Lots of concerns keep CEOs up at night, as we know from this well-worn query often posed to top corporate leaders. Remarkably, neither the moderator nor members of the audience asked that question to a panel of CEOs at IABC’s World Conference on Tuesday in New York.
The four current and former CEOs were still forthcoming, offering views on corporate strategy, industry trends monitoring, turnaround plans, work style, philanthropy and corporate culture. They even revealed stunts their companies have used to motivate employees.
At face value the following principles appear rather intuitive. However, they’re not so simple to follow, as evidenced by the volatility of entire industries and recent market fluctuations, even among growing companies.
1.Use forward-looking strategies: “You owe your company a picture about where the world is going”, noted Bill McDermott, SAP’s co-CEO. “Most of our current revenue comes from areas that didn’t exist a few years ago”. Peter Cuneo, turnaround specialist and former CEO of Marvel Entertainment, said he spends three-quarters of his time developing future strategies.
2.Don’t rest on prior laurels. “Many CEOs fall in love with the past and their cozy business models”, McDermott said. When it doesn’t look good, don’t pretend it does. You need to think about cannibalizing your own business model. If you don’t, someone else will do it for you.”
3.Check out trends in other industries. Study other categories, advised Dolf van den Brink, Heineken USA’s president and CEO. “The beer industry was too insular and missed trends like premiumization and segmentation. Major beer brands now have different nationalities”. (Heineken’s Dos Equis brand features the popular ‘Most Interesting Man in the World’ ads; spokesman shown here).
4.Celebrate recent successes more. This isn’t done often enough, observed Shelly Lazarus, O&M’s chairman emeritus (and no relation to this PRNewser contributor). Companies are often too busy to do so, she said, “but it’s important that employees feel something good happened. It builds momentum and it’s good for the soul.”
5.Understand all the problems the company faces. “Most CEOs hope their problems will go away. My fear is not knowing all the problems. You need to unlock them in order to collectively attack them”, Cuneo noted. He held employees meetings that encouraged tough questions.
6.CEOs shouldn’t isolate themselves. “Too many CEOs are hermetically sealed; they fly on private planes and have private restrooms. I fly commercial airlines and I use public ladies rooms”, Lazarus told the audience. “It’s best to listen to real people and find out their needs.”
“Nothing is secret. My communications team is involved in everything I do”, McDermott said.
7.Reward top managers based on their drive. “”We set the bar high and only put people on our leadership team who have audacious goals. Winning isn’t just based on intelligence and talent. Raw desire comes through when you want it more than anyone else, McDermott said.
8.Make corporate culture a priority. “We needed to re-energize our marketing culture because the vast majority of our employees weren’t actively participating”, van den Brink said. “We addressed this by having toy horses in meeting rooms, and allowed staff to throw them at those who were ‘beating a dead horse’. This sent a symbolic message, and led to efficient meetings.”
9.Obtain expertise from external partners as needed. “The world of entertainment media was changing so rapidly we knew we were out of our league in that area. So we concentrated on content and partnered with outside experts like movie studios, which gave us more flexibility”, Cuneo explained.
10.Move philanthropy front and center. This may once have been last on the list, but that’s no longer the case, Lazarus noted. “We used to write a check with the last 4% of our profits. But employees care more now. Companies need to frame things for what it means to society. You need to start with the brand and figure out how the brand can make a difference in the world.”