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Tom Santos: Straight talk from a CEO

Posted: August 9, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 9, 2012 2:00 a.m.

If CEOs spoke honestly, here’s what they would say.

I am not a “job creator."

I am not in the business of employing you. I produce products and provide services in an effort to make money. My mission, vision and integrity statements aside, this is what I am in existence to do — to make me and my shareholders money — not to create a job for you.

I do not owe you one. I do not even feel slightly obligated to employ you. If I do employ you, I have no qualms about changing that arrangement with the click of a mouse within a budget forecast.

You are part of an aggregated line item in my expense budget. If that total ever starts cutting into my profit margin, I probably won’t sacrifice that margin.

You’ll have to go. ...

That is why there is “at-will” employment. It’s really more for me than it is for you. When was the last time you were gainfully employed and wanted so badly not to be gainfully employed?

In all likelihood, when revenues stabilize again, I won’t hire you back because the folks I didn’t fire will have learned to absorb your workload.

When demand significantly increases for my products, then and only then, will I consider hiring new people, as a last resort, but not before I squeeze every last bit of productivity out of my current employees at the risk of lowering morale and some job satisfaction. I can play that card for a while.

Better to be de-motivated than unemployed. ...

When I do hire again, it probably won’t be you. You made too much money.

This is not the 1950s, when employee and company loyalty were a top goal for a large corporation. There are few if any life-long employees working for me, and that’s OK.

Longevity breeds high salaries. Turn-over resets them. ...

And while I publicly tell you and your fellow co-workers at employee meetings how indispensable you are to this company, on my computer there is a spreadsheet with a formula that quantifies for me the dollar value or the liability you represent. I know exactly where I would have to cut if revenues go south. Your employment is contingent on those numbers remaining above a certain threshold.

Despite your last five stellar performance reviews. ...

The truth is: you are dispensable. You are overhead. You are the lowest of priorities in raise discussions and the highest of priorities in any cost-cutting program after a corporate-wide reduction in office supply expenditures.

If times are bad, I may need to reduce expenses some more. If times are great, I’m certain there is additional profit I can pull out of somewhere — most likely by laying you or one of your co-workers off, which will at least temporarily improve throughout — employees tend to “up” their game after a shake-up.

My yearly strategic planning sessions with my managers do not tackle questions like “How can I hire more people next year and give everyone a raise?” In good times or bad, they focus on “How can I do more with less?” and “How can I improve my profit margin?”

Employing more people is an unintended consequence, not a goal.

Over the past two years, there has been at least one meeting to explore whether there is an equivalent “you” in another country that can do your job for 60 to 80 percent less money. After all, I fired the programmer that started building the computer program the finance department uses every day. Why was I paying him $120 per hour when I could get programmers offshore for $25?

In that same timespan, my overpaid management team has surely evaluated and pitched me on some computer system that alleges to do in minutes what you do in a 40-hour work week.

So, quit calling me a “job creator.” I’m a service provider, a profit generator, and a cost eliminator. If I can do this without you or with someone cheaper than you, I will.

Tom Santos is a Santa Clarita resident.


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