HOW TO TREAT CEO’S: THE WAY THINGS OUGHT TO BE

Posted in ACTIVIST BOARD, Corporate Crisis Management, Crisis Management Response, DIAMOND FOODS, Doing the right thing, don't white wash the crisis, ETHICS FROM THE TOP DOWN, FIRING THE CEO, HOW TO SHOW THE CEO THE DOOR, MICHAEL MENDES, REPLACING THE CEO on November 28th, 2012 by mnayor

Last week I read that Michael Mendes formally resigned from Diamond Foods Inc. Mendes worked for Diamond most of his working life, serving as President and CEO  from 1997 and adding the title of Chairman in 2010. Then at the beginning of 2012 he was placed on administrative leave after an accounting impropriety was discovered involving payments to walnut growers, which artificially inflated financial results of the company.

 

The shift in payments must have been whoppers because they necessitated the restatement of 2010 and 2011 profits. As a result it appears that Diamond has lost its deal to purchase the Pringles brand from P&G, which was to have been an all stock transaction

 

It is not uncommon for companies to manipulate numbers to look good. It is also not a surprise to find that those at the top may not have been in the know. As a result of such an “event” a CEO will clean house, heads will roll and internal accounting measures tightened. But here it look like the perpetrators may have been those at the very top, including Steven Neil, the former CFO, who was also placed on leave. Why else would Mendes and Neil have been placed on administrative leave? Why else would Mendes repay $2.7 million in bonuses he received for 2010 and 2011, and return shares awarded to him in 2010. He leaves with a net retirement balance after repayment of bonuses, and will not be granted any severance.

 

In his wake, Diamond Foods is stuck with a share price that has plummeted 60%, a lot of angry shareholders who are ratcheting up class action suits against the company, and ongoing Department of Justice and SEC investigations. That’s quite a trail to leave behind.

 

The Board should be commended. In the face of a serious crisis it took decisive action. There was no attempt to white-wash the situation or cover for Mendes. Crisis management oftentimes means nothing more than biting the bullet and facing problems head-on. In this case the Board has taken steps to tighten its internal controls and has cleaned house. But in my view it has done more than that. Too often the guy who screws up, especially if he is at the top, gets a golden parachute and a pat on the backside to ensure that the door doesn’t hit him on the way out. The wheels are greased and everyone thinks the right thing is being done. But this Board obviously saw no need to reward people who created the crisis in the first place. Hopefully this Board will set a precedent for the many situations which will undoubtedly follow in the business world.

 

CEO’s should pay a price when they do something illegal, or in violation of a company’s  ethical standards. All companies should take a page from this playbook. Don’t deplete the assets of your company even more after a crisis by rewarding bad behavior. It adds insult to injury to your shareholders and other stakeholders. CEO’s and others in top management need to receive what they deserve. If they earn a walk out the door, they are not entitled to a fat paycheck. It’s one thing if the chemistry isn’t right or the results are disappointing. It’s another thing if a person has left his company high and dry, bleeding from bad decisions and actions that have done harm. It’s time to change the ugly unwritten understanding between boards and their managements that says that the upper echelon is a fraternity whose members are entitled to hop from company to company accumulating prizes while their reputations remain unscathed, regardless of their perfidy or incompetence.

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HURRICANE SANDY AND THE MARATHON

Posted in Crisis Communication Failures, Crisis Management Strategy, Crisis Management Success Stories, dealing with a natural disaster, DECISIONS IN A VACUUM, Doing the right thing, Hurricane Sandy, negative publicity, New York City Marathon, Poor crisis management on November 12th, 2012 by mnayor

One of the most evident communications failures in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy involved the ING New York City Marathon. Unquestionably the success of the Marathon paled in comparison to the misery heaped on New York (and New Jersey and Connecticut) residents who should of course have received and should continue to receive immediate and effective relief.

 

However, I cannot understand why the Marathon could not have been transformed into a major vehicle for focusing attention on and creating relief efforts for the residents of Staten Island, and The Rockaways, the areas ofNew Yorkthe most severely damaged.  I believe that the event could have been salvaged and made into something extraordinarily constructive instead of seemingly distractive and frivolous.

 

During the week of the storm Mayor Bloomberg kept announcing that theMarathonwould go on. He justified the decision by saying it would be good for New Yorkers. It  would bring the City together and lift everyone’s spirits. He also stated that no resources would be diverted from the relief effort. This comment, although true, was weak in light of the dozens of generators seen being transported toCentral Park  for the traditional pasta dinner, and the numerous port-a-potties being installed near the starting line. Granted these resources were private but it all seemed so selfish. This was crisis management and crisis communication at its worst.

