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Where Are the "Good" CEO's?

by Suzanne Bates

Day after day we’re being pummeled by news of bad CEO behavior, so much that you have to conclude that America’s business executives are incapable of getting the message: its time for restraint. In the last couple of weeks there has been one egregious example after another of excess, greed and sheer stupidity. It’s so ridiculous that you’d have to conclude these CEOs aren’t just out of touch: they simply don’t care.

From the $18.4 billion in bonuses paid out by Wall Street last year, to the news that former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain spent $1.22 million to redecorate his office; and word that Citigroup had planned to buy a $50 million 12-seat luxury jet after getting $45 billion in bailout money.

You have to wonder: why aren’t CEOs at least afraid of how these actions might be perceived? They’re not just inviting regulators to their doorsteps, they’re risking their company’s hard-won brands and possibly their own high-flying careers.

Has the title of chief executive officer been irreparably damaged by all this news? In the court of public opinion, yes – no question – the title has lost respect. Yet, across America, there are countless CEOs who are doing the right thing and working hard to keep their companies on course.

These CEOs won’t make headlines but some are downright heroic as they try to keep their employees on the job and do right by their customers.

For example, the once retired chairman and owner of a commercial lending bank in Arizona is staying in his empty house, sleeping on an air mattress. His family had moved to the northeast but he came back to the southwest after the real estate collapse threatened his bank’s survival. He is working 14 hour days, going out every day speaking to customers, and spending hundreds of hours negotiating with bank examiners and creditors, to buy time.

While some CEOs are splurging, plundering and pillaging their businesses, the vast majority are not. Look around in your own community: you know these good folks. They are your neighbors and friends who are not taking home a paycheck right now. Instead, they’re lending money back to their businesses, agonizing over layoffs, working late into the night, negotiating with creditors.

Although a few highly questionable CEOs have besmirched the title, most chief executives, are passionate about their businesses and as devoted as ever to their employees and customers. They’ve made personal sacrifices while asking their employees to do the same, and they don’t need federal regulators to tell them what is right – their judgment is all they need.

This is the true spirit of American business which will not be corrupted or compromised by greed or selfish interests.

Many people aspire to be CEOs. For them it would mark the pinnacle of their career. That’s why it’s important for good CEOs to keep doing the right thing and setting a good example for the rest. For the CEO title to regain credibility with the American public, the media probably also need to start taking note of these good guys and good women.

Suzanne Bates is author of Motivate Like a CEO, Communicate Your Strategic Vision and Inspire People to Act! (McGraw Hill 2009)

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