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The Worst That Could Happen

(originally published by Booz & Company)

Dear Monte:

As there seems to be a breach between us, I've decided to skip the honorifics this quarter, and come right to the point.

It's long been my observation that when faced with a corporate debacle, the savvy executive follows a simple mantra for survival: "First, establish blame." But in this case -- the loss of Smathers, executive vice president and key player -- I'm sorry, but I'm not going to be the fall guy.

Let us review what happened:

1) Before you were brought in as CEO at AmSmelt, Smathers was the heir apparent. He was bland, he was plodding, he was well liked. But the board passed him over.

2) In your first week, we agreed you wouldn't fire him: It would send the wrong message to the troops. Moreover, he had 20 years over you in smelting.

3) Slowly, and insidiously, Smathers started to plot against you: Long lunches with Otto and Carl, the founder's 61-year-old twin sons. Hand-delivering a Bundt cake to their mother on her birthday. Losing at golf to the twins, but humiliating you on the same course at a corporate retreat a week later.

4) To counter this, you took what we agreed would be the necessary steps: You promoted him. Put him in charge of the stuff that he was sure to fail at: The audit committee. Environmental policy. IT services and the Web site. Sales, during a recession.

5) In return, Smathers played the most devious trick of all: He excelled. Flattened the supply chain. Increased profits. Actually doubled sales during the recession. So we -- you and I, together -- decided that I would spotlight him with some press. Smelting Monthly. Forged Metals. Forbes. We were hoping to get him headhunted.

6) Alas, it worked all too well: Three Fortune 500 companies came after him. And how could we have known you were being considered for the same jobs?

Yes, Monte, I saw his picture on the front page of the Journal. Along with the cover of Fortune, Business Week, Forbes, and Costco's membership magazine. And I'm truly sorry none of your quotes were used. But I still think there's an opportunity here -- a golden chance -- to recast you as the new Jack Welch: "Monte Stellar. Molder of Men. Creator of Wealth. Forging the Future."

Even as we speak, my team is pitching the idea to the Economist and Parade.

I'll be in touch --

The Biffster.

P.S.: I've received a note from your eldest daughter, Blossom. She's leaving the ashram, and would like 250K to open a pet grooming shop at the Mall of America. She says to tell you she's changing her name back to Susan. Perhaps you should ask Carl and Otto to advise her. Yr thoughts, please?


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