Lessons from the Top : The Search of America's Best Business Leaders

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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 1999-08-17
  • Publisher: Crown Business

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In the bestselling tradition ofIn Search of Excellence, a fascinating and authoritative selection of the most successful business leaders in America--and the strategies, methods, and motivational tools they use to help make their companies great. "I don't expect anyone to be perfect," says Mike Armstrong, CEO of a reinvigorated AT&T. "It's not human nature. What I do expect is that they will take risks, correct mistakes, and learn from both." This is only one of the hundreds of comments and insights behind some of the most successful business minds in American industry. InLessons from the Top, Thomas J. Neff and James M. Citrin--the U.S. Chairman and a Managing Director of the renowned executive search firm Spencer Stuart--set out to identify the most successful business leaders in America, based on the most exacting standards imaginable. Then, in an extraordinary series of what amounts to master classes, the authors sit down with each of the fifty executives to discuss the long-term strategies, key accomplishments, guiding beliefs, and career milestones that have helped to make their organizations among the best-run companies in the world. Lou Gerstner of IBM underscores the necessity of adapting to change. "We are constantly challenging what we do--building a culture of restless self-renewal." Ray Gilmartin of Merck discusses, among other things, the critical role of leadership. "My job is really to set the overall strategic direction of the company, to ensure that we are organized to carry out that strategy, and that we have the right management processes in place. I need to create an environment where everyone in the organization can achieve their full potential so that our company does." What makes a business leader great? This is one of the burning questions in companies and boardrooms across America. An even more compelling question: Are there things each of us can learn from these leaders that we can apply to our own lives? Not surprisingly, there is no single answer to copy or formula to follow in order to excel in business. In fact, the leaders selected inLessons from the Topare wildly different in their personalities, their paths to the top, and the industries they work in. But perhaps the best way to learn how to excel is by studying the strategies and thinking of the wide range of leaders who have proved themselves the best in their industries. Of course, any list of the best business leaders in America would include such recognizable CEOs as Jack Welch, Bill Gates, Lou Gerstner, and Andy Grove. But the list the authors have so exhaustively researched and selected--with the help of the Gallup Organization and the analytical tools of investment advisors Lazard Freres--includes many names that are far less familiar--extraordinarily successful CEOs such as pharmaceutical industry leader Bill Steere of Pfizer, advertising executive Shelly Lazarus of Ogilvy & Mather, Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco International, and Frank Raines of Fannie Mae. In the final section of the book, the authors distill the surprising number of qualities and characteristics that these extraordinarily accomplished individuals share, to offer lessons to help us in our own lives and careers. A groundbreaking book on business and success,Lessons from the Topshould be required reading by leaders--and future leaders--everywhere.

Author Biography

Thomas J. Neff is Chairman of Spencer Stuart U.S. Hailed by <i>The Wall Street Journal</i> as "The No. 1 Brand Name in CEO Searches," he has been profiled on the cover of <i>Business Week</i> and in the Money & Business section of <i>The New York Times.</i><br><br>James M. Citrin is Managing Director of Spencer Stuart's Global Communications and Media Practice. He has authored articles in <i>The New York Times</i> and has appeared on CNBC and CNN.<br><br>The authors live in Connecticut.

Table of Contents

PART I The Search for the Best Business Leaders in America 1(28)
What Makes Business Leaders Great
Evaluating Today's Business Leaders
Methodology: A Closer Look at the Numbers
PART II Profiles 29(324)
Overview to Profiles
``You've got to have the guts to make a decision.''
Mike Armstrong
Leading by example
Carol Bartz
Creating customers for life
Hans Becherer
It's how you'd run an airline
Gordon Bethune
``There was a time when I thought brains were everything.''
Larry Bossidy
Jim Broadhead
You've got mail
Steve Case
``Everybody here knows what we want to accomplish.''
John Chambers
The power of direct
Michael Dell
Managing the nation's material, human, and inner resources
Elizabeth Dole
``You don't want to be a manager. You want to be a leader.''
Bob Eaton
``The only real values are the eternal ones.''
Bernie Ebbers
``What you are striving for is magic, not perfection.''
Michael Eisner
The Gap Formula for Success is as easy as 1-2-3: luck, common sense, and a small ego.
Don Fisher
(Earth) Mover
Don Fites
Bill Gates
``Once you think you can write down what made you successful, you won't be.''
Lou Gerstner
``Working for a higher purpose''
Ray Gilmartin
``We hire PSDs: people who are poor, smart, and have a deep desire to be rich.''
Ace Greenberg
``You look for white blackbirds.''
Hank Greenberg
The boss must be in charge of training.
Andy Grove
Rallying---and leading---the troops
Charles Heimbold
Keeping everything in balance
Martha Ingram
David Johnson
``Culture is your number-one priority.''
Herb Kelleher
``We have to keep earning the trust of our customers.''
Bill Kerr
``Keep it simple.''
Chuck Knight
``There is a lot one person can do.''
Dennis Kozlowski
``Edicts don't work.''
Ralph Larsen
The $30 billion corner store
Ken Lay
360-degree branding
Shelly Lazarus
Taking care of the customers, and the people who take care of the customers
Bill Marriott
``You've got to do what you do well.''
Lou Noto
``The test is how you connect with people.''
Paul O'Neill
``What do you want to achieve?''
John Pepper
Reluctant role model
Frank Raines
Sharing success
Howard Schultz
``I am the customer.''
Charles Schwab
``If people feel valued, you have a much stronger company.''
Walter Shipley
``Not to be an entrepreneur is to begin the process of decline and decay.''
Fred Smith
``Fads come. Fads go. We concentrate on what we do best.''
Bill Steere
Bet the company, with everyone's help
Bob Tillman
Alex Trotman
``There is only one question to ask: What's best for the customer?''
Dan Tully
David Komansky
Serious about business, serious about people
Mike Volkema
``You must have a moral compass.''
Charles Wang
Let's build something together
Sandy Weill
``I don't think anyone understands the value of informal.''
Jack Welch
Al Zeien
PART III Lessons Learned 353(36)
The 51st Business Leader: Peter Drucker
``Yes, you want to manage for results. But what do you mean by results?''
Doing the Right Things Right: A New Definition of Business Success
Common Traits: A Prescription for Success in Business
Appendices 389(22)
Appendix 1 (Gallup Survey)
Appendix 2 (Financial Analysis Methodology)
Appendix 3 (Interview Guide)
Acknowledgments: The Making of Lessons from the Top 411(6)
Index 417


