Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Back to the Future: How 40 Years has Changed the CEO Post

Would a CEO of 1977 want the job today?

Every aspect of the CEO role—including titles and duties—has endured wrenching redefinition since 1977.

Forty years ago, many enterprises didn’t use the term. The president of the company was considered the most senior executive. Seismic shifts in involvement in strategic oversight, board governance, leadership development and societal engagement also have taken place since a time when accounting records lived in file boxes, delivery truck drivers carried clipboards and corporate records were kept on magnetic tape disks.

In 1977, Apple Computer was incorporated, the first fiber optics for phone transmission were installed and a crawling Dow Jones Industrial Average closed the year at 831. That same year, banks across the nation were caught by surprise when federal legislation created “negotiable order withdrawals” or NOW accounts, the now-standard checking and savings
account hybrid.

Corporations relied on trade associations for legislative matters, whereas today’s CEOs must invest time, in person, in capitals and with customers around the world. Gradually, the textbook five-year planning horizon fell by the wayside.


Soon, quarterly reporting was being challenged by a day-trading mindset. The demands of investors weaned on Silicon Valley-style time-to-market have led to the dismantling of R&D industrial titans like DuPont. Even Verizon’s visionary CEO Ivan Seidenberg was almost blocked by investors too impatient to wait for a payoff from the rollout of highspeed broadband.

Boards are no longer packed with insider executives, CEO peers, college classmates and interlocking directors. The result is more independence, objective expertise, diversity and transparency. However, efforts to address cronyism also impede CEO-board trust and elevate adversarial interactions.

Forty years ago, the succession processes favored protégés groomed in the image of their predecessors, a practice that often created a coattail effect, but also substantial firm
loyalty. Now boards benchmark internal stars against outside candidates, often preferring external presumed saviors despite superior performance data on insiders.

Once known as pillars of their local communities, now CEOs charged with massive global companies created by M&A rollups are rarely as active in local civic associations—nor do they hold the same heroic aura.

The CEOs of today are better informed, busier and more accountable than their predecessors of 40 years ago. They also endure far more grueling travel schedules, cope with more
demanding constituencies on shorter time frames, face tougher scrutiny and feel more lonely than their predecessors. They don’t have time for the social clubs that were once common, and few are eager to serve on the boards of other firms.

Hearing hoofbeats of eager aspirants behind them and recognizing that any external supplier or customer could become a competitor tomorrow, this is the first generation of CEOs that often lacks genuine friends.


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.