Sunday, August 30th 2015


Consummate Leader: AmEx CEO Chenault Stresses Innovation

Chenault3_Amex-Alibaba_06.10.2015

The average tenure of a CEO in corporate America is just shy of 10 years. Despite the accolades, the glamour, the publicity (or perhaps, because of it) being Chief Executive Officer of a publicly traded company is a tough job. The quarterly grind of meeting earnings expectations and satisfying shareholders chafes away at the staying power of these business leaders.

That’s why it’s so impressive that Kenneth I. Chenault remains firmly ensconced as chief of American Express after 14 years. I’m certain a succession plan is in place (that’s what good leadership teams do) but to see Chenault, now 64, you’d think he’ll be at the helm for another decade. Despite the rigors of leading a modern financial services company, and despite some speed bumps and missteps, his gait remains vibrant, his demeanor positive, his insight sharp. I fought through the crowd at Chicago’s Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel recently to greet Chenault, who was in town to promote the value of small business. When his eyes caught mine, he smiled warmly and shook my hand as if we were treasured brothers. In that fleeting moment, he made me feel good, important (that, too, is what good leaders do).

After working the crowd better than even the best of politicians do, Chenault assumed his role for the day. He moderated a conversation with Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of the gigantic Chinese online commerce company Alibaba, which was, astonishingly, a small business itself not too many years ago. (more…)

Fast Food Restaurant CEO Shares Attributes For Leadership

A Segment in the Series “Leadership Insights: Interviews with Global Leaders”

in partnership with the Executives’ Club of Chicago

Aylwin Lewis grew up in Houston, Texas, in a modest, working-class household, and has gone on to achieve impressive credentials as a leader in corporate America. He is now Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Potbelly Sandwich Works, a growing network of fast-casual sandwich shops based in Chicago. Under Lewis’ leadership, Potbelly has surged from about 200 restaurant locations to nearly 350 throughout the United States, plus a few in the Middle East. Soon, Lewis will lead Potbelly’s further expansion into Europe.

Before taking on the CEO role at Potbelly, in 2004 Lewis was recruited to take over as CEO of Kmart Holding Corporation, making him at the time the highest ranking African-American executive in the U.S. retail industry. As if that wasn’t enough, his former boss, Edward Lampert, Kmart’s and Sears’ investor chairman, quickly named Lewis CEO and President of Sears Holdings (Kmart’s parent). Sears was then the third largest retailer in the United States, but one struggling mightily to keep customers. It was a daunting assignment, and Lewis left Sears in January 2008 amid the embattled company’s restructuring.

Now he is firmly in command at Potbelly, which he took public a little over a year ago. In total, Lewis has over 29 years of executive and restaurant experience. Before he came to Chicago, from 2000 to 2004, he was President, Chief Multi-Branding and Operating Officer of YUM! Brands – the parent of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. He was Chief Operating Officer of Pizza Hut from 1996 to 2000, a period which one analyst, alluding to Lewis’ leadership, called “the halcyon Pizza Hut years.”

In addition to his Chairman & CEO roles at Potbelly, Lewis is also a member of the Board of Directors of The Walt Disney Company, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, and he currently serves as a trustee of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

Lewis sat down with me after a recent presentation to the Executives’ Club of Chicago to share his views on leadership — from the courage and conviction strong leadership requires to the critical role that mentors play. Click the video image above to see our conversation.

Chalk Talk: Being Too Smart Undercuts Office Relationships

Will Lucas

Wilfred J. “Will” Lucas is President of the W. Lucas Group, Inc., a leadership development and executive coaching firm based in the Chicago area.  Previously, he spent nearly 25 years working in various corporate executive positions, including leadership positions as divisional general manager of Allegiance Healthcare, a unit of Cardinal Health, and also corporate staff leadership roles at Baxter Healthcare.  As a business coach, Lucas works with high potential middle managers and senior leaders in a cross section of industries.  He has engaged with numerous clients — at companies from BMO Harris Bank to Blue Cross Blue Shield — to help them leverage their individual gifts to achieve personal and company goals.  The strategic “chalk talks” Lucas will present here are designed to help readers develop the leadership skills which can propel them to the next level.