 

What might have happened if the following had occurred? Mayor Bloomberg and Mary Wittenberg, president and CEO of the New York Road Runners (NYRR) jointly announced that theMarathonwas being renamed the Sandy Relief Marathon. The prize money was being donated immediately to the relief effort. The pasta dinner was cancelled and all generators and other private resources were being transferred to stricken areas. All port-a-potties were available immediately to the public. A telethon was being established for call-in donations during the race. All runners were being encouraged to donate their time in the coming days to support efforts. And so on.

 

The perception and the reality of theMarathonwould have been transformed into a humanitarian effort. That’s the way it should have been, instead of being billed as a cheer-leading, feel-good effort. Good crisis management in the Mayor’s Office and the NYRR was lacking. They had the time to make it happen but not the imagination or creativity. The resulting cancellation on the Friday before the event was a fiasco. An embarrassment for both the Mayor and the NYRR. The financial loss to the City is in the untold millions. The damage to the reputation to the event and the Road Runners organization remains to be seen. Certainly the thousands who travelled from abroad to participate now have a bitter taste in their mouths. The most common reaction was – We understand cancelling the event but why wait until Friday. If you had cancelled earlier in the week we could have saved the trip and our airfare.

 

We can only hope that nothing befalls the tri-state area again likeSandy, but if it does more intelligent and creative minds should grapple with a situation like theMarathonand utilize the notoriety of such an event to good and productive use. Obviously it is easier in hindsight to come up with ideas, but doing what’s right, sacrificing certain elements of an event and willingly taking two steps back in order to take one step forward would have burnished the image of the Marathon instead of tarnishing it. Trying to salvage an event in its entirety was and is perceived as putting yourself first. Placing the needs of those devastated bySandyfirst, and sacrificing some of theMarathon’s bells and whistles might have just garnered a lot more respect and kept a version of the race intact. Now NYRR has to renegotiate with product sponsors, ESPN and local affiliate WABC, and the participants themselves. It difficult to envision it coming out a true winner.

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FAILURE TO ANTICIPATE: THE WALMART EXAMPLE

Posted in Anticipating A Crisis, Anticipation, Business Crisis Management, corporate integrity, Crisis Communication Strategy, Crisis Management, Crisis Management Planning, Doing the right thing, Ethics and Crisis Management, Honesty and directness in dealing with a crisis, Wal-Mart on May 3rd, 2012 by mnayor

On April 22nd, 2012 The New York Times broke a huge story on Wal-Mart’s Walmex subsidiary. The subsidiary is alleged to have systematically engaged in bribery in order to grease the wheels of  its store expansion program in Mexico. Two of its most senior executives have been directly implicated in the scheme and the subsequent cover-up. The fallout has been dramatic including upcoming Congressional and Justice Department investigations and investigations within Mexico, a precipitous drop in Wal-Mart’s stock price, and perhaps worst of all, a huge black eye to WalMart’s reputation for integrity.

 This is a story that will not go away soon, even with the short collective memory for which the U.S.public is noted, and even with the perception we have, mistaken or not, about how business is done inMexico. The investigations and potential lawsuits will wend their way forward but Wal-Mart has an immediate problem: how to revive its reputation which was essentially snuffed out by one newspaper story. Unless there are very clear explanations that go beyond mere flim-flam, cut your losses Wal-Mart. Cooperate with investigations to ensure that they are completed rapidly. Develop your best explanations. Negotiate your fines for violating the Federal Corrupt Practices Act. Make restitution wherever it is required. Terminate those who were complicit. Get your house in order as quickly as you can.

 But this article is not about what to do now. It is about what should have been done. Wal-Mart’s story is as old as the hills. It is the same story as Richard Nixon and Watergate, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, Enron, Goldman-Sachs. And on and on and on. It is the story of hubris. It is the story of deceit. It is the story of the ostrich.

 Faced with a calamitous issue, a powerful person, a powerful company, a powerful country is most likely still to believe that there is a good chance of getting away with something. Lie low and time will make the issue recede into history. Put a band aid on and no one will dare to pierce your impenetrable shell. What would have happened if Wal-Mart had entertained a genuine independent internal investigation when it had the opportunity, and made those findings known to the Justice Department and toMexico? There would have been a much smaller story. Wal-Mart would at least have been accused of being honorable. Its reputation for integrity would have been burnished. It would have paid a price but perhaps not as steep a price as it will now pay.

 Why don’t people get it? Because there is a gambler in all of us, even when the odds are poor. Is there a chance we can get away with something? Let’s give it a try. What do we have to lose? Ask Richard Nixon. Ask Bill Clinton. Ask all those who have tried to wheedle their way out of messes only to get caught. Ah but then again there is always that other guy, the guy who got away with it. We should follow him. He’s a smart guy. He knew the angles. If he could do it, we can too.  Right now things are calm. Let’s not rock the boat. But in the long run the straight-shooter almost always wins.

