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Tom Shillue

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$94 Billion is Chump Change: Big Project Management by Peter Rogoff

(AP file photo/Alex Menendez)

One of the great privileges I enjoy about being in the media is the opportunity to see early versions of books set for release in the Summer and Winter buying seasons. Case in point, I am halfway through reading about the big project management as practiced by Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff.

Many management books focus on the basics of people, process, perception or continuous improvement through obsessive customer care. In clear counterpoint, the management style of Peter Rogoff takes a surprising approach. It was bit of a shock to the system to experience such honesty. But in the age of spin, Peter Rogoff’s application of “management by malignancy” cuts to the center of what has made Sound Transit a story for all of us to study.

“Honey, that ain’t never gonna happen” – Pete Rogoff

In a culture obsessed by the passive-aggressive, faux politeness of snowflake diplomacy, Rogoff’s first lesson to us is that a good employee knows not just their assigned task — say, project management or accounting — but their innate value to the leadership. In the case of Rogoff it is clear, for instance, that far from running for the physical appearance or sometimes smaller size, women should be proud of the fact that they can serve as visual fantasies to the elevator eyes of upper management or as a prop for even omega-males to practice their concept of masculine leadership.

“Listen, that ain’t gonna happen, Honey” could easily appear sexist, rude, sexually objectifying, condescending, mean, dismissive, ignorant, and juvenile. But when the reader grows to understand the full focus of Pete Rogoff’s approach of managing by malignancy, we come to understand the bigger picture: the brand promise fails if not practiced internally as well as externally.

A Rogoff nugget: Black people need extra mentoring

Famous for his maniacal focus on privacy — Rogoff once canceled a fundraiser for his dear friend and fellow practitioner of malignant management, Dow Constantine when a right-wing radio host announced it was at Rogoff’s home — it’s a shame there isn’t audio or video of Rogoff explaining what is apparently his concept of the burden of white people, as he seemingly pontificated at a Sound Transit event.

According to attendees, Pete Rogoff explained that black employees need more mentoring and help at work. It’s true that some people recoil in horror at the visage of Rogoff, with his over $300,000 per year in total compensation, stating that black people are not quite as smart as others. Yet, it appears to be Rogoff’s intention to throw off the chains of politeness so that he can demand from Sound Transit the extension of the brand promise. It is not a true malignancy if it does not affect the entire body.

It’s not a promise if everyone knows you are a liar

Only halfway through my reading, it’s clear to me some of Rogoff’s management styles are derivative; think “Mad Men” as he apparently deals with women and George Wallace in what seems to be his approach to what could be called racial mentoring. Rogoff’s most original application of management through malignancy is reserved for revenue generation.

Hard truths, when seeking public moneys, are best wrapped in colorful, scented, tissue papers of lies. Starting with timeline promises, the agency Rogoff heads, Sound Transit had once seen missing construction deadlines and budget caps as a deficit, something to be spun. When Sound Transit 1 was 10 years late and billions over budget, many at the agency fretted — not Rogoff. Instead of issuing a mea-culpa which, in the sorry-not-sorry culture of today would be noise lost in signal, Rogoff held a million-dollar party to celebrate being on time. The enormity of that lie made even the biggest cynics admit that Pete Rogoff was not a man to let truth stop people from taking his picture.

That innovation — it’s not lying if everyone knows you are a liar — has been the philosophy upon which Rogoff has leaned as he broke election laws, lied to the Legislature, created and published a falsified tax calculator, told Congress the people of Western Washington are willingly sacrificing upwards $40,000 each household over the next thirty years for a train they will never ride. No one can honestly call Pete Rogoff out for lying, because lying is part of his brand.

Robbins, Ferris and Rogoff: from flame walking, to 30 hours to eating the body that feeds you

Anthony Robbins sold the power of belief, Tim Ferris the magic of efficiency; Pete Rogoff sells the mastery of malignancy.

I cannot wait for my early reading of his application of the practice to end.

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