Skip to contentSkip to navigation

The Tracks of My Tears

(originally published by Booz & Company)

Dear Monte:

And so, we’ve come to the end of another year with you at the head of AmSmelt. Truly, these last few months have been a tumultuous and confounding time. Your profits are up, but the analysts remain un­impressed. And in the larger world, the front pages of newspapers are filled with tales of personal bankruptcies, the burst real estate bubble, and the subprime mortgage meltdown, but the style sections continue to flog the lifestyles of 26-year-old hedge fund traders in $27 million second homes.

So with this in mind, I’m passing along a note that I’m sending to all of my public relations clients: A benediction for the year passed, and a prayer — no, make that a hope — for some “executive guidance” on the challenges that loom ahead.

1. Let us give thanks that — as wise men and women — we didn’t confuse our homes with ATM machines. We understood that the real value of a house comes from inhabiting it, as opposed to funding dubious condominium adventures in Miami, even if the accountants swore they could make the numbers work.

2. Let us also be grateful that we had the foresight this year to understand the essential difference between hedge funds and Las Vegas casinos: The casinos are regulated.

3. Let us look upon Google with wonderment. But let us also remember that a free lunch program invariably leads to long afternoon naps. And just as the utopian daydreams of Kodak, Xerox, Polaroid, IBM, AT&T, and so many others were eventually shattered by federal regulators or changes in the marketplace, so too shall Google pass. Until then, let us encourage them to enjoy the free sushi.

4. Let us give thanks for our children. For they are a comfort and a miracle, and they may eventually pay their own way. Until then, let us force them to look out the window on road trips instead of watching DVDs. As they grow older, let us teach them that “truth” may not necessarily be found on blogs or Wikipedia. And let us remind them about discretion: Some things are better left unshared on MySpace.

5. Let us also give thanks for our perks and our pay packages. But let us continue to impress upon our loved ones the difference between “want” and “need” and their impact on the ever-expanding “monthly nut.” For yea, the cumulative costs of the iPhone, the BlackBerry, TiVo, the premium satellite package, Netflix, unlimited text messaging, satellite radio, and the DSL line do, in fact, explain how it’s possible to go broke on $350k per annum.

6. Let us not react in fury at people who insist on doing all their business on cell phones, despite the fact we can’t hear them half the time. Let us not prejudge MBAs who think they should be starting out at $750k, even as “irrational exuberance” is supplanted by “unrealistic expectations.” And let us treat our competitors with neither contempt nor scorn — for today’s enemy may be tomorrow’s co-CEO.

7. At least once during the next year, we would all do well to spend a few moments contemplating how much is “enough,” and whether “enough” is in fact “too much.”

8. And finally, should all else fail, keep Charles Dickens in mind. It has always been the best of times and the worst of times. For whether you’re a quant, a momentum player, a micromanager, or a visionary, the refrain is always the same: It’s a new quarter. Let’s make the numbers.

I’ll be in touch —

The Biffster.

PS: With Bob Nardelli heading up Chrysler, it seems that a whole new range of opportunity has opened up for industry-jumping CEOs. Care to go on a fishing expedition? Yr thoughts, pls.

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.