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How to Run a Company: Lessons from Top Leaders of the CEO Academy Hardcover – Oct 2003

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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Lessons Learned in the Corporate Trenches 20 Feb. 2004
By Robert Morris - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Carey and Von Weichs have assembled an impressive selection of essays whose authors discuss various business subjects. Most of them are (or were) CEOs of major corporations and associated with Spencer Stuart's CEO Academy. As Carey and Von Weichs explain, "we suggested to each of the contributors that they address their topic as if it were the advice they wished they had received when they first started their job." I cannot recall a prior period in the history of American business when the position of CEO was more challenging than it is today. Consider this statistic: Between 1999 and 2001, 57% of the largest companies in the United States removed their CEOs. Daily it seems, we learn of other CEOs who has been forced to resign or are under tremendous pressure to improve their performance. Meanwhile, still other CEOs are indicted for various crimes.
"Two recent developments have fundamentally changed the rules of the game for chief executives. The first is a series of high-profile cases of corporate malfeasance that came to public attention beginning in the fall of 2001...The other development that has significantly changed the lives of CEOs is the noisy crash of the stock market and the accompanying bursting of the tech and telecom bubble." The best of recently published business books address an especially important question. For Carey and Von Weichs: "Where can an executive turn when seeking training and advice on how to lead and manage a company?" Answers vary, of course. What Carey and Von Weichs attempt to do in this book is to create access -- for as many executives as possible -- to what has been "an immense and untapped body of knowledge" which resides among seasoned and retired CEOs "who have been working in the trenches for many years."
Carey and Von Weichs organize their material within four Parts: Management and Leadership in the Midst of Change; Governance: The Board of Directors and Its CEO; Operational Excellence and the Pursuit of Strategy; and finally, The CEO and the Outside World. Here are four brief excerpts from various essays:
"A new CEO from outside the company also has to make it clear that some things will not change -- including basic values and ethical standards. When I came to Merck, I felt it was especially important to make it clear that I was totally in line with the values and traditions of the company. This was a matter of personal principle for me -- and something that was recognized by the board while they were recruiting and hiring me. I didn't want to impose new traditions or abandon old ones simply because I was coming in from the outside." Raymond V. Gilmartin, chairman and CEO of Merck & Co.
"Even when leading from strength, a CEO undergoing fundamental change must prepare for the long haul. The legendary film producer once quipped, `Give me a couple of years, and I'll make that actress an overnight success.' Similarly, a CEO has to realize that real transformation takes real time to accomplish. The biggest reason that corporate transformation is so difficult is that while it is easy to get agreement on what the problem is, the solution is seldom so obvious. People persist in trying to keep part of the old strategy alive, even if that gets in the way of implementing the new one." C. Michael Armstrong, chairman of Comcast Corporation and former chairman and CEO of AT&T and Hughes Electronics
"Anyone who is a graduate of GE's management training can be fairly accused of being consumed with the pursuit of data. But as I quickly learned, data are even more important in the retail game, given the speed with which you need to make decisions to respond to customer preferences or competitive challenges. Solid measurement systems were also needed to understand our workplace, our market, and the communities we served. To deal with this data in a smart way and make the information part of our short- and long-term thinking, we introduced the SOAR system -- a strategic, operating, and resource planning process -- which lets my senior team think about our strategy in a more organized way." Robert L. Nardelli, chairman, president, and CEO of The Home Depot
"I strongly believe that one of the key elements of success in investor relations [or relations with capital sources such as financial institutions] is to treat as customers the investors and analysts [or loan officers] with whom you are communicating. IR's job is to service the people who have influence over the company's share price [or working capital], just as the sales and marketing divisions service the people who have influence over the company's revenue." Mark W. Begor, president and CEO of GE Consumer Finance-Americas and former head of Investor Communications at General Electric
Many of those who should read this book are owners/CEOs of small, family-owned companies. Begor's comments mat not seem directly relevant to them but, in fact, they are. Over the years, I have worked closely with hundreds of such companies and until I strongly recommended it, only a few CEOs maintained direct and frequent contact (except on an as-needed basis) with her or his company's banker, attorney, accountant, insurance agent, etc. Why not invite them to serve on an advisory board which meets quarterly for breakfast or lunch? Why not see the advisory board as a focus group and/or unofficial board of directors to whom a quarterly "state of the company" briefing is presented? If you are an owner/CEO of such a company, re-read Begor's essay while thinking about members of the advisory board as the collective equivalent of investors and analysts. Formulate and then implement your IR initiatives accordingly.
To repeat, Carey and Von Weichs asked each of the contributors to address their topic "as if it were the advice they wished they had received when they first started their job." For whom will this advice be of greatest value? In my opinion, anyone now involved in business or preparing to do so. Few ever become a CEO but thinking like a CEO substantially improves the chances of becoming an effective senior-level executive. As this book clearly indicates, there is much to be learned from seasoned and retired CEOs "who have been working in the trenches for many years."
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