Wednesday 5 October 2005

A short life but a rewarding one

The average life of a chief executive in a top British company is now little more than two years.

It’s maybe not enough to get the mayfly looking nervously at its place in the Guinness Book of Records. But, given that it takes time for management decisions to take effect, it’s hardly long enough for anyone to make a real difference for good or ill.

Many of you may have been puzzled by the fact that nearly all these departing grandees announce that they’ve always wanted to retire before 50, spend more time with their families, travel extensively or take up a new challenge while they’re still relatively young.

I’ve written many such press releases myself. Here’s what they really mean:

‘In the two years since I clawed my way to the top of Blogco in an unprecedented and deeply unattractive display of naked ambition, I have consistently pursued the short term financial objectives with which analysts and major institutional investors are obsessed.

‘In doing so, I have collected substantial performance-related bonuses while shamelessly neglecting the best long term interests of our shareholders and staff. Though the numbers of the latter that are likely to read this announcement have fortunately been diminished by my decision to outsource production to China and customer service to Bangalore.

‘I am particularly proud to have substantially refocused the group by falling for the blandishments of our City advisers, and making a series of pointless acquisitions and disposals at silly prices.

‘As a direct result of my actions, all the wheels have now dropped off this once fine business vehicle, and I am today issuing a profit warning of truly epic proportions. This is the second such announcement within a month.

‘Our distinguished non-executive directors, who backed my policies every step of the way, have accordingly decided that we must have a fall guy, and that I am it.

‘I am consoled by receiving a very large pay-off to go quietly, and by the huge pension fund that I have been able to accumulate while terminating the final salary scheme for other employees.

‘I wish my successor the very best of luck in picking up the pieces, and will shortly be flying off to the Maldives to recuperate with my PA.

‘God bless you all.’

Keith Hann is a PR consultant and cynic.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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