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October 06, 2009

Live from World Business Forum: Fat Cats and Giving "Milk" to Laid-Off

My cat, Miss Minnie, has an interesting dietary and fitness history. She was formerly too heavy, and put onto a regimen of reduced Original Chicken Iams. She now is not only fit, but back to show cat form. 

All this comes to mind listening to Bill Conaty, General Electric's former head of human resources. Speaking here at Radio City Music Hall at the World Business Forum, Conaty said "Fat Cat" CEO salaries are OK so long as the CEO has earned his pay—meaning he's keeping shareholders happy. As I explained in my last post, I'm all in favor of linking performance to pay, advancement, and retention of jobs, but when it comes to "fat cat" salaries I think of the successful diet I put Miss Minnie on several years ago. The problem is the "fat cat" salaries almost never equal the work churned out by the CEO. I know it's difficult to attend meetings and make decisions, but those difficult work lunches would be nothing if the strategies scrawled on napkins weren't carried out by the uncelebrated of your company. If your organization is doing well, with enough money for fat cat shareholders to roll around in like cat nip, who's responsible?  Is it the CEO whose brilliant idea it was to launch that new product line, or is it the workers who created the products based on his ideas and then wore out their voices and shoes selling the new Automatic Cat Tail Protectors?  

You can't have one without the other—both the idea and the hard work are needed, so why are the CEO and corporate workhorse rewarded so unevenly?  Sure, the CEO should make more as the "owner" of the idea, and for his "seniority," but should that "more" be $20 million or more "more" than the mid-level worker who stayed at the office until midnight several days a week slogging out the new product or sales initiative that made the company's impressive profit a reality?  

 The meow of starving cats rattled through my brain as Conaty more sympathetically discussed the importance of helping those laid-off "get on with their lives." At GE that meant outplacement help from both without and within, with the company doing more than shuttling former employees to an outplacement firm. The company, notorious for its force ranking and resulting lay-offs (former CEO Jack Welch apparently earned the nickname "Neutron" Jack), held career fairs in which GE offices in other locations would send recruiters to the office or plant experiencing lay-offs to see if they could give a little "milk" to the out-placed via a new place. 

Who knows if that place was a "place in the sun" (as all cat owners know, a favorite place of felines), but it was certainly a noble gesture from GE. I guess that's the thing: If you're going to have Fat Cats, at least put a bowl of milk out for your less fortunate corporate kitties. They may hunt just as well as the Fat Cats. For some reason, they're just bring home less of the kill. 


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Listening to Bill Conety speak makes you think about your once fat cat? Your mind is quite the bizarre network of pathways.


Apparently it did—but it's a big compliment. My kitty would make a fabulous World Business Forum speaker, and a great consultant. She always has good life and business lessons to offer.

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