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Yea, that's one of the more disturbing modern trends - especially at the C-level, once someone is in that cloud they tend to just rotate jobs consequence free... and maybe occasionally run for president after doing their best to bankrupt HP.

I agree that an individual unfairly blamed by a company for their failure should be able to move on with their life but... we've seen plenty of clearly guilty people get out with a golden parachute and turn to serving on the board of directors of companies for the ridiculous sum that tends to net you.




Playing devil's advocate (and this is likely to be downvoted by the "we hate all management" crowd on HN), but the reality is that there isn't exactly a very large pool of people who have experience running/directing multi-billion dollar companies. If you start blacklisting every single C-level that was ever involved in a controversy, the only choices you're going to have for your board of directors are going to be people that have very limited experience making executive decisions.

IME, this is especially the case for security positions like CISOs, where the pool of people with such experience is excruciatingly limited to begin with (and no, a high level engineer/developer does not have the same skillset as a security professional).

There's also something to be said for allowing people to learn from their mistakes. It's obviously higher stakes for an executive, but it's along the same vein as how we don't blacklist-for-life the developers who write vulnerable code.


This has come up a number of times and I semi-agree with you. It's definitely true that C-level positions do take a special kind of problem solving to navigate with a high emphasis on time management skills that other people (even upper management) can usually delegate up... That said, the only thing restricting new entrants into that market is the resistance of that market. The skills it takes to be a CEO of a multi-billion dollar company are certainly beyond me currently, but it's a skill I could train up to if I tried - especially if I had chosen to do so earlier in life. And these positions do come with a high amount of responsibility, buuut... they don't produce value for the company at all in line with their salaries and they're certainly not irreplaceable.

I don't hate management, I've worked for some great middle managers that have made my life easy - and for some terrible ones that constantly over-promised and pushed the weight down on us in the trenches. For upper management I've worked for three main veins of persons, the ones that micromanage and attempt to constantly invest themselves in every problem - leading to an inability to make good high level decisions... the sort that are removed from business by such an extent that they are unable to reason about direction decisions and fail to support a company's natural growth.. and those that are approachable but limited, who will voluntarily back out of any low level decision discussion but coordinate what decisions are being discussed and what those decisions mean for other portions of the company.

So mainly I'm rejecting your assumption that the pool is limited to begin with - people do come from famous families and waltz into the field with no prior experience, and those who try to work their way up tend to be stifled due to their lack of experience.


I'm not sure I agree with your first paragraph. I mean no disrespect to you or your abilities, but being a C-level executive, especially in a large corporation, isn't something that someone can just "train up to". These types of positions really do require a specific personality, specific desires, often a specific ethic (work ethic and otherwise), specific connections, and more. These are the things, along with the fact that due to organizational hierarchy, there are naturally less CEOs in the world than there are entry level workers, that limit the pool.

I'm certainly not saying that all C-levels possess these necessary traits in a positive way, and there are definitely some C-levels that only got where they are because of nepotism or luck, but I also disagree that there is a significant 'stifling' of newcomers. Nearly every company I have worked at has had a specific "track" for its employees to pursue management (including C level) positions, but my experience is that most people just aren't cut out for it (either because they self-selected that they didn't want/enjoy it, or because they didn't have the necessary personality for it). More specific to the tech industry, I've often seen/heard of Silicon Valley companies having separate "Individual Contributor" versus "Management" tracks. Many engineers self-select the IC track because they don't enjoy management aspects.

And that's not necessarily a bad thing, either. Not everyone is destined to be a CEO, nor should that be everyone's goal, and there's definitely nothing wrong with not being a possessor of the negative-in-many-aspects cutthroat ethics that being a CEO often requires. It's not all too dissimilar to how not everyone is destined to be a programmer, and you can't take just anyone off the street, hand them a programming textbook, and turn them into Linus Torvalds, nor should you.


> I mean no disrespect to you or your abilities, but being a C-level executive, especially in a large corporation, isn't something that someone can just "train up to".

My hunch is that this is no more true of C-levels than it is of any other profession where some natural aptitude (eg. above average intelligence) is required. In other words, I think the "pool" of C-levels is small almost solely because of organisational hierarchy; for every C-level there are many more people with the required natural aptitude who are not C-levels. Of course, for a sufficiently narrow domain, the intersection of people with the required natural aptitude and people with the required years of domain experience may become very small.

In that sense, I think being a C-level is something that many people can just "train up to," if given the right opportunities. I'm not sure if there is any empirical evidence that could tell us who's right.


You could look at experience vs performance.

I've seen enough "emergency temporary promotions" succeed in their job that I tend to agree with you and not with the self-serving "I am special" arguments you hear from people in these circles.


> If you start blacklisting every single C-level that was ever involved in a controversy, the only choices you're going to have for your board of directors are going to be people that have very limited experience making executive decisions, and the usual explanations proffered by the "we hate management" crowd - of nepotism, insiderism, back-scratcher-ism - are more likely valid.

If we revert from "involved in a controversy" back to "has demonstrated extreme incompetence", your argument carries less weight. We can at least say that the inexperienced new guys haven't been tested and found wanting. The


I feel that your thesis is broken by definition: if there is such a small pool of people with this level of experience - so small that they are worth the money and are super difficult to replace - shouldn’t they have already made all their mistakes? Isn’t the board, by definition, paying for people who have a very high chance of making good decisions?


> shouldn’t they have already made all their mistakes?

Is there some finite limit of mistakes that humans make over their lifetimes? In fact, it would be the opposite - those who are making more decisions are by definition likely to make more wrong decisions, as compared to someone who doesn't make as many decisions.

> Isn’t the board, by definition, paying for people who have a very high chance of making good decisions?

Yes, which is why the salaries for such positions are often so high.


> Yes, which is why the salaries for such positions are often so high.

The demonstrable lack of financial repercussions for failure, which you are arguing is justified in some cases, belie this causal relationship. I'd echo Taleb and sat that if an elite class is to be healthy, incompetence must swiftly and summarily result in expulsion.




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