Don't be like Mike
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Eisner and Ovitz and Ovitz and Eisner. Ovitz and Eisner and Eisner and Ovitz. Bright, shiny stock options tied up with string ... these are a few of my favorite things!

Hm? Oh, I'm sorry. I've been singing. This whole two-titans-locked-in-mortal-conflict thing has got me in a merry mood. I mean, there have been many stories over the past several years that have put a spring in my step. The downfall of Chainsaw Al Dunlap, for instance--the celebrated hatchet man evaporating in a puff of grease. Grasso-gate, in which a guy is revealed to have made an amount of dough taller than he is. The yummy Enron perp walks. All these events have made me feel that God was in his or her heaven and something was right with the world.

But this? The extravaganza now taking place a coast away from where the action transpired in the 1990s reveals all that I love about senior management--its delusions, its phantasmagorical perception of the perks owed it, its notions of friendship and loyalty. Central to the Eisner-Ovitz display of executude is the concept of business friendship, the illusory entity that fuels the conceit that relationships drive the work we do. Love, maybe. But friendship? Ha!

First came Ovitz, the fallen Caesar, the man who sowed all kinds of fear in anyone fortunate enough to be reamed by him. According to Little Mike Ovitz, Big Mike Eisner was a great friend of his. They traveled together. Their wives enjoyed each other's company. They had joy, they had fun, they had seasons in Sun Valley.

It was as a friend that Big Mike approached Li'l Mike and explored the possibility of making that Mike his No. 2 Mike, telling him that if anything ever happened to him, Mike No. 1, there would be only two people capable of keeping the Mouse on track--Mike No. 2 and Barry "I'm Not Mike" Diller.

In short, Mike the Smaller came into the firm as a friend of Mike the Larger, believing that relationship would help provide a foundation for success. And therein lies the amazing nugget that might be easy to overlook if one believed this were a story of rational people in a logical occupation: that Ovitz the great and terrible warrior was, in fact, goofily naive.

Naive? The guy who made terror a way of life? Who with a wave of his hand would force entertainment executives to pay ten times the going rate for his clients simply to avoid his displeasure? Who was at one time the most powerful man in an industry based on the wielding of personal power by mostly short men?

That's right. The guy thought friendship mattered, and that what he enjoyed with the other Mike was, in fact, friendship.

What a sweetie, huh?

Big Mike's turn on the stand provided the yin to Little Mike's tangy little yang. There sat the CEO in his trademark rodentine tie, irritable at times, faux patient when he could be. No, said E, O was not a real friend of mine. Yeah, sure, we did things together and socialized, that's what you do in this business, but friends? Come on. This is business. Not personal.

It reminded me of how many times I've been out on the coast and heard one mogul type say to another about yet a third big swinging member of the small bunch of hedonists who run things there, "Oh, he's a really good friend of mine. I fired him back in '96."

The thing that happens, see, is that you're friends with a guy. And so you bring him in, because, hey, it's better to have a friend around than an enemy. And then, oops, he turns out to be a horse's butt.

For instance: In one of my favorite tales we find Big M on a corporate retreat with his board of directors at Disney World. And all the machers are on a bus, doing what people do at these things, which is to appear informal and together with the peeps and all that. And following this bus of amity and unity of vision, loaded with dinosaurs who think they're the biggest of their kind on the planet, is a limousine. And in that limousine following behind is one lone executive, the new President of the Company, who considers himself to be above riding in any friggin' bus, and that man is Michael Ovitz.

So your friend is now a problem.

A real friend, when he or she is a problem, must be helped, not executed. Most of my friends are problems all the time, and I don't fire them, but then, they don't work for me, and that's good, because it's tough to be a friend of somebody who's fired you or whom you've just fired, unless you enjoy a completely insincere, superficial, and hypocritical kind of friendship. You just don't fire your friends. You help them, damn it!

Come to think of it, that severance package Ovitz got probably offset a lot of insincerity. I guess that's charity of a sort.

Just thinking about it chokes me up.

Stanley Bing's new book, Sun Tzu Was a Sissy: Conquer Your Enemies, Promote Your Friends, and Wage the REAL Art of War (HarperBusiness), is available at finer bookstores everywhere. He can be reached at