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The Circle Game

(originally published by Booz & Company)

Dear Monte:

Congratulations on yet another successful quarter at the helm of AmSmelt -- now, according to Business Week, the world's third largest enterprise in the highly competitive molten metals sector.

The stock is rebounding, the head count is down, the shareholder proposal to limit executive compensation was defeated, and -- yes! -- even the AmSmelt NASCAR team is on a winning streak.

Way to go, Monte! You're white-hot, scoring points with your two constituencies: institutional investors and (of course) Mrs. Henrietta Schmidt, the 91-year-old widow of AmSmelt's founder, who votes 46 percent of the Class A preferred stock held in trust by the Schmidt Foundation. (Town and Country will be profiling her in the upcoming "Business Matriarchs" issue; my office is coordinating hair, makeup, and wardrobe for the photo shoot.)

As discussed, I've accepted the offer from Modern Metals Magazine for you to be named "Man of the Year" and deliver the keynote at the first annual Modern Metals/Forbes/Movado International Smelting Conference, in Dubai, in January.

My team is already working out the details of the speech, which we've tentatively titled "Metals: A Strategic Vision for the 21st Century." After you acknowledge the vital contributions of AmSmelt directors Otto and Carl (the founder's 61-year-old twin sons), along with Smathers (manufacturing) and Burke (the European operating unit), here are the key points we'd like to hit:

- Managing up, managing down. (See acknowledgements, above.)

- TiVo. What does a souped-up video recorder that allows you to drop television commercials have to do with smelting? Simple: It allows you to use the buzz-phrase "disruptive innovations," which will not only enhance your reputation as a visionary, but also appeal to your other core constituency, executive recruiters. (By the way: The machine I had installed in your house will "learn" to automatically record your TV appearances.)

Finally, we can also use the keynote to defuse two other nagging problems: the board's continuing request for an heir apparent, and Burke's newly formed allegiance with the twins and Smathers (who, as you may recall, was passed over for your job). You can't fire Burke (his unit is too profitable), so the solution is divide and conquer: Use the keynote to anoint Burke as the heir. Then sit back and -- as you say in the smelting business -- watch the sparks fly.

I'll be in touch --

The Biffster.

P.S. One other thing: In the era of Dennis Kozlowski and Richard Grasso, I took the liberty of passing on a request for you to appear on a proposed CNBC show titled "CEO Cribs." You know my motto: Never let them see you sweat, and never let them see where you live.

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