Archive

Archive by topic: Leadership

3 Critical CEO Attributes

May 1st, 2016

Although different companies may require different qualifications at different times, the following key attributes are essential no matter what the situation.

Every CEO must be able to

  1. Create, with input from appropriate management team members, a carefully conceived written plan
  2. Recruit and retain the right people
  3. Ensure that the company has in place a sound system for ensuring accountability throughout the organization

Preparing a list of qualifications for a new CEO? Be sure that these three attributes are in the “must have” column. Without them, the entity will flounder.



The Turnaround Pope

December 30th, 2015

When I read the BusinessWeek article, Amid Scandal, the Pope Sticks With Reforms, it occurred to me that Pope Francis is leading an incredibly challenging turnaround.  As we all know, the Catholic Church has been faced with both sexual and financial wrongdoing, and Francis seems intent on bringing an end to both.  In addition, he is urging a more welcoming and compassionate approach while also expressing his views on global issues.

Any turnaround requires significant change and involves

  1. Identifying what change is needed
  2. Defining and implementing specific actions to be taken to achieve that change
  3. Persuading key stakeholders, at every step of the way, to accept and support the change

Stakeholder persuasion is often the most challenging aspect. It has been said, “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.”  Although Francis enjoys broad support both within and outside of the Church, he also faces an entrenched bureaucracy and opposition from “conservatives.”  At least some members of those factions, threatened by or disagreeing with his actions, are surely trying to thwart his efforts.

Beneath his kind, gentle-but-strong public presence, Pope Francis must have a spine of steel.



Proud and grateful to live in Portland

January 23rd, 2015

This week, I am particularly proud and grateful to live in Portland. Why?

Wednesday night, I attended an event co-sponsored by the Portland Development Commission and leading technology companies in the area that have joined together to promote and enhance Portland’s tech environment.

One highlight of the evening was a video, produced by John Waller’s fabulously talented Uncage the Soul Video Productions, that featured people who moved to Portland from other cities to work in the tech industry here.  Aside from the fact that the work from Uncage the Soul is always superb, what set this one apart was that the techies featured in the video were not predominantly white-and-male!  You can see the video here and learn more about TechTown Portland here.

After the video, representatives of several of the key sponsor companies made brief remarks.  The best comments came from Sam Blackman, CEO of Elemental Technologies, who said, much more eloquently than I, that Portland is the best place in the world to live and that Portland truly welcomes and values diversity!

John Waller and Sam Blackman are two examples of exceptionally bright, talented, thoughtful people who value the most important things in life.  It is a privilege to know them and to live in Portland with them!



The key qualifications for a CEO

January 11th, 2015

I have written before about The Experience Fallacy; i.e., making “industry experience” a must-have requirement for a CEO.

What should be the must-have requirements?  The following, copied from a position description posted on the web, captures perfectly the truly critical attributes:

  • Inspiring and Courageous Leadership: Ability to inspire, persuade, engage, speak straight-forwardly about complex issues, make tough decisions and take difficult actions. Display balanced thinking that combines analysis, wisdom, experience and perspective. Produce data-driven decisions that withstand the “test of time.”
  • Creativity and Innovation: Ability to generate new, innovative and visionary approaches to issues, approaches that are effective and responsive. Bring insightful perspectives on emerging and leading trends and best practices.
  • Build a Talented, Effective Staff Team: Hire, mentor, develop, retain, and manage a diverse staff. Assemble and reinforce a cohesive, dedicated, highly effective inter-disciplinary team. Ability to lead team through change processes.
  • Business and Management Acumen: Ability to manage human, financial and information resources strategically. Bring innovative approaches and solutions to challenges. Streamline and remove processes that do not bring value. Measure success based on results. Set high standards of performance, using accountability measures and benchmarks to track progress.

 



Gender diversity: McKinsey Global Survey results

February 16th, 2014

If you are interested in the topic of gender diversity (In this case, that means women in leadership roles), you will likely want to read the results of McKinsey’s global survey regarding gender diversity.  (The article includes a link to the entire report.)