Crisis management is not only activated when a cris occurs. It begins prior to a crisis in order to avoid a crisis or lessen its severity. Preparation and right-thinking separate those companies and organizations from those that merely kick the can or determine to ignore or purposefully hide a potentially serious issue.

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J&J: IT’S ABOUT TIME OR MORE OF THE SAME

Posted in a ggod reputation guarantees long term profits, Business Crises We Create, cheating the public, Corporate Crisis Management, corporate integrity, Crisis Management, Crisis Management Response, Doing the right thing, Ethics and Crisis Management, Hurting customers, J&J, Johnson & Johnson, Respect your customers, Taking Responsibility for actions of an organization or its employees, when the bottom line is more important than your customers, William Weldon on February 22nd, 2012 by mnayor

 In October of 2010 I highlighted many of the difficulties Johnson & Johnson had been going through since the early part of the decade, from tens of millions of dollars to settle claims against its product Ortho Evra, to product recalls including children’s Tylenol and contact lenses. Other telling issues involved a wrongful termination suit by a whistle blower and a resignation by a senior executive whose conscience would not allow him to remain at J&J knowing what he knew about Ortho Evra.

My conclusion was simply that J&J’s management had veered way off course and had sullied the reputation of one ofAmerica’s greatest corporations, one that was known and respected for its integrity and honesty. I ended with an expression of hope that the lessons learned would set management on the right course once again.

 This was not to be. Just this past week the press reported that J&J took a year to recall a version of its artificial hip after the FDA refused in 2009 to approve it because of its high rate of failures. The device was recalled in 2010, and J&J maintained until that time that the device was safe and its own studies refuted the allegations of professionals. J&J continued to market the hip in Europe and other overseas countries until the recall and sold another version of its hip that didn’t need safety approval in theU.S., even though the hip socket cup, which the FDA found to be flawed, was the same in both products.

 It is interesting to track the timeline of most of J&J’s recent woes to the timeline of William C. Weldon’s tenure as chief executive. Whether directly attributable to Weldon’s misfeasance or malfeasance is not the issue. The torrent of missteps, mistakes,  dishonesty, deception and manipulation has occurred on his watch. The least that can be said without pointing a finger directly at him is that he failed miserably to instill a sense of integrity within the company, a sense of integrity that transcends the needs of the short-term bottom line. So many executives foolishly sit at their desks with blinders on. Weldon and his followers allowed a culture to fester within their walls that calls for the good of the company to transcend the good of the public.

 No executive worth his title would allow the disintegration that has taken place at J&J. Thankfully, William Weldon will step down in April of this year although he will remain as chairman. Alex Gorsky will be the new CEO. Has the Board done the Company, its shareholders and the public a major disservice? Gorsky is cut from the same cloth as Weldon. They both cut their teeth in sales and both are sensitive to the bottom line and enhancing it above all else.  Hopefully Gorsky will recognize the need to build trust, and instill honor from which J&J can once again earn the widespread respect of the public. Build it and they will come. With that will come the financial success that Weldon’s crew tried to obtain on the cheap. If Gorsky has not learned from past mistakes, expect more of the same from J&J. We will all be witness to the transformation of a great American company into just another self-serving medical conglomerate that feeds off the public.

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GO FOR THE LOW MAN ON THE TOTEM POLE

Posted in Doing the right thing, Ethics and Crisis Management, Honesty and directness in dealing with a crisis, Penn State, Protecting the organization at any cost?, Sacrifice the Little Guy, Throw an employee under the bus, Uncategorized on November 19th, 2011 by mnayor

(Or What I learned from Abu Ghraib)

Watching TV commentary and reading newspaper and internet accounts of the awful Penn State story, I am puzzled. Yes, there has been some effort to uncover what occurred, but very little in the way of reporting why the sexual abuse lasted so long, with so many people in authority knowing about it. And yes, Joe Paterno was fired and two other officials at the University indicted for perjury. But very little has been made of the responsibilities these people had, except for one person.

I’m not anti Joe Paterno. He’s probably a great guy and obviously a great coach. However, I have seen comments in defense of Joe that he had done what he was legally required to do. Not a very high bar for sure. What I am against is shining a spotlight on the low man on the totem pole. Throw him or her under the bus. The reputations of the organization itself and its various chiefs are much more important to preserve than that of the little guy who nobody ever heard of. Among reputable high-minded individuals, it puzzles me indeed that reputation preservation always trumps honesty – especially when honesty would do more to preserve reputations than buck passing.

