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CEO Lout

by Alan Farnham

How much does the public hate chief executives? Thomas Stern knows. Eighteen month ago Stern, 47, who owns and executive search firm in Woodland Hills, Calif., got a good idea. The economy was heading south, so he decided to apply his downtime to creating a comic strip depicting the domestic foibles of a pompous if lovable chief executive. Its title: CEO Dad.

Nine months and innumerable test strips later, he wasn’t so sure. Newspaper syndicates and magazines sent rejection letters. For a while it looked like CEO Dad would be CEO Dead. The, he says, “something wonderful” happened: the Enron scandal. WorldCom. The chief executive of Adelphia being led away in handcuffs. Suddenly a strip featuring a pompous CEO seemed timely, edgy. Editors began returning calls.

As the public has grown more outraged, suggestions for strip plotlines have grown violent. One has CEO Dad in prison, stocking up on cigarettes to trade for a new Palm handheld. Another: that CEO Dad be run over by a steamroller or publicly executed.

The furor hasn’t translated into too many sales yet – Chief Executive magazine will run the strip in its December issue, and a paper in the Midwest bought about 75. But the headhunter insists the bilious momentum is building: “If the economy collapses any further, we could be looking at the next Dilbert.”

© 2004 Stern Executive Search, Inc.