Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Introducing Mom and Dad: Family CEOs

Whenever my wife and I go out to dinner (approximately once every 17 years), we do that thing parents often do where we wolf down our food and are finished with our meals in well under a half hour.

We do this, of course, because we are conditioned to do it. When you have kids, particularly little ones, eating is a process of sneaking bites of food in between tending to the needs of your offspring. At any given moment, you're likely to be cutting up someone's chicken, sopping up spilled milk from the table, or carefully removing the fork your two-year-old has cheerfully plunged into your neck.

So you quickly get into the habit of speed eating. There's no real enjoyment in it, just a race against the clock to stuff nutrients down your gullet before the next kid-related crisis pops up. And then suddenly the two of you are alone and you realize you're doing it even then. You laugh and remind each other that you should slow down and enjoy the experience, which you do for about 45 seconds before forgetting yourself and resuming the process of rapidly stuffing your face.

The same is true of our conversations. We occasionally go out to Starbucks to grab some coffee and just sit and talk, and it's always a lot of fun. It also always ends up centering on the kids. No matter what we do, no matter what stimulating topic we may start out on, the little tax deductions are eventually the subject at hand.

This is because you, as a parent, are essentially the CEO of a small company. You have been charged with overseeing an organization whose sole task is to produce independent, self-sustaining, functional human beings with the potential and even desire to contribute meaningfully to society. This is your mission and vision. It is your primary role in life and it can be difficult to push it to the back of your mind for even a few minutes.

So no matter what, when you and your co-executive get together, there is always some piece of company strategy or bit of operational concern that bears discussion. And that's what you inevitably focus on because it's your job.

If I were addressing the shareholders of Tennant Enterprises in a "state of the company" speech, I think I would tell them something like this:

"Welcome to all of you! Your investment in our little firm is greatly appreciated, and today I want to update you on our progress.

"As you know, Tennant Enterprises, run by myself and my co-CEO and Chief of Domestic Operations, Terry, continues to be organized into five operational arms. Each of these corporate divisions is thriving, I am happy to report, but not without some bumps along the way.

"Our most well-established division, Elissa, turned 18 years old over the weekend, a cause for great celebration. She has enjoyed a long run of high productivity and has returned generous dividends to each of you, our stockholders. But as you know, she is just months away from entering College Mode, a notorious profit-sucker. Be prepared for a long period of depressing balance sheets and negative growth, at the end of which we anticipate that this division will be ready to be spun off on its own.

"The Chloe Department continues to be one of the most intriguing concerns in the corporate world. Volatile and often unpredictable, it can be difficult to manage effectively. But in the end, it always returns value. Our investment here has paid off handsomely and the years ahead are bright. This division has entered into a pseudo-merger with Dorazio Corp., an Asian athletic equipment manufacturer.

"Humming along quietly in the background is our Jared affiliate. Huge growth here and quite unexpected in that no other arm of the company has quite the length and breadth of this division. We're not sure where this comes from, though we have repeatedly asked the Chief of Domestic Operations to conduct a sort of corporate DNA test, which she refuses to do. We're getting very suspicious. In any case, the outlook is bright, assuming this division eventually emerges from its 13-year-old boy fog of confusion.

"The Melanie Sector is in many ways still searching for its identity, but it excels in virtually every industry in which it dabbles. It can be easy to get lost in the confusion when you're the fourth of five divisions in a large corporation, but this area does a nice job of staking its own claims. We would be quite pleased if the employees would remember to turn out the lights in their room every once in awhile, but all in all, top marks.

"And finally we have our Jack detachment. Incredible return on investment here so far in terms of development and knowledge acquisition, to the point that we are concerned as to whether this division's potential can be channeled for good rather than for a hostile takeover of the world. For now, there is little chance for real harm while the employees are engaged in obtaining kindergarten core competencies, but we would suggest watching this one closely in the years to come.

"So again, we say thank you for the faith and trust you have placed in our company. The ultimate goal is for these five subdivisions to eventually become freestanding corporations, at which point we can all cash out and move to Florida. But something tells us we have a long way to go before that happens. Good luck and good night."

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