John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


The C-Suite and the Ivory Tower

Posted on June 23, 2014
Gold Bars.jpg
How beautiful are your feet in sandals,

O noble daughter!
 Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand.

Your navel is a rounded bowl
that never lacks mixed wine.
Your belly is a heap of wheat,
 encircled with lilies.

Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle.

Your neck is like an ivory tower.
 Your eyes are pools in Heshbon,
by the gate of Bath-rabbim.
Your nose is like a tower of Lebanon, which looks toward Damascus.

Your head crowns you like Carmel,
and your flowing locks are like purple;
 a king is held captive in the tresses.”

That’s from the Song of Solomon, where the phrase “Ivory Tower”, first was written.   "Your neck is like an ivory tower."

Of course, the phrase has picked up a different meaning as of late.

The Ivory Tower usually refers to academia, where an out-of-touch elite debates impractical ideas and concepts that have no real relevance to the real world.

America’s corporate elite increasingly live in an Ivory Tower.

They are segregated at an early age, put into accelerated reading, writing and arithmetic programs that put distance from their classmates. They go to only the finest high schools and then college, they then move to the so-called “Super Zip Codes” where they rarely interact with the Hoi Polloi. They network only among themselves as they sip the finest Chardonay and eat cheese from Whole Foods.

And then, as they make decisions in the C-Suite, they rarely think about the implications on their employees.  For them, it is never about the people.  It is all about the bottom line.

People in the rest of America resent this new Ivory Tower.

They blame the rich for the financial crash of 2008.  They blame them for the bank bailout.  They think the nation’s elite is spending America’s money like it is going out of style and that this extravagance will bankrupt the country.

They blame the elite for their stagnant wages and for the lack of job creation.

It’s not just the elite as a group they resent.  They also resent policies pushed by the elite.  They are opposed to free trade and their resentment is becoming palpable.  They see immigrants as an economic threat, not an economic opportunity.

The Tea Party and the dearly departed Occupy Wall Street crowd don’t necessarily agree on the cure, but they definitely agree on the disease.

It’s crony capitalism, elitism, the rich getting richer while the poor and middle class get the shaft.

This is a C-Suite problem and only C-Suite can fix it.

They can fix it by coming up with internal reforms to tie executive compensation to the compensation of the average worker.  If the average worker gets a raise, then it is fine for CEO to get a bump.  But how can a CEO justify a huge bonus if he cuts the workforce in half and then slashes their wages?

Immigration reform can only happen if there is a provision in the law that all qualified Americans who want a job can get one first.  I think Senator Sessions makes a powerful argument when he says that corporate America, especially Silicon Valley, hires immigrants here on H1-B visas rather than qualified Americans because they want to pay them less.

There’s a difference between importing workers so you can pay them less and importing workers because you need their talent.  If it is true that corporate America wants immigration reform so that it can undercut the wages of American workers, well, then, that dog just won’t hunt.

On tax policy, it does no good for the elites to talk about tax reform or tax cuts as long as half the country pays nothing in federal income taxes.  And that’s where we are now.   So, folks on C-Suite probably need to think of better ways to reframe their arguments.  The regulatory burden might be a better approach because the American people despise regulatory overreach.

The C-suite needs to get out of its Ivory Tower and start engaging with the American people.  They need to stop sipping their Dom Perignon  and start explaining what they are doing for the people and why there are doing it.  They also need to stop thinking only about the best ways to pad the incomes of the executive class and start thinking of ways to expand the wages of the working class.

The American people think they are getting ripped off by the C-Suite crowd.  The C-Suite crowd had better start thinking about how they are going to change that perception.  If they don’t, Congress will be lost to them, no matter how many campaign contributions they give.