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Rainy Days and Mondays

(originally published by Booz & Company)

Dear Monte:

Sooner or later, it happens to almost every CEO.

You find yourself sitting in your office one afternoon when you discover that your schedule is empty: no problems, no panics, no PowerPoint presentations. Nothing pressing on the horizon. The company is clicking along more or less the way you planned. If something unexpected were to flare up, chances are it’s the kind of fire that you’ve already put out a dozen times before.

It’s at this moment that you begin to think about fishing. Not trout fishing or fly-fishing. But fishing for a new challenge, and a new job.

“Why not?” you ask yourself. Maybe it’s time. You’re still young. You’re still vital. And to some degree, the die has already been cast: Your heir apparent, Dieter (nephew of the founder’s twin 64-year-old sons, AmSmelt Board Directors Otto and Carl), is already in Argentina, looking at mergers and acquisitions, working up his “new vision for the next decade” to be presented at the board meeting in April.

Yes, Monte, we’ve all been there.

So after our conversation this morning (wherein the tip-off to your mood was your joke about responding to Rick Warren’s book The Purpose-Driven Life with one of your own called The Profit-Driven Life, or better still, The Chauffeur-Driven Life), I put in a call to my guy at Heidrick and Struggles — the ever-so-aptly named executive search firm.

To make a long story short, he sympathized. (He knew about Dieter. They always do.) Here are some of the more “interesting challenges” he came up with:

  • An Internet 2.0 startup that needs some adult supervision and has no visible means of being monetized save selling itself to Rupert Murdoch. 
  • A big-box retailer that’s become a target for politicians and whose last “change agent” departed after six months.
  • An electronics manufacturer that’s been backdating stock options since 1981 and wiretapping the board of directors since 2003.
  • Any number of Detroit-based automobile manufacturers that still haven’t figured out how to meld sheet metal into an aesthetically pleasing configuration that will last more than a year and a half. 
  • A post in the Bush administration.

Monte, Monte, Monte: Let me know if you want to pursue any of these, or just continue to fight the good fight at AmSmelt. The other man’s grass is always greener. But so is his compensation package.

In the meantime, either way, I’m doing some fishing of my own: With the addition of Condé Nast’s Portfolio to Business Week, Fortune, Forbes, and the Journal, all the business press is going to be competing for original content. I’m dangling an exclusive interview with you, playing them off against each other, angling for the most positive coverage, waiting to see who bites.
I’ll be in touch —

The Biffster.

P.S. Just now, as I was about to send this, CNBC’s Bill Griffith interrupted his Power Lunch show with some breaking news: Dieter was arrested in Argentina for trying to bribe a government official. Do you remember the title of the first chapter of Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure it was “Recalled to Life.” Yr. thoughts, pls.

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