Wednesday, February 22, 2006

No Smoking Gun


"There was no smoking gun, but there were innumerable brush fires," said well-known Harvard professor Howard Gardner about today's resignation of Dr. Summers and reported in The New York Times.

Gardner's statement is similar to a quote I often use about ripples turning into tidal waves that ultimately tarnish company and CEO reputations. The quote comes from former Morgan Stanley CEO Phil Purcell who said upon his resignation: "It was many, many little waves. It wasn't one storm."

Another good one was spoken by a German shareholder about quality problems at Mercedes and reported in the March 4, 2005 Financial Times: “You don’t break a car company over night. You really need to fall asleep at the wheel.”

Organizational or leadership failure is hard to ignore. The controversies surrounding Dr. Summers were easy to see -- leadership miscommunication, faculty departures, decline in fund-raising and diminishing benefit of the doubt. For Summers, there were too many brush fires to keep putting out. He ran out of time and water.

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