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The Big Fix

(originally published by Booz & Company)

Dear Monte:

Alas, I couldn't agree with you more: There's never been a more difficult time to be a strategic, visionary CEO. It's understandable how these days, you're feeling less like a leader, and more like a target:

•           Fund managers want transparency.

•            Investment bankers want a piece of the action.

•           Unions want wage hikes.

•           Buyers want price rollbacks.

•           The SEC wants the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

•           Otto and Carl, the founder's 60-year-old twin boys, want control.

•           And let's not even get into the personal stuff -- namely, that the first wife (the one with the book contract) is looking to renegotiate her alimony payments.

Monte, Monte: I think we can both agree that bouncing your tennis pro from the board of directors was, at best, only a stopgap measure. So, short of looking for another job (in a very tight market), how do we retain control and visibility, and protect the Monte Stellar Brand?

I've looked at the options: Selling AmSmelt. (Problem: Won't fly with the family. And there's no guaranteed upside for you.) Merging AmSmelt. (Ditto.) Reconceiving AmSmelt. (Sadly, the days when you could set up a Web site and pass off smelting as a viable foundation for a media company are over.) And forget about just firing the auditors. Everybody's doing that.

In my opinion, what's required here is something bold. Something incisive. A brilliant stroke of corporate jujitsu, worthy of Monte Stellar:

Use the Sarbanes-Oxley Act as an excuse to dump the entire board. Cite the need for independent directors as a way to reduce the number of family seats from three -- Mom, Otto, and Carl -- to one. Let Mom vote the AmSmelt family trust, and give Otto and Carl the SmeltVille USA theme park. Sure, there'll be some collateral damage. But I have a feeling Mom will support you. (Didn't she recently remark that she wouldn't trust Otto -- or Carl -- with a book of matches?)

I'll start putting out feelers for new board members this week. What do you think about Rudy Giuliani? I'll also put in a call to Dick Cheney's office. (Obviously, he's not available yet. But it can't hurt to ask.)

In the meantime, don't worry. I'm paraphrasing here, but as the master of modern publicity, Colonel Tom Parker, announced when Elvis died: "None of this should have any significant impact on the way we do business."

I'll be in touch --

The Biffster.

P.S. One final thing. I received a call from the current Mrs. Stellar regarding Monte Jr.'s preschool applications in Manhattan. Sorry, but for everyone's sake -- yours, mine, and Monte Jr.'s -- I'm not going near this. Have you considered military school? It worked for me.


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