By Will Lucas

A young client of mine who works as a financial analyst in a large company, recently complained to me about how he was having trouble influencing some of his constituents in the business. His role is to be a business partner to the marketing managers responsible for building product and creating marketing strategies for the company’s product lines.  These marketing managers do not report directly to my client. He is not their boss. His role is to help them manage overall profitability of the product line, and his challenge has been to influence his marketing colleagues – to get them to accept his recommendations – even if they don’t have to listen to him.

It’s a difficult challenge that many professionals face, but they don’t always handle it as deftly as they should. Consider what happened with my client: The marketing manager proposed a pricing strategy that would have produced profit on paper, but according to my client’s analysis it would not have been accepted in a highly competitive market place.  So, my client raised strong objections. The problem is that he did it in an open meeting with the manager’s peers and supervisor present.

For everybody to hear, my client contradicted the marketing manager. He told everyone that the profit forecast made by the marketing manager was not very realistic. This caught the manager off guard. He likely felt embarrassed and perhaps betrayed. So he defended himself, declaring that despite my client’s opinion, he did not have a final say in the matter. My client may have appeared smart, but the move defeated his purpose by straining a relationship he had hoped to bolster.

Here’s the lesson learned: (more…)

NFL’s Washington Redskins Need Courageous Leadership

redskins-no-logo-small(NBA) Commissioner Silver showed great leadership in banning LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life.  — Magic Johnson, NBA Hall of Famer

Exemplary leadership doesn’t come easily. It takes courage. It takes a strength of character that, frankly, not too many possess. As one chief executive I know likes to say, the best of leaders don’t “succumb to the convenient.” They push to identify the best course, not just the easiest. That’s what the NBA Commissioner Adam Silver did when faced with the scurrilous and prejudiced rants of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling. But the opposite is true of the National Football League’s leadership. When it comes to a series of prejudiced actions tainting the NFL, the league and its leaders have tripped and stumbled, fumbling away the opportunity like a slippery-fingered running back. (more…)

Healthcare CEO Talks Leadership And Industry Transformation

Leadership in the Field: Interviews with Global Leaders

By Russell Reynolds Associates with Roger O. Crockett

 

George Barrett is Chairman and CEO of Cardinal Health, a Fortune 100 health care services company. Barrett served as Vice Chairman of Cardinal Health and CEO of its Healthcare Supply Chain Services business from January 2008 to August 2009, when the company concluded a sweeping reorganization that resulted in Barrett’s promotion to the top job. Prior to Cardinal Health, Barrett held a number of executive positions with Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries. He is also a director on the board of Eaton Corp.

When I met with Barrett at Cardinal’s headquarters in Dublin, Ohio. He was cordial and accommodating, but he also impressed me as a no-nonsense kind of leader. It’s appropriate. He is after all, in charge of a nearly $100 billion company that employs something close to 30,000 people worldwide. As you might expect for a healthcare executive, Barrett is fit and energetic. After our meeting he pointed through a window to the recently renovated sections of Cardinal’s sprawling campus, which includes a state of the art fitness center. Then with a handshake and smile, he was off; perhaps to get in a workout.

For a glimpse of George Barrett’s views on leadership, watch the video interview by clicking the video image above, or read the transcript that follows.

An Edited Transcript

CHAPTER 1 – TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERSHIP: “THE BOARD IS THE STRATEGY COMMITTEE.”

Roger Crockett: Well, of course many industries are in the midst of massive change, including yours, the healthcare industry. How critical is it amidst that change to re-invent a company, and how do you recommend a management team go about that reinvention?

