Skins Game

I usually flip right on by William Safire's NY Times Magazine "On Language" column not because I found the author to be a blowhard. No, instead I usually flip on by because I'm so eager to read about those vital ethical quandaries tidied up by Randy Cohen a few pages later.

But Sunday's column caught my eye for two reasons. The first is to establish the next great MBAism that we can expect to hear from Tim Finchem or Carolyn Bivens any day now.

Microsoft’s Certified Professional Magazine Online — an insistently nonamateurish house organ — quotes a vice president, Rick Devenuti, saying, “Customers want confidence, especially with this new product wave, that Microsoft has skin in the game.” A reader can presume that this means the company will hire new employees in its new-wave consulting business because the executive hints provocatively that “there is some relationship to head count.”

At the same time, on the other side of the world, Lachlan McKeough, chief of an Australian insurance brokerage on an acquisitions spree, told The Sydney Morning Herald that the key to the company’s success is the way that “front-line staff” retains a substantial equity in the business. Asked to describe his business model, he replied, “They have got skin in the game, so to speak.”

This eventually led Safire, or his researcher, to call the USGA in search of a link to skins in golf.

I can hear gambling golfers in the readership firing up their computers. Golf’s skins game, about a half-century old, has a foursome betting against one another: “Three categories each account for one-third of the pot,” writes Steve Pajak of The Sacramento Bee, which are “team play (best four of six balls on each hole on this day), individual skins (any single low score on a hole) and individual greenies (closest to the pin on par 3’s).” The U.S. Golf Association librarian says that “skins is also known as cats, scats, skats or syndicates.”

Is there any doubt now that we'll be hearing this soon? The question is, who first? Bivens, Finchem, or maybe a not-so-darkhorse like Senior Champions Tour headman Rick George? Yep, this has George written all over it!