Dan Bigman

Dan Bigman
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Dan Bigman is Editor and Chief Content Officer of Chief Executive Group, publishers of Chief Executive, Corporate Board Member, ChiefExecutive.net and Boardmember.com. Previously he was Managing Editor at Forbes and the founding business editor of NYTimes.com.

Remembering Southwest’s Herb Kelleher: In His Own Words

[caption id="attachment_67572" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines Founder, former CEO and Chairman Emeritus in 2011. Credit: Southwest Airlines[/caption] Herb Kelleher, the revolutionary Southwest Airlines founder and CEO who made air travel a regular part of America's middle class, died Thursday. He was 87. He founded the company in 1967, a low- or no-frills regional airline that first took off in 1971, supposedly after being sketched out on a cocktail napkin. In the decades that followed, it changed the nature of transportation in the United States, introducing air travel to millions of Americans who had never been able to access it before (full New York Times obituary). In 1999, Chief Executive named Kelleher Chief Executive of the Year. "Herb was a lifelong mentor and friend, and one of the greatest joys of my life has been working alongside Herb for over 30 years," Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said in a statement released by the company this evening. "His stamp on the airline industry and all those he touched has been profound. His vision for making air travel affordable for all revolutionized the industry, and you can still see that transformation taking place today. But his legacy extends far beyond our industry and far beyond the world of entrepreneurship. He inspired people; he motivated people; he challenged people—and, he kept us laughing all the way. He was an exceptionally gifted man with an enormous heart and love for people—all people. We have been beyond blessed to have him as a part of our lives." [caption id="attachment_67573" align="alignleft" width="250"] Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines, was our CEO of the Year in 1999.[/caption] Kelleher was well known for eschewing standard corporate practices, and for his down-home (and incredibly quotable) business wisdom. We could think of no better way of remembering him tonight than sharing some of our favorite Kelleher quotes, gathered from a variety of sources. On Strategy: “We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.” On Loyalty: “The core of our success. That’s the most difficult thing for a competitor to imitate. They can buy all the physical things. The things you can’t buy are dedication, devotion, loyalty—the feeling that you are participating in a crusade.” On Leadership: “Power should be reserved for weightlifting and boats, and leadership really involves responsibility.” “Leading an organization is as much about soul as it is about systems. Effective leadership finds its source in understanding.” “It takes nerves of steel to stay neurotic.” “Think small and act small, and we’ll get bigger. Think big and act big, and we’ll get smaller.” On Marketing: “You must be very patient, very persistent. The world isn’t going to shower gold coins on you just because you have a good idea. You’re going to have to work like crazy to bring that idea to the attention of people. They’re not going to buy it unless they know about it.” On People: “Your employees come first. And if you treat your employees right, guess what? Your customers come back, and that makes your shareholders happy. Start with employees and the rest follows from that.” “You don’t hire for skills, you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills.” On Humility: “You can’t really be disciplined in what you do unless you are humble and open-minded. Humility breeds open-mindedness—and really, what we try to do is establish a clear and simple set of values that we understand. That simplifies things; that expedites things. It enables the extreme discipline I mentioned in describing our strategy. When an issue comes up, we don’t say we’re going to study it for two and a half years. We just say, ‘Southwest Airlines doesn’t do that. Maybe somebody else does, but we don’t.’ It greatly facilitates the operation of the company.”

Thank You, Jeff Bezos: Why Amazon’s HQ2 Hunt Was Great For...

CEOs should follow the trail laid down by Amazon—the hundreds of locales around the nation that may not be right for HQ2 (or even an HQ for you), but would be a great place for a satellite office or expansion site.

The Single Most Important Takeaway From The NYT’s Facebook Investigation

After reading the New York Times' investigation of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, one thing is clear: A CEO having total, imperial control over a public company is a really, really terrible idea.

The Two People That Could Help Elon Musk Save Tesla (If...

