Embrace Your Inner Bad Boy

Our "advice columnist" tells an unidentified computer company to take the low road

Editor's Note: "Lonely at the Top" is a humorous (we hope) take on the week's business news in the form of an advice column.

Dear Lonely at the Top,

Boy, do I need your help. I'm turning around a big computer company out here. (I don't want to give its name but it rhymes with You Look Backward.) I keep trying to talk to people about our Integrity servers, inkjet printers, and fault-tolerant software, but all anybody ever asks me about is spying, leaks, pretexting, and congressional testimony. How can I get the focus back on the business?

Pooped in Palo Alto

Dear Pooped,

Thanks for being my first letter writer. I'm impressed that you wrote before we even launched the column—it's almost as if you knew what we had in the works!

I see two possible avenues for you:

1) The high road2) The low road

Normally, I advise my CEO clients to take the high road, but this may be one case where the low road is a better bet. These days it's crucial for a company to have a distinctive brand identity. You know, Apple is hip, Google is smart, Ford is dead. Your company may be able to carve out a niche as the Bad Boy of Silicon Valley. (If you can wrestle the title from Larry Ellison!)

Start the image makeover with those Integrity servers you mentioned. Why not go out on a limb and rebrand them, say, Duplicity? The word has a high-tech feel but also that verboten buzz that just might go over big with the Gen-X and Goth types who control hardware budgets at customers these days.

You say you make inkjet printers. Excellent. I know that business. It's like hooking people on cocaine, right? You give away the printers and then charge extortionate amounts for replacement ink cartridges. Now, push that model. Double the price of cartridges. Triple it. Make people buy the cyan, yellow, and magenta separately. Squeeze 'em till they get the heebie-jeebies. You'll have 'em licking your feet.

Next, about that fault-tolerant software. I like it. Fault tolerance means tolerating faults, right? To solidify your company's bad boy image, develop a personal reputation for tolerating faults, flops, faux pas, and felonies. Then, work on getting your stock into the hands of fault-tolerant shareholders. If you can do that, your stock will go up and up no matter how badly you perform.

Listen, Pooped, staying on the low road isn't easy. But from your letter it sounds like "You Look Backward" has plenty of in-house expertise.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.