Marc Andreessen’s post on CEO crime and punishment

Marc Andreessen deserves high praise for the quality and the depth of his blog posts, which I now read faithfully and suggest you do as well.  I just started getting it, however, so I have had to catch up.  Here follows a response to an essay posted last month, which I submit with gratitude to Mr Andreessen and the author for having raised the issue.

Publishing an analysis of why some CEOs cheat, in the form of keys for how not to cheat, is about as effective as MBA schools and undergraduate business programs instituting ethics courses.

If someone has gotten as far as the top spot, and his visceral instincts, mentors and practical experience haven’t taught him to recognize the value of regulatory compliance, transparency and fairness, he is never going to get it.

The world’s many effective leaders, including the ones with hearts of stone [I’m no Pollyanna], understand the problem.  They are just reluctant to admit it.  Secret handshake, fraternal code, etc.

There are some people who have climbed, clawed or careened to the top on the sheer whiff of what they anticipate to be the power that awaits them there.  Power is what they’re after.  No concoction of laws, punishments, humiliation, barriers, external auditors and well-meaning blog posts is going to stop them.  They perceive the effort as nothing more than a calculated risk.  In fact, the more they escape detection, the more risk they’re willing to assume.

There is an aspect of greed, but it is nowhere near as motivating as the power drive.  The money and the trophies are only what these characters use to demonstrate the fact that they have made it.  Mere peacock plumage. 

So once these people get to the pinnacle, there ain’t nobody who’s going to tell them how to run their companies.  And that’s what they think auditors, whistleblowers, the press and regulators are doing — getting in the way of a hard-won power trip.  For this type of CEO, it is not about right and wrong or even what’s best for the company and customers.  It is about not letting anyone challenge their right of way.

These are the ones who populate their boards with cronies — insist on being both CEO and chairman of the board — treat the company as a piggy bank even in their retirement.  That kind of stuff.

Yes, Author.  Staff and management bear some responsibility.  But by shifting the emphasis to management technique and advising future leaders to get savvy on the laws [and therefore the loopholes], you are missing the point of the question as you pose it.

For our friends in the People’s Republic of Berkeley, where I visit early and often as well, who want to understand why evil gamesmanship exists in Corporate America, I suggest looking everywhere there is a hierarchy and authority figures.  I guarantee you’ll see the same behavior in a good number of organizations, for profit and not.  Families, even.

The "evil" problem is not the exclusive output of business interests or the consequence of wanting to make piles of money.  It’s the dark side of human nature.  At one point or another, every human being is going to have to wrestle with the power grabbing aspect of our wiring.  You deal with it from somewhere inside yourself.  CEOs need to know that they won’t find the rules for this battle in the SEC’s playbook.

As Charles Barkley says, I may be wrong, but I doubt it.

So after I finished reading the post, I wondered:  if I disagree with the author’s approach to the question posed him, what is the real answer. 

I didn’t even have to get up from my desk.  The answer arrived in an email about a subject completely unrelated to this one.  Or so I thought.

                                The purpose of authority is to serve

This, Author, is the answer to the question you pose.

By the way.  That remark in the author’s original post about Joseph Nacchio’s name being akin to that of
a crime boss is more than a little inappropriate.  Just because THE SOPRANOS
was a hit doesn’t mean we get to go back to the days when we’re free to assume that it’s OK to make sly references to Italian Americans being mobbed-up.  Just good etiquette — not a question of political correctness or ethnic sensitivity.

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