CEO David Siegel: Part of the communication problem or solution?

 

You may have seen the news story this week about David Siegel, CEO of Florida-based real estate and timeshare firm Westgate Resorts, who emailed his employees this week to put them firmly on notice about what’s at stake in next month’s presidential election: 
“The economy doesn't currently pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job, however, is another four years of the same presidential administration … It's quite simple. If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, as our current president plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company. Rather than grow this company I will be forced to cut back. This means fewer jobs, less benefits and certainly less opportunity for everyone … You see, I can no longer support a system that penalizes the productive and gives to the unproductive. My motivation to work and to provide jobs will be destroyed, and with it, so will your opportunities. If that happens, you can find me in the Caribbean sitting on the beach, under a palm tree, retired, and with no employees to worry about.”
Sounds like voter intimidation to me, if I ever heard it.
Siegel, though, swears this is not the case: 
“Of course, as your employer, I can't tell you whom to vote for, and I certainly wouldn't interfere with your right to vote for whomever you choose. In fact, I encourage you to vote for whomever you think will serve your interests the best … So, when you make your decision to vote, ask yourself, which candidate understands the economics of business ownership and who doesn't? Whose policies will endanger your job? Answer those questions and you should know who might be the one capable of protecting and saving your job.”
Oh, of course. Of COURSE. But, if President Obama’s policies are the ones that will put their jobs on the chopping block, who indeed should Westgate workers vote for? Siegel doesn’t specifically say, but I’m pretty sure it’s the candidate whose last name rhymes with Zomney.  
Now, while I feel quite strongly that Siegel is a jerk with a capital J (at the same time he’s threatening his employees’ jobs, he notes without a shred of irony all of the “sacrifices” he’s made to keep the company profitable — like taking his children out of private school and cutting back on building his dream home) part of me still admires his honesty. 
Isn’t that what we want from corporate leadership — the unvarnished truth? No spin, no gloss? There’s a reason business communications firms stay busy; businesses are notoriously bad at communicating openly http://ebn.benefitnews.com/blog/ebviews/company-transparency-mission-management-engagement-productivity-2723697-1.html. Siegel — even though I despise his message for being myopic, manipulative and divisive — at least can be credited for telling it like it is. When it comes to creating a positive corporate culture, open and honest communication is definitely a solution for success.
But then, isn’t Siegel also part of the problem? Because just as he can be credited for communicating honestly, he also can be cut down for the insensitive and dispassionate tone of his email. Another reason all those corporate communications firms stay busy? Companies communicate just plain badly http://ebn.benefitnews.com/news/benefits-communication-benz-survey-2726977-1.html — so badly, that their message gets missed or misconstrued. 
I have no doubt that Siegel is very passionate about his business, is knowledgeable about and invested in our nation’s politics, and perhaps even cares a great deal about his workers. But after I read his entire email http://finance.yahoo.com/news/ceo-workers-youll-likely-fired-131640914.html, the message I got was “Vote Romney, or you’re fired. Not sure how you’ll make ends meet if Obama wins. I’ll be fine though — thanks to your hard work financing my lavish lifestyle and Caribbean retirement.” He even says he won’t “worry” about his employees if the business closes. Not the best way to inspire employee confidence, morale, loyalty and connectedness to the C-suite http://ebn.benefitnews.com/news/retention-ceo-ama-snagajob-radio-flyer-careerbuilder-2725509-1.html.
What do you think? Is this corporate communication gone right or wrong? What would you have written if you were in Siegel’s shoes? Share your thoughts in the comments.  

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