David Siegel must have been absent from CEO school the day they covered tact, empathy and human decency. Either that or he opted to take the class in arrogance instead.
Siegel, the founder and CEO of Westgate Resorts, a timeshare company and one of the largest resort developers in the world, might be best known for his attempt to build the largest home in America (for himself), which was documented in the 2009 film, "The Queen of Versailles."
This week, however, Siegel's name is in the news for an excess of a different sort. On Monday he sent his employees an email that is so crass and so over the top that even the gossip news website Gawker felt compelled to check out if it was real.
Sadly, it is. Siegel confirmed it.
"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," he wrote to employees. "Rather than grow this company I will be forced to cut back. This means fewer jobs, less benefits and certainly less opportunity for everyone."
The hardcore Republican Siegel simultaneously defends his wealth and whines about what it took for him to amass it. He rails against the government, news media and taxes, as well as the "unproductive" people he believes benefit from government aid. He advises employees:
"The economy doesn't currently pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job however, is another 4 years of the same Presidential administration. 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."
While claiming no coercion, he later asks, "Whose policies will endanger your job? If you lose your job, it won't be at the hands of the '1%'; it will be at the hands of a political hurricane that swept through this country."
It's not just Siegel's strong-arming that's so alarming. It's also his amazing inability to relate to the people who work for him.
"Now, the economy is falling apart and people like me who made all the right decisions and invested in themselves are being forced to bail out all the people who didn't," he writes. "The people that overspent their paychecks suddenly feel entitled to the same luxuries that I earned and sacrificed 42 years of my life for."
He bemoans the fact that, years earlier, he lived the life of a hard-working entrepreneur. "I lived in a very modest home. I converted my garage into an office so I could put forth 100% effort into building a company, which by the way, would eventually employ you. We didn't eat in fancy restaurants or take expensive vacations because every dollar I made went back into this company. I drove an old used car, and often times, I stayed home on weekends, while my friends went out drinking and partying. … Meanwhile, many of my friends got regular jobs. They worked 40 hours a week and made a nice income, and they spent every dime they earned. They drove flashy cars and lived in expensive homes and wore fancy designer clothes. My friends refinanced their mortgages and lived a life of luxury. I, however, did not. I put my time, my money, and my life into this business."
Bitter? Of course not. And, to be sure his employees sympathize with his plight, he adds: "Over the past four years I have had to stop building my dream house, cut back on all of my expenses, and take my kids out of private schools simply to keep this company strong and to keep you employed."
It boggles the mind to think about what kind of response Siegel thought his email would elicit from his employees. Sympathy? Respect? Hero worship? Appreciation that he would put construction of his 90,000 square foot home on hold so he could pay payroll taxes and workers compensation taxes for his employees?
Notes to CEOs everywhere: Keep your political and personal views to yourself. (Got that, Dan Cathy?) Don't use veiled threats to get your employees to vote the way you want and then deny it in the same breath. Don't even try to portray yourself as just one of the guys, because your paycheck and stock options say otherwise.
And if you ignore all of this advice, for the love of all that is good about employee communication, don't sign the email "Your boss."
Robert J. Holland is owner of Holland Communication Solutions, an independent consulting practice based in Richmond, Va. He blogs at Communication at Work.