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Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at www.aycinena.com. She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

Happy Talk: CEOs, Celebrity, Seasoning

 
December 14th, 2017 by Peggy Aycinena


It’s an honor and a pain to interview a CEO
, particularly the CEO of a publicly traded company.

An honor, because the CEO’s organization has decided your track record as a journalist warrants a few minutes of time with the company’s leadership. A pain, because the more highly paid the CEO, the larger the organization, the bigger the market cap, the less unvarnished the truth you’ll hear during the interview.

It’s guaranteed, while interviewing a high-flying CEO, that you’ll hear that everything is great with the company. The customers love the company’s products, can’t live without them, and assist and insist on helping the company produce its next release.

It’s also guaranteed, while interviewing a CEO, that you won’t hear about internecine struggles between various factions on the Board of Directors, about scandals in the ranks involving the VP of Finance who’s married but has gotten involved with an Executive Admin in HR, about the sudden departure of one of the company’s principal Development Engineers because he was pissed that a recent acquisition brought inferior technology and, even worse, inferior engineers on board.

And you’re certainly not going to hear that the CEO himself is sick of the company, the battles, the incredible stress, the patent suits, and just wants to quit, go home and remodel the kitchen.

In other words, when you’re interviewing a CEO, all you’re going to hear is Happy Talk.

Everything’s up and to the right, company employees think and work seamlessly as a tireless team, the customers simply cannot survive without the products the CEO’s team provides – at an incredibly reasonable price-performance point – and there is no exit strategy because the company’s so busy and the technology so fabulous, that no one has had the time or inclination to even think about an IPO or a fortuitous buy-out.

Unless it’s a publicly traded company, of course, in which case the CEO’s certainly not going to discuss any pending acquisitions or possible take-overs of the company, hostile or otherwise. After all, everything’s perfect so why would acquisitions or take-overs be required?

In other words, when you’re interviewing a CEO, all you’re going to hear is Happy Talk.

So, given all of this – why bother to interview any CEO? Why take the time to set it all up when you know the interview’s only going to produce chirpy soundbites and a relentless deluge of Happy Talk?

Well, for one, if you interview a powerful CEO, it proves that you, as a journalist, have cuello. It proves that you’re in there, a real player, a thought leader.

The second reason to interview a powerful CEO is so you can mention it at your next dinner party – or more importantly, can let it drop in the Press Room when greeting fellow journalists.

Those of you who hang out in Press Rooms know this schtick well. You greet a Press colleague and within seconds they drop into the conversation something like – “Yeah, just last week I interviewed Steve X.” – where Steve X is a well-known celebrity CEO that no one else in the room has ever gotten to interview. Your colleague in the Press room is that important.

Third, and most poignantly, the best reason to interview a powerful CEO is because the average journalist earns annually approximately 0.01% of what the average CEO (worth interviewing) earns in that same time frame – and that doesn’t even take into account the CEO exercising his stock options.

Journalist don’t usually hang with the type of person, the type of celebrity CEO, who has two or three ginormous homes, all of which have splendid kitchens, high-end in-home entertainment systems, and wine cellars stocked with several thousand bottles of sought-after vintages.

Not to mention access to stunning views, large expanses of lawn, membership in one or two highly exclusive Country Clubs, regularly flies first class, if not in a private jet, gets invited to Davos or Google Camp, and retreats to the Bohemian Club to graze among his own kind.

For a garden-variety journalist, interviewing a powerful CEO is the only way the average hack is ever going to get face-time with the real movers and shakers of this world.

In fact, given the economic disparity between the CEO and the journalist, it’s actually a weird form of self-inflicting for a journalist to interview a celebrity CEO.

During the interview, the journalist purports to have great interest in whatever the CEO thinks, but the CEO needn’t bother to return the favor. And if he does return the favor, it makes the CEO look patronizing or, worse yet, it makes him look weak.

After all, the Business Titan, the Captain of Industry, the Thought Leader, the Visionary should not have the time or interest to follow the ordinary lives, let alone the ordinary opinions, of the not-titan/captain/leader/visionaries of the world.

So yeah, that’s how it works. It all boils down to pecking order.

The CEO needs to spend each waking moment proving their primacy over their subordinates, their fellow CEOs, and their competition. The journalist needs to spend every waking moment proving their primacy over their colleagues in the Press Room, their editors, and their readers.

It’s all about pecking order. The motivation is similar, even though the ROI for the CEO versus the journalist may be markedly different.

Oh yeah. There’s a fourth reason why it’s a good idea to interview powerful CEOs, and this motivation actually outweighs all of the other reasons: It’s a helluva lotta fun.

Talking to these guys is a blast, if you have any curiosity at all. You ask, they answer, you ask, they answer. Of course, nowhere in there is there any news, but there is nuance, hubris, reluctance, ego, wistfulness, bravado, technical expertise, and sometimes a flash of humor and humanity.

After all – CEOs, like the rest of the world, put their pants on one leg at a time, brush and floss at night (hopefully), have trouble with their teen-aged kids, and are in an endless struggle to hold onto the reigns of power because the Board of Directors is always breathing down their neck.

You think it’s fun to be CEO? Well, think again. Because it’s actually a helluva lot more fun to be a journalist.

And that, my friends, is not just Happy Talk.


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Bio …

Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist who’s had the pleasure of writing for EDACafe.com for a long time. In 2017 alone, she’s had the opportunity to interview upwards of 30 CEOs, and has thoroughly enjoyed each and every conversation.

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