Executive Advise in Three Envelopes

True Stories from the 20th Century at Pacificorp

By J. Charles Cheek[1]

© September 2005

Executive Advise in Three Envelopes

Don Hodel, BPA administrator from 1972 to 1978, told one of my favorite management stories a year or so after his reign as the head honcho at the Bonneville Power Administration.

After accepting the appointment as the BPA Administrator, Hodel asked his predecessor, H.R. (Russ) Richmond, “From your many years of experience as the BPA Administrator, do you have any advise for me?”

Richmond didn’t hesitate, “All the advise I can offer you that will be of any lasting value is contained in three sealed envelopes that I left in the middle drawer of the Administrator’s desk.”

“Why three envelopes?” asked Hodel.

He ignored Hodel’s question and went on, “After your first year honeymoon as head of the agency you’ll begin to feel some pressure. If you just can’t figure out how to handle it, open the envelope marked #1 and read my advice therein.”

“What about the other envelopes?” asked Hodel.

“Open them in numerical order whenever you feel you need my advice.”

All went well for the first year but then Hodel got in hot water over some issue and couldn’t decide how to handle it. He opened envelope #1. Handwritten on a 3×5-index card in block letters were the words, “BLAME IT ON YOUR PREDECESSOR.”

That made a lot of practical sense so Hodel called a news conference and began his presentation by saying, “This issue began before my watch at BPA so I obviously I had no control over it. However, I will get to the bottom of it and fix the problem.” It worked. The issue blew over and was forgotten.

A couple of years later Hodel got in big trouble again and found it necessary to seek Richmond’s advice. He opened envelope #2. The block print on the card said, “REORGANIZE.”

After appropriate consultation with his staff, Hodel called a news conference. “I have studied the problem that occurred and determined that we can reorganize in a manner that will prevent it from reoccurring.” Sure enough, the issue blew over again and was soon forgotten.

All went well for a couple of more years even thought the Sierra Club was becoming an environmental thorn in the side of the BPA and Hodel began to take it personally. Finally, in an outburst of retaliation, Hodel gave a blistering criticism of the Sierra Club in a luncheon speech at the City Club of Portland, Oregon. His complaints against the Sierra Club appeared prominently in the Oregonian Newspaper the following day. The Sierra Club was not amused and began an intensive all-out counter attack.

As the pressure mounted day by day, it finally was too much and Hodel opened third envelope #3. There, in large block letters and underlined in red, was the message, “PREPARE THREE ENVELOPES.”

E – N – D

[1] Mr. Cheek has written dozens short stories under the general headings of True Stores from the 20th Century at Pacificorp and Digressions of J. Charles. He is also the author of the novel Stay Safe, Buddy – A Story of Humor and Horror during the Korean War,300 pages, Publish America ISBN # 159286631X

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