Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Art of the Deal -How to Graffiti Tag

A reader says "I learned more from this blog than from Mark Zuckerberg's speech at Harvard, Dale Carnegie's books and G100 counsel combined. Don't get me wrong, Zuck's not a bad guy, but I don't need him to tell me about the ecosystem and planetary welfare from his pedestal." Thanks, pal. I appreciate it when smart readers take time to write. My readers are the smartest of the pack. They know what they want, and they get it.

Nothing good comes in life by chance. However, when you are a CEO, after you get it, you can tell people it was luck. And they will believe you. That's the prerogative of a CEO, people will believe anything you say.

"The first thing you have to do as a chief executive is to learn to lie. Or if not actually to lie, never to give voice to four basic truths... Any sign of non-enjoyment, or doubt, or lack of faith in the company or individuals is taken as tantamount to admitting that you are unfit for the job." via Lucy Kellaway @FT

The Art of Deal by Donald Trump is a book I read some 20 years ago, didn't read it since. It might as well be called How to Graffiti Tag. A friend asked me to summarize it in one sentence:

"Give a little, take a lot, and be the center of attention." 

That's it. I'm not referring to Donald Trump, but to younger generation CEOs. The older generation when they lie to you, they'd be dressed up to the nines over dinner at Peter Luger. This generation they cheat you over with their hands into their pants over appletinis and roquefort cheese.
I call the C-suite the trick suite.

"What we’re building here is the biggest tech company in living memory" via FT. Yes, maybe in the memory of a dying fruit fly.

"Companies rarely die from moving too fast." via BI

Sunday, May 28, 2017

At the breaking point with my boss

I'm taking up another reader email today.

"Hello Max, 

I am fortunate to have found your website, the content is niche and glorious like no other site I have seen. You are helping people though their breakpoints and I am stuck between Scylla and Charybdis. I work at a major investment firm in the City of London. I have a successful career, started as a two year IB analyst and now I am an investment director at a credit fund with a $250 MM book. My boss, Paul, is one of the PMs. He's been faltering in the last two years during the time we've shown a 1.6% gain. He's lost the confidence of his investors and partners and there's talk of having him ousted. I am one of the two contenders for his replacement. Since then he's been on my case, has vetoed some of my decisions. He has made me his enemy. What can I do to fight back ? He's lost his mojo, he should just retire and resign. Before we have been getting along well  for almost six years.

Thanks. -Tim

How close is the team to have him replaced ? I assume you're going to buy him out.

Sooner or later when you are successful this is going to happen:

"[Your boss] will make you his enemy."

I look at it cool and dandy, it's simply the price for success. It's natural. Don't fight it. Expect it. So what you are saying is that Paul has made you his enemy since learning you are likely to replace him. This is commonplace not just in financial services but everywhere. Side observation, I don't know the terms of his contract and what terms lead to suspension or dismissal.

Most people go through life with the erroneous belief their bosses love them or something. Until that time comes. Until the time comes when you are named to replace them. They don't have a clear exit option, don't want to leave, and hate to see you in their place.

Tim, you are not stuck between a rock and a hard place ! Your boss, Paul is !

You need to get a hold of yourself buddy. Cheer up ! The Gods of Olympus are smiling on you ! [I am using Greek mythology reference since you were first using it.] This is your time to shine !

"The only way out it through."

Did he mentor or helped your career ? Sometimes the masters hate it when their trainees, "cubs", overtake them.

Here's what can happen,

1. You can have a soft breakup [before a hard one].

Go play gold, cricket, hockey, chess or whatever you and him play, let him first win and then beat him silly. I think of game defeat as a soft breakup. That might bring him to his senses.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Max Cantor on The Way of the Sith, CEOs, and more

I like comics and I am a Star Wars fan. A reader sent me a link to these videos and asked me to comment on what I see fit with the Sith code and compare that with the Jedi order code. Which one is better ? Attached were also some Youtubers comments (reproduced).