George Barrett: Well, the word reinvention is used a lot these days and probably means a lot of different things to different folks. I think for us this is a time of extraordinary change. It is for many businesses, but certainly those of us in healthcare realize that we’re in a system that’s undergoing a lot of unique pressures. You’ve got enormous population health issues. You’ve got still a large number of uninsured or under-insured Americans. You’ve got issues of public health, and issues around demographics that are really creating a huge challenge when you think about the economic impact for us. So we’ve thought a lot about the reinvention of the company and I think all companies need to do this. I think the constant evaluation of where you are, what your portfolio looks like in the midst of changes is a critical thing for us. So we’ve devoted a lot of attention to this. (more…)

Leadership: 10 Tenets for Creating Billions in Value

By Shawn D. Baldwin

carlos-slim-leadershipThe prolific growth and subsequent value creation of the companies launched by Carlos Slim Helu (left) catapulted him to being named the world’s richest man (surpassing Bill Gates) according to Forbes in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. This is an incredible feat, as most people had believed surpassing Bill Gates in net worth to be a fantasy. It is all the more notable because Carlos Slim (as he’s called) is from a developing country, Mexico. He comes from very humble beginnings, but he began his investing career at the early age of 12. He initially made his first fortune in real estate, becoming a millionaire in his early 20’s, and he has since created a net worth of over $73 billion dollars through his companies. Slim’s holdings are diverse, ranging from securities and banking to insurance and real estate. However, he is most well known for his success in the telecommunications industry. His core holding is America Movil SAB (AMXL) which operates in 18 countries, takes in revenues of over $59 billion, and has over 150,000 employees.

telmexThe telecommunications industry is well-suited for outlining Value Creation (a series this author, Baldwin, writes for Fast Company). The telecom sector, driven by wireless technology and innovation, has been a dominant generator of wealth and jobs. As a point of reference, the telecom sector was up last year over 21% and has a total market capitalization of over $93 billion. The capital markets believe the sector has tremendous upside, as we saw Verizon close the largest bond transaction in history — a $50 billion bond deal last year. Slim sees more potential opportunities in telecom and for American Movil. He says the industry will invest over $9 billion over the next four years, citing greater speed and services for small business as the particular growth engines.

Despite his immense wealth, the first most notable thing about Slim is his extreme humility. Despite being a multi-billionaire, Slim resides in a relatively modest six-bedroom house that is less than a mile away from his office. He personally doesn’t ascribe to the concept of conspicuous consumption, and doesn’t have a super yacht or multiple mansions around the world. He doesn’t have a fleet of high-performance, exotic cars, and he still prefers to drive himself. (more…)

Leadership: Business and Life Lessons from Nelson Mandela

The wheels of American Airlines Flight 6447, the plane I was aboard, touched down in Johannesburg, South Africa on Saturday, December 7th — two days after President Nelson Mandela passed away at the age of 95.  As my pastor has since assured me, this was divine destiny: to be in that country, at that time.  It was my first trip to the Motherland, and as I took my first steps on Africa’s hallowed ground, I was anxious about what I might see and experience.

mandela-v1

To be sure, Johannesburg (“Joburg,” as South Africans affectionately call it) defies the stereotypical images perpetuated by American media.  Little is “Third World” about this great city.  With a population of more than 3 million, it has more people living in its city limits than the number of people living in my current home of Chicago.  The district we stayed in, Sandton, is a bustling, modern mix of business offices, shopping malls and upscale hotels.  It is the neighborhood where Oprah and President Obama stay when they visit Johannesburg.

President Mandela lived a couple of miles away from Sandton in an elegant suburb called Houghton.  The neighborhood reminded me of driving down the best-manicured streets of Kenwood-Hyde Park in Chicago or Bel Air in Los Angeles.  Huge houses are protected by large fences, walls and gates.  A security guard stood on the red brick sidewalk leading to the golden-walled home that Mandela lived in until he passed.  What was most striking about Mandela’s house was the dense, 6-foot wall of flowers that surrounded it (pic above).  The rows of flowers had been there for months — repeatedly replenished by admirers of “Madiba” (as South Africans call him) since he had fallen gravely ill.

