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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.

Hard as I tried I could not think of a better example than Steve Jobs v2.0. Without his intervention today we would be talking about Apple the way we currently refer to BlackBerry, a company that is on life support at best. Unlike fixers who focus on the strategy saviors intuitively know that the FIRST thing that needs fixing is the company's culture/vision. Some Fixers also work on culture/vision but Saviors do it as a pre-requisite for everything else because they know that if the employees don't drink the cool-aid, it's over.

7. Selfies
Not my first choice of title for these types, and will not spend a lot of time elaborating on them because they don't deserve any glorification other than stating that their giga-sized egos have caused much pain. They include Bernie Ebbers (MCI), Dennis Kozlowski (Tyco), Ken Lay/Jeffrey Skilling (Enron) to mention a few. Good news is that, in the end, they traded one pin-striped clothing for another, the latter complements of us, the taxpayers.

8. Morticians
This is the rarest and one that no one aspires to become. Think about it, as kids we dream of being fire fighters, police officers, athletes, movie stars or business executives but no one has ever said, "Hey, I am going to be a mortician." Unfortunately, just like people, companies also die and they need to be properly buried. Can't provide any more info other than they primarily serve the preferred shareholders' interests and do a job that shows zero appreciation. They tend to follow the selfies and the end result is not their fault.

So why should we care? We should care a lot about what type of CEO is running a particular company especially if we work for or are investors in that company. Time and time again I have seen boards make wrong decisions. They retain top search firms that "specialize" in such placements, provide them with the qualifications and vet numerous "highly qualified" candidates until the final selection is revealed. Unfortunately, those search firms are nothing more than just data bases and have zero analytical skills.

What type of CEO a company needs has everything to do with where the company is in terms of its trajectory. Hiring a grower (Meg Whitman) when the company actually needs a Fixer (as the case is with HP) is absolutely the wrong move. In fact, Groupon missed one hell of an opportunity by not giving Whitman the keys to the kingdom; they would have been much further along and a lot more relevant under her guidance as an accomplished grower.

CEOs have the responsibility to call it quits before they are asked to resign and cite "personal reasons" for their departure (author's note: no corporate communique is more superficial than that one, even Hollywood cringes when it hears it). Then there are CEOs that need to move onto much bigger challenges where their brand, expertise, accomplishments and leadership skills could serve a much greater purpose, which brings me to the aforementioned John Chambers.

 

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