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How to select the right CEO -- Hollywood style

Bill Baker | April 30, 2014
What makes a great CEO? Why do many star at one company yet fail at another? Why do some lose the magic as the company expands? The answer, of course, is different situations require different types of CEOs. To help identify the multiple characteristics of executives in this leading role, here are eight 'CEO types' and when to cast each one.

As a long-time resident of Los Angeles, I have been inadvertently infected by that Hollywood bug that seems to be omnipresent in sunny Southern California. Perhaps it's the weather. Perhaps it's the culture (or the lack thereof, as many would argue). Perhaps it's the background radiation from the studios. Or perhaps we have too much time to think while stuck in the parking lot we call "the 405." Whatever the reason, we just can't help ourselves. It's the "typecasting" bug, the one where we seem to bundle several qualities into a single category.

Almost everyone from Main Street to Wall Street, from a back street alley to Silicon Valley and all points in between just can't seem to stop saying things like "that's a great story," "he's a rock star," "this is the next blah, blah, blah" and so on. We have all been guilty at one time or another of using the Hollywood vernacular. So I wondered if typecasting could be applied in the business world.

Being the annoyingly inquisitive type, I always ask questions or seek answers that are not self-evident and one of those is: What makes a great CEO? Equally important is why many CEOs do a great job at one company yet fail miserably at another. Or why do some CEOs lose the magic as the company expands. Is it the CEO? The company? The market? The circumstances? For example, I am a CEO but does that mean I can run a large enterprise? No, and that's precisely the point. It is all about the type of CEO as it relates to the company's position or trajectory that is at the core of all this. As a result, I came up with a framework for "CEOs types." Because I spent most of my career in technology the examples reflect that. They are as follows (in line with a company's evolutionary path):

1. Builders
This category includes most startup CEOs, many of whom have built huge companies and/or created major industries. They include the usual suspects: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Carlos Slim, Michael Dell, Jeff Bezos, Andy Grove, The Google Boys (affectionately), Marc Benioff, Mark Zuckerberg, and George Conrades — not a founder of Akamai but nonetheless took what was only a technology and build it into a global leader in CDNs — to mention a few.

We could call them 'The Hall of Fame of Builders.' They not only built great products that changed the way we work, they also built great companies that became the dominant players in global markets. As a builder I understand these guys much better than all other types. They are driven, almost obsessed. None have done it for the money or the fame or the legacy they have left and each has endured challenges that most would never dream of encountering.

 

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