A Fish Rots From the Head Down


Whether Greek or Turkish in origin, like all good proverbs, there’s a large grain of truth in this one.

A few weeks ago, my wife mentioned that she had listened to a very interesting interview on NPR as she had been driving home from work that afternoon.  The guest being interviewed had been Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of Chrysler Corporation.

What she had found so interesting were his comments related to corporate organizations, specifically what he had found at Chrysler when he had taken the top job there five years ago.

She was convinced that I would be interested in his comments because she is also acutely aware of my own experiences working within corporate organizations.  During the first thirty-four years of my career, I had been employed by two different corporations.ID-10050051

The first was what I’d describe as a small to medium sized company which, despite it’s size, was a recognized leader within its business sector.  That’s about the best I can say about it.  In reality, I’d be hard pressed to describe that corporation’s management team without employing words such as pirates and/or bandits.  I spent nine of the longest years of my life working there in a middle management position.  Sadly, but not unexpectedly, this corporation ceased to exist several years ago.

My second, and more than likely last corporate employer, was of the Fortune 100 and multi-national variety.  During my first ten years working there, I often thought, as the saying goes, that I’d died and gone to heaven.

You see, at that time the company established clear objectives and operating strategies to achieve them on the basis of “principles“, not the least of which was integrity.  Those were years of continuous growth in terms of profit, stock price, and market share.  The differences I was experiencing between corporation A and corporation B were frankly staggering.

But alas, nothing lasts forever.  During my last fifteen years there, the company evolved from an organization which was “principle centered” into one which became overwhelmingly “personality centered.”
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Values such as the aforementioned integrity, employee involvement, and a commitment to quality slowly but surely became secondary to what I’ll call enlightened self-interest on the part of the senior management team.  Along the way, market share, technological leadership, and concern for employees were jettisoned too.

Which brings me back to the interview with Sergio Marchionne.

Based on my wife’s recommendation, I decided to try to find a copy of the interview.  I succeeded.  It’s on the NPR website in both text and audio formats.

For me, the capstone of the interview came at the point when the NPR interviewer asked Marchionne, “When you first came to Chrysler what did you find there in the way of leadership?

I had to go look for them because they were buried underneath the structure.  And it’s been my experience, by the way, whenever you run businesses that are dysfunctional, that the real problem sits at the top.  And so we changed all of the senior leadership of Chrysler within a matter of a couple of days.

A couple of days….. how refreshing.  I broke into a big smile when I heard Marchionne’s response.
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His comments not only validated my own experiences in the corporate world, but Chrysler’s performance and remarkable turn-around under his direction gives two very large thumbs up in favor of “principle centered” leadership.

A lesson that sadly has to be relearned from time to time.

OM

Images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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4 thoughts on “A Fish Rots From the Head Down

  1. I stopped paying attention after NPR! Keep in mind that this guy was appointed to a government owned and operated organization, by the regime he supports still. The “leadership” he speaks of (being brought in) were also supporters of the regime. We (the taxpayers) gave them $80 billion and will never see it back. Marchionne is still not turning a profit but is quite busy (along with GM) moving the production part of his business OUT OF THE UNITED STATES. A full 70% of all autos and parts manufactured by Chrysler andGM are now built outside the US. Marchionne and NPR say what they are told to say…..you can tell when they are lying, their lips are moving.

  2. The “company” for which I currently work is a good example of the fish analogy as well. I was informed last May along with several thousand other employees throughout the country that in order to save money and not have to close any offices, that the hours would be cut back in many of our locations making our jobs unnecessary. We were given 2 years to find a different position in the organization or lose our jobs. Shortly after this announcement the top man hired an additional 2 executive level employees.

    Another part of their cost savings efforts was essentially abolishing any training except on paper for the front line people. Instead of sending us to training classes, they expected all training to be done through one of two methods. We could be trained in group conference calls, but the catch was that we were still supposed to wait on customers and handle all retail sales while these phone calls took place, or we would be given access to an online training program with videos and streaming graphics that we were supposed to watch on, in many cases, a 56K dial-up Internet connection also while still waiting on any customers that came in.

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