December 27, 2000, 1:15 PM —
GOD BLESS AMERICA,land of hope, promise and opportunity, where anyone can become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. And that's just one of the hazards of being a CIO.
A few weeks ago over beer and pretzels (too much beer, perhaps), I found myself sitting among a group of very senior executives from a variety of large companies playing a top-this-one competition of "the worst boss I ever had" stories. The competition raged for hours and careened wildly from the bizarre to the hilarious to the downright scary -- like the story one contestant told about an intimate dinner out that he and his wife were treated to, hosted by his boss and his wife, a few weeks after he joined an East Coast consumer products company:
"They asked us to meet them outside the restaurant," he said. "It was snowing, but we dutifully stood outside and waited for them to finally arrive 15 minutes late. We walked into a very crowded waiting area, whereupon I offered to take the ladies' coats. The coat rack was jammed full, but I did managed to find one empty hanger and proceeded to hang both coats on it, one over the other. Seeing this, my new boss shouted, 'What the hell do you think you're doing?' in a voice so loud it brought all other conversations in the restaurant to an abrupt halt. Striding over and still shouting loudly enough for everyone to hear, he snatched the hanger from my hand and said, 'Don't you ever hang your wife's coat over my wife's coat! Who do you think you are?' and so on for what seemed like an eternity. Then, he yanked his wife's coat off the hanger, causing my wife's coat to fall on the wet floor, took his wife by the arm and stormed out of the restaurant, leaving us to slowly gather our things and slink out. I resigned the following week."
And there was the one told by a CIO whose boss's favorite routine was to summon him and others for impromptu meetings and then let them just sit in his office, for as much as an hour sometimes, while he talked on the phone. "It never seemed to embarrass him in the least that most of the conversations (at least the half that I could hear) were complete nonsense -- personal calls about golf games and the like. Very late one Friday night, the CFO and I were rushed into his office in time to watch him dial up his real estate agent. After 20 minutes of listening to him negotiate the purchase of vacation property in Santa Barbara, the CFO reached into his pocket, pulled out a cell phone and dialed this guy's direct number. The phone rang, our boss apologized to his real estate agent as he had to put her on hold, then picked up the ringing line. 'Hello,' he said, to which the CFO replied, 'I quit,' then hung up and calmly walked out."