Friday, April 10, 2009


Leaders know there is always another side of the story. When people used to come into my office to complain about someone, I would always ask them, 'what did the other person say when you told them?' In the beginning, the answer always was, 'I haven't told them.' I would reply, 'Ok, get back to me after you have spoken to them.' After a while, our people knew to first get the other side of the story.

This came to mind as I read this NY Times blog. The author appears to monitor public filings of publicly-held companies for executive perks. This particular blog entry focuses on the company paid airline travel of Xerox's CFO, Lawrence Zimmerman. The blog points out that Larry lives in Colorado and Xerox pays for his commercial flights every week from Colorado to Connecticut. The blog is basically calling him out on this perk.

My first thought was, 'some perk, commuting every week from Colorado on Friday afternoons and Monday mornings. These are the two worst travel days of the week.' My second thought was, 'what could the other side of the story be?'

Here is a hypothetical other side of the story. Larry was a 31 year veteran with IBM who retired in 2001. Larry spent a large part of his time with IBM living abroad. In 2002, Anne Mulcahy, CEO of Xerox needed an experienced CFO with recognized integrity to replace the former CFO who was let go due to his role in an accounting scandal. Anne was having a tough time finding the right person, especially since she was in the process of restructuring $7 billion of bank debt and initiating a large scale operational restructuring. This was a difficult situation in which to recruit an experienced CFO.

So, let's say that Larry was a reluctant candidate for the position. Let's say that he had just retired four months earlier and his wife was thrilled they had finally settled down in Colorado. Perhaps Anne said, 'Larry, we need you. We will do whatever we need to do to make it easy on you and your family.'

Larry may have said, 'Anne, I would be happy to help, but I can't move to Connecticut. We just finally settled down in Colorado.' Maybe Anne told him that Xerox would pay for him to fly back and forth each week. I used to fly up to three round trips a week. It is not fun especially with the security these days.

So maybe Larry said 'yes' even though it would be very tiring and wearing to travel roundtrip from Denver to LaGuardia every week and to be away from home every week. And now he sees that the NY Times posts a blog insinuating that he is the recipient of an expensive perk. Did the author just take the public filing statement and run with it? Or did the author google Larry to find out 'the other side of the story'? I don't know and maybe there is another side to this story!

Leaders always consider that there is another side of the story when confronted with a situation. Make sure you do also.

In the interest of full disclosure, I met Larry when he first joined Xerox. The company was in the throes of various issues which threatened its future viability at the time. Larry has been an integral part of the team that turned Xerox around.

Cheers, Mike

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