Millennial Money

Are CEOs Stupid Or Spoiled?


You know what's worse than finding out that Citigroup is buying a $50 million top-of-the-line corporate jet?

Finding out that Citi actually owns a whole subsidiary called CitiFlight that manages its fleet of corporate jets. Talk about terrible optics. Talk about begging Americans to nationalize their company.

This is just one of a long line of news items that has me wondering, corporate executives: stupid or just spoiled?

Here's how the question breaks down. Was John Thain, the former CEO of Merrill Lynch, stupid to spend $1.2 million of his company's money redecorating his office? Or was this just such an ingrained part of the corporate culture that to expect anything less would be uncivilized?

Were Rick Wagoner of GM , Alan Mulally of Ford , and Bob Nardelli of Chrysler stupid when they took their luxurious corporate jets down to Washington to beg for bailout money, or is that just how they roll? That said, good for Wagoner and Mulally for offering to take pay-cuts down to $1 a year, that's the kind of thing that looks good. It's the kind of thing that every CEO of every bank that needs TARP money should be doing, or at least every one of those CEOs who hopes to keep his job. So why they heck aren't they?

How is it possible that all of these people who've made it to the top of the corporate ladder do so many stupid looking things? I don't think any of these guys are dumb, maybe with the exception of Bob Nardelli. I think there's such a disconnect between the people at the very top and the rest of us, that they just don't see anything inappropriate about what they've done until the media points it out to them after the fact.

Normally, when America isn't hemorrhaging jobs, CEOs don't have to care so much about the optics of pouring money down the drain. The goodwill of the public only matters when your company is hanging on by a thread and needs a Federal bailout to stay solvent. The thing is, that's where we are now and our corporate leaders don't seem to have gotten the memo.

And why would they know? Who's going to send them that memo? Their board of directors? Please.

Corporate boards are made up of other very-rich people, who often tend to be top managers at different companies, so they're in the same boat as the CEOs, the good ship Clueless and Entitled. They're part of culture that just doesn't think about how the little people will feel when they see you jet-setting around and begging Congress for cash at the same time.

Either this attitude's going to change, or the people on top will. It'll probably have to be both.

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