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A Higher Calling

(originally published by Booz & Company)

Dear Monte:

Congratulations, Monte, I agree it's fantastic news: After almost three long years at the helm of Amalgamated Smelting -- leading the troops, beating the numbers, providing the vision -- you've finally received the recognition that's the dream of every mid-cap CEO:

The Call from the Headhunter.

Obviously, I understand your eagerness for an upgrade to first-class CEO status. But as your go-to guy, Monte, I've got to be honest: It's a long jump from smelting to women's media.

Now, contrary to your own worries, I don't think it matters whether you were the first or 209th choice for the job. We can always portray the fact that you have absolutely no experience in this industry as an advantage. We'll use the tried-and-true Biff Chatsworth "give him a chance to produce some results" Alpha-Dog-as-Underdog Strategy.

But I do have a larger reservation here. These days, it's almost easier to get a seat on the Supreme Court -- or a 9:00 a.m. tee-off at Shadow Creek -- than it is to get past an executive search investigation. While one bad business decision can be forgiven, nannies on the payroll, corporate loans, off-book partnerships, the Paris trip on the corporate jet, that home-office deduction for the third bedroom in the Vail condo, using AmSmelt's CFO to do your taxes -- these could raise eyebrows. Acrimonious divorces? Zoning board issues with the new tennis court? Valid or not, it's all fair game today. And considering that you'd be replacing a brand-name CEO with insider trading problems, the scrutiny would be that much more intense.

(Plus, if you don't get the nod, there's a better-than-likely chance that the AmSmelt board -- where, as you know all too well, the founder's children, the 59-year-old twins Otto and Carl, sit lurking -- might get motivated to do some scrutinizing of its own.)

Monte, Monte. It's great you've been asked to the dance. But my recommendation is that even though you've got nothing to hide, this isn't the time, and this isn't the job.

Still, it isn't my decision. So here are the actions I can take on your behalf:

1) Call the Headhunter, thank him profusely, and quietly take your name out of the running.

2) Call the media, deny the rumor you've been approached, and then call the Headhunter to start negotiating.

Let me know soon -- it's difficult to deny rumors I haven't planted yet.

The Biffster.

P.S. Assuming I've done nothing more here than confirm your sage decision to stay at AmSmelt: 1) What do you think of 10 days in Maui for Otto and Carl's 60th birthday celebration? I'm pretty sure we can schedule a sales conference around it. 2) I've already informed Viktor (your wife's tennis pro) that he's going to have to give up his seat on the board. I'm thinking Bill Bennett or Jimmy Carter as a replacement. Yr thoughts, please.


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