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Thirty Years On

September 2007 marks the 70th anniversary of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and the creation of Middle Earth, the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome when the path to European integration formally began, and the 40th anniversary of the release of Jimi Hendrix’s seminal album “Are You Experienced?” It also marks the 30th anniversary of the magazine you now hold in your hands.

Over the past one score and 10 years in its 228 issues, Chief Executive has hosted well over 160 CEO roundtables and forums, celebrated 22 Chief Executives of the Year, and featured on its covers presidents of the U.S. (Carter and Reagan), as well as presidents or prime ministers of Britain (Thatcher), France (Mitterrand), Sweden, Mexico (de la Madrid), Japan (Nakasone), India (Gandhi), Singapore (Goh), and the Czech Republic (Klaus)-not to mention pivotal political figures as diverse as Alexander Haig, Sheikh Yamani and reformist St. Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak.

CE has also tracked issues with which CEOs have grappled. In our salad days, bosses seemed obsessed by the competitive threat posed by Japan Inc. only to see it virtually disappear by the late 1990s. TQM, Just-in-Time and the Malcolm Baldrige Award were common bywords. Leveraged buyouts (LBOs), all the rage in the 1980s, have metastasized into private equity.

Concern over the rising cost of health care is another matter. Three decades ago, leaders worried that the national health spend, as a percent of GDP, would soon exceed 10 percent of GDP. Today, leaders would only be too thrilled if it could be held to 17 percent. (No chance.) Similarly, few could even spell corporate governance let alone figure out what it meant. Boards of directors, as the joke went at the time, were to be treated like mushrooms: kept in the dark and heaped with fertilizer.

The core responsibilities of the CEO haven’t changed, of course, although with the rise of globalization and advances in communication technology, how CEOs do their jobs has altered noticeably. The biggest change we see is that trust in leadership generally has faltered. It’s not just institutional shareholders and international markets that are less forgiving. CEOs today do not have the margin of error that their antecedents enjoyed as recently as 10 years ago. This is reflected in the shortened tenure and more rapid turnover at the top. In 1985, at one of CE’s earliest roundtables discussing the impact of hostile takeovers, Carl Icahn quipped to the CEOs around the table, “If you want a friend, get a dog.”

The CEO doesn’t have a dog’s life, far from it. But there are definitely more fleas to contend with.


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