CEO hagiography has a long and well-established tradition in our time. Despite the–sometimes really well-written–mountains of evidence to suggest that they do little to deserve the size of their pay packets–which grow ever more obscene and disconnected from reality, and despite a nagging feeling that especially in the world of modern finance, a CEO’s success is very often either rigged or a fluke or both, very little real diminishment of their halos has actually taken place. This is isn’t entirely unsurprising; part of the beauty of the CEO myth is that while the CEO remains Perennial Uberman, towering over our puny selves, able to catch glimpses of distant lands that he will navigate us to while we scratch around in his shadows, we are reassured that we might too, someday, scale those very heights (and look down, contemptuously of course, at those we left in our wake).
The creation of this myth is central to the maintenance of our current economic system, and the figure of the CEO has a large role to play in it. And given that much of the myth-making media machinery is controlled–in monopolistic fashion–by those CEOs themselves, the maintenance, embellishment, and active sustenance of this story-telling is not too difficult, and indeed, is pursued enthusiastically–unfortunately, it must be pointed out, with active co-operation from those most hurt by it.
It should not be forgotten too, that the cult of the CEO taps into an almost irresistible fallacy: that of the lone author, creator, or agent. This fallacy is central to the maintenance of most nonsense written about ‘intellectual property’ today, and as the legions of shrieking ‘unpaid artists’ who clog up blog comments spaces demonstrate, its hold is also hard to shake. Dispelling this fallacy is going to be even harder than denting the armor of the CEO; this one is more personal, more important to the maintenance of a particular self-image, more central to our notion of ourselves as independent, freely-acting agents, able to single-handledly influence our fates and fortunes.
As I’ve noted before, Nietzsche has a line for everything. (The way I’m quoting him, it might appear they are all in one text.) Anyway, without further ado, from Human, All Too Human, Chapter 8 “A Glance At The State”, Section 449:
The apparent weather-makers of politics. – Just as the people secretly assume that he who understands the weather and can forecast it a day ahead actually makes the weather, so with a display of superstitious faith, even the learned and cultivated attribute to great statesmen all the important changes and turns of events that take place during their term of office as being their own work, provided it is apparent that they knew something about them before others did and calculated accordingly- thus they to are taken for weather-makers – and this faith is not the least effective instrument of their power.
PS: I have linked above to Gideon Haigh’s Fat Cats: The Cult of the CEO, quite possibly the best takedown of CEO mythology out there. You will laugh, you will cry; sometimes you’ll do both. Go read it.