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Everybody's Talking At Me

(originally published by Booz & Company)

Dear Monte:

Well, here we are again. Another quarter of “Stellar” results at AmSmelt — home of the Monte Stellar brand of “compassionate continuity” and “steel-tempered management.”

(Nice buzzwords, by the way. My team is putting together a package of your recent media appearances to send to NYC publishers. I’m thinking: “When Good to Great Isn’t Good Enough.”)

Meanwhile, the stock is up, the head count is down, and your state attorney general, Royal S. DuPree (the Eliot Spitzer wannabe who thought the road to the governorship began with a high-profile investigation of your office), got caught in a scandal, resigned, and is now doing commentary for the local cable-access version of Court TV.

(Personally, the reality show I’m waiting for is “CEO Demolition Derby.” Think Jerry Springer, with angry shareholders. If they call to book you, I promise we’ll pass.)

Also on your behalf, I’m following the Conrad Black saga at Hollinger International. Although the Breeden investigation described a widespread “corporate kleptocracy,” my instinct is the tabloids (at least those Conrad doesn’t own) will focus on the parties he threw with his wife. Once again, Monte, I’m warning all my clients: If you can imagine the headline, then draw the check from your personal account. It’s a lot easier than trying to negotiate for perks like “an extra hour in the exercise yard.”

Finally, I see The Economist recently noted that members of the European Union have drawn up informal translation guides to clarify the difference between what members say and what they really mean. (When a Brit says, “With the greatest respect,” this means “I think you’re a fool.”) I thought a similar guide to business-speak might be valuable, so I’ve started to compile one:

“Far be it for me to question your numbers.” = “I’m questioning your numbers.”

“It’s a win-win.” = “But someone has to lose, so it’ll probably be you.”

“I can’t see a reason not to do it.” = “But I’m desperately trying to find one.”

“We believe in maximizing shareholder value.” = “I can’t think of anything else to say right now, and this always sounds pretty good.”

Securities analysts understand the code, so feel free to use any of these during the earnings call.

I’ll be in touch –

The Biffster.

P.S. I gather your daughter Susan (formerly Blossom, formerly of the ashram) has not only opened her pet grooming store in the Mall of America, but is meeting with venture capitalists, re: franchising potential and an IPO. Fortune magazine is considering a “Like Father, Like Daughter” profile. I can’t see a reason not to do it; it’s a win-win. Yr thoughts, pls?

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