Thursday, February 5, 2009

Corporate Structure

The view most people have of corporate America lacks perspective. I know this because I am both a consumer of the news and deeply embedded in corporate America. High enough to see what’s going on, low enough to be under the radar, mostly. Listening to the media, you get this picture of malevolent beasts sitting high up in corporate towers plotting against the lowly consumer. Of course, if you would just turn off the TV and think a minute, you would understand that the whole point of a corporation is to help the lowly consumer. Corporations hope that they will rise above their current station in life so they can buy more stuff. Nobody in any corporation wants to kill you. Relax. What they want to do is sell you gadgets. If you are poor they want to sell you a cheap gadget, if you are rich they want to sell you an expensive gadget…and in order to sell the most profitable gadgets, you need to prosper. Corporate America loves you.

Corporations are a lot like governments. While they aren’t efficient enough to purposely harm anyone; they are big enough to trip and fall on you, though seldom intentionally. In a normal corporate organization, there are kings, there are princes, and then there are peons. The kings make vague references, the princes make strategic decisions about those references and the peons make sure that no work occurs that makes their prince look bad. Then there are stockholders, a mix of peons, institutions, kings and princes. A corporate Vice President of a Fortune 500 company, whom I know, is fond of saying “when the elephants dance, the pigmies die.” You see, the princes are always jousting with one another in the hopes that they will one day become king. Princes are judged and rewarded on how little money they spend. Being a prince in a corporation is a very stressful position and is like dancing in a spotlight in the middle of a crystal store. You must keep dancing and you must break less than the prince dancing alongside you. (I am sticking to masculine pronouns and titles king and prince instead of queen and princess as those words have meanings not in play here.)

There is also an ego factor. Kings and princes do not get to be kings and princes without a whole lot of butt kissing and once you reach a certain level it is your butt being kissed. Those of us with souls who don’t kiss any butt or desire our own butt kissed are called managers and directors and that is all we will ever be called. So as a manager or director, one has to be careful around the kings and princes. They are always on the lookout for someone who isn’t properly in awe of their mere presence. If you are incredibly competent, efficient, and you always make your prince look good, he will often overlook some level of non-butt kissing or deference to his exalted position. However, you must be constantly aware of how their ego swings in this regard. In addition to being egotistical in the extreme, they are volatile and unpredictable. It is a short trip from golden boy to “who used to sit over there?”

The entire list of corporate levels are: intern, assistant peon, peon, senior peon, supervisor, assistant manager, manager, senior manager, director, senior director, prince, senior prince, executive prince, and king. This hierarchy, taken to an extreme can be a sign of an unhealthy business model. The company with the fewest layers between king and peon is much more likely to be consistently profitable. Everybody knows this. Those companies that have thick layers pretend it is not true. At the very top, just past king, is CEO. The CEO sets the tone for everything that happens. Usually such a person is rich beyond belief and doesn’t really have any skin in the fight. To them it is just a game. They don’t come to work thinking that if they lose their job they will lose their home or starve to death. They are in zero danger of losing anything other than ego. It is a little disheartening. Fortunately for us peons, the average CEO is really into the game and sees their reputation as every bit as important as us peons having something to eat.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Stimulus or Stimuless?

This started off as a political blog, a place to pontificate endlessly about what I thought was the best approach to governance. I used to write about all things political. You could name a topic and I could knock out 700 words for or against it barely breaking a sweat. However, I see by the last election that my efforts were in vain and the people did what they do best, they screwed up. They elected a ‘know nothing’ as President of the United States and leader of what’s left of the free world. I say “they” because I didn’t vote for the guy.

Barack Obama is a community activist who last week said with a straight face that business people should not count on making profits. And the fact that he didn’t get laughed off the world stage tells me we are in trouble not only as a country but perhaps as a species. Not only did people not laugh, as a matter of fact, a good number of people swooned in his presence and marveled at his brilliance. I am here to tell you that the economic downturn is the least of our worries. To paraphrase the comedian Ron White, ‘you can fix the economy, but you can’t fix stupid.’

So, instead of the daily dose of dazzling political commentary I have posted some of my recent literary efforts as I try and break into the author business. My timing could have been better as I see in the news where a lot of literary agencies are going out of business and the publishing houses are laying off editors in droves…the very people I want to send my work to. That is why I felt okay putting some of my writings on this blog. It isn’t as though it was all down at the printers being made into books.

I do have political opinions about current events. It’s just that I am having a problem stretching, “I think the stimulus package won’t stimulate” into 700 words. I could go into what constitutes economic stimulus and how most of the stuff in the awkwardly misnamed stimulus bill won’t stimulate anything other than the deficit this year and the national debt for years to come. As a matter of fact, it would seem to me that if you have properly identified the problem as a downturn in the national economy, in order to fix it, you would be looking for ways to not spend $900 billion instead of way to spend it. Usually when I have personal economic problems the first thing to cross my mind isn’t to borrow as much money as I can and spend it on stuff that I can’t use for 4 to 6 years out. That would be dumb.

I think it is interesting when some Republican points out just how moronic this new bill is, the answer they get from the Democrats is that Bush did the same thing with his economic stimulus bill. I had always thought that our mothers had taught us the lesson about “if George jumped off a cliff, I guess you would too” when we were little kids. I agree that the only thing worse than getting ready to spend $900 billion in borrowed money is having already spent $750 billion in previously borrowed money. But the fact that we did it is not an argument for doing it again only bigger. It is as though we are not doing the dumb thing George did only because our cliff is higher.

So I will use this blog as a place to put my attempts at literature and occasionally pipe up and point out something really dumb the government is doing. Unfortunately the people have elected the government. So I have to be careful what I say about the people if I ever want to be a bestselling author of serious literature. While the people who would appreciate my literary musings are generally smart people, this last election shows that their numbers are waning. Plus, if the stimulus bill does what it appears to be designed to do, most smart people would do well to save their money for food and heat and forgo books. If course when the heat goes off because it is environmentally taboo to burn fossil fuels, books might prove a pretty good source of fireplace fuel once the lawn furniture is gone.