"Peace is a lie. There is only Passion.
Through Passion I gain Strength.
Through Strength I gain Power.
Through Power I gain Victory.
Through Victory my chains are Broken.
The Force shall free me." 
-Code of the Sith from the Book of the Sith

"Through passion, I gain strength". That sounds right. What I see flawed with the Sith is unchecked power. If the Sith are not ruled by reason, they're bound to self destruct.

CEOs act like Sith until they've reach the pinnacle. Once they're there, however, they become Jedis. Once at the top, they turn on the "feel good-do good" spigot. They become concerned with the welfare of others. Once at the top of the food chain, their focus shifts from slicing other people's heads off to maintaining goodwill. Staying power is achieved with benevolence and service to others. A father or a godfather would not wage war on his family, so neither does a CEO that wants his job.

At one time I considered writing a book "The CEO Code" but I don't think it a good idea anymore. Such a book would be earth shattering. The Evan Spiegels, Mark Zuckerbergs would move to ban it. Alas, Donald Trump would buy a dozen and gift them to each of his sons and grandsons ! You can't poke into a pit pf snakes and not expect to be bitten. The CEOs will continue writing their glamorous autobiographies and feed the public "what a wonderful life" tales.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

This salad has no dressing

I try to keep off politics, but people asked me: how about Comey and Trump, where is this going ? What do you think ? What do I think ? I think today we've finally seen the markets moving down-logically- and there's still ways to go.

The problem is there are no tapes or "dressing" on this salad. Trump knows that, and I think tapes is what you need for convincing evidence. I don't know what the admissibility standards are for top law enforcement memos. Of course, it is certainly better to have them than not to have them.

I shall stay on my topic, which is boss-underling relationship, and more specifically, WHAT YOU CAN DO with your own Nero, your boss.

1. Tapping phone conversations and audio/video of critical meetings is a vital tool for the underling. You'll need to check your own state/local statutes for how that is allowed. I understand Trump used to tape some of his phone calls as a businessman. Tapping is a very important tool. If Comey had a wire on him at those meetings, Trump's pants would be soiled by now, assuming there is evidence of impropriety.

Landlines phones have a two beep sound every 20 seconds when the record button is pressed thus warning the parties the conversation is being recorded.

Cellphones, unfortunately, have no "recording" button to tap. Some people download an app (i.e. TapeACall, CallRecorder) or use an external voice recorder.

2. Every email is a record. Treat every email you receive from your boss like potential evidence. Anything that smells of recklessness, malfeasance or any type of wrongdoing should be saved. Despite the controversy with the phone tapping, more CEOs lose their jobs over email missteps than over phone indiscretions. Boeing CEO Harry Stonecypher was forced to resign after an extramarital affair became known out of his emails.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Scaling up your career

As you may have already figured out, I do not write for CEOs. These guys and gals they've got it made. They don't need me to fluff their buttermilk pancakes.

I write for the up-and-coming folk who is rising to the top and is ready to rock the boat. If you don't know how to rock the boat, you'll not only suffer reprisals but will end up worse than you are.

There's one ex-CEO, however, that's inspirational. If you haven't read Carly Fiorina : "From Secretary to CEO" bio you should. It's a powerful life example

Fiorina went to Stanford, got a liberal arts degree, then went to law school and dropped out. "When she broke the news to her father, he responded: “I’m very disappointed. I’m not sure you’ll ever amount to anything,” she wrote. She got a job as a receptionist at Marcus & Millichap." She worked there for a year, she quit, married her college sweetheart and moved to Italy to teach English.

Does that sound familiar, is it a life that many people relate to ? Yes, I thought it is. Keep reading.

After graduating from Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, Fiorina got an AT&T sales rep job. She was promoted several times so that by 1985 she was District Manager, overseeing AT&T’s largest civilian government account, the General Services Administration (GSA).Eventually, AT&T sponsored her for a fellowship at the Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She then became Director of International Strategy and Business Development for Network Systems, and then promoted to Vice President of Strategy and Marketing. Source: From Secretary to CEO.

