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Dollars & Sense

  • July 01 2004, 1:00am EDT

Do you think CEOs have it easy? They get paid "the big bucks," right? Well, I would guess that they suffer some Maalox moments from time to time, just like the rest of us do. In fact, I would guess (not having ever been a CEO myself!) that they experience some angst when they return to the office after being away for a time and sort through those ubiquitous, hated, pink "While You Were Out" slips written by their administrative assistants, to determine what fires need to be extinguished quickly, versus what can wait. You know, however, that the voicemail also fills up during an executive absence. Some executives even have their assistants transcribe their voicemails so that all messages are in the familiar format. Here, then, are my top 10 (in true David Letterman style) "messages CEOs don't want to see on a 'While You Were Out' slip."

10. Your primary competitor (insert company name here) called. They have put in a hostile takeover bid for the company that would provide a decent return for our shareholders, but would completely subvert your strategic plans for growing the business.

9. The system that provides you automated alerts regarding your public stock holdings just indicated that your net worth just decreased $100 million. I wasn't sure what to do. Your stock holdings include such a large amount of our company's stock, and I know you are limited regarding times you can trade our stock. You obviously want to cut your losses, but I really need guidance on how I can help you.

8. The company's lawyer called. Evidently, a shareholder lawsuit is underway which questions our accounting treatment of certain items and their impact on our stock price. They claim that management should have known better and that we caused shareholders to take unnecessary losses in their holdings. He says to call him back immediately and has given his cell phone number so you can reach him at any time, day or night.

7. Your tailor called. His words: "The price of tailoring your custom-made suits has risen. It appears that the cost of fabric from Hong Kong has increased and it is more difficult for us to work with this fabric in our creations, and that requires us to double the cost to our customers. I know this could be a problem for you, but it is necessary for us to provide the finest quality product. I trust you will understand."

6. Information security called. Hackers, or more specifically "phishers," have attacked our customers, demanding sensitive personal information. Evidently, our customers think this is a legitimate request, coming from us, and provide the information, which is then used by the hackers to perform transactions that are not authorized by our customers. Information security wants to know how we should handle it.

5. The auditor called. He has questions regarding some revenue recognition treatment that we have been utilizing for many years. Indicated that he is really worried, and that the impact could be bad not only for our company but for his accounting firm if it is found that they should have blown the whistle and didn't. Wants you to call him immediately, even if it means interrupting his weekend in the Hamptons.

4. Boss, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) called. They want to initiate an investigation into why we wrote off that amount last quarter. They want you to call back right away. They say there is nothing more sacred than maintaining shareholder credibility.

3. Your mother called. She says her neighbors are asking her why your name is all over the Wall Street Journal. In fact, she has called five times in the last hour. You may want to return this one right away.

2. Your call-center outsourcing provider called. They have experienced what they classify as "unanticipated downtime." They don't know what the problem is yet, but they are working on it fast and furiously. They are sorry that our customers are getting hold times of more than 13 minutes and promise that they will get to the bottom of the problem right away.

And the number 1 "While You Were Out" message you don't want to see: Eliott Spitzer called. Hopefully, you know who he is. He said that he is targeting our company in his new investigation and that you need to call him back immediately. In fact, in his words, "If you don't call back as of yesterday, there will be a significant fine involved to be imposed on your company for failure to provide information required for this investigation."

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