC, OSHA, the first Mrs. Stellar’s divorce counsel, or the grim reaper himself: 60 Minutes’ Mike Wallace. Outstanding!

Once again, you managed to beat the hilariously misnamed Wall Street “whisper number,” coming in two cents over expectations. (For this, we give thanks to the gods of golf-course CEO networking, and to “One Time Only Special Charges” accounting practices.)

You were terrific on Lou Dobbs’s Moneyline. (Is it just me, or do you think he should be nicknamed “The Pontiff of P and L”?) And you completely won over that young-tyro-with-an-ax-to-grind from GQ. (Nice suit in the picture. I sent my guy at Alan Flusser a thank you note over your signature.)

Not to toot my own horn, but it seems as if what I’ve been telling you about journalists all these years has finally sunk in. Namely, in the age of “buzz,” most journalists are faced with a binary choice when they do an interview: Build you up, or tear you down. And the determining factor is which “take” will get the most notice. Thing to remember is that the interview is never about you. It’s about the writer’s next assignment. So it’s always in your interest to cooperate, put them on your side, and spin that you’re giving them the inside dirt. (Cynical? You bet. If it was 1998, I’d be doing an IPO for Your e-deal with the devil.)

Anyway, in a roundabout way, this brings me to the real point of this quarter’s missive: Project X, the Monte Stellar business book. For the past few months I’ve been sending out feelers to my contacts in publishing. Simon & Schuster, Knopf, McGraw-Hill, Tina Brown, and Judith Regan. And to be honest, I’m having second thoughts. Consider:

1) The Art of the Deal. Yes, Trump got a huge advance. And Jack Welch got millions. But today, book advances are like movie and sports stars’ salaries: public knowledge. Do we really need anyone to know you were offered only $25,000?

2) The Chainsaw Factor. What do Al Dunlap, Bill Gates, and Michael Eisner have in common? Nothing, save for their reversals in reputation after the books came out. The Feds went after Gates, Disney’s stock tanked, and Dunlap is disgraced. They all became targets. My advice? If you need an ego boost, find a tennis pro who knows when to lose.

3) “More Gruel, Please.” All business autobios follow a structure that’s as predictable as any James Bond film: They open with the CEO on the worst day of his life. (Eisner is having a heart attack, Trump is broke, Iacocca is getting fired from Ford. Welch is losing a high-school hockey game, possibly his last defeat before Honeywell.) After this, they almost all recount the CEO’s “up from nothing, dirt-poor humble beginnings” before passing on their “triumph-over-adversity” wisdom. Not to put too fine a point on it, Monte, but your father was a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, and there’s a gag order on the terms of separation from your last job. Do we really want to go down this road?

Sorry to pour water on this, Monte. But keep in mind that Bruce Wasserstein is in the remainder bin at Amazon, and Lee Iacocca went from running Chrysler to saving the Koo Koo Roo chicken chain — where the stock promptly went from $7.00 a share to 7 cents. (Believe me on this. I have 2,000 shares.) Eyes on the prize: If the long-term goal is to run a Fortune 500 company and eventually take a seat in the cabinet, day-in, day-out results speak louder than business books.

I’ll be in touch —

The Biffster

P.S. 1) As per your request, NASCAR has agreed to let the new Mrs. Stellar wave the starting flag at the debut race with the AmSmelt car. They were thrilled she’s taken such a deep interest in the team’s colors and outfits. 2) Now that the dot-com/wireless/fiber-optic bubble has burst, I’ve got 26 proposals on my desk for stadium naming rights. Let’s discuss. But my advice would be: “Let’s book it.”

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