Is all this good, bad, or indifferent? Probably some of all three. Let's handle each one of these issues in turn.
Emailing the CEO
A recent New Yorker article, entitled "E-mail from Bill," published the email address of Bill Gates, chairman of software giant Microsoft and one of the richest men in America. (Endnote #18) In the article, Gates says (via email, of course), "I am the only person who reads my email so no one has to worry about embarrassing themselves or going around people when they send a message."
This is an interesting statement on a number of levels. First of all, Gates is making it clear that he doesn't mind getting email from the world -- presumably (one hopes) he gave permission to the New Yorker to reprint his email address, something the magazine would never consider doing with, say, the direct dial phone line to his office. Second, he says that he doesn't need a secretary, assistant, or other gatekeeper to screen his messages. (This doesn't mean that he doesn't screen them himself; elsewhere in the same note he says, "If someone isn't saying something of interest, it's easier not to respond to their mail than it is not to answer the phone.")
But perhaps most interesting is the statement that "no one has to worry about embarrassing themselves" when they email him directly. I don't know about anyone else, but I'd worry a lot more about saying something stupid in email to Bill Gates than I would if I were talking on the phone to his secretary. Sure, his secretary might tell him I sounded like a jerk; but if I were nice enough, I'd probably get a positive report. And most of the managers I've known take their secretaries' character assessments very seriously.
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