Norm MacDonald, former SNL weekend Update man, used to joke about which job was the worst in America. Every year the results would come in and the worst job would be something like: Assistant Crack Whore. Everyone would laugh because it’s the superlative of worst-ness in the vocational world.
Joking aside, I believe this year’s ‘the worst job in America’ honor goes to the Chief Executive Officer. The populist hostility toward the CEO continues to mount in inverse proportion the downward spiraling Dow. Our economy is in shambles (and getting worse) and everyone is laying the blame at the feet of highly compensated CEOs. The fury over the following stories makes this clear:
- AIG executives taking luxurious retreats
- the most sought after contingency in the $700 Billion bailout plan being ‘no golden parachutes’ for CEOs
- today the headline story on CNNs site ‘Auto CEOs flew private jets to seek bailout’
And as I listen to the numbers get recited on Larry King Live, I’ve gotta wonder what took us so long to get outraged? The GM CEO Rick Wagoner made $15.7 million last year. This was a year in which GM lost $39 billion dollars. The Ford CEO made $28 million in just four months on the job in 2007, a year in which Ford lost $12.7 billion. With all the families that are losing their jobs (or are poised to lose their jobs), one has to ask is this fair? Do these CEOs really add that much value to the company?
I think we are entering an era during which this will change. Ever since Reagan, America has increasingly subscribed to a trickle-down model of economics. I think we’ve reach some sort of tipping point and things are going to change. When everything was going well in the economic world, people didn’t care. Americans had been largely able to pursue their American Dream so they didn’t care what CEOs made. But now that 401Ks are in the dumps and hundreds of thousands of families are unemployed, these CEOs have to justify their exorbitant financial packages. They have to explain why they are being paid like gods, but are unable to control the economic future like a god.
The curtain has been pulled back and they look more like thieves than leaders. They are no longer cultural leaders (the ones asked to speak at conferences, the ones asked to lead church breakfasts, or the ones we hope our children would aspire to be). They are the morally abhorrent we curse at the dinner table. They are the despised of our culture. They are the object of unending media scrutiny and scorn. The CEO is the worst job in America, regardless of its compensation.
Maybe a form of leadership malpractice is the answer?