The people of South Africa, indeed the people of the world, love Nelson Mandela.  The current of that love washed over me like a spiritual tsunami, as I stood not too many steps from his front door.  And as I spent the next several days with South Africa’s people, I learned a lot about why Mandela was so beloved as a leader.  Here, I share five attributes, or lessons, that made his leadership style so irresistible and effective. (more…)

Leadership: A High Performance Year for Women Execs

Yahoo-CEO-Marissa-Mayer

Dick Costolo took Twitter public last year. Jeff Bezos continues to transform Amazon into the “everything” retailer. Sergio Marchionne is resurrecting Chrysler. These men led their companies to impressive achievements in 2013. Still, in my book, no one accomplished more than Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer, HP’s Meg Whitman and Xerox’s Ursula Burns. Here’s why:

Mayer faced an uphill battle when she was named CEO in the summer of 2012. Yahoo, once a promising player in the race for Internet riches, had been dusted by the likes of Google and Facebook. Despite the millions of users it had drawn over the years, I considered the Silicon Valley (Sunnyvale) company’s prospects as dead as a dial-up modem.

Clearly, Mayer doesn’t give a hoot what most people think. One of her first moves as Chief in 2013 was to ban Yahoo employees from working from home (and this in a region legendary companies were launched by people working in PJs out of their garage).  The approach drew widespread criticism at first. But in Mayer’s mind, “to become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side,” she wrote in an internal memo. “That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.”

The  move helped develop a culture of collaboration and devotion at Yahoo. (more…)

Leadership: Unilever’s Chairman Explains Boardroom Strategy

Leadership in the Field: Interviews with Global Leaders

By Russell Reynolds Associates with Roger O. Crockett

Michael Treschow, Chairman of Unilever, discusses the board’s relationship with the C-suite, including CEO support, succession, diversity and driving a winning strategy.

For a glimpse of Treschow’s views on leadership, watch the video below.

 

 

Michael Treschow is Chairman of Unilever N.V. and PLC, a global powerhouse in consumer packaged goods. He was appointed Chairman in May 2007. He is a member of Unilever’s Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee and the Compensation and Management Resources Committee. Prior to joining the Unilever board, Treschow was Chairman of telecom networking equipment maker Telefonaktiebolaget L M Ericsson, from 2002 to 2011. He was also chairman of the board of AB Electrolux from 2004 to 2007. Treschow became CEO of Electrolux in 1997, and before that he was president and CEO of Atlas Copco AB. A native of Sweden, Treschow was chairman of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise until joining Unilever.

CHAPTER 1: Supporting a new CEO through succession and transition

Roger Crockett:       As Chairman of Ericsson previously and now with Unilever, you’ve overseen several CEO successions.  So what is the role of the Chairman in that succession planning process?

Michael Treschow: I think the Chairman has to be the most active in it, but particularly if you look at the situation in the Anglo Saxon companies, like Unilever, the Nomination Committee, which is a committee of the board, has a key role to make sure that you specify the job and run the process.

If we take the example of Unilever, our Nomination Committee meets every time we have a board meeting, roughly five or six times a year.  Among its key duties is surely to make sure we are on top of the succession planning.  But also the full board is interested. So at least once a year we have a full session with the board on succession planning and talent management. (more…)

Leadership: Amazon CEO Sets Pace for Jobs and Innovation

 

Amazon recently announced that it missed earnings on the bottom line for the period ending in June, and yet the stock has hardly quivered. It dropped in early trading July 25 when earnings were released, but it has since bounced back. The stock is up nearly 30% over the past 12 months, and in March traded at more than 700 times the previous 12 months’ earnings—the highest price-to-earnings ratio of any company in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index. All this, despite consistently reporting flat to negative net income.

What gives?  Well, investors are showing confidence in Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his growth strategy. They recognize that sales remain extremely strong, growing 22% to 15.7 billion in the second quarter. Meanwhile the company is using its cash to invest: In warehouses for distribution that brings the orders of its various products to consumers more quickly, in movie development and distribution, in new hand-held devices and set-top boxes that expand the array of entertainment and information options for users.

Some wonder if Amazon is the omen to a sequel of the dotcom crash. I don’t think so. (more…)