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How “business” destroys business pt. 1

August 10, 2009 by pfranzen

The business of America is business
- President Calvin Coolidge

If you’ve ever talked to me about the state of business in America.  There’s is a good chance you got an earful about how stupid, inefficient and mismanaged (most of) it is. Well instead of just shooting off my mouth, I’ve decided to collect some evidence.  95% of this is from Wikipedia so inaccuracies may be there.

For the first part I’ve researched some sites, namely cnnmoney.com, portfolio.com and wsj.com and complied lists of what they say are the best / worst CEOs of all-time.  Then I looked into their backgrounds and found out the most advanced degree they held and here’s the data.

First The Bad

The ratings for downfall are pretty loose.

  • Incompetence – Just being an idiot
  • INCOMPETENCE – Not fit to walk your dog
  • INCOMPETENCE!! – Rick Wagoner, seriously, during his tenure he lost about $80 billion dollars, more than any other CEO in history
  • D’OH! – It seemed like a good idea at the time
  • Hubris – There is no way this could backfire, after all it was my idea…
  • Criminal – Just an outright crook
Name Company Degree School Downfall
Ed Zander Motorola MBA Boston Incompetence
Gary Levin Time Warner Law Penn D’OH!
Chuck Prince Citigroup Law Georgetown Incompetence
Bab Nardelli GE / Home Depot / Chrysler MBA Louisville INCOMPETENCE
Stan O’Neal Merrill Lynch MBA Harvard INCOMPETENCE
Dick Fuld Lehman Bros. MBA NYU Hubris
Kerry Killinger WaMu MBA Iowa INCOMPETENCE
Rick Wagoner GM MBA Harvard INCOMPETENCE!!
Gary Forsee Sprint BS? Missouri D’OH!
Ken Lay Enron PHD Philosophy (Wha?!) Criminal
Bernie Ebbers WorldComm ? Mississippi Criminal
Richard Scrushy HealthSouth ? UAB Criminal
Angelo Mozilo Countrywide BS Fordham Incompetent & a crook!
“Chainsaw” Al Dunlap Sunbeam West Point Incompetent
Jimmy Cayne Bear Stearns Dropout Purdue INCOMPETENT
John Sculley Apple MBA Penn INCOMPETENT

You’ll notice there are seven MBA’s and none of them even had the good sense to be crooks. You’ll notice an almost complete lack of engineering, technical degrees or arts degrees. Although, to be fair, some of these folks have undergrad degrees in those fields (You’ll also notice a complete lack of women). Also, lots of these guys had wins in the past, but blew something huge, so its “not fair to judge them like that.” You know what else isn’t fair? Losing your job / 401(k) / pension.

Now the good

Name Company Degree School Claim to fame
James Skinner Mickey D’s No Degree Navy McDonald’s kicked butt in the recession. I know all FF companies did, but not as much Ronald
Reed Hastings Netflix Math Bowdoin Founded Netflix, still kicking butt even with stiff competition from streaming. Continued innovation
Steve Jobs Apple Dropout Reed college Seriously?!
Herb Kelleher Southwest JD NYU Southwest, also chain-smoked KOOLs and drank wild turkey
Lee Iacocca Chrysler Industrial Engineering LeHigh Quintessential CEO
Bill Gates Microsoft Dropout Harvard Seriously?!
Katherine Graham Washington Post History University of Chicago Made the WaPo what it is (was)
Warren Buffet Berkshire Hathaway MS Economics Columbia Seriously?!
Reuben Mark Colgate MBA Harvard Did the “small stuff” best
Andy Grove Intel PHD Chemical Engineering Pentiums
Michael Bloomberg Salomon Brothers MBA Harvard Investing
Sam Walton Wal-Mart Economics Missouri Wal-Mart

Looks a bit different, doesn’t it? There are going to be lots of naysayers. Naysaying away about judging and over-simplification but here is something anecdotal for you:

1. You’ll notice Steve Jobs on the best and John Sculley on the worst. Well, there’s a reason. Jobs started the company, was essentially forced out for a more “business savvy” alternative (BTW, he went away and built Pixar), the business guy ran the company into the ground and Jobs came back to the rescue. With, wait for it…good products! Amazing! Who would have thought!

2. You’ll notice Bill Gates on the best and (in about 3 years, Steve Ballmer on the worst). Well, there’s a reason. Gates started the company, was essentially forced out for a more “business savvy” alternative (BTW, he went on to found The Gates Foundation) the ending is still missing, but you can see a pattern emerging.

One more thing: here’s a Stock Chart of Microsoft’s, 2000 is the year Ballmer replaced Gates as CEO. Worth a thousand words I think.

I know you think I hate MBA’s and I’m angry, and unrealistic, and all CEOs can’t be Steve Jobs, after all. But I’ll refer you to the title. The question that business has to ask itself is this, “Should our COO be our CEO?” If the answer is, “yes.” Then please continue manufacturing plastic forks and pretty, pretty, please, don’t forget what happened when you’re CEO said, “Hey, what if we combine a spoon and fork? It’ll be cheaper than doing them separate!”.


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