We just experienced possibly the largest wave of CEO departures in recent history. Was it due to falling profits? Poor succession planning? Or is there more drama behind the scenes? Think firings, hurt egos, politics, and personal infighting. Author Isabelle Nüssli uncovers one of the big reasons for turmoil at the top ― the fractious relationships between egos at the executive level, particularly between CEO and chairperson. Hence the brilliant title of her new book, Cockfighting: Solving the Mystery of Unconscious Sabotage at the Top of the Corporate Pyramid.
“When you read the news, usually the reason [given for the CEO leaving] was strategy misalignment or different leadership style or different chemistry, etc. But the story that is not put out to the public is that there was a relational conflict, which apparently is the case most of the time,” says Nüssli.
“We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another”, says Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Innovation has been accelerating for the past 300 years, but with today’s pace of technological advances, Schwab says the speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. We are now entering a 4th Industrial Revolution where when compared to previous industrial revolutions, we are evolving at an exponential rate rather than linear rate.
Schwab describes: “The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”
Lose weight. Exercise more. The new year’s resolutions are in full gear right now. Whether it’s getting to the gym, reading more, or eating more greens, January usually begins with a reflection of how we did and what we can do more, better, faster this year.
We focus so much on being proactive in our health and personal care. But what about our business health? Is it just business as usual, again? Or do we have bigger business goals for 2019?
Talking to company owners and investors over the years, we have discovered a lot less proactivity than you’d expect and a lot more complacency. We don’t mean activity – everyone has lots of to-do lists – where busy work mask over big or growing problems.
We often get calls when the house is on fire: cash is draining away from the business, employees are jumping ship, frustrations are mounting, or lack of fresh thinking, innovation and true leadership have led to stagnation in the market. Owners say to us my ‘business is failing, what do I do’.
It’s hard not to think how many sleepless nights could have been avoided for an owner if they would have just acted sooner. We mean solve the issues not just by trying to dive in themselves or harangue the management team more, but instead through resources or tools that could extend their capabilities and help make vision a reality.
No organization is immune to challenges, not if it has any ambition. But how do we as owners and leaders put our strategy hat on to see down the road, or attempt to see, to predict where markets will go, how customers will act and react? To play the great game of chess in the real world – which is strategy.
Sometimes that is easier said than done. The eloquent Mike Tyson put it so well when he said, “everybody has a plan until I punch them in the mouth.” We would do well to remember how limited our brilliant strategies in fact are, how fragile in the face of ambiguity, uncertainty and future black swan events.
Just look to history to see how companies have been blindsided with the punch they never saw coming. Kodak invented the first digital camera in 1975, but put launch on hold in fear of cannibalizing their film business. We all know the story from there….Kodak who? Or take Blockbuster – which failed to pivot when Netflix showed up. And then Borders and Barnes & Noble, crushed under the Amazon onslaught. And the examples of business strategy gone wrong go on…
The Olympics are the perfect example of the difference between champions who win gold, silver or bronze, and everyone else who goes home empty handed. The winner could be winning by just one ten thousandths of a second.
Why do you think you or I are any different in our work – if we could improve our performance just a couple percentage points, we’d stand out from the masses clear as day.
Steve Jobs was genius at nuance, the subtle improvement that could cause massively asymmetric outcomes in favor of Apple. Thirty companies had MP3 products delivering hardware, software and content for streaming music. The category was done. Then along came the iPod. Not major changes, but so much better!
How many owners or executive teams are truly confident that their organization is operating at it’s best? How many have a true action plan for the future? And how many of those can actually execute on the plan?
Donald Sull, a lecturer at MIT and an expert on strategy execution surveyed hundreds of companies on how strategy is executed and found that many lack agility or have difficulties adapting to market circumstances. In a HBR article he reported that most organizations either “react so slowly that they can’t seize fleeting opportunities or mitigate emerging threats or react quickly but lose sight of company strategy”.
These fears are echoed by executives across companies and industries.
When I started my first company at age 26, I’ll admit, it was lonely. Even though we were only a team of six, there was a clear dividing line between me as founder and CEO, and my staff.
I learned how to pull in expert help, but I had a lingering feeling over the years that I took the business more seriously than anyone else on the team. Especially cash flow. And making payroll. Eventually I built a successful company, but not until hitting every pothole I could find. Hindsight is 20-20, but an executive-level leader alongside me would have spared so much pain.
This was my driving force to becoming an interim executive myself. Helping owners and founders to get over hurdles that, left to their own devices, would take years to master, and in many cases skills they didn’t otherwise need or enjoy. I focused on high growth tech companies, getting them to market and eventually for M&A events that would bring extraordinary returns to investors.
This is still what drives us today at InterimExecs: to empower companies to reach their full potential by building world-class leadership. Whatever it takes to accomplish projects, goals, growth initiatives, or in some cases fixing what’s broken.
Maintain a happy marriage. Live a healthy lifestyle. Surround yourself with good people. While every magazine headline and self-help book is throwing this advice at you, it’s just about as murky as telling companies to create a positive organizational culture. But just what does organizational culture actually mean?
In order to get a better handle on the specifics of organizational culture, I talked to John Childress, an executive advisor, keynote speaker, CEO, and board leader, whose latest book, “Culture Rules!: The 10 Core Principles of Corporate Culture and how to use them to create greater business success”, delves deeply into corporate culture, and why it is so important.
John bridged the gap from organizational culture as an abstract concept to a bottom-line issue by noting that, “…organizational issues….turn into people issues that then turn into business problems.”
In a digital world where everything that can be measured is measured, do you still need strong leadership? What difference does management make when data steers the ship?
Many technology companies have the mindset that data trumps all, but are some companies suffering as a result? Look to the news to see how this is playing out:
•Zenefits’ founder Parker Conrad was thrown out for creating a culture that violated insurance laws
•Uber’s CEO resigned for multiple behavioral reasons (writing code to defy local authorities; sexual harassment allegations; staff and senior team exiting or fired)
•Volkswagen techies wrote ingenious code to defeat auto emissions testing. Smart, but illegal.
Many private equity funds hear the words “interim executive” and think the only application is turnaround or short-term fill-in. But for PE funds seeking a great return, they look to interims for their unique abilities to build and transform companies.
Here are six major use cases for interim executives in PE-owned portfolio companies:
Interim Executives in Diligence
Most funds hope to spread their wings – work beyond industries where they’ve already had success, by looking at new industries where acquisitions may cost less and produce higher returns. The further afield they go, the more they need expert leadership removed from prior operating teams.