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Creation ECC200 in Software TWO The Sources of the Problem

CHAPTER TWO The Sources of the Problem
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The Star CEO
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Another fundamental underpinning of American culture at work is the near deification of the star CEO. Their names are synonymous with the companies they led, such as Chrysler s Lee Iacocca, IBM s Lou Gerstner, AT&T s Michael Armstrong, and Coca-Cola s Roberto Goizueta. Despite the disclosure of his ultra-generous retirement package, ex-GE CEO Jack Welch is revered for his tough, nononsense stance. Even when they are not well liked, they earn a respect borne of their sheer might, determination, and, of course, their winner status. They are what Harvard Business Review calls the star CEOs. Given the Protestant ethic that underscores our association of the spiritual and the economic, there s little surprise that Rakesh Khurana, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Harvard Business School, uses religious terminology in describing the attributes of the star CEO. When people describe the qualities that enable a CEO to lead, the word they use most often is charisma. . . . Nevertheless, charisma remains as difficult to define as art or love. Few who advocate it are able to convey what they mean by the term. Fewer still are aware that the concept is borrowed from Christianity, Khurana writes. 6 As Khurana explains, in the New Testament Saint Paul writes of the charisms, or gifts of the Holy Spirit that Christians may possess. Those gifted with charisma were thought to be good leaders. While the meaning of charisma has changed over time, there is still a sense of admiration for those chosen few considered to have unique inspirational powers. Believing their CEO (or incoming CEO) to be a star, companies react in a predictable manner. They seek to reward this top talent lavishly to show appreciation and, more importantly, to keep them from going someplace else. This fundamental belief has driven executive compensation to the outrageous highs we ve seen in recent years, which, despite the drop in corporate performance and stock prices, continues today. Companies pin their hopes on messianic CEOs to save the firm, turn around performance, and make all things right. When CEOs do, they are rewarded with a king s ran-
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PART ONE The Stock Option Problem
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som in salary, bonuses, and stock options. Even when they cannot perform financial miracles perhaps because of deteriorating economic conditions, heightened competition, or because they re merely mortal they are often given the benefit of the doubt and even more financial rewards to make sure they are properly motivated. The charisma or star quality of CEOs has been a driving force in the recruitment and hiring of top CEOs. They are sought out not only for their own merits, but also because of their association with other deified executives. In the Harvard Business Review article Khurana detailed the hiring of John Trani as CEO of tool and hardware manufacturer Stanley Works. Asked why Trani was selected, the factor mentioned the most by Stanley board members was that he had worked for GE s Welch. As Khurana wrote, Several directors discussed GE s track record in developing executives. All of them pointed to other former GE executives who were now leading U.S. companies. . . . Not one of the directors made any explicit connection between Trani s experiences at GE and the problems facing Stanley. In their eyes Trani had been imbued with charisma simply through his association with GE and Welch. Corporations rise to prominence, however, based on the strength of their organizations, not because of one individual acting alone. This flies in the face of the myth of the outside CEO who, it is hoped, can single-handedly restructure, redirect, revitalize, and rescue the company. All companies are a conglomeration of people and their talents. They are systems allowing individuals to interact in the creation of products and services and then selling and delivering them to the marketplace. A talented CEO can rally the troops and march on to victory in the marketplace. But the success of a CEO will depend largely upon the cooperation he or she receives from within the organization and from the existing strength of the organization itself. A case in point: Disney CEO Michael Eisner. Yes he s done a great job leading Disney. And he had a lot to work with, including the foundational values of the company, its products and properties, and the solid-gold Disney name. The myth of the star CEO is also challenged in the book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, which argues that while leaders may come and go, the power of the organization remains. The key point is that a visionary company is an organi-
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