29 November 2008

"I think I'm okay where I am"

So it was hard to feel sorry for the executives when Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), late in the hearing, reminded them again that "the symbolism of the private jet is difficult," and mischievously asked the witnesses whether, in another symbolic gesture, they would be willing to work for $1 a year, as Nardelli has offered to do.

"I don't have a position on that today," demurred Wagoner (2007 total compensation: $15.7 million).

"I understand the intent, but I think where we are is okay," said [Ford's CEO] Mulally ($21.7 million).

"I'm asking about you," Roskam pressed.

"I think I'm okay where I am," Mulally said.

[full story here]

Today's CEOs are the last of the monarchs. Not only are they paid outrageous sums but they are the last of the major leaders to rule without challenge.

Bill Clinton was continually berated and criticized by Americans, as was George Bush. And so will Barack Obama. And the beauty of this system is that we can accuse our presidents of any kind of heinous crime and make our case in public and still not worry about losing citizenship or being deported.

If an employee at Ford were to make public statements about Mulally like those that many Americans have made about Clinton or Bush, this employee would be gone - fired. CEOs do not entertain critics.

One simple plan that I would propose for publicly traded firms is this: corporations allow a free press and even a two-party system within.

As I've mentioned earlier, corporations comprise between one third to two thirds of the 100 largest economies in the world. (The 100 largest economies list includes Japan and General Electric, France and Exxon.) We've learned in the West that no country can prosper with centrally-controlled economy or an society with government control of the press and the flow of information. Essential to success of a large system is the distribution of information and power. What if that applied to all economies - even those within a corporation?

Imagine that the stockholders and employees had free flow of information about projects and teams and management policies. And that - as with a parliamentary system - an election could be called and stockholders and employees were given a chance to vote on direction and even things like CEO salary. What if the CEOs had to please the stockholders and employees instead of dictate to them?

Progress in the West has followed from a diffusion of power. Religion got so much better when popes lost their monopoly control over it. Government, too, became less oppressive and more able when monarchs lost their grip on it. When legislation and the popularization of finance handcuffed the robber barons, financial markets prospered. Now it's time to do to CEOs what we've done to popes, kings, and robber barons - disperse their power.

Mulally thinks that he's okay where he is. Most of us don't. No dictator ever pointed out that the rest of us would be better off if he gave up some power. We can't wait for the CEOs to come to this realization.


ThomasLB said...

You would allow labor to control the means of production? But that's… that's… (GASP!)

Ron Davison said...

Actually, giving stockholders influence over the company is the next stage of capitalism. Given that employees are now the biggest stockholders, it also has echoes of Marx, yes. One really big difference? Less of a revolution than an evolution, in my book.

wheelsonthebus said...

do you think the decisions would really be any better? call me a cynic

David said...

About criticism of Presidents and CEOs. I just read Charlie Gibson's interview with George W and I like his response to the hatred and criticism spewed at him so openly even by leaders in Congress on the record. I wonder if the FNG will tolerate that kind of criticism. We'll see over time. He's going to get it but it won't be that vituperative coming from the right.

Ron Davison said...

Better? Maybe not - but their effects would be more local and more diverse.

You think that the criticism from the right will be softer and gentler than the criticism from the left? Really? What am I missing? I could have sworn that conservative talk shows had some fairly angry commentators.