How did Keith Herrmann get some of the most powerful men in the world to sign on the dotted line? He just asked. The director of new-business analysis at Exide Electronics in Raleigh, North Carolina is the proud owner of what may be the ultimate Dilbert-era artifact: more than 200 autographed photos and business cards from some of the biggest names in corporate America. A few questions immediately come to mind.
First, why? Herrmann firstname.lastname@example.org , whose hobby was launched when the artist Christo sent him three signed lithographs in the mid-1980s, began his latest collection in 1997 because, he says, "I admire people who have made it to the top."
Second, what does this catalog of suits, comb-overs, and signatures tell us about the nation's leading capitalists? Herrmann has a few ideas. For instance, he notes that the CEOs of the Big Three automakers promptly sent him autographs - but the CEOs of six major oil companies refused. Does that indicate a difference in public-relations savvy?
As the signatures came in, Herrmann puzzled over other thought-provoking questions: Why would Delta say no, when American, Southwest, and Northwest Airlines all said yes? What made William Wrigley send six packs of Juicy Fruit gum, but no signature? Why is Andy Grove's signature so small? Is it a sign of modesty - or of paranoia?
Finally, is there any correlation between a CEO's net worth and the value of his autograph? At least one chief executive had an answer. J.B. Foster of the Newfield Exploration Co. sent a note along with his signature: "This and a dollar will get you a cup of coffee."
A version of this article appeared in the April/May 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.