The financial crunch is taking its toll on the CEO population. The body count among corporate mandarins will likely top 1,500 this year.
Oddly Hollywood, though famously neurotic, emerges as a sea of stability. Insiders say Peter Chernin, for example, is about to sign another five-year deal atop News Corp. And 66-year-old Sir Howard Stringer, I’m told, has quietly signed on to another three years at giant Sony Corp., thus refuting rumors of an imminent retirement.
The Stringer decision is especially intriguing. The naysayers were adamant a decade ago when he was first appointed president of Sony Corp. Cross-cultural management doesn’t work, they advised. A Japan-based multinational like Sony must continue to be managed by the Japanese, not by a Yank-Brit-Welshman who came out of the news business.
But a decade later, Stringer has reupped at Sony, and when I saw him the other day, he seemed downright serene about it. Sony’s stock has been pummeled along with that of every other conglom, so its price ($23.90 a share as of Oct. 8) no longer reflects Stringer’s decade-long list of achievements. But Stringer has survived traumas like this before — indeed, his mordant sense of humor helps sustain him and those around him.
Stringer has always been one to defy expectations. Remember, he volunteered for Vietnam as a young man even before he became a U.S. citizen. These days, his style is as much ambassadorial as it is corporate. He is in almost continual motion, circling the globe in his G-5 as he visits Sony’s various constituencies. And he admits that there are times when he’s uncertain about his time zone or sphere of activity.
But with all the change and turbulence, the Stringer style has built a sense of continuity in his various fiefdoms. At Sony Entertainment, for example, Amy Pascal is entering her 20th year — a remarkable reign. Michael Lynton is in his fourth year as chairman and CEO.
Though wary by nature, Pascal and Lynton have placed some big bets on projects — witness their macho deal on Roland Emmerich’s $150 million tentpole, “2012,” which is now wrapping — but, according to Stringer, they have not had a single losing film this year (Will Smith’s “Hancock” was the biggest winner).
Stringer clearly relishes his Hollywood visitations. He is a master at the star schmooze, and brings his certain flair to the proceedings at AFI. He also understands how to engineer buzz in Hollywood. Several years ago he deliberately planted rumors that Sony would exit the TV business entirely, when it was actually his intention simply to re-engineer Sony’s dealmaking presence. Stringer wanted to stay in the mix, but with a different strategy.
But if he occasionally likes to stir up trouble, Stringer also encourages a continuum. And amid the present chaotic environment, his steady hand is welcomed across the Sony global monolith.
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Vexed @ email
In the beginning, emails were supposed to be great timesavers, and in Hollywood, a town of mediocre communicators, emails were going to facilitate an improved give-and-take.
OK, let’s all admit it: Email has now become the root of all evil.
Consider the issues: For one thing, most people in a position of responsibility receive such a blizzard of emails that they don’t read them anyway. Important (or self-important) individuals possess such a maze of email addresses that they forget which ones they should check.
Gossip blogs made a big deal over how Scarlett Johansson got Barack Obama’s private email address, until it was learned she just had access to his assistant’s.
Most email addresses are, in fact, incorrect, and most emails go unread, but that has not discouraged an entire generation of assistants, agents and salesmen from relying on them. Young talent agents who should get in the face of producers and casting people instead take the lazy way out — they make their pitches via email. These elicit zero response, but that doesn’t stop them.
Advertising salesmen who should be making dozens of phone calls a day instead dispatch scores of emails. Their bosses go crazy because they know they have no impact.
The trouble is, it all seems too easy. If you want to email one party, it’s tempting to copy ten or fifteen others (or even a hundred others) even though no one will read the damn thing.
And email addicts stupidly ignore the fact that emails never go away. How many secret romances, or dumb threats, have been discovered on hard drives by HR detectives, resulting in quick commands to “empty your desk and clear the premises.”
The advent of the email has resulted in more missed meetings and botched lunch appointments because assistants confirm via email — and don’t get a reply.
So many channels of communication exist today, yet people are communicating more ineptly than ever. People have Facebook addresses, MySpace addresses, email addresses, texting addresses, Bluetooth addresses — but, in the end, these are all distractions from that greatest of all forms of interaction: face time.
A face in the office, even a voice on the phone — there’s no other way to make a deal or sell an ad or stir excitement for an actor.
But tell that to a 25-year-old agent or sales rep and you get a look that can kill.