Crazy Management

Dr. Ernest N. Prabhakar (
Tue, 15 Oct 96 18:08:11 -0700

Not to mention any names, but I found this fascinating:

>Outwardly, the signs are extreme glibness and self-confidence
>verging on grandiosity. Not always but usually, this gives way to
>bouts of inertness and inability to focus.

-- enp

This is not a humorous piece, but an interesting article that could
explain a lot of things. taken from the Wall Street Journal last
Tuesday (October 8th?).

It is a curious fact that behavior applauded in business is often
viewed suspiciously by the psychiatric profession. Adjectives like
"driven," "bold" and "decisive" are beloved of personnel recruiters
and headhunters. But to shrinks who specialize in the discontents of
corporate life, these traits are warning signs of a personality
destined to go off the rails.

There is no shortage of anecdotal evidence to connect towering
business achievement with towering personal idiosyncrasy. Consider the
recent exchange of barbs between media moguls Ted Turner and Rupert
Murdoch, in which Mr. Turner compared his rival to "the late
Fuehrer," and the Murdoch camp wisecracked about Mr. Turner "giving up
lithium." As thesequips backhandedly acknowledge, in all fabulous
striving there is bound to be a large neurotic element. Nor should it
be forgotten that their near-peer in mogulhood, Robert Maxwell, might
have chimed in if he hadn't drowned himself rather than face his

It may not take a fruitcake to attempt a business empire, but manywho
do are fruitcakes. Robert Campeau, despite a history of mental
instability and periods of babbling incoherence, was able to borrow
enough money to buy up and wreck much of the U.S. department store
industry. Another Canadian, Pierre Peladeau of giant Quebecor, has
acknowledged episodes of erratic judgment until he got his moods under
control with lithium. His revelations were featured in Canadian
Business magazine, whichargued that manic-depressive disorder is so
widespread in corporate life that it could be called "CEO's disease."

Or consider Bill Cook, Sacramento's hottest real estate developer
until he revved his empire over the edge. His marketing director later
described him this way: "He was very good about putting on another
face to the public. If we could dress him up in a suit and tie he
could go into meetings and function. But afterward, he'd lay on the
floor and cry, he wasso drained."

There should be no mistaking that this represents real suffering, but
it may not be so uncommon either. Jeffrey Speller, a Harvard-trained
MBA and psychiatrist, has a thriving practice in the Boston suburbs
treating what he calls the "bipolar IIs" who populate the corporate
and professional elite. He seriously estimates that "one in three"
senior management types exhibits this milder version of full-blown
manic-depressive disorder.

Agrees Len Sperry, who heads the organizational psychiatry division
at the Medical College of Wisconsin: "I see it everywhere." Dr. Sperry
watches the TV news and claims he can tell which anchors "aren't
taking their medication."

The symptom that so captivates personnel recruiters is "hypomania."
Outwardly, the signs are extreme glibness and self-confidence verging
on grandiosity. Not always but usually, this gives way to bouts of
inertness and inability to focus. "The e-mail piles up, calls don't
get returned, and the guy will disappear for hours without anybody
knowing where he is," says Dr. Speller. "Usually he's sitting in a
restaurant somewhere staring at the wall."

Often the condition turns up in adolescence, and may worsen
towardmidcareer. On Wall Street this is known politely as "burnout,"
but the incidence of people being quietly carted off for psychiatric
hospitalization is not negligible.

While not exactly typical, the case of a former managing director at
Bear Stearns, who left his job in July, was seen as symptomatic of an
industry of over-the-top personalities. His exit followed a Village
Voice investigation of a then-unnamed deal maker who brought home gay
men and held them prisoner for torture sessions -- all the while,
according to one of his alleged victims, musing "I don't know why I
have to do this."

Now the most interesting question: Many corporate maniacs later
attribute their brilliant careers to their mental illness, but are
they right? John Mulheren, before he was arrested driving toward Ivan
Boesky's house with a small arsenal in his trunk, built up his
arbitrage firm, JamieSecurities, with frenetic energy. Later he was
quoted saying his manic-depression was "the only reason I've been

And even those who put themselves under a doctor's care often choose
to go off their medication when facing an important deal or deadline,
believing their illness gives them a creative boost. It's noteworthy
that Ted Turner had been on lithium for more than a decade, eversince
almost spending his empire into the ground. Now he claims he was
misdiagnosed from the start, but it's also the case that he stopped
taking the drug while the epochal merger of Turner Broadcasting and
Time Warner was being hammered out.

One reason folks like Mr. Turner don't get in more trouble but also
don't get help sooner is that others collude in their craziness, and
not just from misguided sympathy. Mr. Campeau had his Bruce
Wasserstein, who earned monumental fees by putting together his junky
department store deal. Even well-meaning subordinates get caught up in
the ride, convinced that genius goes along with nuttiness. And the
CEO lifestyle gives colluders a lot of room to maneuver, says Dr.
Sperry, because "senior executives have so much discretionary power
over where and when they show themselves."

But back to the question: Is this the price of success? Not according
to Dr. Speller, who says his patients succeed despite their
illnesses. They happen to be very bright, which allows them to muddle
through despite mood swings and attention deficit problems, which are
oftenassociated with bipolar II. "Get these guys on a little lithium
for bipolar, a little Prozac for depression and attention deficit
disorder," hesays, and they discover they can get "twice as much done
in half the time."

That may smack too much of using medication to optimize performance,
but even practitioners of talk therapy agree that neurotic conditions
are pure disability, no help to achieving a successful career.

Others may regard these foibles merely as part of the wacky human
pageant and wonder whether the nomenclature of disease is warranted.
After all, attention deficit disorder might have been handy enough in
Pleistocenetimes, lest one got eaten by a saber-toothed tiger while
one was preoccupied with inventing the wheel. Suffice it to say, in
the present human environment, not all of man's inherited capacities
are equally usefulin all situations. Finally, let us sing a hymn to
capitalism, which allows dangerously volatile personalities to be
harnessed for the creation of TV networks instead of gulags.

Nathan Kline, discoverer of lithium, liked to tell the story abouthow
he once cured a notoriously "crazy" African village chief, only to
havethe village fall apart. "Fortunately," Dr. Kline added, "he got
crazy again."