Stanley Bing

Executive tracks

Study the footprints of the big guys if you want to follow their lead.

By Stanley Bing

(Fortune Magazine) -- The frost is on the pumpkin. A chill is in the air. That can mean only one thing. The worst year in the modern history of our economy is almost over. There have been losers, like the more than 10% of us who are out of work, and the millions more who are what is politely called Underemployed. I've been underemployed. The compensation is terrible.

And there have been winners. These include the porkers at Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500), Morgan Stanley (MS, Fortune 500), and J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500), the bailed-out institutions now planning to award the luckiest 119,000 among them with about $30 billion in bonuses. That comes out to $250,000 a person if you do the math, but you know it won't work out that way. A lot of folks will get enough for a midsize BMW. A smaller number will get a house in Gstaad. And a few lucky executives will receive enough to fund a space station. To retain their services, you know.

And then there are the rest of us. The guys in between. We've made it through so far, but we didn't get into business just to be the hamster in the work wheel. There's got to be another way to proceed.

There is, even if it's obscured by weeds at the moment: It's the road taken by those who control stuff. If you walk carefully, you can make your way gingerly down that path as well. To follow in the big guys' footsteps, study their tracks:

First, the kahunas delegate, as they always have. My friend Bob works for a large corporation in the Midwest. Not long ago his chairman decided to remove an entire layer of middle management, the way you peel a layer off an onion. Who did the actual deed? Not the chairman, of course, but some midlevel fellow in Personnel. There's an insight here. Isn't there somebody you can force to do the more odious parts of your job? Once you begin seeing other people as tools, solutions will emerge.

Next, successful executives establish personal space by operating from the electronic void. Digital absence is now proof that you actually are working, rather than the opposite. Players are almost never where you think they should be. They're on BlackBerry. They're Twittering. They're on the squawk box from the office in Petaluma. Of course you can't disappear into the ether like you're senior management - not yet. But true strategists start small and build the expectation that they just might be someplace at least semi-legitimate at all times and still be working their butts off.

Winners also continue to work the system. Still have an expense account? Use it or lose it. Already lost it? Use your friends'. My pal Dworkin used to brandish his plastic with the best of them. Now his company questions every burger. When the bill comes, he is most often in the men's room. We call him America's Guest.

The possibilities are limitless. A guy I know works in the marketing department of a retail company. He persuaded his bosses that their website was way too 20th century. The solution? The company's products should be pictured in cool ways in interesting locations, obviously. The savvy little fellow has been in L.A., Miami, Chicago, and Phoenix, staying in excellent hotels. He's been in the office about 40% of the time. Next month he's going to Paris for a shoot featuring their line of cosmetics. Got it? The smart operator uses what's given to him and makes the most of it. End of story.

Oh, by the way, have I mentioned that these and several thousand other concepts are available in my new paperback? It's called How to Relax Without Getting the Axe. Last year, when it was originally published in hardcover, it was called something else, but the world was different then. Now we're playing with a new deck, one that has only about 48 cards, so while many of the same rules are in play, new strategies are in order. Pick it up, why don't you? I hate to work for free.

Stanley Bing has recast his book Executricks for the paperback edition due out in November; it is now titled How to Relax Without Getting the Axe. For more Bing, unrelated to the Microsoft search engine, go to To top of page

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