Putting the CEO in Time-Out

Angered at rumors that the co-founder of Specialty Medical Supplies was shutting down its factory near Beijing, the workers took the next logical step: they locked him in his office.

Despite his claims that employees are not losing their jobs when he moves part of the operations of the company to India, around 80 of his 110 employees have blocked entrances and locked Chip Starnes in his office for a week, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.

While I don’t condone such drastic action, I will admit to having been tempted to put some of the CEOs I’ve dealt with as a turnaround authority in time-out. Just for a while so they could consider their less-than-desirable behavior.

There was the guy whose ego was so large he refused to admit that he has missed some major errors in cost accounting and tried to cover up the cash shortfall, which led to a series of problems with the business that ultimately cost it $8 million in equity. The bank called the loan and he lost his fortune.

Or the CEO who changed his sales manager’s commission structure after exceeding yearly goal for the following year so wouldn’t make more money than he did. The sales manager went to work for his competitor and the CEO was fired.

I once worked with a CEO who was convinced that people would respond to solicitations at a higher rate if they were mailed from within their home town. So he spent about $400,000 a year having trucks drive the solicitations all over his company’s territory to get a local postmark on them, despite the fact there was no evidence to support that theory.

Perhaps the CEO that may have saved his company and his marriage if he put himself in time-out for a bit was the one who was married, yet managed to have a photo of him and his girlfriend having a grand old time on a yacht on the cover of a national magazine.

A nice payback for the CEO and his wife who ran a multi-million dollar company but rationed toilet paper and caffeinated coffee to their employees would have been for them both to spend a few days confined somewhere. Without it.

There are stories like this happening every day. You can read plenty more of my stories of CEOs behaving badly in my new book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes.”

If only these CEOs’ employees could have locked these guys up for a bit and fed them a continuous diet of General Tso’s chicken until they came to their senses, would the outcome have been different?

There’s no way of knowing and it probably wouldn’t be good for my business to be known as the guy who recommends locking up CEOs.

I’ve seen no evidence that Mr. Starnes has done anything wrong, other than suffer a communication problem with his Chinese employees. But, he weathered the confinement okay, despite three meals a day of sweet deep-fried chicken.

And he did do one thing every CEO needs to do: think ahead and expect the unexpected. When he constructed his office, he had the foresight to put a toilet in.

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