The Havoc Pajama Boys Wreak

NOTE: This piece was submitted for publication at a national outlet on September 4 — no response. So, posting the piece here. Just wanted to note that many articles on this very issue began to appear during the last few weeks. Sometimes letting your work go outside is risky when responses are not prompt.

The pajama boys – untucked, unshaved, uncombed, flip-flopped, with a vibe you got from junior high boys who spent too much time in the basement with National Geographic. Except the pajama boys had new tools in the basement: access to a database of porn. Pajama boys bring a volatile combination to the workplace—brilliant minds obsessed with juvenile pastimes.

We depend on their skills, so we tolerate their attire, responses (or lack thereof), and extra-or intra-curricular activities. But, pajama boy CEOs are dangerous. Pajama-boys are terrific entrepreneurs who destroy their own companies, if left to their own devices. Shortly after the IPO, culture problems choke the company.

Dov Charney grew American Apparel into a stunning success. However, he had an interesting wardrobe, even for a pajama boy. Sexual harassment suits against him and the company revealed problems with Mr. Charney remaining clothed. The company, which did not turn a profit after 2008, had to go through legal wrangling and Mr. Charney’s ouster as well as a bankruptcy filing before the board could wrest control from this determined pajama boy in 2014.

Martin Shkreli, former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals and author of the 5,000% price increases on life-saving drugs, was described by a potential juror during voir dire for his securities fraud trial, as a “snake.” Also ousted by his board, jurors at his trial, who came back with guilty verdicts, described him as “his own worst enemy.”

Upload, SoFi, and others too numerous to mention have the label of “bro cultures.” That’s the pajama-boy mentality. They create cultures that frighten female employees and silence the rest. Uber was a pajama-boy paradise. While the board pulled the cord on the ejection seat for former CEO, Travis Kalanick, it did so 4 years after he sent a “way harsh” memo warning employees to be sure that any sex they had at an upcoming company retreat was consensual. Asleep at the wheel would be one description for this board, but the culture had festered to the point that recruiting a CEO became a tall order. The board’s short list indicated its cluelessness. Bring in Meg Whitman? Nurse Ratched trying to rein in Jack Nicholson and the boys in a cuckoo’s nest. There would have been no pretty ending for that combination.

When pajama boys are company founders, there are only two choices. Bring in some adults early or face the Charney/Uber consequences. Sheryl Sandberg got to Facebook before Zuckerberg consumed the company. Pajama boy habits die hard, and a firm hand at the helm is a must. Marissa Mayer met resistance at Yahoo when she tried to make people show up for work, . . .in the office. The nerve of some broads. Her days were numbered before she even bought Tumblr.

Pajama boys are not well read in economics or history. So, they spout platitudes that have doomed societies in the past. Mark Zuckerberg recently offered us all a pearl, “Studies show that when working parents take time to be with their newborns, it’s good for the entire family.” Most of us already knew that and made the time, despite full-time jobs, in offices, to do so. Pajama boy techies are now out stumping for “universal basic income.” Been there, done that – see Venezuela.

Platitudes reveal a key trait of pajama boys: They don’t know what they don’t know. They miss consequences because they assert “feelings.” They want diversity, but fire the first whale to the surface who spouts a different view. Firing the young engineer with the memo on biology and diversity has cemented a culture of fear and silence at Google. Undaunted, Google then followed up by having one of their own think-tank’s scholars sacked for supporting the EU in its Google antitrust fines. In the isolated tech/Internet world, neither history nor views of those in the heartland make their way into the Silicon Valley offices’ foosball and beer rooms.

The missteps and pratfalls by pajama boys are numerous and legendary. The dot-com pajama boy debacles are too numerous to list. Zenefits: Why not develop a software program to create fraudulent licenses for your insurance agents? Theranos: Assume you have a blood-testing program that works without testing; just sell it. More pajama boy problems lie ahead. Elon Musk does not walk on water. In fact, Tesla is in for some frightening times as its spacey CEO enjoys free rein.

Apple had to get Steve Jobs out in order to give him a little growing-up time. He came back humbled and focused on products and a strategy of anticipating customer needs that customers hadn’t yet realized. That’s what pajama boys do well. But, they need either time to mature or adult supervision, and both require an engaged board. Without one of the two, pajama boys’ companies cannot grow up.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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