The Mind of the C.E.O.
We admit it. We’re a sucker for reading futurists’ projections of the world and business of tomorrow as well as management biographies. But Garten’s The Mind of the C.E.O. is the first time we have read a book that bridges the two.
Why is this appropriate for PR people to devour?
Our job is to help our bosses deal with the multitude of global and local issues they are faced with and if we can understand the national and international issues; we’re in a better position to effectively provide counsel. In addition, Garten does an excellent job of documenting the CEOs comments but also analyzing, deciphering and adding a dose of reality to their statements. As the dean of the Yale School of Management and former Clinton Administration Undersecretary of Commerce the observations can’t be taken lightly.
Garten didn’t just interview CEOs, he spent time with a cross section of people who could be classed the titans of modern business – Motorola, Microsoft, AOL, AT&T, Nokia, Daimler Chrysler, GE, Dell Computer, Intel, Mitsubishi and Deutsche Bank. They all share the same excitement regarding the potential of the global Internet while they struggle to understand how it will affect their businesses on a worldwide and national basis.
Engineers, marketers and finance people by training; all of the CEOs interviewed got where they are today through a mixture of experience, guts (making the right tough decisions) and no small amount of luck. After reading the book we believe most readers will come to the same conclusion we did…”Being a CEO in today’s environment is not a job for the faint of heart. Even when they don’t know they have to make decisions.” The worst part is after Garten lays out the changes that are taking place you realize that no matter what they do, they can’t win.
These people aren’t simply CEOs of companies; they are being thrust into new, unfamiliar roles. These roles demand the assistance and support of public relations generalists and specialists. Your boss is suddenly an international statesman, protector of the environment, global financier, human rights specialist as well as a superb macro and micro technology and marketing strategist.
While they work toward these long-range global goals that have no rules or institutional infrastructure, they are faced with the harsh realities of today and tomorrow. While governmental and non-governmental organizations hold CEOs responsible for protecting our world for tomorrow and eradicating poverty and human suffering, they are held solely responsible for the bottomline results of their companies…every quarter.
We have long believed that long-term strategies were no longer possible because of the rapid changes in the individual markets of the world, the investment community has made life almost impossible for today’s CEO. Garten notes that analysts and investors don’t expect strong growth; they expect hypergrowth. They fully expect the CEO to hit very precise numbers every quarter despite what happens in individual markets, countries or the global economy. They not only have to beat traditional competitors but they also have to identify markets for products that consumers don’t even realize they want or need yet.
We have all endured bosses who wanted all of the facts presented to him or her so they could analyze the information and determine the “optimum” plan of action.
To a greater or lesser degree almost all of the multinational CEOs Garten interviewed agreed with Roger Enrico, CEO of PepsiCo, who reportedly said, “When you are faced with a decision, the best thing is to do the right thing, the next best is to do the wrong thing, and the worst thing is to do nothing.”
The message we read into these types of statements was that it is public relations responsibility to gather enough facts and information as quickly as possible so the CEO can make that decision – right or wrong. Then it is our responsibility to help execute the decision and gain the support of all of the company’s markets – employees; shareholders; local, regional and national governments and the increasingly influential special interest groups.
By virtue of their training and background, few CEOs are uncomfortable with and ill equipped for their multinational fiscal, political and social roles. But PR people can play a key role in helping their bosses understand and deal with these areas.
It’s impossible for us to walk in their shoes, but books like The Mind of the C.E.O. enable us to understand, interpret and counsel company presidents on dealing with issues and challenges that extend beyond individual country and individual market borders. He or she may be your CEO but after reading Garten’s book you’ll understand that they don’t have any better idea than your last or your next CEO what’s beyond the next curve. They do know they are going there at breakneck speed and the most valuable PR practitioners will be those who can help them get there…even without a road map.