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Dilbert Leaves the Cubicle

by Sonja Sherwood

You know things have changed when a previously successful executive recruiter like Thomas Stern resorts to moonlighting as a comic strip artist. His muse? A robotic but likeable chief executive who…must…control…everything. Stern calls the strip CEO Dad.

“CEOs have to get used to people making fun of the,” opines Stern, 47.
“CEO jokes are getting to be almost as common as lawyer jokes.”

Stern invented the strip, below, 18 months ago after business slowed at his search firm in Woodland Hills, Calif. Interest in the strip lagged until Enron tanked and CEO bashing emerged as the national zeitgeist. Since then, he’s sold 75 installments to a newspaper in the Midwest.

“There’s a lot of resentment out there,” Stern observes, “and nothing fuels humor more than hostility – the Marx Brothers proved that.”

Stern’s inspiration is his Type A executive father, who ran several television and cable companies through the ‘70s. Father and son had a tumultuous relationship that only improved after Stern began appealing to his father’s sense of play. Now Junior greets Senior with raillery: “How are you, you bastard!”

“Everybody walks on eggshells around CEOs, “Stern explains. “So to be treated like a regular guy is a bit of a relief."

A former comedian and comedy writer, Stern believes CEOs need to recollect their humanity to regain respect. “They’re going to need humor as a survival mechanism,” he claims. “If CEO Dad can do for CEOs what my sense of humor has done for my relations with my father, it will give them a lighter touch.”

© 2004 Stern Executive Search, Inc.