Active Company Culture vs. CEO Presence: What’s More Valuable?

In Sunday’s New York Times, an article by Julie Creswell honed in on a CEO who ruled his business from afar. Sure, everyone has those days when our shoulders relax because we know the boss will be out of the office for a day or two, but is it a good thing for business and company culture when the boss is infrequently around?

The focus of the article was well-known mattress company, Simmons Bedding and the ethics of its former CEO, Charlie Eitel. Eitel, who reportedly rarely made a trip to the headquarter office in Atlanta, GA, was paid millions of dollars to run Simmons for several private equity investment companies, first Fenway then Thomas H. Lee Partners. During his leadership reign, he had some unique approaches to shake up the workplace culture. For example:

  • New employees at the headquarters of the Simmons Bedding Company got a little book containing 84 sayings of their boss, Charlie Eitel. Saying No. 1: ’In order to create a viable vision you must answer one very fundamental question, “What do you really want?”’
  • Eitel once had the company hire an artist to paint a mural representing the river of life for a strategy meeting at a resort. And as one human resources executive notes, “Everybody put their boat on the river, and it represented that you were floating down the river of your dreams.”

Charlie Eitel But despite Eitel’s efforts to wake up the culture within Simmons, it appears that his faraway approach to managing the company may not be looked upon so kindly now given that the company is filing for bankruptcy. Especially considering that before stepping down last fall, he earned more than $40 million in compensation, bonuses and perks.

One key take away from this article is that, if you are interviewing with a company, take the time to do your research on all aspects of a company so that you can determine if the career growth opportunities, leadership involvement and workplace environment will be a good fit for you. Career expert John Sumser offers up some practical questions to ask a potential future employer during an interview, as well as some advice to consider when looking at the tenure of employees:

(Note he points out in ‘How to Interview a Company: Part 2’ that you should thoroughly check out your new boss.)

Categories In the News, Watercooler