As someone who promised to bring CEO know-how
to the presidency, George Bush has topped all expectations.
No dabbler, immediately after 9/11, he targeted two candidates for hostile
takeovers. One, a backwater competitor that struck a blow to the enterprise,
drew a swift neutralizing response. The other, an underperforming asset with
extensive management deficiencies beckoned acquisition. The synergies of a Mesopotamia/U.S.
consolidation solved a growing
dislocation problem, and the investment angle was all too compelling: the
entire concession could be had for a fraction of book
value and would quickly generate positive cash
flows. Moreover, the venture held forth a tantalizing balance sheet asset
Folded into the portfolio of the world's largest holding company, the subsidiary
would produce a benefit
stream lasting in perpetuity.
Threatening to delay product introduction, lackluster demand required immediate
boosting. With a pick of reality shapers at its fingertips, Bush Inc. hired
the most proven team
on the planet and swung a promotional campaign into high gear. Months of public-awareness
communications transformed apathy into desire. The cultivation of advocacy
groups reinforced the message of urgency, and the manipulation
of thermal color imagery produced apprehension at critical intervals. In order
to nullify competing pronouncements and their proponents, a special in-house
department – the Office
of Strategic Influence – cranked into motion.
At product launch, an eerie tableau of nihilism and ascendancy fulfilled consumer
longing for epic thriller and parable. In a master stroke worthy of Cecil B.
DeMille, brand desecration found its perfect expression in a marginal city square,
chains, pillars, and assorted male walk-ons. No unfortunate detour escaped
the opportune wand of product enhancement as it transmuted ruin
into glory. In a final act of perception engineering, the CEO descended from
above proclaiming the takeover complete. Dividends were declared for all (but
not denominated). Those busy orchestrating the project would receive more tangible
spoils – corporate stock and deferred
options fashioned from an endless flow of dollar bills.
The first sign of trouble appeared in the form of corporate guidance,
warning the venture would require $87 billion of emergency monies. A quick calculation
revealed future liabilities of at least $5 billion monthly. With the aid of
a popular CEO accounting practice, funding requirements vanished from the balance
sheet, only to appear in a more illusory form – i.e., "off
Product definition proved another challenge. Shareholders/consumers (one and
the same under Bush Inc.) were sold
the venture as a mass tension reliever. Understandably, they became flummoxed
when they learned that the root of this tension did not exist. The product at
that point underwent revision. But Product Two, more complicated and abstract
than the first, met with diminished enthusiasm. Shareholders learned that they
should forget demanding tension relief and instead opt for embracing
Only, the ideal was not for them – they already had it. They were to embrace
it for the subsidiary.
Product rejection was swift by the subsidiary where the strength of competing
ideational wares caught the executive team flatfooted. The team, however, quickly
assured skeptical shareholders that rejection was clear evidence of success
and to expect, indeed, welcome
more of the same. When the junior sales force untrained in marketing and presentational
skills reverted to negative
campaigning, confusion mounted. Once product dissonance – a visible
deviation between practice and theory – came to light, the momentum for
support stalled abruptly.
The promised tension reliever was in truth a nightmare pharmaceutical
producing fear, paranoia, and a host of physical disorders. Frightful
images rippling outside the boundaries of the subsidiary's home base were
another side effect not disclosed in product literature. One consumer, a plainspoken
mother permanently damaged by the toxic effects of the purported analgesic,
CEO to come forward and tell the truth. And then, calamity
and crime conspired
to expose organizational disarray and corruption at every level of the enterprise.
The nationwide control group was left with the conclusion that it had been snookered
from the start.
Meanwhile, back at corporate headquarters, the administrative model of the
subsidiary, repeatedly denounced by Bush Inc., was enjoying a glorious renaissance.
So enthusiastic was senior management for some aspects of this model, it copied
them to spawn its own franchise.
Planting offshoots in remote locations unfettered by needless regulatory prohibitions,
it could experiment with innovative
managerial practices freely.
Product recall began in earnest. Veteran observers stated that promotional
campaigns were backfiring
and transforming the halo around the trademark into a demonic cloud. Bush Inc.,
however, held fast, inventing yet another business rationale for maintaining
product promotion at full tilt: Corporate raiders were targeting the subsidiary
in a plot to leverage
the acquisition into a sprawling,
While Bush Inc. clings to the theory that failure repeated daily is a recipe
for success, the real world seizes advantage. The enterprise's largest competitor,
steered by Peking CEO Hu Jintao, is busy ensuring smooth supply
lines to his expansive
venture for decades to come. Shareholders/consumers, preoccupied with the
mundane matters of gas and heating prices, hospital bills, and credit card debt,
would rather forget about the ailing acquisition or any looming
to their unease is the gradual realization that income supplements counted on
for future upkeep have been squandered by the hallucinations of a monomaniacal
executive team. The CEO, however, like many
before him, is unperturbed. He's going for broke – and with three more years
to go, he might just get there.