I have used the term “70s school of management” in prior posts and vowed to define it.  As you probably gathered from my use of this term, I use it to describe those unrealistic bosses  who have never had a leadership course and who may, at their very worst,  lower themselves to screaming and yelling at employees and at their “best”, force their unrealistic expectations on employees in order to achieve the results they desire. 

Obviously, screaming at employees makes for an unpleasant environment, but in either case, unrealistic expectations followed up with the threat of firing, can result in much more negative impact on the organization. 

Following are some excerpts from an October issue of businessweek online I would like to use to exemplify one of the worst “70s school managers” Al Dunlop. All of the following are excerpts from an October issue of businessweek online.

Sunbeam investors knew that Dunlap’s arrival meant that tough medicine would soon be administered. And at precisely 9 a.m. on Monday, July 22, 1996, when Dunlap marched into the penthouse boardroom at Sunbeam headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, the anxious group of executives gathered around the table knew it, too. Dunlap wasted no time on introductions. Like George C. Scott in the movie Patton, he began by delivering a spellbinding, if sometimes disjointed, monologue on himself and the company.

”You guys are responsible for the demise of Sunbeam!” Dunlap roared, tossing his glasses onto the table. ”I’m here to tell you that things have changed. The old Sunbeam is over today. It’s over!”

Dunlap, the men later observed, looked exactly as he did in the photographs that accompanied the fawning magazine stories many had read over the weekend. He wore his pinstripes like a military uniform, meticulously pressed, without a single wrinkle or stray thread, and perfectly fitted to his stocky frame. A white handkerchief peeked out of the breast pocket of his dark blue suit. On his left hand, he sported a chunky West Point class ring above his wedding band.

”The old Sunbeam is over,” Dunlap thundered again and again. His chest was puffed out and his face flushed. The men stared in silence at this performance. Some said later that they almost expected Dunlap, like Patton, to slap someone out of frustration.

”This is the best day of your life if you’re good at what you do and willing to accept change,” Dunlap continued. ”And it’s the worst day of your life if you’re not.”

Once his monologue was through, Dunlap tossed off questions and comments like so many hand grenades. After noting that Sunbeam had missed five consecutive quarters of profit and revenue estimates, he turned to Paul O’Hara, the company’s chief financial officer, who would soon be replaced by Kersh. ”And you delivered these numbers,” Dunlap shouted. ”How could you in good conscience have done that? How could you have supported these forecasts?” O’Hara did not dare to attempt a response.

The men gathered around the conference table were stunned by Dunlap’s attack. ”It was like a dog barking at you for hours,” recalled Richard L. Boynton, president of the household-products division. ”He just yelled, ranted, and raved. He was condescending, belligerent, and disrespectful.”

This was his first meeting with this group of high-ranking executives and it could be argued that this was “staged” and that Mr. Dunlap needed to establish his credibility and uphold his reputation as a “turnaround artist”, but take a look at this proposed restructuring plan that “called for the elimination of half of the company’s 6,000 employees and 87% of its products. According to Sunbeam managers, it also resulted in near-total chaos.”

Continued operations of the company proved to be as intimidating to staff as that first meeting as described below: 

“In Dunlap’s presence, knees trembled and stomachs churned. Underlings feared the torrential harangue that Dunlap could unleash at any moment. At his worst, he became viciously profane, even violent. Executives said he would throw papers or furniture, bang his hands on his desk, and shout so ferociously that a manager’s hair would be blown back by the stream of air that rushed from Dunlap’s mouth. ”Hair spray day” became a code phrase among execs, signifying a potential tantrum.

Many of his executives believed that Dunlap didn’t care about the details of the business. ”In a meeting with Al, you are not there to tell him anything,” said William Kirkpatrick, an operating manager who worked with Dunlap at both Scott and Sunbeam. ”You are there to listen. If you didn’t hit your numbers, he would tear all over you.”

Sunbeam managers had more than just their jobs at stake. Dunlap had handed out huge stock option grants soon after arriving. The top 250 to 300 executives and managers at Sunbeam received option grants that were typically twice the size of what they might get at other companies. All were aware of what such grants had meant for managers at Scott, many of whom walked away with millions. But the Sunbeam options vested over a three-year period. For many, getting fired could mean losing out on more than $1 million in gains. Some Sunbeam managers believe that Dunlap’s generosity had a perverse impact. The outsize rewards made it easier for employees to do things they might otherwise refuse to do.

”I have thousands of resumes from people who would work here for free,” Dunlap would scream, inches from his victim. ”You are being paid to work here, and you can become rich because I’ve given you all these options. And you’re letting me down. I’m working hard for you on the Street, and you’re letting me down.””

With a leader treating you like this and running a company “bare bones” to get results, is there any question why Sunbeam failed?

Well, that is my definition of 70s school of management illustrated.  I hope you never have to work for someone like that in your career. Remember, you can only jump so high no matter what your boss yells at you :).

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