[caption id="attachment_48301" align="alignnone" width="696"] Alan Mulally, 2011 CEO of the Year, would be a ideal mentor for Elon Musk.[/caption] When you start talking about the road ahead for Tesla’s board, you’ve got to get one thing out of the way right up front: No one is going to change Elon Musk (just ask John Kelly how that goes). So when it comes to recruiting a new chairman for the electric car company, one that can successfully rein him in and help him be all that he can be, all I can say is: Good luck with that. After all, Musk is the guy that, after finally settling a potentially career-destroying case with the SEC, one that brought him to the brink of losing control over his company, decided to troll the agency last week, tweeting “Just want to that the Shortseller Enrichment Commission is doing incredible work. And the name change is so on point!” Oy vey. Right now, Musk poses a near-existential danger to the company he founded. At any given moment, he could tank the stock with just a couple hundred characters of misplaced venting. Imagine trying to manage a guy who has concrete plans to colonize Mars. So yeah, it’s going to be a tough go. The push-pull in the days ahead will hinge on Tesla turning up someone to chair the board who will pass the SEC’s sniff test, ie: no one he has on his board right now. Judging by his track record thus far, Musk will instinctively want to pull in someone he feels he can walk all over, ie: everyone on his board right now. That’s not going to fly going forward. The rest of the board and SEC need someone with deep experience at complex companies, with real backbone, who can help establish guardrails for Musk. As I said above, good luck with that. Given the company’s financial troubles and Musk’s proclivities for public immolation, there are lots and lots of reasons why the best people for the job — the right people for the job — are going to steer clear. As one longtime advisor to many of the world’s top public company boards put it to me Friday afternoon, “Who’s going to want their name dragged through the mud like that?” But they did offer a couple of names, both of which make a lot of sense, at least on paper. If Tesla and Musk were to pull either of them in as chairman, they would potentially transform the company: • John Doerr, the legendary Kleiner Perkins partner, who’s backed some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs. • Alan Mulally, the humble, optimistic, pragmatic engineer who helped Bill Ford come to terms with reality—and saved the company as a result. The case for Doerr is simple: there’s no one with a better track record in tech. From Larry Page and Sergy Brin at Google to Jeff Bezos at Amazon, Doerr’s career is essentially the creation of the modern tech industry. Second, and perhaps less well known, is that Musk seems to respect him. In a 2012 interview with Sarah Lacy, Musk hints that during Tesla’s Series C funding round, he almost turned down an offer with a 40% premium in favor of an offer from Kleiner Perkins—provided Doerr would join his board. When Doerr said no, Musk went with the other team. Maybe there’s bad blood there as a result—who knows—but it clearly shows that Musk puts a high price on Doerr’s experience and abilities. Given the right situation, Doerr and Musk would make a formidable team and take a big step towards securing Tesla’s future. Then there’s Mulally. The case here is also simple: He’s done it. A former Chief Executive CEO of the Year, Mulally took over at Ford as the company stared into the financial abyss. Within three years, he’d turned the company around, even as rival GM foundered. He’s optimistic, audacious, pragmatic and great with people. And he’s got capital I integrity. As Bloomberg’s Joe Nocera points out (in a piece floating the idea that Mulally should take over as CEO from Musk, which is a non-starter), Musk is well aware of what the former Ford CEO accomplished, Tweeting that “Every other car company besides Ford & Tesla has gone bankrupt.” That bodes well for a potential partnership. The trick for Tesla, and, perhaps more importantly for Musk long-term, is to find a mentor at this stage in his career. He’s brilliant. He’s bold. And he has so much to offer society. The right mentor could help him make the kind of leap that Steve Jobs once made when he returned to Apple and found a maturity and clarity that he’d never had in his first go-round. Jobs is actually a great case study. Most people know the story of how he swept back into Apple, saved the company he created, and built the foundation for the world’s most valuable company. What’s less well remembered is that he didn’t do it alone. It took the partnership of a great chairman to help him pull it off: Former DuPont CEO Edgar Woolard. He pulled Jobs back into Apple in 1997, and was one of only two board members that didn’t exit the company in the aftermath. Woolard became a mentor to Jobs, talking with him so often that Woolard’s wife used to joke that “your son’s on the phone” when Jobs rang the house. Here’s hoping Musk finds some humility, and finds his Woolard. Doing so will be as easy—or as difficult—as he wants it to be.

One Expensive Tweet: SEC Sues Musk for Securities Fraud

Our age of Unicorn valuations, swashbuckling Silicon Valley CEOs and ethos of gravity doesn’t apply when you’re bold enough and on enough magazine covers appears to have claimed another victim. No, not Elon Musk. I’m talking about his employees.

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin On Leadership In Turbulent Times

If you’re leading through complex times, you could do a lot worse than grabbing some how-to tips from Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR and LBJ. Pulitzer-Prize winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin shares some insights for CEOs who may not be fighting the Civil War or WWII, but still face their own leadership challenges.

What Really Matters: A Conversation With Patrick Lencioni

In an era dominated by technological transformation, management by metric and unicorn-or-bust business plans, Patrick Lencioni has a powerful, contrarian message for CEOs: Lasting success won’t arise out of better AI or luring talent with dubious promises of “purpose.”

Reading The Signs On Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg now finds himself at a crossroads many young entrepreneurs face: Can he master the next step in his evolution as CEO?

If You Were Elon Musk, You’d Drink Whiskey And Smoke Pot...

Let’s be honest. Can you think of who could use a little time to kick back with a double and smoke a blunt these days more than Elon Musk?

Jeff Bezos On Innovation: Five Big Takeaways

A recent interview shares insights into how Jeff Bezos thinks about strategy and innovation, and structures his personal activities and those of the company to get done what he wants to get done. Here are five useful takeaways.
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