Supachai Panitchpakdi, fall-up artist | 13.05.05

Supachai Panitchpakdi’s appointment as the new secretary general of UNCTAD reminds me of one of my favorite Stanley Bing’s Fortune articles, “Falling Up” (subscription required):

So just when we thought Krebs was about to get a well-earned corner office in the executive-departure lounge, the guy up and gets this massive job elsewhere that pays him a gazillion dollars a year. One day he’s here, about to get demoted in the latest ineffective reorganization tango, and the next he’s grinning out from the business section of the paper with a new head shot, all crisp and fat-faced.

I don’t blame him for beaming. The boy has every reason to be as happy as a million clams, not counting bonus and options. He’s got a fresh start in a brand-new dysfunctional organization! He has, in short, fallen up instead of down. Again. It isn’t the first time he’s pulled this off. Nor, I am sure, will it be the last.

How did he do it? How do they all do it? How does it happen that certain individuals, throughout their careers, continue to perform with consistent, stunning mediocrity, sometimes even stupidity, failing slowly and inexorably at whatever they put their hands to, shining with a dull and insufficient glow at one job after another? And yet they always fall not down, like the rest of us, but upward, ever upward? Why, O God?

Okay, it isn’t exactly “falling up” to go from heading the WTO to chairing some obscure “conference” that might as well be in the ten stories John Bolton said the UN could lose without making a difference. But Supachai certainly fell up three years ago from his ex-ministership to where he is today. (Here’s a ridiculously self-serving account by his former colleague Surin Pitsuwan about the international wrangling that resulted in that fall-up.) This new UNCTAD unction will probably prop him up long enough until the time comes when he, perhaps with the help of his anti-gravity friends at the UN, will fall up once again.

22:15 ▪ politics

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