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The Full Rumsfeld

(originally published by Booz & Company)

Dear Monte:

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

Two years ago, when you took this job helming an “old economy” company, we put out the word that you weren’t interested in following the latest trends and fashions and fads in American business. And sure enough, eight quarters later, you’re still bucking the tide.

The stock is up. AmSmelt isn’t bankrupt. The auditors haven’t been hauled in front of a Congressional committee. 2+2 still equals 4 on the balance sheet, and the board meetings haven’t devolved into some kind of public food fight on the business pages of the popular press. Not bad, pal. As I’ve often said (quoting you, of course), sometimes it pays to make good on your own spin.

Anyway, as you know, I ordinarily use these e-mails to update you on our PR efforts and map out our media strategy for the next quarter. (See the attached spreadsheet, Stellar_Media_Mentions.xls, and a thought piece in progress, Recasting_The_Modern_CEO:_The_Full_Rumsfeld.doc.)

We can discuss these at your convenience. In the meantime, I’d like to share a story — something I witnessed during a stopover at the airport in St. Louis, on a flight from Jacksonville to LAX.

There I was, sitting in Terminal C at St. Louis International — a place lit by those bluish-silver mercury vapor lamps that lend all the warmth and charm of a minimum-security prison ward. The second leg of the flight was delayed two hours. (I can’t begin to imagine how much the airline lost on this flight as a fully booked 757 sat on the tarmac, waiting for an $8.50-per-hour rent-a-guard to show up with a metal-detector wand to do the final security check.) It was madness. Screaming kids. Angry passengers. Garbled announcements on the PA.

And then I saw, sitting across from me, a guy. He could have been 40, or 50; I couldn’t tell. But he wasn’t some Admirals Club Sky God. Slightly overweight, he was sweating under a Lands’ End overcoat. He had a three-ring notebook filled with business cards across his knees and a cell phone at his ear.

As the minutes passed, I watched this guy. He could have been reading magazines. He could have been knocking back beers. He could have been watching ESPN. But instead, amid all this chaos, he was making sales calls. “Hi. Is Rob there? He’s not the manager anymore? Can you tell me who is? Can you put him on? Hi, Xavier. This is Don Smith, with Midwest Corp. I’m going to be in your area this week, and I wanted to come in and talk about the new program. Very exciting. Lots to tell you. Sure, I know you’re busy. How about Thursday, 4:30? Great. See you then.”

Who knows what his business was. Retail, I suspect. Maybe food and beverage. Or automotive. What struck me was his persistence. He just kept dialing down his contact list. Rolling call after call, dedicated, focused, unflagging — and probably tired, hungry, and annoyed. But you’d have never known it from his voice. “Tuesday at 11:30.” “Wednesday at noon.” “Friday at six.”

He was great. He scored every single time. And I had to admire him for it.

So why do I bring this up? Well, maybe it’s just me. Or maybe it’s the new mood in the country. But it seems to me that when we talk about leadership — showing the way, pointing out the path — it’s guys like this who are out there, every day, laying down the paving stones.

Let’s talk on the phone before the next executive compensation board meeting.

I’ll be in touch —

The Biffster.

P.S. I have on my desk a proposal dated October 12, 2001, from a Houston-based energy company. It’s something about “Monetizing CEO Futures.” I assume it’s safe to shred this. Don’t you agree?

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