Saturday, July 14, 2007

Screwing Stakeholders

When it comes to stakeholders, a company’s relationships can be either overt or covert. The Associated Press, for example, reported this on 20 June:

Tidewater Inc., the world's largest operator of vessels serving the offshore oil and gas industry, may move its corporate headquarters to Houston, company president Dean Taylor said Wednesday.

“We have a lot of sympathy for the city, but our shareholders don't pay us to have sympathy,” he said. “They pay us to have results for them. We ultimately need to do what's for them.”

This sterling example made the Houston Chronicle the following day via its “Around the Region” section…just a three-‘graph article that caught my attention because Taylor, who’s not only CEO but Chairman of the Board, seemed to go out of his way to tell the members of its long-time New Orleans home to drop dead. The Times-Picayune has been all over this story; Tidewater has been mending its Louisiana fences ever since.

On the covert side, Chronicle columnist Loren Steffy reported yesterday that Sprint Nextel is cutting off customers – canceling their service – if they use the company’s customer service help line too frequently. You ought to read Steffy’s column because he’s a far better journalist than I am and reports the story better. But one telling point is worth repeating here:

…The bigger problem is the message Sprint is sending to all customers — and to all customer service employees. As it moves down this slippery slope, Sprint could, for example, decide to drop customers who spend too many minutes roaming on plans where roaming charges are included in the price.

Tidewater’s done it publicly; Sprint Nextel hasn’t really spread the word about its peculiar anti-customer policy around – unless you’re one of the “riffraff” who got a service termination letter.

These love-me-or-leave-me approaches keep pointing out that we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us if we want to turn corporations into models of positive stakeholder interaction. The Stakeholder Rule© is still at the whim of CEOs and Chairmen of the Board everywhere.

The President of the New York Central Railroad, William H. Vanderbilt, was perfectly happy to say, “The public be damned.” That was 1888. He got away with it. Today, we don’t have to be so acquiescent...let’s fight back for our relationships.

“Stakeholder Rule” © Richard Laurence Baron. All rights reserved.

No comments: