Sunday, March 20, 2022

Rock Star Bosses?

Why do we need to elevate people above ourselves?

In my last posting, I hinted that perhaps the problem with overpaid executives lies within us and not them.  Just as we elevate sports stars and movie stars and rock stars on a pedestal, we elevate pop-star executives as well.  Of course, in all four cases, these folks have promoters, agents, and public relations people who create the hype around these "celebrities" so that we don't question - too much - whether they are worth all that money.

It is cheap psychology.  I mentioned before that while working at the law firm, the "Partnership Row" was a hushed hallway with large offices for the anointed few.  Even the carpeting was plusher there.  You felt the change in atmosphere the moment you stepped in - when summoned, of course - to talk to a partner in the firm.  Even their secretaries were Godlike in their actions and reputation.  You wanted to make sure you stayed on the good side of the partner's secretary - she was the acolyte who controlled access to the temple.  Without her approval, you never got in.

Many bosses, even in small companies, play this game. I was reading complaints online from disgruntled workers, and one common theme is that they are denied a raise by the boss who says, "We can't afford raises this year" and in the same breath says, "You want to see my new Porsche?"   It seems like a cognitive disconnect - to flaunt your wealth to your employees while at the same time crying poverty.

But it isn't.

You see, a lot of people want to work for someone who is above them.  No one wants to work for a schmuck they think it equal to them, or worse, beneath them.  And yes, this is a theme you see a lot in these "employee bitch" sites - that they are working for a boss they think it dumber than they are.  It ain't fair!

And that is exactly why bosses play these games showing off wealth.  Everyone admires the king with his purple robes and golden crown encrusted with jewels.  You should admire it, you paid for it!  It is a way of elevating one above us, and showing that the person is of a higher class and stature.  Most of the job of "Boss" is just asserting this dominance - and forcing employees into submission.  If you were in the military, you know how this works - the officers not only have fancy decorations on their uniforms, they have better quarters, offices, perks and so on and so forth.  No one respects or obeys someone who is equal to them or is even perceived as equal.  That's why officers go to military academies and not boot camp.

That is why Elon Musk tweets all the time.  It is why Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post.  It is why Bill Gates has his famous charity advertised on NPR.  These guys need the positive press to make it seem they are larger than life, better than us, and our superiors.  Of course, celebrity has a downside, as I noted in my previous posting.  Make a bad movie, sell a shitty record album, strike out enough at bat, and you are tossed in the gutter in no time.  No one respects or loves a loser - so bank those salaries, celebrities!  It could all come apart in no time.

The downside for today's superstar bosses is that perhaps they are making too much money for their level of celebrity.  I guess people can swallow an athlete making $10 million a year, but it gets stuck in their craw when some CEO is worth a billion - he just isn't all that!

It is a funny thing, too - back in the day, maybe a few decades ago, you never heard about the CEOs of major corporations.  Sure, you might know the names of a few corporate Presidents (we didn't have terms like CEO, CFO, COO, and the like) but that was about it.  Most of them kept a low profile, by design.  Since the "robber baron" era of the early 1900's, corporations learned it wasn't a good idea to flaunt wealth all that much.  And salaries back then - even adjusted for inflation - were paltry compared to today.  The IPO and stock option just weren't a thing back then.  Buying back your company's own stock was, in fact, illegal.  How can you make big bucks without stock options and the ability to manipulate the share price?  That's no fun at all!

In a way, the superstar celebrity bosses of today are cheating at the game.  Imagine how people would have felt about a sports star if was caught throwing games?  Imagine how people would feel if their favorite music star was caught lip-syncing?  We don't have to imagine - those things have happened in the past and people dropped those celebrities like a hot potato.

And maybe today, people are feeling the same way about superstar bosses.  No one (well, not many people) begrudge someone making money from an enterprise they built up and nurtured.  But when they make wild profits from stock manipulation - or people manipulation - then people feel cheated. And if they find out their celebrity boss is actually a schmuck like them?

Well, then, it's game over.

UPDATE:  what is weird about our modern culture is that they actually make movies about these dot-com "geniuses." They made one about Zuckerberg and now they are hyping one about the guy who created wework which turned out to be little more than a scam. Even the people who cheat us out of our last dime are treated like gods. And yes they made a movie about Enron, Bernie Madoff, and the Meltdown of 2008 as well.

Of course, the billionaires they make these movies about also control the media.