J.P. Donlon

J.P. Donlon is Editor Emeritus of Chief Executive magazine.

How to Innovate in Mature Markets

There always has been important innovation activity in nearly all mature B2B industries, but the ‘return on innovation’ is expected to further increase over the next several years.

Are There Leadership Lessons CEOs can Learn from President Trump?

Like most everything President Trump does, his leadership style is the subject of violent debate. According to executive coach Scott Eblin, the early morning tweet storms, the blame-casting when things go awry and the “you’re either with me or against me” threats that the President engages in on a regular basis are all markers of high negative energy. His default move is to go high negative. That’s effective some of the time, but not all the time, states Eblin. To be effective as a leader, you need to shift away from doing or saying whatever pops into your head at the moment to thoughtfully and strategically considering your overall goals. When you have your strategic goals clearly in mind, you’re in a much better position to make smart choices about the optimal mix of resonant and dissonant leadership styles that will help you get there. Entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is highly critical of Trump’s leadership style, saying it is calculated not to get people to go along with his ideas. But Cuban was highly critical of Trump even before the campaign. Ted Bililies, managing partner with AlixPartners, an expert on leadership and organization who helps CEOs and investors solve their toughest people and organizational problems, and advisor to the Chief Executive of the Year selection committee, sees Trump as a classic disrupter, calling him ‘the disrupter-in-chief’. “From time-to-time, disrupters are necessary. The electorate evidently felt since we have had disrupters in business, it’s time to have a disrupter in government.” The learning for CEOs, he feels, is to gauge whether one’s company or industry requires such a figure. What about all the tweeting? “If by tweeting a leader can reach thousands of employees or customers directly, circumstances may justify it. It’s one of many instruments in a leader’s toolbox,” adds Bililies. “Whether one uses or misuses it is another question entirely.”
“If by tweeting a leader can reach thousands of employees or customers directly, circumstances may justify it. Whether one uses or misuses it is another question entirely.”
Politics aside, it’s interesting to consider if this approach is going to work over the long run. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean of leadership programs as well as the Lester Crown Professor in the Practice of Management for the Yale School of Management, told CNBC’s "Squawk Box” that Trump has done a great job at not surrounding himself with a team of "shrinking violets." In fact, his team consists of "very strong people," none of whom are deceptive, although some aren't necessarily popular choices. Sonnenfeld continued that Trump's inner circle reveals he is doing exactly what he pledged to do during the campaign trail—hiring non-traditional politicians with impeccable business backgrounds to get the job done more efficiently compared to career politicians. Because Trump was a successful businessman in real estate, it begs the question is there something about CEOs, or more particularly entrepreneurs that favor or inhibit them in being effective in government and politics? On balance, former CEOs have a mixed record as government leaders. Rick Scott, former CEO of HCA/Columbia, ran for governor of Florida successfully in 2010 and was re-elected in 2014. Like Trump, whom he supported, he is also a frequent tweeter, but uncontroversially so. Since December 2010, Florida has created over 1,355,700 private sector jobs and the state's unemployment rate continues to drop. Jimmy Carter and George Bush, both businessmen, are not considered great presidents. Donald Rumsfeld successfully ran G.D. Searle, the pharma giant, and held several cabinet posts under two presidents. By all accounts a brilliant executive, Robert MacNamara, a former “whiz kid” and president of Ford made a name for himself as JFK’s and Lyndon Johnson’s defense secretary, but did not cover himself in glory during the Vietnam War. Conversely Harry Truman, who is generally regarded as an effective president, was a failed haberdasher. Donald Trump has essentially operated his own family business, not a major public company with a strong board and vocal shareholders. He’s not used to the kind of pushback he has experienced. If he can’t bring his own party together, he says he’ll go it alone.Most CEOs who answer to a board of directors have guard rails that regulate their behavior to some degree. Most observers dismiss Trumps tweets as the ravings of a narcissist, but Barbara Bickart, associate professor of marketing at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, and Martin Nisenholtz a professor of the practice of digital communications at Boston University’s College of Communications, and former CEO of New York Times Digital, see it differently. Trump, they argue in Harvard Business Review, is an expert in “big seed” marketing which has advantages over viral marketing. “A message can spread faster and more systematically if it is “seeded” among many people. This differs sharply from the viral approach, which attempts to create an “epidemic” of interest through a few targeted influencers, who spread a message among the people to whom they are connected. If those connections fail to pass on the message, it soon peters out. Big-seed marketing is more reliable than designing content that mimics the qualities of cat videos in the hope of going viral. Companies like BuzzFeed have used the big-seed model to create successful news websites and advertising businesses.” Twitter’s 140-character limit tends to generate messages that are ripe for misquoting. Trump doesn’t have to explain details or elaborate on context, and this allows multiple interpretations of the message. The format invites controversy, encouraging media pickup and growing the audience in kind. Business leaders should consider how they could make their messages provocative to draw attention and encourage discussion far beyond the social media platforms on which the message was originally posted. Deciding how far to go, though, means carefully weighing the risks against the rewards.

