High profile resignations and terminations of CEOs continue to rock the business world. In this Tough Things First podcast, Ray Zinn talks about CEO misconduct and seeking higher personal standards as a chief executive.
Rob Artigo: I’m back. Rob Artigo here. Your guest host for another Tough Things First Podcast with are always thoughtful author and successful entrepreneur, the man who coined the term, “do the Tough Things First,” Ray Zinn. Hi, Ray.
Ray Zinn: Hello Rob. So glad to be with you today.
Rob Artigo: Our topic today is one of those things which I’m sure Tough Things First, the book, covers many times and that’s just about character and leading a company to the best of your ability with the highest ethical standards that one can produce. These are tough headlines here that have come up in recent months, in recent weeks.
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, he’s resigned after an alleged relationship with an employee. Intel cited company standards, which include a prohibition on fraternization. Ron Black has been fired from his position over at Rambis as CEO. That tech licensing company said the CEO was fired, effective immediately, over behavior, the company said, “Fell short of company standards.” And just recently we hear about Texas Instruments CEO Brian Crutcher resigning because of personal behavior that violated the company’s code of conduct.
Now obviously, we’re talking here and these men aren’t here to give their sides of the story or defend themselves in any way. So without talking about each one of those cases individually, let’s examine the set of circumstances, the situations that CEOs find themselves in nowadays and go from there. How’s that sound, Ray?
Ray Zinn: Let’s do it.
Rob Artigo: So you ran Micrel for nearly four decades. You are a CEO in Silicon Valley. We have talked many times on this podcast about what kinds of standards you have to have as a CEO to be effective. Let’s just start there a little bit. Jumping off point is, what is a realistic standard for a modern technology CEO?
Ray Zinn: Okay. So let’s first of all talk about why we have these headlines. In other words, what precipitates these guys focusing on, the media focusing on these individuals? Anytime you’re in a prominent position, and certainly a CEO is prominent, you’re going to get higher scrutiny. In other words, you’re going to be looked at a little more closely. I doubt seriously there’s anybody listening to this podcast that hasn’t had some problem or difficulty in their life, and they’re just glad that there’s no spotlight put on them. It’s not a matter of what they did. It’s is how they rectified it or how they got themselves into this situation to begin with.
As a CEO of Micrel for 37 years and as a manager of departments for probably another 20 years beyond that, you have to have a set of standards that you set up in advance. For example, when I just got married and it was when I was 23 at the time, I made a commitment to my wife that I would never be alone with another woman. And I’ve been criticized for that because they say, “Well, how can you have a one-on-one conversation with a woman and not be alone? Of course, we have to define what does it mean to be alone?
What I mean by that is that there’s no one else around. In other words, if I did have a meeting with a female employee, I would make sure that there was somebody there close by at the door, around the door, near there during this time, having this meeting. So the whole concept of not being alone with another woman or female was an important one for me when I decided back when I was 23 years old.
And I’ve never violated that standard. So that’s, those are the kinds of things you have to commit to when you decide to be at least a high profile manager or leader. And it’s not just that. There’s a number of them. We had a policy at Micrel of honesty and integrity, dignity of all individuals, and doing whatever it takes. Those are the four cultures. And I had to set the example and live with those cultures.
So when I talk about dignity of every individual, again, I don’t know those situations between those other companies that we just talked about, but I do know that using condescending or vulgar language is not within the purview or what a good leader should have. So anyway, those are some of my thoughts, Rob.
Rob Artigo: And you mentioned those companies. And it’s recent that we’ve heard this, but I think there were several that were big high profile resignations last year. And that has been talked about. Do you think it’s the scrutiny that, going beyond the actions of the CEOs, but do you think it’s the scrutiny of the companies and their leadership now bringing this to the forefront? Has this always been happening like this and we just didn’t know about it?
Ray Zinn: Well, it’s certainly been happening. We may have even known about it. I mean, there’s been like Ted Kennedy and has situation with that woman. There’s been Bill Clinton and a number of others have had similar issues, not just recently. I mean, we’re talking about going back during the time of FDR and John Kennedy. All of them have had difficulties in one fashion or another. So this is not recent.
I was listening to the news the other night, and they were talking about a president Donald Trump. They said that Donald Trump is no, and they use this as a quote, “Donald Trump is no Mormon Provo boy,” which I thought was kind of interesting. Which kind of sets the standard, I guess, for the opposite of what Donald Trump has lived his life like.
So, you know, there are people who have very high standards with regard to morality and others have more loose standards. It seems to me that people at very high levels tend to think they’re above those standards or at least they don’t seem to care. So I think that’s precipitated a lot of the problems that we’re now seeing is that, whether they’re sports athletes, or politicians, or corporate executives, they tend to think that they’re above that, that people will overlook their shortcomings, which is totally wrong, of course.