To me, the most notable finding is the disparity between the perceptions of women and men.  The study notes:  “At all levels, the views on leadership ability diverge by gender.”

As an example, see below:  (Please note: this chart includes responses only from those who agree that women can lead as effectively as men.  It is unfortunate that the chart below does not include responses from those who do not agree that women can lead as effectively as men.)

 



Please read Lean In.

November 10th, 2013

Whether you are male or female, I urge you to read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg.  It’s short and easy to read.  More important, it’s a real eye-opener.

Women, you will see yourself in some of the situations and be surprised by others.  Men, the book will give you a glimpse of the world we women inhabit, and you will likely be shocked.

Would love to know what you think about it!



How does my library decide which books to buy?

September 22nd, 2013

I often borrow ebooks from the Multnomah County Library (my library) and, as I would do if I were visiting the physical library branch, spend time skimming the “shelves.”  As a result of a recent search, I cannot help wondering who decided to acquire 60 ecopies of 50 Shades of Grey (15 copies currently available) but only 16 copies of Lean In (57 users currently on waiting list) and what criteria that person used.



Office Depot/Office Max

March 6th, 2013

As you may recall, one of Renee’s Rules™ is “Two sick companies do not make a healthy one.”  

Based on my in-store and on-line customer service experiences with both Office Depot and Office Max, I predict that my rule will prove true for their upcoming merger UNLESS–and this is important–they hire a new, capable CEO for the combined entity. Although it is true that some of their troubles are attributable to the changing environment, the bigger problems is that these two companies simply are not well managed.

I rarely visited the Office Depot store in downtown Portland.  Store layout was horrid.  It simply took too long to find anything.  (Apparently, others felt the same.  The store is a ghost of its former self.)  The last time I tried to do business with Office Depot, I tried to use a coupon I received in the mail to make an on-line purchase.  The website would not recognize the coupon, so I tried calling.  When the customer service rep was unable to solve the problem after 15 minutes, I said, “Thank you very much” and have never bought anything from them again.  I really do “vote with my feet and/or my fingers.”

Office Max seems slightly better, but when I recently returned home from buying supplies at Office Max, I found a coupon that had started that day.  Really?

In the big picture, I am a teeny customer, but the examples above are symptoms of the kinds of problems that affect larger customers, too.

These companies–like too many others (ToysRUs comes to mind.)–simply do not pay adequate attention to operations and to detail.  They do not think about what it is like to be their customer.   The merger will extend life but is unlikely to produce a healthy entity.

 

 

 



Steve Jobs made my life easy.

October 5th, 2011

There have been many analyses written about what made Steve Jobs great, but the articles I have read have missed the key ingredient:  Steve was able to make things easy for his customers.  He knew instinctively that people would be more likely to use products that were intuitively easy to use, and his genius was that he was able to turn the idea of easy into the reality of easy.

My sons have saved my Apple IIe and the floppy disks with the  games they played.  We all love our iPhones, iPads, and Macs…..

I’ve been thinking about the  issue of “easy” because I had two “high-end” ovens installed in my kitchen this week.  Really, I just want to be able to put something into the oven and cook it, but the display is so complicated and the instruction book so inadequate that what should be intuitively easy, will take hours.  Will I love my ovens when I finally figure them out?  Of course, but the manufacturer has missed the boat by failing to provide the “customer delight” that results when something is actually easy to use.

Today, most of us feel that it has become increasingly difficult to get things done, so “easy” is now more important than ever.

As you may recall, one of  Renee’s Rules™ is:  Make my life easy.  This was one of Steve Job’s Rules long before it was mine.



Fact or fiction?

April 15th, 2011

The greatest danger to the future of our democracy is that too many people are unable to differentiate between what is fact and what is fiction and too few care.

Although I certainly agree that academic achievement needs to be improved in our country, no job in our educational system  is more important than ensuring that our citizens can  evaluate critically the information they receive.

