The Blame Game

by Don Hartness

TO: Employee Grievances Committee Chairman for ACME Corp.

FROM: Special Prosecutor on behalf of Employee Rights

RE: Results from Investigation

Dear Sir,

As I promised you in this morning’s conference call, I have results from my investigation concerning the culprits behind this year’s massive lay-offs at the ACME Corp. This memo, delivered by the men now standing before you, will describe the results, as well as explain why I had these men deliver this memo to you personally.

I first want you to know that I took this assignment very seriously. I was outraged to learn the number of employees given pink-slips after years of hard work and dedication. Therefore, when you gave me the assignment to find those responsible for this travesty, I gave due diligence to my task, determined to bring the culprits to justice.

My first step was to convene a meeting of all department heads and regional managers, since these were the men and women who were responsible for directly handing out lay-offs to various employees. I demanded accountability over the destruction of so many lives. What follows is their account.

As you well know, every corporation must be profitable in order to succeed, and the key to profitability is innovation.  ACME has a long standing tradition of innovation and profitability, most noticeably through inventions such as the widget (a consumer darling), and the wadget (which redefined the industry as a whole).

The problem began when ACME’s owners unrealistically expected this kind of success every year, which was reflected in quarterly profit projections.  Although ACME remained profitable, subsequent innovations failed to achieve the same level of success as previous inventions. As the R&D manager pointed out, “hitting a home run every year is impossible”, especially in a hypercompetitive market, where innovation is quickly copied by competitors.

In desperation, management turned to the marketing department and their ability for increasing sales. In the past, marketers simply used slogans and promotional material to highlight the advantages of ACME products over competitor’s products. Now, those products contained no discernible advantage over the competition. Therefore, marketing began to slightly exaggerate the benefits of ACME’s products over competitors.

Although this worked at first, the exaggerations grew over time, even approaching outright lies.  As you may recall, the end of this strategy came with last year’s lawsuit implicating one of our widget’s in that horrible medical malpractice suit…

(At one point, somebody suggested using accounting tricks to meet profit expectations, but recent media attention on these kinds of scandals nixed the idea.)

So, with no ground-breaking innovations or fancy marketing available to increase market-share, departments began turning to cost-cutting moves, in an effort to reduce budgets while still maintaining profitability goals. Although department managers now acknowledge that the combination of outsourcing, compensation-slashing, and employee lay-offs only exacerbated the problem (one manager called it a “company-wide brain-drain”), they were are also quick to point out that profit expectations left them with little choice.

I left the meeting seething with rage. I began to see the culprit behind all of this: the CEO. I immediately demanded an appointment, which he quickly agreed too, since he knew I possessed prosecutorial discretion. I saw a speedy conclusion to this investigation, now that I knew who was responsible. My hopes, however, were quickly dashed. In the course of the meeting, the CEO pointed out that he, too, had a “boss” (or, more accurately, “bosses”): the investors.

His superiors had only one criteria for success: profit.  His superiors would settle for nothing less than demonstrated profit, each and every fiscal quarter. Any failure to achieve quarterly profit must be met with reassurance that the next quarter would see an even greater return on their investment. “Tomorrow” was no concern; hence, long-term plans for growth and sustainability were often in direct contrast with the demand for short-term profits. Failure to meet today’s financial expectations either resulted in a rapid loss of capital (as investors withdrew their money) or, as is more often the case, immediate dismissal. Maximized shareholder value, therefore, was the only consideration.

Although I found this interview discouraging, I now had my target in sight: the investors! All I had to do was compile a list of these fat-cat investors, discover their whereabouts (probably on some exotic yacht or island somewhere), arrest them, and bring them to justice!

However, when I went to the ledger, I did not find a list of names. Instead, I found a list of companies, hedge, and investment funds.  Each of these groups, in turn, had a diverse list of companies and funds, comprised of retirees and 401Ks. I was dismayed to learn that the potential list of criminals responsible for so much employee misery numbered well into the thousands.  I simply saw no way to bring all of the culprits to justice.

I know that you are a man that demands results. Although arresting everybody may well be impossible, I knew I had to start somewhere, if for no other reason than to make an example. With this realization, I noticed that one of the investors on the ledger was actually an ACME group: the “Employee Grievances Committee”.

You, sir, are the chairman of that group.

Therefore, I regret to inform you that, as a result of my investigation, you are under arrest.

As for the men that delivered this memo to you, they will now take you into custody.


The Special Prosecutor