What Makes Business Leaders Great

Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson
WHO ARE THE BEST BUSINESS LEADERS IN AMERICA? WHAT MAKES them great? What can we learn from them as we try to turn our own aspirations into reality?

These three questions have driven us from the moment that we began this project in April of 1997. They are relatively simple questions to ask. But they are extremely difficult to answer.

We had originally intended to open Lessons from the Top with an anecdote describing a real phone call we had received from a corporate board member asking us to launch an executive search for a new chief executive officer.

The board member, someone we had worked with over a period of years, wanted us to develop a list of candidates who could succeed the company's CEO, a man who had just informed the board that he intended to retire at year's end.

Up until that point, the phone call was fairly typical. Recruiting senior executives and board members to build our clients' management teams is what we do at Spencer Stuart. Each year, as one of the world's largest executive search firms, we interview over 40,000 executives around the world, in the course of more than 4,000 assignments that we conduct out of 50 offices located in 25 countries. Our recent assignments have included recruiting new CEOs to lead AT&T, Delta Airlines, Quaker Oats, Reader's Digest, J. Crew, and Weyerhaeuser.

Spencer Stuart has been recruiting such top talent for more than 40 years. So this particular phone call did not set off any unusual alarms. What was surprising, though, was his next request: Our client asked us to advise the board as well about what they should be looking for in their next CEO. Not only what industry background, company size, and geographic breadth, but the more subtle and potentially important characteristics. Who is the right kind of leader? What kind of attributes should he or she have?

The reason this brought us up short was that it was one of a number of similar requests we had recently received from our clients, firms that range from venture capital-backed start-ups, to some of America's largest companies.

Given the growing interest in this question, we decided to forgo opening the book with an elaborate story, and plunge right into the heart of the issue.

What, in fact, makes someone a great business leader? What does it really take to lead an organization successfully in today's ever more competitive and fast-moving world economy?

When we considered this carefully, we realized that it is not surprising that these questions are surfacing more frequently. They are the very things that individuals, whether given the responsibility of running an organization or managing a department, must answer and answer quickly.

As the deposed former chief executives of AT&T, Kmart, and Sunbeam can well attest, managers are being given less and less time to make a difference today.

Operating in what feels like an ever-tightening vise--being squeezed by global competition on one side and a rapidly changing, technology-driven business landscape on the other--it is only natural for managers to look for comfort in what has worked in the past. Unfortunately, as they have learned the hard way, we are no longer operating under the old rules. When a company's board loses confidence in its CEO, it often takes decisive action. And conducting a search for a new leader is often the action it takes. It is often also the point where we come in.

What Spencer Stuart Does

Executive search is a specialized form of management consulting that focuses on defining a company's leadership requirements as a function of its strategy, and then identifies, interviews, and recruits the most appropriate candidate to execute that strategy.

Developing insight into business leaders' careers and lives--what makes them "tick"--is essential for us to fulfill our mandate, as we set out to find the right executive.

To assess a candidate for a top position, we perform an in-depth appraisal of the executive's career accomplishments, management style, obstacles overcome, mistakes made and lessons learned, leadership philosophy, formative life experiences, and personal and professional ambitions. Given that executives are often competing for these high-profile appointments, it is in their interest to make certain that we understand their industries, companies, and careers as much as possible.

Meeting with all of these executives, and developing insights into their business successes and what makes leaders great, has provided us with the privilege of learning from many of the top business leaders in the world. We have grown professionally and personally as a result and wanted to share what we have learned. This was one of the principal reasons behind writing this book.

To give these lessons about success and leadership maximum impact, we decided that it was critical to hear from the very best. And rather than simply subjectively picking the "best" leaders to study, we felt compelled to apply an objective and rigorous analytical process. This decision was partially the result of the fact-based, analytical approach that was instilled in both of us earlier in our careers as management consultants at McKinsey & Company.

So we undertook to do what no one else has done before. We put together a rigorous methodology aimed at identifying the very best business leaders in America and then interviewed those leaders at length to discover why they have been so successful.

There are, of course, entire libraries of books that analyze key leadership qualities. But most are rather academic in their approach, or are limited by a single author's perspective.

And while there are scores of annual rankings of top business managers, our review suggests that these tabulations have neither the requisite analytical rigor nor the depth to elucidate the stories behind the rankings.

Neither approach seems to bring to life what it takes to be a great leader in a way that can be applied to real life.

In light of this, we set the ambitious dual goals of:

1) Being as analytically sound as possible in constructing our list of business leaders, and

2) Articulating their stories in as personal and approachable a style as possible.

Based on the methodology described below and in Chapter 3, we created the list of business leaders that is as close as we could come to answering our first question, "Who are the best business leaders in America?"

Excerpted from Lessons from the Top: The Search of America's Best Business Leaders by Thomas J. Neff, James M. Citrin, Paul Brown
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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