Perhaps you have followed the Kyl/Colbert saga which prompted this post. Senator Jon Kyl declared in a speech in the US Senate that 90% of Planned Parenthood’s budget goes to abortions. He was more than slightly off the mark:  the percentage is only 3%, and his office said that  his comment was “not intended to be a factual statement.”   The comedian Stephen Colbert responded with a twitter campaign that mocked Kyl’s behavior and drew attention to the lack of fact-based discussion which has become all too common.

Regardless of how we may feel about the abortion issue, it is scary to see that our elected officials (and too many others) simply don’t care about basing their arguments on facts.  We will never all agree on all topics, but let’s base our disagreements on FACT rather than on FICTION.  If we do not, we risk domination by demagoguery.



Harry and David Update

March 23rd, 2011

There’s a very tight lid on communications from Harry and David. I don’t know what’s going on inside, but here are some things I do know:

1.    According to media reports, two lawsuits have been filed against Harry and David.

  • The first was filed by Drew Reifenberger, Executive Vice President and Chief Customer Officer, who was fired by then-CEO Steven Heyer in January. The basis of the lawsuit? Termination without cause and lack of contractually required payments.
  • The second suit, claiming almost $10 million, was filed last week by Convergys Customer Management Group (CCMG).  According to the suit, Harry and David and CCMG signed a 2-year contract which required CCMG to provide call center services and to hire an additional 25 full-time personnel during that period.  CCMG is requesting payments due under the contract.

2.    On February 18th, Harry and David announced the hiring of Kay Hong as “Chief Restructuring Officer and CEO.”

3.    Harry and David is hiring.  Careerbuilder.com shows 14 jobs that have been posted since Kay Hong was hired.  Positions advertised include store managers, Controller, Director of Online Marketing, Director of Market Research, and Manager of Website User Insights.  Nothing in the ads indicates that this is a “turnaround” situation.

What is the significance of all of the above?

With regard to the lawsuits

1.    When the contract was signed with CCMG in August, did Harry and David’s CEO and upper management realize that Harry and David’s situation was precarious?  If so, was it ethical to enter into an agreement it might never be able to honor?  Was it wise? If Harry and David’s CEO and board did NOT realize that the situation was precarious, they certainly should have.  Any competent turnaround CEO would have known that, but, of course, Wasserstein hired Heyer, who was not, in fact, a turnaround expert.

2.    Who signed the contract with CCMG?  Was it Heyer, or was it Reifenberger?  If it was Heyer, it raises questions about his experience, wisdom, and ethics.  If it was Reifenberger, is that part of the reason his employment was terminated?  Again, however, responsibility lies with Heyer and the board.  One of the first groundrules established by an experienced turnaround CEO is that material contracts require his/her sign off.

3.    Is the company not paying CCMG and Reifenberger because it is conserving cash so it can successfully navigate a planned Chapter 11?

With regard to “Chief Restructuring Officer and CEO”
—In my experience the title CRO is used primarily in a bankruptcy situation, so the title suggests that the company expected to file Chapter 11 at the time Hong was hired.

Hiring: If you follow my blog, you know that my assessment is that poor quality control coupled with poor customer service have contributed to the problems facing the company, so I am happy to see that they MAY finally  be focusing on the customer experience.  One caveat, however:  when I advertise for positions in turnaround situation, I usually try to let applicants know right away about the situation facing the company.  Some people love a challenge.  Those are the people I am looking for.  I have met many people, however, who have been recruited into troubled situations in which the executives have failed to disclose the company’s situation.  Shame on the companies!

On a different note:  Perhaps the recruiting is a signal that management believes that Harry and David can, in fact, survive.



What does a turnaround expert DO?

February 21st, 2011

I have recently been asked by reporters, “What would you do at Harry and David?”

I responded with a description of the turnaround steps described below.  Those steps are always the same, but the specifics vary from project to project.  (When I spoke with reporters, I also discussed some of the situation-specific actions I would initiate.)

