Skip to contentSkip to navigation

New Kid in Town

(originally published by Booz & Company)

Dear Monte:

As the old saying goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

Over the past six years, you’ve turned AmSmelt around: doubled earnings, upped the stock price, and taken what Barron’s once described as a “family-controlled rust bucket with a feudal management system that dates back to the Bronze Age,” and turned it into what Business Week now hails as the “lean and green smokin’ hot leader of the strategic metals sector.”

Well done, my friend.

Except for the fact that in light of these “Stellar” (as in Monte Stellar) accomplishments, the founder’s twin 64-year-old sons — AmSmelt directors Otto and Carl, who control the “A” stock, and were dead set against hiring you in the first place — have decided to pay you back by bringing in their 32-year-old nephew, Dieter, as head of operations. He’s from “the old country.” And they expect you to groom him as your replacement.

(Apparently, they got the inspiration for this after reading an article about Sumner Redstone’s daughter and Rupert Murdoch’s sons in that prestigious business magazine known as Us Weekly.)

Naturally, you’re upset. Disappointed. Angry.

Dieter is out there in the press, spouting off all the latest “young master of the universe” trend-speak: Change agent. Smelting 2.0. Bringing in Bono as part of his new AmSmelt global initiative...

...while you’re sitting in your office, trying to deal with mundane things, like Chinese competition and the nationalization of the AmSmelt subsidiary in Venezuela.

And just to make matters worse, it turns out that Dieter has taken a shine to your eldest daughter, Susan, who he met at the cocktail party you threw to welcome him to America. (Whether this was “love at first sight” on Dieter’s part or a “strategic alliance” isn’t for me to speculate.)

Monte, Monte: I know precisely how you feel. But as with everything else, there may be a silver lining here: After this morning’s article in the Wall Street Journal (“Smeltdown! Chaos in the AmSmelt boardroom”), I received an irate call from Otto and Carl, demanding that we find, and silence, the leaker — who (unbeknownst to them) is none other than Dieter himself. They, too, used some of the current business buzzwords: private detectives, pretexting, data mining, wiretapping. I tried to explain that AmSmelt isn’t Hollywood, or HP, to no avail.

So what’s the solution here? Simple: At tomorrow’s board meeting, you’ll reveal that Dieter is the leaker, and you’re sending him off to deal with the problems in Caracas.... Following which, two of the outside directors (who I’ve already contacted) will propose that your contract be extended by two years (with significant compensation adjustments) in order to send a message to the Street that “all’s well at AmSmelt.”

Your daughter may not like it, and Otto and Carl will certainly grumble — but in the end, they both know where their profits (and trust funds) are smelted.

My team is already working on the press release, and on Dieter’s hotel accommodations in Caracas. I’ll send them for your approval later this afternoon.

I’ll be in touch —

The Biffster.

P.S. As a precaution, I advise having your office swept for bugs, wiretaps, and key-logging software. I’ll send my guy, Shreeder, over. He’s in from Bangalore this week, and should be able to fit you in. I’d suggest that the only truly secure communication these days might be by smoke signal — except that it would probably get both of us a citation from the EPA. Yr thoughts, please.

Get s+b's award-winning newsletter delivered to your inbox. Sign up No, thanks
Illustration of flying birds delivering information
Get the newsletter

Sign up now to get our top insights on business strategy and management trends, delivered straight to your inbox twice a week.