As another corporate big cheese joins the ranks of the deposed, several remain in place whose resignations would better serve investors than their continued interference
The club of Deposed Big Corporate Cheeses is growing. Lukas Muehlemann, formerly the boss of Credit Suisse, is the latest and one of the least surprising additions to its rolls.
After making two disastrous acquisitions, from which his company may well never recover, Muehlemann's elevation to the club was long expected. At the bar, he can mingle with the likes of Michel Bon of France Telecom, Dr Ron Sommer of Deutsche Telekom and Jean-Marie Messier of Vivendi Universal, among the many other birds who have been tipped from their lucrative perches.
The big surprise of the past few months is not those that have departed, it is those that have stayed. Mostly, those that have been kicked out deserved to go. But so do many others who, by some miracle, look to have survived.
The list of survivors and non-survivors teaches us two things. One, life in general, and business in particular, is not fair (okay, okay, not the greatest revelation ever made). Two, the arts of corporate survival are blacker than some imagine.
Holding onto your job as chief executive depends not only on whether you are any good as a leader and manager but also on how good you are at fudging the responsibility for your own failings.
Everyone will have his own list of chief executives that should have been fired. Here is my own personal selection:
Sir Christopher Gent, chief executive of Vodafone. Gent has presided over acquisitions worth around $200bn to produce a company the market now values at less than half that. He insists on pouring billions into building 3G mobile networks, even though the rest of the world has concluded they are virtually worthless.
He has just paid Vivendi e142m for its half- share of a website called Vizzavi, just to avoid owning up to wasting a fortune. There is no sum of money so big Gent won't spend it rather than admit he has made a mistake. His pride may well destroy what could still be a great company.
Juergen Schrempp, chief executive of DaimlerChrysler. His big idea was that for Daimler to survive, it was not enough to make the world's most desirable luxury cars, it also had to own a third-rate American mass-market manufacturer.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bad idea. Bayerische Motoren Werke made a similar mistake when it bought Britain's Rover but quickly reversed it and is now doing fine. Schrempp sticks doggedly to his path, despite 24 motions at the most recent annual general meeting calling for him to be fired or the company broken up.
Jean-Pierre Garnier, chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline. Once there were three British pharmaceutical companies called Glaxo, Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham, all excellent in their own way and making the UK industry the strongest in the world. The three are now one run by Garnier.
The theory was that a vast, bureaucratic organisation with limitless budgets and palatial office buildings would be a hotbed of creative, cutting-edge science. To the surprise of no one except Garnier, it turned out that the more money you spent, and the bigger the lab, the fewer original products emerged.
GlaxoSmithKline's share price has collapsed from £21 ($32) two years ago to just over £11 now, and this year has trailed Roche Holding and Novartis in the Bloomberg Europe Pharmaceuticals Index. Its pipeline is among the worst in the industry. Garnier's solution? Maybe another merger.
Stephen Case, chairman of AOL Time Warner Case, thought combining an internet service provider with an entertainment and publishing company would produce a new economy powerhouse for the new century.
It was an interesting thought, as long as you didn't think about it for more than three seconds, at which point it unravelled.
Was Time Warner going to refuse to let people buy its CDs or magazines except over AOL? Er, no. Was AOL only going to let people visit 'friends' websites? Er, no. What was the point of the merger then? Er, don't ask us, we're too busy fighting among ourselves.
William Harrison, chief executive of JP Morgan Chase. Harrison merged Chase Manhattan and JP Morgan in 2000. Last year, the new bank earned less than a third of what Chase did in 1999.
Harrison ordered his troops to grab market share by aggressively lending to phone and cable companies such as WorldCom and Global Crossing. Now Harrison is talking about firing lots of people for making such a mess of things.
What does that list prove? If you want to hold onto your job, there are three things you have to do. One, create a myth of indispensability. Gent holds onto his job because people think the company would fall apart without him.
Two, make sure there is no successor. Garnier stays in charge because no one can think with whom to replace him. Three, divide and rule. Case clings to power because the divisions are feuding so fiercely they forget he's there.
At some point, that will change. No one is indispensable, there is always a successor, and the ruled occasionally unite and rebel. When that happens, expect the Deposed Big Corporate Cheeses Club to roll out its red carpet to welcome some new members.
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