Editor's Note: These two "Diary" entries published by Slate proved to be fictitious. For an explanation of how Slate got duped, click here; click here to read the entries we received from this author but did not publish.
Part of my Sunday—beyond the paper and church—usually consists of a test drive of a new model, or an old model with a new feature, or a retrofit, or a competitor's vehicle. For the most part I go to a narrow, curving road near wherever I am that Sunday, or use a test track, or follow a set path provided to me by Katherine, one of my assistants. I drive the outbound leg, and a friend gets to drive the homebound leg, as my one-person focus group. Yesterday, I tested a new navigation system on one of our redesigned 2003 models. For these rides, I clip on a voice recorder to my shirt pocket and offer up my commentary through the ride. For the most part, these comments are expletive-free; it is the Sabbath, after all. For the record (note ye at HQ), the North America CEO (that is, me) says heads-up text based navigation displays are not ready for prime time.
I suspect that I owe my title—although not my job—to the proliferation of "chiefs" in the corporate America. While in most parts of the world, vice presidents are few and far between, I think the teller at my bank is an assistant vice president, and as far as I can tell, virtually everyone who mattered at Enron was the chief something-or-other officer of one subsidiary or another. Given this Harvard-like title-inflation, it was only a matter of time until I became chief of something. For the record, there are three CEOs at my company, as well as my boss—our real CEO—who ironically doesn't have the word "Chief" anywhere in his translated title. Given the ambiguity caused by title-proliferation, lots of people—my parents included—wonder what I do.
Here's the brief version: I try to get as many of our cars and SUVs sold in North America (and South Korea, bizarrely enough) as possible. I make sure our dealers are as effective as they can be, that our advertising is working well, that our technology development (which occurs here) is on track, and that the interests of our buyers are served by our product plans. I also try to make our global manufacturing work in a way that makes sense.
And since North America is our second-largest market, I get to dive into lots of other parts of the company, and, ahem, advocate my views. Kibitzing is simultaneously the most and least enjoyable part of my job. It's a true delight to participate in product design, test drives of our concept cars, and all the other glam stuff that the car industry indulges in. And—any reader in the technology industry will identify with this—it's enormously frustrating to enter into product feature debates with techies, since feature-creep is just as ubiquitous a phenomenon in the car industry as it is in software.
Ultimately, kibitzing involves hearing 40 great ideas ("heads-up displays of upcoming turns on your route," "wheelwell chain compartments," "chassis-based ski storage," "gas turbine-based air conditioner," etc.) and then picking between them. We run these tests blind, with an informal agreement not to discuss them between us until we meet, when I might discover that general perception says that heads-up displays are the greatest thing since wedges of Brie—even though I loathe them. On the other hand, I've made a couple of horrendously bad calls, and it's always interesting to hear what my peers have to say about a particular feature. Stop the presses: On one occasion I even changed my vote.
A sneak peek into another enjoyable part of this job: Since I travel a great deal, but for the most part to the same places, I have four apartments spaced across the globe. My clothes, computers, books, etc., are distributed across the four places as well as my real home, and I travel with a very large soft-sided briefcase, and sometimes a spare shirt and tie, no matter how long I'm traveling for. Even if I'm gone for a month, I can get fresh clothes and supplies sent by DHL my next hotel, if I'm away from the nearest apartment.
By 6:30 a.m., I arrived at the office—about an hour earlier than usual. I have a speech in the morning before a convention of various state economic officials; in the afternoon, I'm visiting our ad agency. I also need to catch up on messages—I reply to most of my e-mail and voice mail personally. I get 30 or 40 messages a day internally and another hundred or so from the rest of the world.
Many of my fortysomething friends run companies or divisions of companies. (Many others do nothing of the sort, and range from being monks to being elementary-school teachers.) But when I talk to friends who do more or less what I do, we quickly agree that the hardest part of our job is handing over control of big chunks of our professional lives to others. For the most part, we're smart, aggressive professionals in our mid-40s who have become accustomed to controlling our own lives—and, unfortunately, the lives of those around us. But when we take the final step toward running large organizations, we cede much of our ability to micromanage.
For example, I left three or four bullet points for one of my colleagues, indicating what I wanted to discuss in my speech this morning. I've arrived at the office a couple of hours before I deliver the speech, expecting a fully fleshed-out speech ready for me from the minute e-mail I sent a few days earlier. At this point, my options are to deliver the speech verbatim, make some minor tweaks, or wing it—since there is no way I can write an entirely new half-hour speech in the time I have. Fortunately (and predictably), the speech is elegant, a model of concision and wit, thanks to RJM. It's off to a massive convention hotel, where I will struggle to find a ballroom containing my audience of state officials.
As a foreign company with a fairly decent-sized presence in the United States, we find that state economic officials welcome us rather warmly, but their patriotic resentment is seldom too far from the surface. Having worked for a number of multinationals, I've finally discovered that it is futile to attempt to refute accusations of a lack of patriotism, job theft, capital flight, and various other pinko tendencies that I'm routinely accused of. I used to argue (and still believe) that the choice isn't between our manufacturing plant/headquarters, etc., versus that of a red-blooded American corporation—most often it's simply a question of where we decide to invest. There's plenty of land out there for any and all companies, ours included, who are willing to commit tens of millions of dollars to local construction and employment, not to mention taxes. And I believe that we invest and hire responsibly, a point that, if raised, inevitably leads to endless speech-making about the specific attributes of "responsible investing and hiring." So I steer clear.
Breakfast speeches at conventions are a cinch though, since the people who attend them are for the most part truly interested in what you have to say, as proved by their willingness to get out of bed and consume bad coffee and stale croissants after a late night out. Most of the flamethrowers, junketeers, and windbags are still in their rooms regretting the previous night's cash bar excesses.
In the afternoon, I throw my first temper tantrum of the millennium. Our ad agency, normally thoughtful and intelligent, has completely disregarded my comments from our last meeting and moved forward with a campaign based on celebrity endorsements. Without going into too many particulars, let's just say that they have hired a handful of bushy- or big-haired TV personalities from the '70s to create a cutesy, retro campaign for our new models. All well and good, except that their approach has zero appeal to the people we're trying to sell these cars to and has tested horribly with our buyer groups.
I don't normally use threats of firing as a motivational tool, but it seems to have a powerful effect on the agency and a couple of our marketing consultants. I look forward to the next campaign meeting—although I wonder what they can do in a week, which is about all the time that I have before these commercials—or retreads of our old ones—have to start being finalized and shot. Savvy advertising professionals, please send your résumés to me care of Slate. Just kidding! JUST KIDDING!
Even when I do receive résumés—of which there are a reasonable number—I wield surprisingly little power, and that, too, very carefully. Except for the 10 or 12 people who report to me directly, people are hired within their particular functions—marketing, finance, whatever. For senior team members—that is, anyone within three layers of me—I conduct a final interview. While it's not exactly perfunctory, I wield my veto very selectively indeed. We have a certain parliamentary streak to our decision processes—on top of that, it does little good to second-guess the very people you've hired to make these choices.