A CEO letter to the Board...long overdue

29 July 2017

Dear Members of the Board

I am writing to you with a proposal that may seem radical, but is in fact conservative. That is because my primary concern as Chief Executive Officer is to conserve this company as a healthy enterprise. You are now paying me so much that I can no longer manage this company as I should. I hereby request that you cut my salary in half and eliminate my bonuses.

We have talked a great deal about teamwork in our enterprise, that our people are all in this together. So why am I singled out by virtue of my compensation? Bonuses are the worst part of it. Like everyone else in this company, I am being paid to do my job. Why should I be paid extra to do a good job? If I believe in this company, I buy the stock. If I don’t, I quit. The misguided assumption behind these bonuses is that I, as CEO, do it all.

Now I am getting hate mail from our employees about my pay. This is certainly disconcerting, but more troublesome is that I have no reasonable reply, short of claiming that I must be several hundred times more important than they are. Is this leadership? Is it any way to run a company?

We have had a good deal of discussion at our board meetings about the long-term health of this company. Why then am I being rewarded for short-term gains in the stock price? You all know perfectly well that I can use all kinds of tricks to drive up that price, and so reach my bonuses, while destroying real value—and helping to do a number on our economy too.

Ever since we started this Shareholder Value nonsense, our values have gone to hell. The frontline employees tell me that this gets in the way of serving customers: they are forced to see dollar signs out there, not people. Consequently, many of them don’t give a damn any more. As one put it to me recently: “With all this counting, we don’t count. So why should we care?”

I have always prided myself on being a risk taker; that is one reason you put me in this job. So how come I cash in big when the stock price goes up but pay nothing back when it goes down? Some risk taker! You know what: I’m tired of being a hypocrite.

I know the excuse we have been using all along: that I am just being compensated to keep up with CEOs in other companies. This makes me a follower, not a leader.  Enough of this complicity in behavior that we all know to be shameful. My salary should not be some kind of external trophy, but an internal signal about the culture we are trying to build.

So please, help me to concentrate on managing this company as it should be managed.


Your CEO

© Henry Mintzberg 2017.

An early version of this commentary was published in the Financial Times, as “There's no compensation for hypocrisy" (29 October 1999), and it first appeared on this blog on 24 October 2014. I post it here now, with revisions, in the hope that some responsible CEO somewhere will finally listen.

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