William Czander, Ph.D.
For almost 20 years corporate America has resembled the Wild West. CEO's and their executives, Wall Street bankers, and others have been quietly engaged terminating millions of jobs, stealing pensions, breaking up companies, committing fraud, outsourcing, and engaging in incomprehensible risk taking, all for the purpose of outrageous personal gain. This is the first of three articles that will explore the cultural, psychological and psychodynamic motivations for this behavior.
(This is part three of a three part series)
Living in the CEO's World
We do not have a deep understanding of what excessive pay does to the executive and perhaps the reason is the prevailing belief that it's a good thing to become wealthy, and money will bring happiness. Not only is this not true, it may have the opposite effect. For many executives being a millionaire is a distraction. Just as the research that investigated CEO's who were building new homes were so distracted that their companies started doing poorly. Having money is a distraction because it means that one must now spend time holding on to the money. Many CEOs have built into their contracts hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover the employment of tax consultants and financial advisors. Even having someone do the work requires effort in the selection process, meetings, and of course worries. But what else occurs? They tend to remove themselves from the general population and join the world of "like minded" people. The system of social and economic stratification once distinguished between the "old moneyed" and the "nouveau riche". It was quite common for social and country clubs to be delineated across these lines. Now there is a blending at these clubs, a democratization if you will, where the only ticket is wealth. Nouveau riche has been given a new definition in the 20th century the old line snobbishness has faded and now almost anyone can enter the elite world of the wealthy. All one needs is a lot of wealth and a little celebrity to gain entry into the club and this has created a "gold rush." Some maintain this cultural and attitudinal shift began with President Ronald Reagan who encouraged and made part of his "right wing" ideology the "free market" spirit of the "Market Man" who championed the "takeover" of corporations and the splitting up of conglomerates. These financial gurus were touted as purveyors of increased efficiency in corporate America and were the new "captains" of industry; the bankers, cost cutting CEOs, hedge fund executives and the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. They became the new heroes and celebrities and students in B-Schools would study cases on their rise to fame and wealth and in the process it promoted such profound identification that the flood gates were opened where all thought if they went to college and got their MBA they could join the club. A Darwinian/Randian atmosphere was created in the 1980s and moved on through 2008 where it was every man and woman for themselves.
Like the "landed gentry and old moneyed," these wealthy CEOs and ex-CEOs distanced themselves from the non-wealthy as they go went off to live in their gated communities or mansions with a fence and security measures. There social life centered on the country club. They sent their children to private schools attended by other children of the wealthy. And they attended charity events with other "swells" and sought to have a building or school named after themselves at their college, and it was not Harvard or Yale, now it was Richmond's and Purdue's of the university world, or perhaps some state school.
The CEOs World
What does this distancing mean? What does it mean to live a life removed from a community of employees? It quickly breeds a type of detachment both emotionally and intellectually. Consider George Herbert Bush running for president against Bill Clinton. On the campaign trail his entourage entered a supermarket and watching the checkout person scanning the items he marveled at what he described as the new technology. Voters were outraged that he was seeing products being scanned for the first time when it had been around for years and anyone who shopped was aware of the technology. He was quickly described as an out of touch rich guy, so rich he does not need to shop, and he lost the election. His son GW Bush may not have shopped but he had no aristocratic aires about him, as a matter of fact the non-elite loved him, he talked just like them.
In reality; insulation, isolation, or detachment produces an uneducated person where a major part of life experience is absent. This is particularly problematic when the entire executive constellation is remote and lacking in the experience of the so-called common working person. If their only experiences and emotional attachments are made in their own social grouping with other wealthy people they will be unable to connect with the experiences of their employees consequently their employees become remote objects and this process is so apparent that some corporations do not even referred to their employees as people, they are called resources and when they are terminated they are referred to as "redundant." At work, when with their employees they are merely present in the intellectual sense. They no longer can associate with activities, places and people experienced in the past. Their emotional detachment serves a function, they no longer experience the pain associated with decisions that hurt other people, and they are now surrounded by "yes men" who see their job as protecting their leaders from anything resembling failure, pain, or suffering. These mind guards are paid to protect the CEO by using defenses of denial, rationalization and projections.
By moving into circle of people in similar circumstances they can successfully avoid the so-called "hanger-on" and avoid people who are emotionally overly demanding. Consider the executive, who has a private elevator, this is symbolic of the life he leads. Making millions adds to this life of detachment.