Take a memo: Executive secretaries are worth a king's ransom


September 07, 1992|By Carol Kleiman | Carol Kleiman,Chicago Tribune

It's not paranoia that makes a chief executive officer worry about being kidnapped.

Indeed, it's a realistic fear.

Steven A. Laser, a management consultant with a doctorate in industrial and organizational psychology, says disgruntled employees may pose a threat to executive safety. Individual assessments of their behavior may be commonplace soon.

Most businesses don't know very much about those who exhibit violent behavior, especially in connection with CEOs, until it's too late. But there is one fact about CEO abductors that has been overlooked:

Kidnappers don't know what they're doing when they grab them.

They usually go after CEOs -- typically older white men -- because these senior executives are perceived as being essential to the success of their companies. Kidnappers figure a company will be willing to pay any amount just to get its leader back.

And, when it comes to ransoms, CEOs appear to be likely candidates for removal from the premises because they are paid high salaries and given multitudinous perks. Almost every kidnapper, even those who did not go to an elite Ivy League jTC graduate school of business, can figure out that CEOs are the guys with enough bucks to pay ransom on demand.

But that's a superficial approach.

Kidnapping and violence are heinous tragedies, and no one wants to aid kidnappers in any way. But if kidnappers knew the first thing about abduction, they wouldn't pay so much attention to CEOs.

If these criminals really wanted to disrupt a business, shake things up and get big bucks in exchange for their victims, they'd snatch secretaries instead.

CEOs may have private planes, chauffeur-driven limousines and enormous stock options. But in most cases, if they didn't show up at the workplace for months at a time, no one would know the difference and productivity and quality would not be affected.

But if almost any one of the nation's 4 million secretaries would be so unfortunate as to be kidnapped and held for any amount of time, chaos would ensue and her absence would have a far greater impact on the bottom line.

It's horrifying to contemplate anyone's being kidnapped, even a CEO, but it's hard to resist fantasizing the scenario that might evolve when a criminal abduction is masterminded by a kidnapper with smarts:

CEO, looking out the window: "Help, help, I see a kidnapper."

Secretary: "Don't be frightened, sir. We have a marvelous security system in place. See, I've pressed the button and four guards with machine guns already are here. I assure you, you will not miss your golf game this afternoon at 4 p.m. at your exclusive country club."

CEO: "Golf? Am I playing this afternoon? I completely forgot about it. What would I do without you?"

Secretary: "And you'll be on time for your wife's birthday party, too, after golf. And don't worry about the kidnapper interfering with your speech tomorrow night in Brussels. I've already written your speech, booked your private jet and alerted our overseas staff to take care of all your needs."

CEO: "You're so wonderful. You think of everything. Just in case that kidnapper does get in here and things go wrong, I want you to know I've been planning to give you a 10 percent raise this year. That will bring you up to $22,000 a year -- and you deserve every penny of it."

Secretary: "You made that same promise last year, sir, but you never signed the papers for payroll. It seems to me if you earn $10 million, I deserve at least $5 million. But I'll remind you again this year, because I certainly am underpaid."

CEO: "I'll take that under consideration. Oh, look, the kidnapper has overpowered our security guards and is coming this way. But don't worry, I'll protect you with my life."

Kidnapper: "OK, who's the CEO?"

CEO: "I am, and I'll go with you quickly and quietly, even though I'll miss my golf game. Just don't harm my secretary."

Kidnapper: "We don't want you, we want your secretary. We could get $2.5 million for you, but she's worth $5 million."

CEO: "Kidnap my secretary and not me? What will I do without her? The business will fall apart, no one will know what to do or where anything is. I don't even have a key to the office. I'll write you a check immediately for $5 million. Just don't kidnap my secretary, I beg of you. Think of our stockholders."

The kidnapper accepts the check for $5 million -- though everyone else knows the secretary is worth far more than that -- and leaves quietly, not harming anyone.

CEO: "That was money well-spent. It would have been a disaster if you were kidnapped."

Secretary: "I'm glad to hear you finally acknowledge my importance. And I want my raise this time for real. I deserve it."

CEO: "Next year, we'll talk about it next year, I promise."

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