March 5 2008 by Joe Queenan
I rate shareholders, meddlesome hedge fund managers, know-it-all private equity guys and even the man in the street often act as if being a chief executive officer is a day at the beach, a stroll in the park, a picnic. This is a misperception, perhaps a deliberate one. CEOs, it just so happens, have to deal with shrinking markets, tumbling stock prices, abrupt shifts in consumer tastes and pressure from disgruntled employees, not to mention the carping of irate shareholders, meddlesome hedge fund managers and know-it-all private equity guys. But of all the issues CEOs have to deal with, none is more gutwrenching and infuriating than having to respond to the snide letter from the gloating money manager who fancies himself a bit of a jock.
Last fall, if TheWall Street Journal is to be believed, money manager Glenn Greenberg, son of the famous baseball player Hank Greenberg, sat down and wrote an angry letter to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts. The gist of the epistle was that Roberts was simply not getting the job done. But it wasn’t enough that Greenberg saw fit to blast Roberts for his alleged mismanagement of the nation’s largest cable network. It wasn’t enough that he had to blame Roberts for the company’s dwindling stock price. No, just to rub it in, just to really put some sting in that scorpion’s tale, Greenberg had to toss in a little dig about his correspondent’s athletic skills.
“I know you are a competitive guy, as am I,” Greenberg wrote. “I once had a No. 4 U.S. squash ranking, so I know that you care about winning and are able to push yourself hard to be a winner.” After a few less general quibbles about Comcast’s recent performance, Greenberg added: “You think you are hitting beautiful strokes, but you are losing the game.”
Seriously, folks, is there anything worse than having your leadership style and management philosophy likened to a squash game? Is there anything more annoying than coming into the office in the morning and having to open a letter bristling with incoherent sports metaphors? For that matter, is there anything worse than being insulted by someone who used to be the No. 4 squash player in the U.S., and who thinks that this in itself qualifies him to tell you how to run the cable TV business?
Let me make it perfectly clear that I hold no brief for Mr. Roberts; indeed, as a lifetime supporter of the Philadelphia 76ers, a basketball team that has become increasingly pathetic since Comcast acquired it a few years back, I wish that the embattled CEO would mosey on down to the Wachovia Center in South Philadelphia and ream a few people out. Be that as it may, it is my firm belief that no one, but no one, should have to sit back and patiently take abuse from someone who used to be the No. 4 squash player in the
“Dear Mr. Greenberg:
Thanks for your letter. As you know, having once been the No. 4 squash player in
The ball’s in your court.”