December 12, 2019

The Vice President

My first job out of college was at a seed company in Central Iowa (Garst Seed Company). I had a poster hung on the interior of my cubicle. The poster outlined income levels ... if I remember correctly the average (or median, I don't recall) salary in the United States in the mid 80s was something like $30,000. My salary wasn't at that level. So I'd stare at that graph, wondering how in the world I'd ever earn a credible salary when my income grew by 4% per year. It would take me thirty years before I'd get close to $100,000 a year, based on my calculations. I figured I'd be dead by then.

When I got to Lands' End, a co-worker told me that I should read the 10-K and specifically the DEF14 statements the company put out, because those statements publicly communicated the salaries and bonuses of the top five employees at Lands' End. Those documents made something clear to me ... you could make a pretty darn good living as a Vice President at a retail brand.

So that became a goal ... I wanted to be a Vice President.

From learning what a 10-K and DEF14 statement were to becoming a Vice President took nine years ... Analyst to Manager to Director to VP.

Along the way you see every possible flavor of Vice President. There are gifted rocket ships destined to run companies in the future ... they're just passing through on their way to a better place. There's the overmatched family member who gets put into an important Leadership position and promptly "breaks things". You'll run across the 62 year old who is just (as precisely one of these individuals once told me) trying to keep the wheels on the bus until he can retire. Everybody's worked for or with the Bureaucrat ... a person who seems to have one precise skill ... getting things done by triangulating complex issues across warring factions.

There are the "power hungry" ... Leaders who crave power and once they get it they dispense a particularly unpleasant array of behaviors requiring HR intervention.

I polled my Twitter followers what their opinion of a Vice President at a Retail brand is ... polished professional or three dismissive choices. Only 38% viewed a Vice President at a Retail brand as a polished professional.

28% thought of the title favorably. About 1 in 4. Think about that for a moment.

I spoke at an industry conference several years ago ... a Vendor Vice President (hint - Abacus) went off on a tirade about how stupid Vice Presidents at catalog brands were. So you'll also get to enjoy VP on VP violence in this industry. As a consultant, I've found Vendor Leaders to be particularly dismissive of the very people who decide whether to pay the Vendor or not.

Heck, you could argue that I'm no better ... I spent the better part of a decade writing Gliebers Dresses stories for this blog. There aren't a lot of glowing platitudes for Roger Morgan, are there?

So it's easy to bash the Vice President. They get paid a healthy amount of cheddar and most readers aren't paid as much so they are in line for criticisms that may or may not be warranted.

But if you find a Leader who has ethics, who wants to do the right thing, who brings new ideas to the table, who cares about staff development ... why wouldn't you support this person? Just because you run across a litany of people you don't think highly of doesn't mean you should bring your condescending attitude to those who are truly trying to do good work.


Maybe it's time to recognize that there are fabulous people working hard to grow businesses and grow people. Don't let the imbeciles taint the good work done by many other professionals. According to my followers, 28% of the leaders are good ... help them do good and who knows what might happen in your career?

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