Playing It Straight

You might have surmised that I generally don't have much fondness for people who play games.

I'll never forget the CEO of a major company who told me to my face, "I don't come on your show because, damn it, I detest your show and your network."

I was jarred. But I was impressed he said it to my face. He didn't rely on "people" to hint it, behind my back.

I doubly admire those who take the heat. One of the best at that was Lee Iacocca (search).

I could be wrong, but I don't think that guy ever dodged a tough interview, or a tough interviewer. As he told me one time after a somewhat heated exchange, "If I don't set the agenda, someone else will."

I remember at Chrysler (search) annual meetings, he was big on making sure unruly investors were heard... including corporate gadflies like Evelyn Y. Davis, who at the very least, made such gatherings entertaining.

I think the best CEOs — or politicians — are those tested on the stump, at the stump.

When Iacocca was dealing with quality issues in Chrysler's vaunted "K" car line, he freely admitted the company had a long way to go to closing the quality gap with the Japanese. But he promised he would. And he did.

No question was off-bounds. No issue off the table. Even old ones, like his career implosion at Ford. I'd mention it and he'd make mince meat of it.

He was one of the few CEOs I ever recall who set no ground rules in interviews. Which made for some incredible interviews.

He was that comfortable in his facts and even more so, in his skin. No wonder Democrats turned to him in 1984 to see if he'd be interested in running for president. He wasn't.

"I don't think I'd be a good politician," he once told me.

He was right.

Not because he wasn't honest and direct, but precisely because he was.

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