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Ducks in a Row: John Stumpf — Abdicating Leadership/Passing the Buck

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

“Corporation, n. an ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.” — Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911

Truman_pass-the-buckBierce’s words ring truer today than any time since he first wrote them; as shown most recently by Wells Fargo CEO John G. Stumpf.

But Mr. Stumpf — whom the members of the House committee personally blamed for the persistent and widespread misdeeds — stuck to the same script he has used throughout the crisis. The problem, he explained, was an ethical lapse among the 5,300 employees, most of them low-level bankers and tellers, who had been fired for their actions since 2011.
But he again rejected lawmakers’ attempts to cast the scandal as a consequence of broader failings in Wells Fargo’s leadership and corporate culture.

A rejection that is the purest bull poop I’ve heard recently.

Having been a customer long before Norwest acquired it in 1998 (acquired, although it was called a merger) I can honestly say that Wells attitude towards customers hasn’t changed — they are a necessary evil with no other purpose than to enrich Wells coffers.

At that time, Wells was known for its cutting-edge technology and lousy customer relations, while Norwest was famous for its customer-centric culture. Analysts predicted that as the acquirer Norwest’s culture would be ascendant.

So much for those predictions.

In case you think I’m exaggerating, there are $10 billion  in recent fines to prove I’m not.

As Mr. Stumpf testified, a video screen on the hearing room’s wall displayed a scroll of more than a dozen fines Wells Fargo has paid in recent years, totaling more than $10 billion. The list included penalties for subprime loan abuses, discriminating against African-American and Hispanic mortgage borrowers, and foreclosure violations, among others.

Mr. Hensarling asked whether such fines are simply the “cost of doing business.”

Mr. Stumpf answered no, adding, “I don’t want our culture to be defined by these mistakes.”

Then how else should the culture for which Stumpf is responsible be defined?

Obviously, Stumpf doesn’t have the same sign on his desk as President Truman had on his, let alone buy into its meaning.

Wells Fargo — where the buck stops at the bottom.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Entrepreneurs: Change the World — or Yourself?

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/inspiyr/9670184989/The entrepreneurial mantra that weaves through every startup vision and recruitment effort focuses on how X product/service will change the world.

This particular passion applies whether it’s a cure for cancer, a big data application, a new messaging app, social network or dating app.

How does one truly change the world?

Or is it a phrase with no real meaning?

Even if one does change it does the change make the world better?

Better by what yardstick and whose standards?

Change isn’t always a positive.

What is your responsibility if you do change it?

In his graduation speech at USC, Larry Ellison said, “You will change the world and the world will change you.”

For better or worse, change is the only true constant.

Flickr image credit: Inspiyr.com

How NOT to Run a Company

Monday, November 2nd, 2015


What do you do when your stock price has plunged 25% in five months and a substantial number of your executive team leave?

What’s your spin when a number of those leaving were hand-picked by you?

If you are Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer you publicly proclaim that they weren’t good enough to do what needed to be done.

“Recently, there has been external interest and speculation in a few shifts amidst our management team. The design and changes in Yahoo’s leadership team are the result of careful planning to achieve the necessary skills, passion, and the ability to execute growth in our business.’

The people who weren’t good for Mayer were scooped up by the likes of Facebook, Square, Helix and STX Entertainment — not exactly companies known for hiring passionless castoffs.

The exodus isn’t all that surprising, considering Mayer’s management style and need for control and the fact that in the three years she’s been at Yahoo there has not only been no turnaround, but everything is worse.

Of course, these days CEO all provide reasons for whatever is happening, but only rarely admit to being one of them.

As I said last January, this is what happens when people buy into their own wunderkind status.

But the truly sad thing is the ammunition she has provided to the anti-women-leaders crowd who will use her to prove that, in fact, woman don’t belong in the corner office.

Flickr image credit: Tech Crunch

A Vision or a Dream?

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015


I wrote the following in 2008 and, based on a number of recent questions/conversations I think it’s time to post it again, with some light editing.

The Vision Thing

Whether you head a company, run a department, or lead a team, you are responsible for that ‘vision thing’ as it applies to those subordinate to you.

It’s your responsibility to clearly identify (if you are the CEO/Prez/Owner) or articulate (at all other levels) the goals of the company.

Then it’s up to you to involve your people, working with them to turn those goals into specific actions for which they are responsible.

Most people are vaguely aware that work isn’t done in a vacuum, but often individuals, teams, or even departments, fail to truly understand the domino effect created by allowing their schedule to slip.

You can minimize this problem, and improve the quality of your workforce, by making certain that they understand how their own goals, their colleagues, those of the company and its customers and vendors interact.

The biggest rewards at all levels (using whatever incentives are available) should go to those who understand the company’s goals, and ethically do whatever is necessary to achieve them—especially when they put the company’s goals ahead of their own.

None of this is rocket science. 

It’s simple enough.

No matter your level, if you’re the boss communicating the vision to your team and aligning their actions with it is your responsibility.

Otherwise, the vision becomes a dream.