How many are still hanging on that plot? Not many ! Keeping up with the Joneses suddenly got hard. You got lost somewhere.

Friday, May 12, 2017

He made my life a living hell

We're going to read an e-mail today:


My name is Sam and I am a software program manager. I've been with my company for six years. I manage testing and commercialization of connectivity programs. I do nerdy stuff: establish routine update, update status, schedule trends vs. baseline, risk management, mitigation and recovery actions.

Six months ago, I got a new boss whom I'll call Mr. Stumpt (for you gamers out there, no connection to the characters Ash, Rik, Price, and Jas). He is 6'1", strong built. He looks like an action movie actor, like Tom Hardy.  Now picture me, I am short (5'6") and weight only 140 pounds.

From the week he got started, Mr. Stumpt started taking me apart from the group, with one-on-one "lap talks" (at least that is how I call them). In these talks he would snap his fingers, put his arm around me and tell me: "No, really, did you think I wasn't going to see that ? and "I watched you, and frankly, I was not impressed". As our private talks became more frequent they reached this progression: from annoying to nuisance to dreadful. We had bi-weekly department meetings he started like this:

"We're talking Sam today. Sam and his his little routine update management is the work we need to pay attention to." So he brought me up at every meeting, even though I'm sure he could see I was a little more than uncomfortable with it and there's no apparent reason for doing it.

At another of our lap talks: We need to show a little extra work, Sam. He then gave me the work of three. I started staying late at work, past 9 o'clock. My work became my life, without a life.

I was coming home exhausted and when I fell asleep I had dreams about Mr. Stumpt. "Sam, we're depending on you." We're counting on you, Sam. Does this rhyme with you, Sam ?"

Tell me, Max, is it anything I can do before he fires me ?"


Sam, thanks for writing. As you know, I don't give advice. What I can do is express an opinion, which may or may not work for you. Unfortunately, bad bosses are very much a rule, not an exception.

You have two choices: hand over your resignation or fight. If you don't want to go willingly, you should fight only after you "laid things bare":

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Option B: "Since I don't want it you can have it"

I was reading Adam Grant's April 23rd '17 post on Linkedin "When you get fired or fail big, this is how you bounce back" when I realized how flawed his advice is.

Professor Grant talks about Sarah Robb O’Hagan, who bounced back from apparent misfortune in her early 20s to become global President of Pepsi brand Gatorade and more recently CEO of Flywheel. Grant is saying O'Hagan's success is due to her realization that what was bad in her early days failures was neither hers nor her boss's fault, but the fault of the "relationship" between her work and herself.

"When we get fired or fail at work, we typically have one of two reactions. The first is to blame our boss. He was out to get me. She was threatened by me. The second is to blame ourselves. It was all my fault." -Adam Grant
"Most of the time, when someone fails, it’s not because there’s a bad apple spoiling the barrel. It’s because the barrel is a bad relationship."

Blaming a bad relationship with the workplace, huh ?

1. Early stage careers are almost guaranteed to hit stump blocks, so O'Hogan's travails are not unique, but rather typical. Ms. O'Hagan's stumbles, or anyone else's engaged in an ambitious career, are to be expected. Dealing with adversity early on in life is character-building. I will go as far as saying it is necessary.

2. Blaming worker-workplace relationship, if it absolves individual responsibility, is a path to failure. Fortunately it seems O'Hagan didn't follow Professor Grant's advice and owned her failures, otherwise how can I explain her self-blame for her second-firing and the more recent "Extreme You" movement. Why is wrong to blame that relationship ? It's wrong simply because it places the locus of control outside yourself.

