Peter Drucker, considered to be one of the wisest business educators of the twenty-first century coined the term, counterfeit executives. According to Drucker, counterfeit executives were individuals who could present a stylish business image but lacked actual management skills.
Albert J. Dunlap often referred to as Chainsaw Al, created an image of himself that he was able to sell successfully to the corporate world. Time and again Dunlap landed big CEO jobs, but his work ultimately didn’t stand the test of time. Chainsaw Al became infamous for laying off thousands of workers when he was CEO of Scott Paper and the Sunbeam Corporation. Dunlap even wrote a best-selling book about himself entitled Mean Business that landed him spots on popular talk shows of the day.
Reality Meets Reputation
Despite Dunlap’s carefully honed image, it wasn’t long before his critics began pointing out his shortcomings. Dunlap once said that most CEOs were overpaid but that he personally deserved his $100 million annual bonuses. But in 1998, when the Securities and Exchange Commission alleged, he committed fraud while running the Sunbeam Corporation, his history of bankrupting companies came to light.
The head-hunters that helped recruit Dunlap didn’t ask about the big gaps in his employment record. They also overlooked Dunlap’s dismissal from the job he held as CEO of Max Philips & Son, a paper mill in Wisconsin. Had the head-hunters looked into Dunlap’s past they would have discovered Dunlap’s disturbing history of laying off thousands of workers, so he could pay himself, hundreds of millions of dollars in annual bonuses.
How to Avoid Counterfeit Executives
Chainsaw Al had a remarkable talent for promoting an image of himself that helped him land many big CEO jobs. Unfortunately, for the companies that hired him, many went bankrupt. To avoid hiring a counterfeit executive do your homework. Ask questions to find out if what you’re presented with is merely a stylish business image or someone who truly possesses the management skills you need.
Elaine Allan, BA, MBA
Technology & Business Blogger