Hands-Off Is Wrong

John F. Lawrence in his Feb. 2 column ("Those Do-It-All Executives Can Do Great Harm") is primarily making the point that chief executives must learn to delegate responsibilities; few will argue with that conclusion. It is a difficult discipline for all CEOs.

Nonetheless, Lawrence has a strange way of making the point. He speaks of a CEO walking through a department and noticing a once-popular tearoom where now the waiters outnumber the customers and shortly thereafter passes the store's yogurt stand, which is mobbed by young people while staffed by one harried clerk.

When asked what he did about it, the CEO replied that he did nothing because he didn't want to "jerk" people's wires. "Pretty soon," the chief executive said, "everybody in the whole corporation would be depending on me to play puppeteer."

To me, such an attitude is in the twilight zone between nonfeasance and insanity. I cannot imagine a CEO worth his salt who would walk by two of his departments, see that conditions are chaotic and do nothing about it. This isn't real life or the way successful companies operate. If a CEO cannot suggest remedial action without vice presidents or department heads feeling that his or her authority is being undermined, then the corporate culture itself is in need of corrective action. Of course, a CEO is going to take corrective steps when he sees part of his operation in trouble. What is he being paid for? Does he continue to sustain losses from these two departments because remedial action on his part might make puppets of the vice presidents and department heads?

Lawrence also deplores monthly activity reports that might be requested by a CEO.

There are three ways that I know of by which a CEO can find out what is going on in his company. One is informational reports from vice presidents or department heads; another is observation of what's going on himself, and a third is extrasensory perception. Of course, the CEO is going to require periodic reports from vice presidents and department heads. He has no other effective way of knowing whether operations are consistent with the company's plan. It's excellent discipline for department heads to be required to write informational reports.

And if such informational reports are not adequate, why wouldn't a CEO write back and ask for more information? That such a discipline on the part of the CEO makes glorified executive secretaries out of department heads is further nonsense.

I've never seen a successful company where the CEO did not know what was going on, did not receive informational reports from department heads and did not take remedial action where it was indicated.

Dayton Hudson is one of the most successful merchandising operations in the United States. I'll bet pretty good odds that the CEO of Dayton Hudson is a hard-working man; that he knows how to correctly delegate responsibilities; that he knows how to take remedial action when he sees something wrong without making puppets out of his subordinates, and that he receives such informational reports as he deems necessary to keep his company healthy and vigorous.


President and Chief Executive

Fedco Inc.

Los Angeles

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