Of course, Grant is out there selling the book he co-authored with celebrity COO Sheryl Sandberg, Option B [I have not read it]. Option B might be a good book to learn about recovering from personal loss or tragedy, but I wouldn't read it for getting wealthy or for getting the C-level career.

Sheryl Sandberg talking about how to overcome income inequality it's like Donald Trump talking about how to stave off hunger when you go hungry to bed.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The boss who took my home and left me broken

I'm posting another email today... This is a sad one.  It makes me wonder why do we keep these people, why do we give them leverage over our lives...I'm talking about bosses here.


You seem to be the only I know of that talks about the bad bosses in our lives. My name is Steve and I am a 42 years old data scientist, now divorced. I have a seven year old son not living with me. I am going to tell you what happened to me with the most devilish whirlwind boss I've ever had. I hope no one has to go though this like I had. I've lost my home, my family, and I sleep and live in a flop downtrodden hotel downtown. My room is 8X8 with holes in the walls and there are mice inside those walls. The residents in my hotel are the unlucky and the druggies. The room number on my door is part written in a sharpie. The shower has mold everywhere and only cold water flows. My next door neighbor, Tina, is a 50ishs crack lady who sleeps during the day and starts going out at night. at 11 PM- 12 AM. This is worse than Bates Motel.

I'll start two years ago while I was working as Director of Analytics at Company X. When my new boss, James, came on board I knew he had it in for me. He started saying things like: "Have you run those projections for me yet ? Steve, what's with you ? He started texting me: what you're doing, Steve,  Have you been able to do this, Steve ? and this and that ? One day, he invited me and my wife [I was still married at the time ] for dinner at his place. I thought I should not refuse him, so we went. When he met my wife he was going bazookas over her. [He was divorced]. I tried to play it down tactfully. At the dinner table, he was talking things that were close to my wife's interests. My wife, who is a high school educator, had always thought that her school had a problem with the students that scored lowered and weren't getting enough attention, with the quality of remedial classes at her school. He was saying things that he was giving away 4% of his income to his School District Fund. Does Steve do that ? Well. I did not. James was there caring about things that I did not, looking better than I was .

So my wife thought we should invite him over to our house in reciprocity. I thought it was a bad idea. Went along with it anyways. The evening he came to our house -a relatively modest three bedroom, as he came in, he stood tall in there and said: "I can go along with those crown moldings". "Your terrace is just the way it is supposed to be. Isn't it wonderful ?" As he was saying that, he was looking at my wife.

Image: Traveltips

That night I had an argument with my wife explaining to her that James was a awful boss who liked to put me on the spot. That we needed to stop giving him any fuel. That his arguments were smoke.

At work it got from bad to worse. James put me out at our department meetings for "lack of cooperation and poor performance". He fired me 7 months after that. He was "we need to shake things up" here. "Where where's going we don't need any dead weight".

At the firing meeting, which lasted less than 15 minutes:

"Steve, what's wrong with you ? Are you having any problems ?
-No, I didn't say I have a problem.
You're always on the defensive, aren't you ? You are letting us down. You work just isn't what it was.
-What are you talking about ? I'm doing just fine.
Isn't that your defensive voice speaking ? Look at these [he pulls my latest graphs] If that's work well done, then you tell me... I'm sorry Steve, but we're just going to have to let you go." I warned you twice before already. The writing is on the wall. You've let us all down. You did this on yourself."

Since my wife was earning very little and what she had was going towards paying family debts (her family had a money losing business), about 10 months after that I lost our house unable to make the mortgage. My wife stopped talking to me and filed for divorce. She took our son with her and moved in with a friend of hers. And I am now living in this dump. For the final nail in the coffin, I heard now my former boss is buying my house !  This is my story. What did I do wrong? What is it that I can do ?"

Max responds:

Before I get into this, let's take a deep breath and listen to Weightless, "(the most relaxing song that can reduce anxiety by up to 65% when listened to for 10 minutes "(Business Insider,  Inc ) from British trio Marconi Union.