Bernie & your bad…

Way back in the CompuServe day, PVC and I boarded a plane and made the trip to Jackson, Mississippi and our day with Scott Sullivan (CFO) and Bernie Ebbers (CEO & Cowboy in charge of Worldcom). It was during this visit I would share my one page presentation with Bernie on the idea of consolidating 7 divisions of sales into One. You see, I ran one of those groups and our biggest competitors were the other Worldcom divisions. We were all selling the same products/services and the former carrier groups had no idea how to market the internet/intranet offerings of the old UUNet/CompuServe arms. So, they tended to give it away or at a minimum deeply discount it.

We were a mess of 57 acquired companies that had not been integrated. My proposal was not nuts, really. There were 13,000 folks in these 7 divisions of sales. My recommendation was the job could be done with 3,000. In essence, Worldcom was paying 10,000 salespeople it didn’t need to. Bernie, chewing on some massive looking cigar as we talked, told me thanks, but no thanks. “I refuse to leave the dance without the people that brought me,” he remarked with ccd clarity and shoot in his eyes. End of convo. No discussion. Done.

Worldcom would be dead in less than 2 years. President Bush would put Bernie behind bars for the rest of his life shortly thereafter. Bernie was charged with corp fraud and responsible for the second largest corporate loss in the history of these United States (Enron numero uno). Bernie’s bad started with not making the hard call to consolidate and integrate his many companies. He waited too long and trusted his CFO too much, in my opinion. Today, I told this story to a client of mine who is facing a hard call with his work. His gut is telling him one thing, his head another, and his heart is hurting. He doesn’t want to be responsible for “ruining peoples lives.” He’s in a hard spot of bother. No easy way out. Kicking it down the road won’t work. Leaders gotta make hard calls. The great ones make them before they have to…

When you find yourself, leader, in somewhere similar, remember, the tendency is to wait. We are all wired for loss aversion and hard decisions, that result in realizing a loss, feel almost unbearable. So, most leaders wait until someone or something forces their hand. Do not make this your habit, leader. Trust your gut and make hard calls before you have to. Bernie’s bad was misplaced loyalty. Bernie’s still behind bars. Bernie waited too long to make hard calls. My client has some hard choices to make. I’m certain you do too. You both, most likely, are waiting a touch too long.

Remember, the acute pain only lasts a short while. Bernie’s in some of the worst form of chronic pain on the planet. Many leaders I see aren’t behind bars like Bernie, but they sure look like it. You see, the chronic pain of waiting and waiting and waiting, wears you the heck out. Choose the acute pain, leader. Don’t repeat Bernie’s bad. Bernie believed problems would somehow go away on their own. They do not. Problems are not self healing systems. They get worse with time.

You choose. Your choices have consequences. Your bad, you know the decision you keep putting off, probably won’t land you behind bars – just the prison of your own mind. Make the hard call. Free your mind. Move. Good…

6 Comments

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6 responses to “Bernie & your bad…

  1. Now that….was a good one. BOOM!

  2. Chet,
    I know that story well! I can remember some long bike rides and you sharing the pain you had in your heart for the folks you brought to the dance at CompuServe and the mess that “Old Bernie” and team created. To this day, I don’t think I have met better people than the team you assembled in those early days, integrity, truth tellers, independent AND great team players, tougher than nails, humble and caring……what a team! I Never get tired of the message you just shared……Leaders will endure the pain of tough decision making!
    Thanks Chet!
    Pete

  3. Thanks, Petey. I too remember those long bike rides and your willingness to listen to me whine. A belated thank you, my friend, for lending your ear…

  4. Kit

    Solid serving of hard truth that we all need to hear, Chet. Thank you! And thank you for speaking truth to power back in the day…and still today.

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