Rob Artigo: Yeah, that’s exactly where I was going, was the question about the position of power can lead to various temptations because it’s an extraordinary position. It’s not the, I was in the military. It’s not the squad leader in the army position. It’s not the manager at Safeway. Although I guess to some degree, any position of leadership can lead to this, but if you’re Tiger Woods, if you’re the president of the United States, if you’re the the CEO of a major company, there’s money, there’s prestige, there’s admiration for you in that role, and it can be tempting.
I’m not excusing the behavior because I think what we’re doing in this podcast here is showing you are a CEO who faced those types of circumstances, or at least knew you were going to face them, so therefore you set certain standards for yourself and limitations so that there will be no lines that would be crossed or blurred because it protected you as a person, it protected your wife and your family. Somebody might say it’s an extreme thing to do, I’m going to have somebody stand outside the door while I’m having this private conversation with a female because it’s the commitment I made, but it does prevent there from being any accusations of wrongdoing, and it just seems like a prudent thing to do when you’re in one of these positions of power. Right?
Ray Zinn: Exactly. So again, we’re not trying to pass judgment on these people who have been recently called out for their behavior, but it is something that, as a CEO or a leader, that you need to be especially careful of because you can hurt your company’s image and reputation. And I think that having the proper moral character and the proper standards is going to not only enhance your company but also enhance your family relations and your personal relations. So again, I’m not here trying to preach like a reverend or something like that, but I do believe that we could use a little higher code of conduct in our leadership, both inside the country as well as our companies.
Rob Artigo: Yeah. It is a tough role to be in when you know that people do look up to you. And it doesn’t have to be a question of sexual misconduct. It could be just other kinds of moral conduct.
Ray Zinn: Well, you know, recently one of President Trump’s cabinet members is under scrutiny for using expensive hotel rooms and expensive condominiums or private airplanes for personal use. Then of course, the people say, “Hey man, we’re paying taxes. Why should we for your travel and for your room and lodge?” So there’s a lot of scrutiny on that. As you said, it’s not all sexual. It’s your use of foul language, it might be the way you treat a women on your staff or other employees that may be using perks that are not paid for by you personally, but are paid for by others.
I know executives personally that have had extremely expensive lifestyles that they charge the company with, to the tune of $900,000 a month, which is ridiculous. But they somehow or another, they’ve gotten away with it and they think because of who they are, they can do things that other people can’t do.
Rob Artigo: Let’s wrap it up with this. Are you disappointed in what’s happening here with … Obviously, it’s tough to see industries battle with these kinds of circumstances, but are you concerned about the frequency of it?
Ray Zinn: I’m concerned. I’m a realist. I know that human nature as it is, as it would be, is going to have these challenges. And so I think that we could use a little more higher dose of morality and respect and dignity for the way we treat others and the way that we treat ourselves, actually. So yes, I am disappointed, but again, we all make mistakes and it’s just our nature to make mistakes. But we should correct them, and we should correct them with dignity and with honor rather than try to hide or sweep under the carpet, these things. We should just come out, admit them, and then change and correct it.
Rob Artigo: Then the examples we gave, Intel, Rambis, and Texas Instruments, each one of the explanations as to why there was this departure, this ending of this relationship between the CEO and the companies dealt with the fact that they are violations of company codes of conduct, or prohibitions against fraternization, or other company standards. So bringing that out seems like a positive example. In other words, like you did at Micrel, they had some standards in place that people understood to be important and that eventually, unfortunately, ensnared those folks with the mistakes that they made. The companies had those policies there, right? I mean, that’s got to be a positive.
Ray Zinn: Well, I had let a number of people go over the years for not following company policy, whether it be their way they treated others, whether it be sexual in nature, any violation of the corporate culture and policy, they were dealt with and dealt with sincerely. What I’ve noticed over the years is that people try to hide or try to explain away their shortcomings. I think if those three men that we mentioned earlier were to be more upfront, they were to be more contrite rather than being caught, if they would just own up to it before being caught, that would have probably saved their jobs. So I think it’s more of the fact that they didn’t act very contrite as why they were let go.
Rob Artigo: Alright, Ray. Thank you again. Great conversation, I think it’s an important subject, and I doubt this will be the last time we talk about it here on the Tough Things First Podcast. So you can find out more at toughthingsfirst.com. Tough Things First is on Facebook and LinkedIn. Go there and get more information. Twitter is also available. Tough Things First, more information from Ray throughout the day, throughout the week to help you get by, answer some questions, or just to find food for thought. His new book, The Zen of Zen is out there, fresh in print, and you can pick that up at a bookstore or Amazon. Thanks again, Ray.
Ray Zinn: Thank you very much, Rob. Enjoyed being with you today.