Plain-speaking women are just what boardrooms lack

Focus: Carol Bartz's frank language after being fired is what is missing from corporate meetings, says Rupert Wright.

Journalists generally regard management as people who exist solely to sort out their holidays, pay them a monthly stipend and process their expenses.

Legion are the stories of foreign correspondents who cleverly outwitted the pen-pushers by pushing through extravagant claims for extraneous equipment such as camels.

When these hapless hacks are eventually deemed surplus to requirement, they are generally so stunned that after a momentary silence, they lash out - either physically, or in print.

Emails are now a favourite method of communicating with your former colleagues, and a perfect way to comment on either the small brains or physical deformities of the people who first employed, then sacked you.

The best responses of all feature in a collection put together on Slate, an online magazine.

Take the parting shot of Mark Schlueb, who wrote to Tony Ridder, the chief executive of Knight Ridder, after learning of his dismissal: "Don't worry about me; I'll land on my feet. I don't regret coming here, even though I've been laid off now. In fact, my only regret is that you haven't come to visit the Beacon Journal. I would have loved to p*** on your shoes."

Chief executives, in comparison, have tended to take the news of their own departures with a certain sangfroid, leavened no doubt by the thought of the colossal farewell package that will soon be zooming into their bank accounts.

I have always thought this poor form. If you are going to go down, go down in flames. And there is no better example anywhere than Carol Bartz, the Baron von Richthofen of Silicon Valley, who was fired from Yahoo at the end of last week.

Did she go quietly? Hardly. People complain about the lack of women in the boardroom, but with Ms Bartz as a role model, we can hardly expect directors to appoint others of her ilk.

She was as frank and fearless as a French fishwife and I think we should congratulate her for this, particularly as she used words no self-respecting Frenchwoman should ever know.

First, she railed at being fired on the telephone. I agree with her; there is something terribly last week about being sacked on the blower. I remember it becoming breaking news when somebody asked his wife for a divorce via fax.

This is also an old-fashioned, outdated technology - who sends faxes these days apart from lawyers? But couldn't she have been given the news of her dismissal via Twitter or even better, a new laser-like hologram that would appear like Sir Alec Guinness in Star Wars, sitting on her shoulders and whispering the news that she was no longer needed?

Speaking with Fortune magazine, her account of the dismissal breathes life in the tedium of a director's existence.

As Roy Bostock, Yahoo's chairman, was busy breaking the news to her, she interrupted: "Roy, I think that's a script. Why don't you have the balls to tell me yourself?"

The minute she put down the phone, she made a reservation at a different hotel because she knew that Yahoo's lawyers were looking for her. Then she sent off an email to all of Yahoo's 14,000 staff. I must agree with other commentators that this was not her finest hour, particularly the use of the dread cliché "going forward". But at least it was enviably brief.

"I am very sad to tell you that I've just been fired over the phone by Yahoo's chairman of the board. It has been my pleasure to work with all of you and I wish you only the best going forward," she wrote. (I suspect she didn't mean that last point; I bet she'd rather they all simultaneously imploded, obviously once she'd got her payoff cheque cashed.)

Having done that, she got in touch with Fortune's hacks and prepared to tell them what she really thought. The board were "doofuses" she said, an American term that implies that somebody is geeky, although I'd have thought that's a given in the computer world. She also used the f-word.

Finally, a good Anglo-Saxon word that we are all familiar with, perhaps the most recognised and certainly most memorable and definitely most flexible word in the English language.

We need more plain-speaking bosses. Rather than hiding behind a welter of tosh and corporate-speak, how much better it would be to hear a banker say: "Those cretins took all the money we lent them and now won't pay us back, the bastards. Bang goes my bonus!"

Maybe it is for such a reason that women have been excluded from boardrooms around the world for so long. I think this is a pity. Let's have more frank-speaking women in power. One of this season's hits has been the film Horrible Bosses.

It includes a number of good tips for managers, female or not, and its advice should be followed to the letter.

Published: September 16, 2011 04:00 AM


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