Chief executive officer

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A propos the cult of personality that attends all large organisations, the chief executive officer[1] gets referred to at all times by only his Christian name — so “Lloyd”, “Bob”, “Chuck”, or “Jamie” — and is immune from the cynicism (which, in any other dimension, would be total) on the part of those — that is everyone, however much any of them might deny it — who hanker after advancement in the firm.

The CEO is thus afforded Hero of the Soviet Union, First Class status — often he will be awarded it by himself — and his pronouncements, however banal, hackneyed or foolish, will be quietly celebrated across the breadth of the organisation as “best in class”. Until his ouster, whereupon he will acquire the status of Trotsky, Snowball, Emmanuel Goldstein and so on.

Until then, whatever the CEO wants, he gets, however flagrantly it tramples on practical traditions, carefully-wrought operating models, or simple precepts of common sense. The conflicted look on the physog of the head of compliance as she rumbustiously waves a column of tanks over a thoughtful policy framework she herself spent years designing, because of an offhand remark at the end of a Management Committee meeting, is a sight to savour.

It is important to separate the wheat of definitively dumb initiatives actually originating with the CEO, to whose beat all must immediately march, from the chaff of crappy deals a salesperson has tried to ram through by taking his boss’s name in vain, of course.

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  1. And his henchmen. Goldman had “Hank, John and John”, Barclays “Bob, Jerry and Richie”, and so on. Grim.