Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Rule of Law Makes a Comeback

August 3rd, 2009 | Bob Rosner

Remember when President Reagan was shot and Al Haig famously burst into the White House and said that he was in charge? Okay, it might not have been as over the top as Howard Dean’s scream, but Haig did become the poster boy for an “Era of Executive Testosterone Overload.” An era that seems to have come to an end. Finally.

Executives-in-charge, no that doesn’t sum it up adequately. Executives as rock stars is more like it. For much of the last decade the line between CEO and celebrity blurred. Some weeks there seemed to be more CEOs on magazine covers than supermodels. And gossip columns were full of tidbits on their lavish lifestyles.

In the future if they try to carbon date the exact moment when the “Era of the Executive” ended, remarkably it didn’t involve a “perp walk,” with a shamed executive being led away in handcuffs.

It ended with Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld. In this Supreme Court case, the justices held that the President of the United States is not beyond the law and must follow certain legal principals and the Geneva Convention—even in wartime.

This case is definitely the icing for the end of the unquestioned executive, but the cake has been rising for a long time. Enron, WorldCom, Tyco—executives learned the hard way—via hard time—that Leona Helmsly was wrong. It’s not just the little people who have to pay taxes. The rules are for all of us.

Consequences. What a concept.

Like it or not, we all need to get ready for more and more restrictions and rules surrounding executive behavior. Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX for short) is just the start. The reason that more regulations and restrictions will be right around the corner? Because people are tired. Tired of guys (yes, mostly guys) who earn millions of dollars in salary, with a boat load of options (backdated of course) and then still manage to justify having employees not covered with health care or on food stamps. Hollywood long ago learned that corporate executives are the perfect movie villain, can politicians be far behind?

Don’t get me wrong, I hate the idea of acres of staff having to be hired to fill out forms for the government. The problem is that SOX is necessary because executives couldn’t police themselves. Just like the Labor Union movement in the first part of last century, once again executives moan about a logical response to their greed run amok. What is always overlooked by executives and the often toothless business press is the wretched excess that preceded Unions, SOX, etc.

Sure there are good guys and gals out there in the executive suites. Warren Buffett immediately leaps to mind. For him to give a gift approximately 5 times the size of Carnegie and Ford is indeed worthy of sainthood. For that alone I promise to take back two-thirds of the Nebraska jokes I’ve made through the years. But it’s not good enough to give back some of the gain, the public is demanding that executives do the right thing from the very start. And I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Even from the Oil Industry.

Enjoy your slice of humble pie, Mr. Corporate Executive. You earned it.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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