Ten Things That Destroy Shareholder Value An open letter to CEOs who need a little help.
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – What do you want to be when you grow up? Some folks want to be doctors, and that's fine. Others go for a career in the arts and become waiters or receptionists. But more and more often these days, people with at least one head on their shoulders decide to go into business. Do they do this to help others? To make the world a better place? Of course they do. And there's no better position from which to achieve those goals than that of Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.

Achievement of this lofty aim after a lifetime of vicious labor confers money, power, and, one would think, happiness. And yet very often, for some reason, men and women in the ultimate slot seem somewhat less than jocular. You see them on the streets barking into cell phones, or in restaurants glowering at a plate of risotto that lesser mortals would have to work a week to earn. What's up with them? Aren't they having fun?

The answer is no, they are not, because along with all the human resource management, financial responsibility, and strategic vision required by the job, the CEO is nothing more and nothing less than the puppet of the shareholder. And the shareholder, ladies and gentlemen, is an idiot, focused only on whether you have put another slice of bread on his or her table that very day.

Poor CEO! Is it any wonder that so many of you fail? Are there not many pitfalls into which even the best of you may tumble, depressing shareholder value and wrecking the weft of your careers? Yes. There are, in fact, ten ways that the most ultrasenior among us can destroy shareholder value, and very often do:

1. Bring in expensive board members who know nothing. These bozos receive generous honorariums and do little in return but pop up at meetings with no ideas on any subject other than what they would like to eat in the next couple of hours and with a bunch of stupid questions that show they're not engaged in the business at all but are just using their relationship with your company to feather their own nests. Tell them to go back into government. You'll be glad you did.

2. Bring in expensive board members who know too damn much. These bozos receive generous honorariums and in return contribute all kinds of ideas, showing up at very public meetings with tons of intelligent answers that demonstrate they have a full grasp of your industry and what you should be doing to make the most of current opportunities. If they're so smart, why aren't they running their own companies, huh? If they won't shut up, tell them to go to the Internet space.

3. Allow wasteful corporate expenses to clog the bottom line. The summer picnic, for instance. With the increase in prices of hot dogs and potato sacks, the affair has ballooned to represent an expenditure of more than, what, $5,000?! And it takes place on a Saturday, which means key employees are forced to take that day off and not be available to meet with you to create shareholder value at a time when you have nothing to do because everybody else is with their families.

4. Invoke dumb attempts to save corporate expense that do nothing to create shareholder value. It is only the great CEO who can recognize the forest for the trees on this issue, eliminating unsightly fiduciary bulges without cutting the necessary muscle. The corporate jet, for example, is a superb investment for your investors, in spite of the $10,000 per minute it costs to fly it. How much is your time and peace of mind worth? A lot, right?

5. Send senior management on too many junkets. These are often the hallmark of a bloated and flatulent management structure. What are the senior executives doing out there in Hawaii, plying each other with liquor and massaging each other's self-regard? I'll tell you what: spending the shareholder's hard-earned money on themselves! These boondoggles are a waste of time that draws middle managers away from where they could be doing the most good--at their desks or on the road.

6. Skimp on quality face time for the CEO and his direct reports. Studies show that the companies that do best are those with a cadre at the top whose whereabouts are a mystery to everyone, including themselves. That's why retreats for the top eight or nine guys are important. When there's a lot of love at the top, everybody benefits. Sanibel Island is nice. So is Pebble Beach.

7. Stick to regular hours for all employees. You don't work 'em! Why should they? So push mandatory hours outward. Ever earlier! Ever later! There is no day! There is no night! There is just--your time.

8. Rely on the existing work force. People who have experience and know what they're doing are great...in small doses. In a large pack, however, they cost ever-increasing amounts and get in the way of bold decisions that sound good and work for a little while. Get rid of as many of them as you can. Replace them with youngsters who don't care about pensions. People under 30 argue less, have fewer ideas, and are willing to do anything, no matter how horrible, to get ahead, particularly if it means hurting people in their 40s and 50s. Young people. They're the future!

9. Give overly generous packages to senior executives. Sometimes these people you're hosing will be rather important. But as CEO you must fight against assuaging your guilt with bad exit deals that hurt shareholders' interests. You can't go around throwing money at people just because they've been with the company 20 or 30 years. Make darned sure you have no published policy toward severance, then be tough when the time comes to send good old Brewster home with the contents of his desk.

10. Give inadequate umbrellas to CEOs. Nothing tells shareholders that a company is a two-bit operation more clearly than a small package for the guy at the top, the individual with the job to which all others should be aspiring. That's you! And given your pay level, it's going to take you... et's see... ,543 months to find a comparable job. Until then, you've got a boat to run...several houses to maintain...a plane to keep fueled when you need it. You've given this company the best year of your life! Make 'em pay! Come to think of it, with all those stock options you've now got to exercise, you've got a responsibility to please the most important shareholder of all. So don't be a dummy! Take care of yourself!

By day, STANLEY BING is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name. He can be reached at stanleybing@aol.com.