An incompetent, defensive, sociopath

May 30, 2007, 8:25 PM UTC

A reader from Portland writes:

I had the sad experience of working for a crazy boss, which ultimately ended my career with a great company.

The CFO that hired me at a midsize manufacturing firm, and for whom I successfully worked for 10 years, was ready to retire. The company does a big search and hires an outside guy who supposedly has scads of experience with finance and global manufacturing. After a giving the new guy a 3-month test drive in a senior VP role, the old CFO retires and the new guy takes his place as CFO.

First thing he does is remodel and enlarge the former CFO’s office. Shoulda been our first clue?

We were willing to give this new guy a chance, but he hit the deck with his mind already made up that he wanted to hand-pick his staff instead of working with the team he inherited. Me and other direct reports of the old CFO started to get treated pretty badly. I understand that in the animal kingdom, when a new lion takes over the pride, the first thing he does is kill all the cubs sired by his predecessor. Some behavior patterns don’t change much in the executive suite.

As he took up the reins, he was given a directive from the board to do a nationwide search and hire couple of world-class VPs. What does he do instead? He promotes a couple of short-term employees (both with less than 1 year of service to the company ) to the VP positions. Neither was qualified for their positions, and knew this in their hearts, so they immediately became intensely loyal to the new CFO and turned into his lapdogs. Meanwhile, the new CFO starts treating all the existing managers badly, telling them that they don’t know how to do their jobs, etc. etc. As the months went on it became apparent that this guy sold the company (and the recruiting firm they used) a bill of goods regarding his talents and experience. Directions he gave the accounting folks left them slack-jawed in amazement that a supposedly-experienced CFO would know so little about proper accounting practices. Whenever questioned, he verbally abused the transgressor, sometimes to the point that people would leave the office in tears. He also made a habit every chance he could get of trash-talking his predecessor, who was really well-liked and respected throughout the company.

Another curious pattern also started to develop. The unqualified people he promoted from within, and also some new (and unqualified hires) were all Mormon, just like the CFO. I’m sorry, but when does a public company become a make-work outreach mission for low-talent church members? I guess he was the most comfortable managing incompetent direct reports that belong to the same religion.

Eventually we figured this guy out. We determined that he knew he wasn’t qualified to be a CFO and having direct reports that actually had some talent was very threatening to him. So there you have it: an incompetent, defensive, sociopath? a triple threat!

As the months went by he and his lackey VPs tried everything they could think of to provoke me. I refused to rise up to the bait. But when I saw he was arranging things to put me into an impossible situation where he could fire me, I left the company.

But occasionally the universe does take action to rectify colossal mistakes. After about a year of this nonsense, the company missed an earnings projection badly? like coming in at about 20% of what was predicted only 2 months before. The new CFO was given his walking papers a few weeks after that. And a couple months later, one of the unqualified VPs who had now lost his protector was unceremoniously canned after spending a year alienating the entire executive team. Cosmic justice is good to see, even from the vantage point of my next job.

It will take a long time for the company to recover from this clown’s treatment of employees and his appalling decisions about who to promote. The damage and loss of talent he caused were significant. It is truly amazing to see how a crazy boss creates this dark cone of dread, despair and lost productivity beneath him in the company org chart.

What do you think? Is this boss crazy?