The VP of common sense

When I worked for Nissan, I jokingly referred to myself as the Vice President of Showing Up.

When I worked for Nissan, I jokingly referred to myself as the Vice President of Showing Up.

It was a decidedly meeting-oriented culture. We'd have pre-meetings to discuss what would happen in the big meeting, then a post-meeting to dissect what just transpired. This was before the BlackBerry. It was a time when it was seriously un-macho to carry a weekly planner, so our administrative assistants would prepare an index card for us that laid out the daily meeting schedule. It was not uncommon to see a senior executive whip out his or her index card to consult the schedule. Very suave.

I always thought the VP of Showing Up was a good title for how I spent my time, but last week I read an article that suggested a better moniker. The piece featured a varsity basket- ball team from the Robert M. Beren Academy in Houston that had advanced to the regional state semifinals. The team was all set for a showdown against the Covenant School of Dallas on Friday night at 9pm.

There was one catch - as an orthodox Jewish school, Beren could not play on the Sabbath, which begins at sundown Friday. When the school requested a rescheduling, it was refused due to league bylaws that prohibited such changes during the playoffs. Making matters worse, the league also had a rule that prohibited scheduling games on Sundays due to the observance of the Christian Sabbath.

There was a bit of an uproar that the league would prohibit games on the Christian Sabbath, but allow them on the Jewish Sabbath. Despite the uproar, the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools refused to budge. Word quickly spread on Facebook, Twitter, and the mainstream media.

As the controversy grew, the association issued a statement saying it was adhering to its by-laws, written in the late 1970s, when "the member schools at that time all recognized Sunday as the day of worship."

At one point, Jeff Van Gundy, a prominent former coach of the New York Knicks, tried to intervene. "This decision has nothing to do with the kids," he told The New York Times. "I feel like the association made a mistake and they don't have a 'vice president of common sense' to tell them that this is silly and it's OK to change your mind."

Boy did Van Gundy hit it on the head. A Vice President of Common Sense! This was the title I'd been looking for. I can't tell you how many meetings I've been in where I wish a VP of Common Sense would show up. Clearly, other companies besides mine need such a person.

Bank of America sure could have used one when it decided to charge customers $5 a month to use its debit cards. ESPN might have asked one to review its "Chink in the Armor" headline about Jeremy Lin. Netflix should have consulted one before splitting its streaming and DVD services and forcing customers to pay more to use two separate companies.

Big companies should seriously consider creating a team of common sense commissioners. The qualifications to serve on such a panel would be daunting. It would take someone with deep experience, wisdom, and the backbone to go up against senior management.

I'd suggest a grandma with multiple offspring, a crusty old guy from accounting, and a 12-year-old who isn't afraid to ask what might seem like a glaringly obvious question.

In short, all companies would benefit by having someone who's willing to ask, "Are you guys really gonna do this?" 

Don Spetner is EVP, corporate affairs at executive recruitment firm Korn/Ferry International.

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