An Unexpected Display of Class

I had a pair of situations recently with executives from two different companies that reminded me what a pleasure it is to work with A+ people.  I won’t single them out by name in order to not embarrass them, but they know who they are.  Both demonstrated what I call “an unexpected display of class” in completely unnecessary, but appreciated ways.

Case 1: This person was promoted from controller to VP Finance.  She had been with this company from their inception, is an incredibly hard and diligent worker, and is extremely capable.  Her reaction to a quick congratulation note regarding her promotion can be summarized as “thanks, but a title change wasn’t necessary – I’ve been here since the beginning – I’m extremely committed to the team and the investors – I’m excited about the future.”  I had to reread the email a couple of times, not because I was so surprised by her response (it was completely in character), but it stands out in stark contrast to the endless discussions I have had over the past 10 years about title inflation, desire for more “external recognition”, and general noise from execs about how important it is to have the right title to position themselves “properly.”

Case 2: I was at a board meeting recently and the CEO voluntary requested that he not be paid his 2004 bonus because it was the difference between the company being profitable for the year.  We had acrued for his bonus throughout the year and the company had outperformed at the EBITDA level (they were solidly EBITDA positive), but just barely missed being Net Income positive for the year.  This CEO had decided – prior to the board meeting – that it was more important to him to post a Net Income year for 2004 then to get paid his bonus.  After some discussion, we agreed to his request, but insisted that we have a separate mid-year bonus test for 1H05 performance that is independent of his 2005 bonus plan and that the board reserved the right to grant him a discretionary bonus mid-year.

In both cases, these execs acted in a humble and selfless way – clearly putting their company ahead of their own ego and financial interests.  Fortunately for me, this is not unique in my portfolio – as I’m really proud of the group of people that I have running the companies I’ve invested in.  However, these two examples both felt like great object lessons that were worth singling out.

I personally try to regularly have “unexpected displays of class.”  It’s obviously one of those things that is very hard to “self measure” – I hope I compare to the two folks above.