Jewish World Review Dec. 15, 2003 / 20 Kislev, 5764

Neil Cavuto

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Consumer Reports

When the boss takes your call | So I'm watching this video provided the other day from Dell Corporation, showing no less than the "Dell" in Dell, as in Michael Dell, taking phone calls at the company's help desk.

He apparently never let on who he was, so customers calling in had no idea to whom they were speaking. But there he was — the big guy, the rich guy, the "real" Dell dude politely and professionally answering their questions.

I'm sure it all had good public relations value. But I don't care. I think it's good for company bosses to talk to company customers. I wonder if any of them called with complaints, or bothered him about motherboards that failed or hard drives that went kaput. I don't know. This much I do know — more CEOs should take the time to man phones. It's amazing what they'll discover.

The problem in corporate America today is that most corporate bosses are just plain clueless. They have no idea what's really going on. And the richer they get, the more out-of-touch they get. They delegate meetings. They delegate trips. They delegate meetings about trips. They have frontmen and women who handle their every chore, almost thinking out their every strategy.

It's not good. And for America's long-term competitiveness, it's not healthy, either. I love the boss who gets down with the common folk. That's why I loved the video that popped up a couple of years back on the Internet, featuring another technology titan . . . Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Clearly meant for the software company's sales troops, the video shows an over-the-top Ballmer literally jumping up and down and gyrating to some rock beat to illustrate his excitement for the product and the company.

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A lot of people laughed at it. I loved it. I love bosses like that. They get into what they're doing without stopping to think about who they are. The best bosses I have ever known don't act like conventional bosses. The best ones I know laugh hearty and joke even heartier. Some curse. Others fume. But they're passionate about what they do, and they care about how they're doing it.

They're so gung-ho on making a difference that they deliberately want to make a splash, and they do. The best bosses know their very survival depends on hearing the good and the bad. Now I don't know if Michael Dell heard any of the bad from the customers or prospective customers with whom he was chatting. But I imagine not all the calls were hunky-dory or praising. The big cheese needs to hear the little beefs of the minions . . . both the customers he supposedly serves and the employees who supposedly serve him.

More bosses have fallen off the wagon and out of the boardroom precisely because they forgot that. More could benefit from a board that questions their motives and their lifestyle . . . a board that is brutally blunt and efficient at the same time. If we've learned anything from the corporate shenanigans of the last few years, it's the willingness on the part of those who work with the boss to instead let the boss make a fool of the boss.

It should be written as corporate law that every CEO must talk to his customers . . . on the phone, in person, in letters and via e-mail. He'll likely get an earful, maybe worse. But it would be a lot worse if he never made the attempt at all.

There's only one thing worse than living in an ivory tower. That's assuming that you have any right to be in that tower in the first place.

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Neil Cavuto is managing editor of Business News at FOX News Channel. He is also the host of "Your World with Neil Cavuto" and "Cavuto on Business." Comment by clicking here.


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10/27/03: What would we die to know?
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10/13/03: Dull man walking: Why Gray was too gray
10/05/03: Who says we're so depressed?
09/29/03: Thanks, but no thanks
09/22/03: Big Companies vs. Big Government
09/15/03: Terrorists and idiots: Financial lessons learned
09/08/03: Watch out, Mr. President
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08/25/03: Friends and hypocrites
08/18/03: When good news goes bad
08/04/03: PHONY BALONEY!
07/28/03: The meaning of a pin
07/21/03: We are what we eat
07/14/03: Don't like it, don't keep it!
07/07/03: The check, and the recovery, is in the mail!
06/29/03: Who says Al's our pal?
06/23/03: The big pitch for the "big get," no big deal!

© 2003, Neil Cavuto