Get Me to the Budget Meeting on Time

by Norman Horowitz

To clarify and elaborate on my slightly controversial previous post: In my own experience, I have wondered why organizations have confused an angry executive with an effective one.

Reflecting on my own career, the least effective executives were those who found it necessary to exhibit anger and rage to their subordinates and claim that it’s an effective management style. I experienced several of these people and concluded that they had not a clue as to how to manage anything, so they hid it under the facade of “Boy, am I tough!”
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Here’s what I’ve tried to do in my life and am on the lookout for managements who subscribe to the following:  

  1. Do not judge the behavior of others.
  2. Do not judge or compare people to other people.
  3. Do not even try to always understand the behavior of others.
  4. Do understand that your operating people need your support, not your anger or unfounded criticism.

(I must admit that I do judge, compare, and try to understand, but I realize that it’s not necessarily a good thing to do.)

I’ve noticed in both my business and personal life that every day brings the opportunity to either exacerbate or ameliorate situations. In the majority of these situations, it seems (to me) that people in management positions at media corporations choose to exacerbate situations rather than ameliorate them. Many are concerned when dealing with staff that they understand the notion of “Do you know who I am or how important I am?”

With the exception of my years at CBS, my managements were invariably preoccupied by meaningless minutia. This never manifested in things like “How can we help you do more business?” but rather “How can we force you into spending less?”

After giving Fay Vincent (Columbia Pictures President) a tour of our Los-Angeles-based sales base, Fay asked, “Norman, do you really need to have all of these people to operate?” I replied, “We were having trouble in a studio softball league, so we hired a few ringers to play ball for us.”

The “management games” that intrigued me most as an operating executive were those that involved the creation and execution of operating overhead and sales budgets. Whatever we presented as an operating budget was considered too high, and whatever we presented as a sales budget was too low.

The corporate staff people just adored their power when it came to formulating operating budgets. They would remark something like, “Norman, we think you’re spending more money than you need to spend by having a German office.” I would then ask the management if they knew anything whatsoever about the television market of Germany. Had they ever even been to Germany? Did they know anything about the structure of German television?

A CFO once asked me to submit a contingent 15% reduction in our operating budget, and I submitted it to him along with a reduction in our sales projections. He called me and told me that he didn’t expect any reduction in sales that came with reduced overhead.

One last example: The head of Polygram (as I recall, a $3 billion company at the time) said to me, “Norman, here at Polygram we judge our executives by their ability to answer detailed questions about their operating budgets and balance sheets.” I endeared myself to him by saying, “Wolfgang, no wonder the company is failing.”

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