Most Respected CEOs
(Free Online Edition)
In collaboration with the
International Institute of Management
Lessons from the Most Respected CEOs
Selecting the right executive is probably the single most important
decision any company can make. While most companies have a formal
list of CEO’s selection criteria, they often misplace the weight of
each criterion when they are evaluating individual
Typically, companies engage an executive search firm and rely on
it to find the right person. Many times this does not result in the
success that the company anticipates. Most executive search firms will send
only what they consider “safe” candidates for the company to accept.
Usually, the focus is placed on criteria such as cultural fit, years
of industry experience and education. While these are
helpful indicators of the candidate’s abilities, our research
findings has taught us that many of the criteria used
to qualify the candidates are less important than what the company
or the recruiters think.
Top CEOs come from many diverse personal, educational and
professional backgrounds. After researching more than 1,000 CEOs of
global companies, and looking at their educational and professional
backgrounds, we came to the conclusion that selecting a successful
CEO boils down to three criteria; the candidate’s decision-making
abilities, leadership skills, and personality strengths. All other
factors are less important and in some cases proven irrelevant as
demonstrated by the list.
The CEO's Critical Success Factors
A multi-dimensional decision-making ability is important
to enable CEOs to navigate the continuously changing internal and
external forces in a complex and uncertain competitive environment.
CEOs constantly evaluate and choose between alternative
strategic and tactical courses of actions, while considering the
decision constraints and potential risks. Our research is full of
examples of CEOs who were brought from outside the company, outside
the industry, and sometimes even outside the country. Their results
were far superior to their predecessors, who had all the relevant
operational, business and cultural information.
Leadership ability is critical to strategy execution.
CEOs must be able to balance and influence the complex
organizational relationships and sometimes conflicting stakeholders’
interests. Relationship management with the board, government,
public, clients, employees and their power centers is a key
difference between a successful and unsuccessful implementation of
the business strategy. None of the researched CEOs could have
succeeded or scaled their growth to a global level without acquiring
and aligning the strong support of their professional networks,
business partners and executive teams. Almost all CEOs attribute
their success to hiring, developing or motivating top talents. Our
research has examples of some of the most brilliant CEOs who failed
due to their lack of relationship management skills or due to a
strong opposing political environment.
Personality strengths are ambition, drive, resilience, and
the ability of the executive candidate to manage extremely heavy
workloads and stress. Leading a business organization is a highly
competitive and demanding race. The scope of work, scale of
responsibility, information overload, and number of demanding
relationships can be overwhelming. Most CEOs perform well during
good business conditions. Few can do well in stressful times. Even
less are able to shine during a crisis.
The research of the “Most Respected CEOs”
has taught us new and important lessons. The following is a partial
list of the research findings that challenged the many common
misconceptions about the ideal CEO’s personal and professional profiles.
- Culture or social background does not matter as much as
most companies think.
Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan Motor, and one of the most
successful CEOs of all time, proved that you do not need to know
the culture or speak the language to run one of the largest
companies in the world. Possessing the right leadership skills
can turn around an a foreign company with a foreign culture in a
foreign country. It is worth noting that when Ghosn took the CEO
position at Nissan he did not even speak Japanese.
- The profile of
Blair, CEO of Catalyst Health Inc. taught us that age and
years of experience do not matter as much as most companies
think. David is one of several examples of young CEOs who led
their companies to very high growth levels. Catalyst Health is one of
the fastest growing companies with 1,000 employees producing
more than $3 billion in revenues.
- Paul Diaz, CEO
of Kindred Healthcare Inc.,
Robert Dutkowsky the
CEO of Tech Data, and several others taught us that a CEO's
academic education does not matter as much as the recruiters
think. On the other hand, professional training and
experiential development is critical to the success of the CEO
and the company. Contrary to popular views, most successful CEOs
did not graduate from Ivy League universities; many of them do
not have MBA degrees. Some of the
most successful CEOs have law, technical, physics, or HR
Christopher Connor, CEO of The Sherwin-Williams Company, and
John Wren, CEO of Omnicom,
taught us that hiring top talent is the ultimate competitive
- John Stumpf, CEO of
Wells Fargo & Company, taught us that a CEO who admits
mistakes and does not sugarcoat or omit bad news is a CEO to
- Joseph Saunders, CEO
of Visa Inc., taught us that advocacy and lobbying are
critical to the success of the company in a changing regulatory
- Robert Dutkowsky,
CEO of Tech Data Corporation, taught us that having good
mentors at work is critical to the performance of the executive
and the company.
- The success of
David Simon, CEO
of Simon Property Group, is attributed to his ability to
identify and negotiate M&A opportunities as a growth strategy.
- Eric Schmidt, CEO of
Google Inc., taught us that every day brings new challenges.
The CEO's job is to keep things focused.
- We believe the success of
Tony F. Earley, CEO of
DTE Energy, is attributed in a substantial part to his
professional and government network.
- Jeffrey Joerres, CEO
of Manpower Inc., taught us that it is critical for the CEO
to get out of his office and meet people face to face. The CEO
must stay connected with his people so that they know where the
challenges lie within the organization.
- The lesson we learned from
Matt Rubel, CEO of
Collective Brands, Inc., is that the business strategy,
regardless of the economic climate, is to remain focused on the
consumers. They hold the key to any retailer or brand success.
- Michael Dan, CEO of
Brinks Inc., taught us that the three top skills needed for a
CEO are focus, communication skills, and stress management.
- The success of
Manganello, CEO of BorgWarner Inc., is based on his strategy
to seek technology as a competitive advantage and his ability to
think and act in a global framework. This enabled him to
diversify the company's portfolio of investors, products and
markets which was the key to overcome the worst US economic
- Mike Morris, CEO of
American Electric Power (AEP), taught us that motivation and
encouragement is the best way to get things done through your
- The most important lesson any executive can learn from
Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Inc.,
is that innovation leadership is the best value creation
strategy. He also taught us that the most successful CEO is not
the one who makes fewer mistakes, but the one who quickly learns
from them and moves on.
- Muhammad Yunus,
CEO of Garmeen Bank, taught us that the greatest challenge
of the CEO is to change the mindset of the stakeholders, because
mindsets play strange tricks on people.
About the Author
Med Jones is the president of the
International Institute of
Management - A best practices research
and education institute. IIM provides CEO and executive support
services, strategic planning retreats and custom corporate training
courses for the global Fortune 1000 companies and governments.
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