Executive Fights

One expects that senior executives would be rational, controlled, and aloof. Alas, they are human, and they can (and often do) melt down. It is both entertaining, and horrifying at the same time.

The Dude is sipping a white Russian, and reflecting on his many career stops, and the fleeting thoughts are turning to the spectacle of fighting executives. The Dude is astounded by the public, tit-for-tat battles he has witnessed over the years.

The Dude is not naive enough to believe that executives and the executive leadership team is harmonious and sings kumbaya over tropical drinks while playing footsie under the mahogany table, but he also expects them to act professionally. Yet, time and again, Executives have demonstrated that they are just as petty as the popular girls clique you remember from high-school.

A very wise executive that took the Dude under his wing way back at the beginning of his career had one observation about sales that stuck. His statement was that when sales people get together, they compare themselves by how tall they stand on their wallets. That the BSD1 sales person is the one who makes the most money. Crude, but an effective and accurate description.

A corollary that the Dude penned is that when executives get together, they compare themselves by their comp, and the size of their empire.

Case 1: Petty Jealousy

At one public company that the Dude worked at, it was fascinating to read the Edgar 10K filings2. Those are the ones that they use to disclose things like "executive compensation". At this company, the three EVP (executive vice presidents) were on a merry-go-round of compensation dick measuring.

Executive 1 got a large stock grant. Two weeks later, the other two executives got a stock grant. Executive 2 got a $1K a month car allowance. One month later, the other two executives got a larger car allowance.

Here the Dude scratches his head wondering why people who make a base of more than $300K a year, a bonus that regardless of their performance seemed to be north of $500K a year, and somewhere around $1M of incentive stock options "needs" a car allowance.

Case 2: Street Brawling

Or, there is the open warring between groups. Executive 1 is an absolute asshole, and refuses to listen to reason, and then executives 2 and 3 start fighting with them, openly in email copying remarkably many minions, the Dude included, so that they all can watch the shit-storm unfold in real time.

Back and forth, each iteration more petty and vindictive than the last.

It is even more disturbing when you started the shit-storm - with an innocent question, but regardless, this is a sign of deep dysfunction within the organization. What surprises the Dude the most is that this is a symptom of a weak executive team. For some strange reason that befuddles the Dude, there is a school of leadership that seems to advocate pitting senior management against each other. Survival of the fittest, and all that malarky.

Fine in theory, and it is great for cage matches, and UFC fights, but to run an organization, it is both counter-productive, and demoralizing to the rank and file.

And the double challenge of product management is that we have to tip-toe around these overgrown adolescents, who insist upon whipping their dicks out and airing grievances in public. Our job is tough enough even without workplace strife.


Early in the Dude's career, he enjoyed the spectacle of Executive fights. Now, he is tired of them. Yet, for some reason, they continue to happen.

1 - BSD is short for "big swinging dick". This is common in the world of trading desks in finance, but works well for sales too.

2 - If you work for a public company, or compete with a public company, you should be regularly checking the SEC filing on Edgar. Google it.

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