The Customer Comes Eighth

Back in the early 1980s, when writing mission statements was just an infant management fad, a division of the Exxon Oil Company held an employee conference to announce their new "core values." Enshrined as number one on the list was this simple sentence: "The customer comes first."

That night, the division executives met for dinner, and after a few drinks, a brash young rising star named Monty proposed a toast. "I just want you to know," he said, "that the customer does not come first." Then Monty named the president of the division. "He comes first." He named the European president. "He comes second." And the North American president. "He comes third." The Far Eastern president "comes fourth." And so on for the fifth, sixth, and seventh senior executive of that division, all of whom were in the room. "The customer," concluded Monty, "comes eighth."

Said the Exxon retiree who told me this story: "There was an agonized silence for about 10 seconds. I thought Monty would get fired on the spot. Then one of the top people smiled, and the place fell apart in hysterical laughter. It was the first truth spoken all day."

Kleiner, A. (2003). Who Really Matters: The Core Group Theory of Power, Privilege, and Success. New York, Currency Doubleday. p. 3