Why a “Dual” Transformation Model is Needed for Future Growth

Dual transformation is the art of creating a second business model that will likely succeed the existing core, but at the same time streamlining and adapting the core so that it thrives in parallel.

RAM CHARAN: CEOs Need to be ‘Talent Magnets’

“CEOs have to take charge of the challenge their companies face from not having the right talent for the future,” argues Ram Charan, the acclaimed business advisor to CEOs and author of numerous books such as “Execution” (co-authored with former Honeywell CEO Larry Bossidy) and “The Game Changer” (co-authored with former P&G CEO AG Lafley.) “Their HR people have failed.” The long-time advisor to such leaders as Jack Welch and more recently GE’s Jeff Immelt has written a new book, “The High Potential Leader: How to grow Fast, Take on New Responsibilities, and Make an Impact,” which is certain to set the agenda for leaders who are mindful of the need to develop the necessary resources to transform their companies for the digital age. Companies have generally developed systems to identify and promote high-potential people, but he argues that they don’t have 20 or 30 years to develop junior people as they have done historically. Performance was largely measured by numbers with little digging for how the results were achieved. Some leadership traits like high integrity and the ability to communicate are constant and performance always matters. But these have become table stakes. “Without the qualities and abilities the fast-changing world now demands,” he says, “a leader is not likely to succeed in a high-level leadership job, at least not for long.” Charan draws a distinction between high-potential individuals and high-potential leaders. A terrific thinker or analyst may have exceptional talent or expertise, but they often do their most productive work in private, free from distractions that intrude on solving the problem at hand. Such people rarely excel at leading other people. He observes that they often lose ground if they set their sights on a job where they have to deal with all sorts of people and relationship issues. Charan points to Craig Silverstein, Sergey Brin’s and Larry Page’s first employee at Google. They hired him to build their search engine while they were all students at Stanford. Not long after Google was formed, Silverstein felt he should try a managerial role. But after several months, Silverstein admitted to the Wall Street Journal that “he wasn’t very good at it.” He became Google’s director of technology and stayed with it until he left the company in 2012. Charan’s advice to CEOs is to become a talent magnet. Not every CEO comes to this easily. In fact, he points to the career of Tony Palmer, president of global brands and innovation at Kimberly-Clark as an example of a leader who saw the need to transform himself to do just that. When Palmer worked at Mars, he was confronted with the challenge. “I had five people reporting to me who had 140 years of combined experience,” Palmer is quoted in Charan’s book. “I was just 32 and I was their boss. I had no choice but to overcome my discomfort and take charge.” Later in his career while with Coca-Cola, Fisher Scientific, Kellogg and now Kimberly-Clark, Palmer says he began to define himself differently. “I now define myself by helping other people be successful. I’ve learned that when other people succeed at work, it really does improve their lives at home. It’s a powerful thing and I get a lot of enjoyment out of that.” Palmer excelled at becoming a talent magnet which attracted the attention of others—even those outside the company where he worked. It catapulted him to all the above-mentioned brands. In fact, the ability to attract and develop talent is one of the things Palmer looks for in hiring people. CEOs, Charan says, should keep an informal list of people they come across both outside as well as inside their company and network with them from time to time—having an informal coffee here, or sending an anniversary greeting there to maintain and monitor relationships.

Building a Better Road Map to the Future of Manufacturing

Manufacturing is at a crossroads between the value generated by the data collected from the equipment and the value generated by the equipment's output.

A Former CEO Says it’s Time Business Leaders Did Something about...

Peter Georgescu, former CEO of Y&R, has teamed up with Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone to urge CEOs to raise employee wages to grow the middle class—and save capitalism from itself.

How Midmarket B2B Companies Can Go Digital

Digital disruption now has the potential to overturn incumbents and reshape markets. Here’s how B2B leaders can get ahead of the curve.

Ram Charan Says CEOs Need to be ‘Talent Magnets’

Charan says that CEOs must overcome any natural shyness they might have and define themselves by how well they help other people be successful.

Cautious Advice on Disrupting your Market from a CEO Who’s Been...

Succeeding at being disruptive requires a deeper commitment than anything you've probably ever done. But in the end, the payoff can be worth it.

Trump’s Council of Manufacturing CEOs are Wrestling with the Talent Issue

Manufacturing CEOs and President Donald Trump talked about how to eradicate the skills gap and educate and employ more Americans in the manufacturing industry.
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New Poll: CEOs Find Challenges In Using Customer Data To Drive Innovation

Ability to harness and sort through data for meaningful insights remains a hurdle, many say. “The key is...finding what is actually relevant.”


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CEO Optimism At Lowest Level Since Fall Of 2019

Chief Executive’s November CEO Confidence Index shows optimism among America’s CEOs on the decline, as their rating of business conditions one year out drops to two-year low.