My Moves Like Jagger

They must be getting some kind of satisfaction. The last three tours of The Rolling Stones grossed $401 million. Fifty-four years after childhood friends Mick Jagger and Keith Richards first formed what has been called the World’s Greatest Band, the band is still performing and drawing record crowds.

So I was interested in an article written by Rich Cohen in the Wall Street Journal recently called “The Rolling Stone’s Guide to Business Success.” This band  has been “among the most dynamic, profitable and durable corporations in the world,” he writes. They must have learned a thing or two along the way.

I agreed with many of the five lessons he targets from the long and successful career of the band. I’d like to focus on one in particular.

Cut the anchor before it drags you down

 Blues guitar player Brian Jones formed The Rolling Stones with Mick, Keith and pianist Ian Stewart, joined soon by bassist Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts joined. They played their first gig at the Marquee Club in London in July 1962.

A rebellious middle-class young man, Brian could reportedly master an instrument in a single day. He was leader of the band and also served as its manager.

But he soon adopted too much of the rock star persona, doing drugs and not showing up for sessions. As Keith Richards said in an interview in the Rolling Stone magazine, “I enjoyed his company, and I tried incredibly hard, in 1966, to pull him back into the group. He was flying off. But my attempts to bring Brian back into focus were a total failure.”

Mick, Keith and Charlie felt they had no choice but to fire him. A month later he was found dead on the bottom of his swimming pool at the age of 27. A sad story but the guys did the right thing for the band. They had to cut the anchor before it dragged them down.

As Principal of GlassRatner in our restructuring and bankruptcy practice, I have to cut a lot of anchors at companies we’ve worked with as clients. It’s necessary for a variety of reasons. Ineffective managers may have been promoted beyond their ability and incapable of performing their jobs. Employees have gotten lazy and are more concerned with getting a paycheck than doing much to earn it.  Or the company may just be bloated and need to be streamlined to crawl back to health.

I’ve had to fire employees at client companies for embezzlement or incompetence. And as I wrote in my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” I once had to fire the CEO’s 83-year-old grandmother as her main contribution to the company was knitting him socks.

Sometimes I have to get rid of people because they have become troublemakers, hurting the morale of the other employees, spreading false rumors or stirring up drama in the workplace. As I heard a speaker say one time, “If you spend your whole day putting out fires, it’s time to fire the arsonist.”

It’s not a pleasant task. But efforts to save previously valuable and now-floundering employees rarely works. Like the efforts The Rolling Stones made with Brian Jones, they generally fail and are just a waste of time.

While I may not have Mick Jagger’s net worth, estimated at around $360 million, I do share some of his moves. Cutting anchors is one of them. It’s one of the keys to the success of any company and helped in the unparalleled career of The Rolling Stones. As pointed out in the article, “Why have the Stones lasted while all others faded? Whenever I asked an old-timer, I got the same answer. It’s Mick—his clearheadedness, his lack of sentimentality.”

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