Image credit: Wordle


Monday, September 28th, 2015


There is nothing like the various advice columns to keep you abreast of societies attitudes.

One I enjoy is called Social Qs; I like the insight it gives into people’s attitudes and questions of how to respond to everyday happenings.

Now and then the attitude behind a question will leave me speechless.

Like this one.

I took my sweet little dog for a walk. He got agitated by a cat sitting on a porch, pulled free of me and raced toward the house, knocking over (and breaking) a large ceramic urn. I acknowledge that I am partly responsible for the damage. But don’t the homeowners have some responsibility, too, letting their cat sit out in the open? —ANONYMOUS

Not surprising that it’s anonymous; few people would have the courage to admit to that level of self-absorption.

The Social Q response was perfect (as one would expect).

You break it; you bought it. “And your little dog, too,” growled the Wicked Witch of the West. The cat is free to sit on its porch with regal impunity.

No kidding. It wasn’t even roaming around, just sitting quietly, minding it’s business and watching the world go by.

Yet it’s the owners who are somehow responsible.

And that’s today’s attitude in a nutshell.

Flickr image credit: Stefano Mortellaro

Ducks in a Row: Are You Privileged?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015


If you’re an outsider, or even an insider prone to objectivity, Silicon Valley’s culture is a mess.

When I said as much to “Rick” his response caught me off guard — although it shouldn’t have.

“I wish they would just give it a rest. I am sick and tired of all the crap about wealth inequality, lack of diversity and privacy rights. That stuff is not my responsibility. I’ve worked hard and deserve my success; nobody went out of their way to help me. I’m sure not privileged and I figure if I can do it so can they.”

I’ve heard this before, but it still leaves me speechless.

Rick is white, nice looking, middle class family, raised around Palo Alto, graduated from UC Berkeley; his dad worked for Intel.

Yet he doesn’t see himself as privileged.

Over the years I’ve known thousands of Ricks.

And therein lies the true problem.

Because it’s hard to change that which doesn’t exist.

Image credit: Dagny Mol

Ducks in a Row: Preventing Corporate Foot-In-Mouth Disease

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015


Yesterday’s post focused on the difference between mindful and mindless social media usage as private individuals.

The problem is more far-reaching when the person speaking heads or publicly represents the company, whether as an employee or celebrity spokesperson.

Foot-in-mouth disease isn’t anything new.

What is new is its global reach and immortal status.

The problem is best summed up in a comment from Lee Rainie, a Pew Research Center specialist in the social influence of digital technologies.

“Despite all of the warnings, all of the evidence to the contrary and all the material floating around proving otherwise, people still think that when they’re sitting alone typing something out, they know exactly who their audience is. But the specific character of digital information is that it’s replicable, repeatable, and there are lots of outlets now that are interested in these stories.”

One further warning.

The “outlets” mentioned above — old and new media, pundits, individuals and trolls — like nothing better than to take that private email, joking tweet or casual image and spin it into something that supports or illustrates their own viewpoint — no matter how badly they distort it or how warped the application.

Image credit: US Geological Survey

Mindful Social Media

Monday, February 16th, 2015


Today is a day of links, rather than paraphrasing previous posts and a new article from the NY Times that’s garnering a lot of attention.

In 2006 I wrote An Employee Dilemma—What Would You Do?— be sure to read the comments, because they are critical in juxtaposition to the Times article.

The article is How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life.

Sacco is actually one of many whose mindless actions on social media provided repercussions beyond anything they could have imagined.

Of course, imagining repercussions requires mindfulness.

As does social media.

Image credit: Jason Howie

Ducks in a Row: 6 Inviolate Rules For A Great Culture

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015


Three of the inviolate rules for a great culture are accepted and respected.

  • Tell the truth.
  • Show initiative.
  • Care

The other three not so much — especially the last one.

  • Make a mess.
  • Take responsibility.
  • Apologize.

But for a culture to be great culture they must apply universally, not selectively

Messes of all sizes happen; they are a fact of life.

People taking responsibility for the messes they make are not.

Apologies for the messes are less common still — especially as people move up the ladder.

But apologies are a necessity — as Intuit CEO Brad Smith points out.

Apologies person to person enable trust; keep teams strong and productivity humming.

Apologies from companies to customers also enable trust and earn a second chance.

Assuming, of course, that the apologies are authentic.

Image credit: pshutterbug

If The Shoe Fits: Marriage and the Startup Social Contract

Friday, January 30th, 2015

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI rarely have time to read my Quora feed, but now and then I see a question that pulls me up short as happened when this question from last fall surfaced.

I am an entrepreneur about to get married. How do I make sure my future wife doesn’t benefit financially from our union?  

My reaction was that his fiancée should run as fast as possible in the other direction, since this guy doesn’t seem to have either the understanding of what marriage is or the maturity to build a successful one. (Most of the responses echoed my reaction.)

Thinking further, I wondered whether this entrepreneur honored what Matt Weeks calls The Startup Social Contract at his company, since he obviously didn’t with his wife-to-be.

Marriage, after all, is the ultimate startup and the risks are even greater when an entrepreneur is involved.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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