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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.

For the builders, it's a calling more than a job, it goes beyond reason and logic. Builders sacrifice things they don't even have a right to; personal happiness, family time, wedding anniversaries, attending kids' soccer games, calling mom regularly and so on. And it is deeply emotional, at least in the beginning. It is a relentless drive that keeps the engine running full throttle at all times.

Many books have been written, but one of the best I have read isHard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire by James Wallace and Jim Erickson. Love 'em or hate 'em, each one of thes guys changed our lives forever.

2. Growers
In many instances builders can evolve into growers, but this is a very different category. Growers are not entrepreneurs who start companies but seasoned corporate executives who have been honing their skills just waiting for that one opportunity where they can stamp their mark on the business world.

One of the best examples is John Chambers. John came to Cisco fairly early in their trajectory as a sales executive and quickly rose to take charge. He turned a predominately manufacturing-focused company into a global networking powerhouse and for a very brief moment elevated Cisco to be the most valued company in the world (in terms of market cap). Not bad for a former sales executive that came out of Wang, a failed computer company.

Other notable CEOs that have firmly established themselves as great growers include Eric Schmidt (Google), Meg Whitman (eBay) and the management legend himself Jack Welch (GE). Not only did they successfully grow their respective enterprises to become the dominant market leaders, they transformed both the companies and the industries they served.

3. Caretakers/Custodians
Inevitably, a company gets to a point where the growth slows down, it becomes stagnant and, as the shareholders get impatient, it takes a familiar path towards change in leadership.

There are numerous examples where caretakers/custodians have become CEOs: Steve Ballmer (Microsoft), Jeffery Imelt (GE), Bob Iger (Disney). Their mission is best articulated by Captain Kirk: "Steady as she goes," which basically means 'Just don't screw up!'

For the most part these CEO types tend to be operations or inbound focused and look to increase shareholder value by reducing costs as opposed to expanding into new markets. Almost always they come from inside the company having been groomed to one day take over as CEOs. Some do a better job than others, but these types rarely end up as growers. My sense is Tim Cook (Apple) is also part of this group, a supply-chain guru that is an excellent operator but not necessarily a grower. I say that because; had Steve Jobs not passed away much too soon Cook would still be Apple's COO. Enough said.

 

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