The Last Word
This is my last editor’s column for Chief Executive. After nearly 23 years with CE, I’m shifting career gears and [...]
April 1 2001 by JP Donlon
This is my last editor’s column for Chief Executive. After nearly 23 years with CE, I’m shifting career gears and will be helping CEOs with communications strategy as a principal with the Dilenschneider Group, a New York City consulting and communications firm. John Brandt, CE’s able new editorial director, will oversee Chief Executive Group publications from here on. However, to borrow a software industry term, Brandt and the CE team have a number of “free upgrades” in store. I will continue to furnish commentary and moderate at CE events as editor-at-large.
Since I joined the magazine in 1978, almost everything about CEOs has changed dramatically. My meetings with Ford’s Henry Ford II and Chase Manhattan’s David Rockefeller some 20 years ago illustrate how far the CEO world has come. It was plain as soon as I was ushered into each man’s presence that these were not mere business leaders, but princes of the blood. (Years later, I traveled to New Delhi to interview India’s ill-fated prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and was struck by the relative lack of ceremony the head of state commanded compared with the grandsons of America’s so-called robber barons.)
The imperial CEO who commanded from Olympian heights has since given way to the everyman CEO who realizes no business leader can possibly know everything in a fast-changing economy. CEOs are no less powerful, but the nature of power and influence has changed. Today’s CEOs can only succeed if they enable others around them to succeed.
This year’s “Route to the Top” (CE: February 2001) detailed changes-such as higher turnover, greater performance expectations, a global vision, and the death of hierarchy-currently facing CEOs. A few more developments I see playing out in the coming years include:
- Complexity will lead to simplicity. Many CEOs’ jobs have become too complex for one individual. Increasingly firms are splitting the function through a separate non-executive chairman who deals with outside constituencies, such as customers, as Intel’s Andy Grove does, or with the financial community, as is the practice of U.K. firms. This model was once more prevalent in the U.S. Necessity may bring it back into favor.
- Trust is the new leadership currency. In a world of instant communication CEOs cannot be everywhere; therefore they’re compelled to rely on others as never before, and others will, in turn, rely only on those with similar core values.
- Green theology is assaulting profits. “The Precautionary Principle” (CE: December 2000) promotes the idea that no economic activity should be undertaken if possible harm to the environment is perceived. Under such circumstances, advances like railroads, electricity, and penicillin would have never been developed. Coping with “Green Theology” will be a growth challenge.
These are just some of the developments likely to be uppermost in the minds of CEOs in the next decade. As always, I’m confident CE will continue to deliver compelling editorial on the issues and challenges facing our business leaders. I look forward to continuing to monitor and analyze the evolving role of the CEO in my new post as a contributor to-and loyal reader of-Chief Executive magazine.