In the aftermath of the dot com implosion, tech meltdown, corporate scandals and the Giants failure to win the World Series there are more and more executives who could benefit from some good old-fashioned advice on how to turn their business around. We looked far and wide for a business leader of the highest ethical standing who could provide the leadership and guidance to executives under pressure. But since Rudy Giuliani was too busy consulting, we got new WorldCom CEO Michael Capellas, who at least has a passing resemblance to the former mayor.
Q. Dear Rudy, I've been operating a ranch in Alberta for a number of years as a tax write off. This year my accountant says the rules are much stricter. Can I still have cattle sign off on operating expense chits for tickets to the opera?
A. Bernie, this would not only be against all corporate governance laws but it's also extremly inefficient. We trained monkeys for years at Compaq and found they were much more adept at signing off expense reports than cattle could ever be. You've got to give the right job to the right quadraped. If you want to keep the cattle on the payroll, then you should force-feed them your tax documents. Cattle are a great low-cost, environmentally safe shredder and worked well for years at Arthur Andersen.
Q. Mike, I've never been much of a numbers guy and now I'm running a big company with a lot of numbers. What does that mean when they say we overstated our revenue on barter deals? All I know is that I got a lot of free TV sets over the years and when I sell them, I keep the money. So it's tax free too. But I'm not concerned about the tax angle. I got some advice on that already from Arthur Andersen and they said I'm fine.
A. I don't know either. Pfeiffer was really my numbers guy and I had him fired when he looked too closely.
Q. I'm starting to worry that maybe my credibility as a rock-star entrepreneur may have slipped slightly. I heard a rumor that Netscape was having some problems since we sold it to AOL. We changed the name of my new company LoudCloud and now I can't even remember what it is or where our offices are any more. We spent all our budget on fancy furniture and now we need to raise some more capital. Do you think I should sell my holdings in pets.com? I haven't heard boo from them in ages.
A. Marc, If you can sell your pets.com stock, call me and you can work at WorldCom. We need your kind of creative thinking.
Q. All these crappy companies that we compete against are going out of business and I am worried that they will make me look like a monopoly if they close down. Should I start mailing them anonymous letters with tips on how to fix themselves? I mean, everyone over the age of 6 in europe already owns two cell phones. Can you say saturation? The only thing these guys ever come up with is a price war, which is not exactly what my shareholders have in mind. Or should I just send them a check for two billion each in an anonymous Christmas card to keep them on life support?
A. First of all, it would be crass to assume that your competitors celebrate any particular religious holiday. So you should send a tasteful non-denominational holday card, maybe featuring something appropriate like melting snowmen. Attach the check but get it signed by your auditors. That way you can always say you were out of the loop and you can sue them or the competitor if they ever get strong enough to cause you any problems.
Q. My grandfather was a leading businessman who built one of America's most successful technology companies. But he always disliked my mother and never failed to rub our faces in his displeasure of my father's selection of a spouse. I think he made me CEO just to further embarass the family. I've tried buying divisions, selling divisions, focusing, expanding and cutting back. What can I do to get Motorola stock back on track?
A. I'll give you Carly's number. It worked for me!
Q. I'm the CEO of a very successful Silicon Valley company. I'm an attractive woman in a man's world and so I've tolerated a certain amount of sexual innuendo and banter over the years. However, in all my years I've always been very clear about what is business and what is personal to make sure that these things don't create challenges. In the last year, I've fallen prey to what can only be called sexual harassment by a male colleague. I mean, I bought his friggin' company and now he says he won't sleep with me any more. This is the first time it's ever happened to me. We put all the terms in the contract and he still won't do it. What should I do? Is it just performance anxiety or what?
A. I don't know what you're talking about.
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