It’s not like I set out to become a rescue CEO. It’s not like when I was a kid I thought, “When I grow up I’m going to be this guy who saves companies, not his own company but other companies, whose original CEOs have failed to fulfill their obligations to shareholders, alienated their boards of directors, flamed out in spectacular death spirals of crashing revenues and out-of-control budgets.” Nope, I never said to myself, “Someday—and Lord make it soon!—I’ll be flying to a strange city for a period of typically six to eight months, for great compensation but at untold cost to my marriage, making sensible payroll decisions.” It just kind of turned out that way.
I figure if you’re going to be a rescue anything, it might as well be a CEO. You don’t hear about rescue VPs of Marketing and rescue Sales Associates. You want to be the boss man in the rescue biz, the big rescue kahuna. You want to be the one they all talk about when you leave, in mere months, before most of them have ever met you. You want every last one of them thinking, “Now that was a rescue CEO,” even though you know nothing about any of them, not a single biographical tidbit. After all, if you knew that crap, you wouldn’t be a rescue CEO at all. You’d just be a CEO. And me, I’m a rescue CEO. Not a CFO, or a COO, mind you.
This is tricky, but if I could come up with the two jobs most similar to mine, they would be CEOs and rescue workers of any kind. Combine those two and you get a hint of the gig’s essential nature. Think of it this way: I’m like a CEO, but with a bit of rescue thrown in. Or vice-versa. However is easier for you to picture it. Your call. I really don’t care what you do. Seriously, I could not care less about you.
The rescue market has been hot lately. Lotta company failures. Well, lotta near-failures. If they’d actually failed all the way, I wouldn’t have been a rescue CEO. I’d have been a “onetime CEO” or a “last CEO” or a “that asshole." I’d just be this random guy no one knew worked at the company, standing around…
No, I rescue: it’s what I do, when you pay me an assload of money, on a contract basis, typically more than entire departments of your firm make in a year, to the resentment of many. I’m not particular with my methods. A little PowerPoint here, some Excel there, but above all: rescue. You have to stay goal-oriented in my game. “Whatever the rescue needs,” that’s my motto. I know some rescue CEOs who strayed from that principle, and do you know what they’re doing now? Not rescue CEOing, I can promise you that. They’re regular CEOs, some of them.
“Are these companies even worth it?” is an example of a question I have never once asked. “At this stage shouldn’t they simply file for a structured bankruptcy, or look for a buyer, given the cash on their balance sheet, and the potential for layoffs?” No. Start entertaining thoughts like that and you’re not a rescue CEO at all. You’re no better than the beloved original CEO, who knew all his employees’ names, and inherited the family business from his great-grandfather, and had put down deep roots in the community. No, you’re no better than him.
Perhaps you’re wondering what my business card reads. Well, I’ll tell you. It says “CEO” at a given company, and then “CEO” at another company, and after that “CEO” at an additional company. And perhaps you’re wondering if I’ve ever accidentally handed out an obsolete card during the course of critical business at the new company I’m rescuing, to nervous laughter, and I will let you determine the odds of that yourself.
It’s a tough gig, but somebody’s gotta do it. That’s what I say to myself sometimes. I’m talking about working for a company in any capacity other than mine, of course: all those long hours and years spent toiling in middle-management for mediocre pay, all to be fired at the drop of a hat by someone like me who comes in and acts like he runs the place, which technically, incredibly, he now does, I mean blech, why would anyone do that, that sounds terrible.
Nope, if I could do it all again, if unlike the dozens of sad-sack employees I typically lay off on my first day somewhere, I were to be given a second chance, I have to say, I might just give this rescue CEO thing a whirl. And if I asked myself, “Why a rescue CEO? Why not, you know, a psychiatrist, or a synchronized swimmer?” I would even have an answer ready: “Hey, don’t waste my time with this crap, uh, Tim, is it? No, that’s not right… Tom? No, that’s not it either, hang on, I got it, it’s coming to me, I got it.”