Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s surprise decision to retire does more than throw the technology industry into a frenzy of speculation. It raises the problem of succession.
From major corporations to startups led by visionary leaders, from universities to churches, the departure of the top leader can stop momentum and usher in months, perhaps years, of uncertainty.
Even though dealing with succession is a primary task for a board of directors — some say it’s their preeminent task — relatively few boards take the assignment seriously. They focus instead on the easier work of jousting with the top leader and shilling for institutional investors.
What should be an orderly process of preparing for leadership transition instead becomes a lurching from one standalone regime to the next.
Many board members want the rush of being co-managers of the institution. This is especially true in churches, where boards enjoy making day-to-day decisions about operations. Since a strong central leader would get in their way, many church councils discourage strong clergy and reward compliant permission seekers.
If, through broader networks of power, injustice is linked, it is no less true that injustice is encountered locally in neighborhood markets, schools, churches, and even corner fast-food joints. Today it is useful to begin not with the unseen oppressive power networks in our society but with their effects on those closest to us. Just ask the single parent serving dollar ice cream at a favorite fast-food hangout if he or she would like better hourly wages.
While fast food CEOs average a daily salary of $25,000, workers at fast-food companies in New York City make only 25 percent of the money they need to survive. Single parents earning the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour are, as Jillian Berman of the Huffington Post describes, not able to survive even in America’s cheapest counties. The Wider Opportunities for Women estimates that women are 50 percent more likely than men to earn the minimum wage. Compound this with the status of single motherhood and the needs of the household intensify exponentially.
Dependent on minimum wages are children, who like any other child in the U.S., deserve access to healthy food, clothing, affordable shelter, and descent education. Within the current reconfigurations taking place in the U.S. economy, the new modes of production continue to privilege those like the CEOs of fast-food companies. Yet, as Isaiah’s ballad reminds us, these wider realities have a local impact on the everyday friend, who routinely rises every morning to try and make ends meet on meager wages. The current vineyard of the fast-food industry has not stopped producing sour grapes, which is the massive sale of cheap empty calories at the wage of $7.25 an hour.