So, who is that one person who is getting all the attention? Mike McQueary, who witnessed Jerry Sandusky in the showers with a boy, was a 28 years old graduate assistant at the University. Granted he wasn’t a youngster but he certainly wasn’t a seasoned member of the staff. There were certainly older and more entrenched members of the Penn State coaching staff. In fact, everyone else must have been an authority figure to him. Not easy to tell someone older and more powerful than you to cease and desist. In a perfect world yes Mike McQuaery might have stopped the actions of Sandusky and called the police. In a more realistic world Mike McQueary was brave enough to report the incident to Joe Paterno. A lesser human being might have forgotten what he had seen. Instead we read headlines like McQueary Action Drags Penn State to Shame. Every accusation that has been leveled at McQueary can be leveled at Joe and everyone else on up the line. What we have is clearly an attempt to scapegoat a very important matter instead of confronting and dealing with it head on.

You can hear on the sidelines of any Penn State game coaches yelling frantically to players to MAN UP. Penn State, heed your own advice.

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PENN STATE AND OLYMPUS CORP.: WHAT THEY HAVE IN COMMON

Posted in Crisis Communication Response, Doing the right thing, Ethics and Crisis Management, Olympus Corp., Penn State, reputation management, Sacrifice the Little Guy, Taking Responsibility for actions of an organization or its employees on November 19th, 2011 by mnayor

Two scandals this week couldn’t seem more different. One involves allegations of pedophilia sex at a university, Penn State and the other financial shenanigans at a large Japanese corporation, Olympus Corp. Most in the public relations field would exclaim that both matters require “crisis management”, but there is a closer commonality than that. We have to look at the underlying cause of these scandals to see what they share in common.

In many crisis situations the crisis comes about by an outside force or a factor beyond an organization’s control or ability to anticipate. There are, of course, natural disasters. There can be strikes, new legislation, unexpected competition, employee dishonesty, product contamination and the list goes on. Most organizations are “forgiven” or the matter is soon forgotten if the issue is dealt with promptly. Even the BP Gulf oil spill has receded from our memories because the company dealt with the calamity, no matter how ineptly.

But certain “crises” are either created or exacerbated by an organization itself. There are many participants, willing or scared or just amoral who put the organization first. These types of issues should not be looked upon as crises but as severe ethical failures. Oftentimes the principal players either feel they have no choice, or stick their collective heads in the sand or worst of all, feel they won’t be caught and therefore have no compunction about doing what they see as best for the organization. This is what Penn State and Olympus have in common –people have done something unconscionable and others who know about it do nothing or as little as possible. No one wants to be a whistle blower. Willingly or unwillingly, everyone wants to be a loyal team player.

From politicians to entertainers to corporate CEO’s, there is an ever-growing tendency to believe “I can get away with it”, or “it’s not my problem”, or “let’s not rock the boat” or “I’m not going to stick my neck out”.

These days the words “ethics” and “morals” are used interchangeably Elijah Weber described the difference this way:

“Morals, quite simply, are beliefs about right and wrong conduct….They do not require reason, consistency, or thorough analysis in their initial shaping or practical application…. I can believe that lying is wrong because my grandmother told me it was, and that is what I believe. No further justification is required. Ethics, on the other hand, is a reason based cumulative system of moral decision making. It is built upon one or a few basic principles and requires that we be thorough, honest, and comprehensive in making statements about right and wrong. Ethics is about building the kind of world we want to live in, and developing a consistent process by which to achieve this. Ethics is an advanced expression of morality.”

I like this analysis of ethics: a few basic principles that require that we be thorough, honest, and comprehensive in making statements about right and wrong. It is about building the kind of world we want to live in…Do we wish to live in a world where we turn a blind eye to child sexual abuse? Do we want to turn a blind eye to Ponzi schemes and product failings and financial manipulations built on sand that will have severe consequences to investors, employees, and consumers? I think not.
No one is naive enough to think that every company, every charitable organization, every university will adhere to the straight and narrow but wouldn’t it be refreshing if we could count on ethical behavior most of the time. Wouldn’t it also be nice if every honest whistle blower who performed a public service wasn’t maligned and attacked as a weasel or turn-coat? Wouldn’t it be interesting if every organization that breached ethical norms, faced its predicament responsibly Since it is not possible to have a perfect world, shouldn’t we at least shine a spotlight on those who perpetuate bad conduct no matter how revered, competent and respected they may have been?

I fear that the opposite usually occurs. The whistleblower is a turncoat. The person who tried to do the right thing didn’t do enough. The head honcho and the organization are protected as best as possible. The little guy gets thrown under the bus.

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