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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ETHICS AND CRISIS MANAGEMENT

Posted in Crisis Management, Ethics and Crisis Management, ETHICS FROM THE TOP DOWN, guidelines for ethical standards, including ethics as part of your corporate culture, problem employees, Setting ethical standards on September 12th, 2012 by mnayor

 On September 8, 2012 The New York Times ran a front page story about Marcone, a company that may well be the largest authorized dealer of appliance parts in theU.S.  it’s been around since 1932.The reason for its front page notoriety is due to one of its senior vice presidents, Carlos Garcia, buying, essentially smuggling, and reselling large quantities of a banned refrigerant for appliances such as refrigerators and air conditioners. Garcia imported the gas, HCF-22 which damages the ozone layer, without the necessary approvals, thereby violating international treaties andU.S.law. The substance has been prohibited in new appliances since 2010. In June, Garcia was sentenced to 13 months in jail.

 

Faced with a tempting or risky 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. This is what happened to Wal-Mart in April of this year when its Mexican subsidiary was exposed as having engaged in  pervasive bribery as a normal course of business. 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 to the State ofMexico? 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.

What’s the lesson for CEO’s of organizations? It’s simple really. Every organization has  a “culture”. An integral part of that culture should be a requirement for high ethical standards, communicated from the top down. Transmitting the idea of winning at any cost will most likely ensure that some manager or employee down the chain will misconstrue the message and take ridiculous liberties in order to be noticed. Turning a blind eye to actions that are suspect bears the same message, even if it takes a little longer to filter down. Excessive emphasis on the bottom line can put extraordinary pressure on executives and managers to wring blood out of a stone and look for routes that will pay huge rewards, oftentimes the risk be damned. Johnson & Johnson has certainly paid a huge price to its reputation under the leadership of William Weldon, who retired as CEO just a few months ago. Under his guidance J&J’s wonderful standing in the eyes of the public has plummeted. The number of recalls, dirty facilities and end-runs around regulations over the last several years have contributed to the erosion of its sterling reputation of putting the consumer first as it did in the Tylenol scare of 1982.

 

What can a CEO do? First establish a no tolerance rule for non-ethical behavior. Anyone whose conduct exceeds the bounds of propriety is gone. Second, very careful employment screening is a must. Thirdly, establish ethical standards. Easier said than done? Perhaps but the effort should be made. Obviously if certain conduct is illegal, then it clearly has no place in the organization. beyond that if conduct is egregious enough to create the valid claim of negligence or breach of contract it should not be tolerated. Finally, if conduct would offend any one class or more of your stakeholders then it should be carefully considered. No organization should take an action that has the potential for angering its customers or clients, its investors, suppliers, employees, government officials, the public at large or the media. Of course, angering your competition is a different story, unless it angers the public at large and boomerangs.

 

No organization can protect itself against the errant employee who may jeopardize its reputation, legal standing or success. Nevertheless, it is imperative that the CEO and the board of any entity establish the rules of conduct by which it wishes to be known and respected.

 

 

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