My S.O.P. (Standard operating procedure)

  1. Get total control of cash
  2. Prepare short-term cash forecast
  3. Select Turnaround Team from key, existing management team members
  4. Convene the team; go through financial statements line by line–first, looking for ways to improve short-term cash situation, second, identifying ways to increase revenues (and/or margins) and decrease costs — (note: understanding the financial statements inside and out is critical!)
  5. The result is a written plan that includes a list of who is responsible for achieving what results by which dates and financial projections, which are the numeric representation of the plan.
  6. Then, it’s time for the team to implement!
  7. Design and begin  implementation of a sound management control system if one does not exist
  8. In the meantime, there are generally crises to contend with and negotiations with a wide range of stakeholders.

In addition to the above, I also send a web-based confidential survey to all employees.  The employees know what’s wrong, what needs to be fixed, and often see things that people at “corporate” miss.  Surveys to vendors and customers can be equally enlightening.

The above steps make it sound like the turnaround process is an orderly one, but it’s not.  Leading a turnaround is like being a general on the battlefield.  It’s messy and fraught with peril.   You have a plan, but unexpected crises are constantly arising.  I always tell prospective clients that it will feel like the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan.  One of my favorite owner/clients used to stop by my office occasionally and say, “I’m having a ‘Saving Private Ryan’ day.”



Harry and David: leadership requirements

February 20th, 2011

After I published the post below, it occurred to me that you might be interested in a prior post about what leadership qualities are required in turnaround  situations.  Here is a link.



Harry and David: Interim CEO named

February 20th, 2011

Someone submitted a comment about my February 16th post in which he pointed out that Kay Hong has been appointed Interim CEO of Harry and David and asked whether I know her and whether her appointment is a good thing.

I haven’t met Kay, but I do know that Harry and David is at a crossroads that definitely requires someone with experience in distressed situations and someone who is strong not only financially but also operationally.

Some comments  submitted in response to the Harry and David story in  the Oregonian today confirmed my suspicions about what is going on operationally at the company; e.g., complaints about poor product, poor customer service, poor internal systems, and lack of adequate inventory control.  All of those will need attention if the company is to prosper.

Most people here in Oregon are partial to our home-grown companies and are pulling for Harry and David to survive.  Many jobs and the welfare of the area will be affected by the outcome.



Did e-readers kill Borders?

February 18th, 2011

It’s easy to blame e-readers and associated technological changes for Borders’ predicament, but they are merely the symptoms and not the disease.

When companies face the double whammy of game-changing technology and a sagging economy, they simply must have a sound strategy and consistent, capable, visionary leadership. Since 2005, however, Borders has had 4 different CEO’s.  How could the company possibly develop or effectively execute a company-saving strategy while there was a revolving door at the entrance to the executive suite?



Leadership and vision: Setting the agenda

February 7th, 2011

Many people believe that the CEO should have the “vision thing.”  I believe that our presidents (plural!) and other elected officials  should have the the “vision thing,” that it is their responsibility to set the priorities and anticipate problems before they occur.

It appears to me that these officials too often don’t even think about anticipating problems before they occur, let alone initiate preventive actions.

For example:  On February 2nd,  the Washington Post ran a story, Why does Fresno have thousands of job openings- and high unemployment? The answer, of course is that there is a mismatch between job openings and the skill sets of job applicants.  Duh!

We seem to be discovering this nation-wide mismatch only recently, when it has, in fact, been on its way for at least 25 years.

For example, when I was in my MBA program (1984-5), I wrote a paper, “What to do about the coming structural unemployment.”  In the paper  (lost to posterity because I created it on a floppy disk using my Apple IIe), I addressed the unemployment/change in employment opportunities that would result from the two obvious trends:  globalization and greater use of robotics.

If the trends and their impacts were obvious to me, surely they were obvious to countless others.

So here is the question:  Why didn’t we, as a country, pay more attention to this problem earlier?

My answer is two-fold:

1. Elected officials are really fire-fighters who are so busy putting out the the current fires, they don’t have time to attend to the likely future ones.

2. We get the government we deserve.

On the business (as opposed to the political) front:  Is the phenomenon described above any different from the leadership of  Blockbuster and Borders being late to the technological revolution?

Why do some people “see” while others do not?