Read My Lips

CEOs — An Endangered Species?

Has life become more difficult for CEOs?

So many CEOs, so many voices.

Takeaways


When you earn more than 400 times the pay of an average worker (as the typical U.S. CEO does), you had better deliver. Only nowadays, financial markets are not as forgiving as they used to be — and many CEOs have suddenly become “former” CEOs. So how and why do they do such an impossible job? Our new Read My Lips feature looks at what these corporate top dogs have to say.

What is the secret of running a successful corporation?

“There is at least one point in the history of any company when you have to change dramatically to rise to the next level of performance. Miss that moment — and you start to decline.”

(Andy Grove, CEO of Intel, March 1998)

How do you make use of talent?

“We bring together the best ideas — turning the meetings of our top managers into intellectual orgies.”

(Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric, February 2000)

Why should a CEO exclusively focus on the company?

“Show me a chief executive who’s on five boards and who lends his or her name, prestige and time to 15 community activities — and I’ll show you a company that’s underperforming. A chief executive is paid to run the company. That’s the CEO’s job.”

(Albert Dunlap, former CEO of Sunbeam, August 1996)

Is there value in making mistakes on the job?

“Judgment comes from experience — and experience comes from bad judgment.”

(Walter Wriston, former CEO of Citicorp, September 1995)

Why should CEOs always be prepared to make changes?

“To agree on keeping a status quo that can’t be kept has nothing to do with consensus. It’s decadence.”

(Hilmar Kopper, former Deutsche Bank Chairman, October 1997)

What makes taking over a CEO position difficult?

“I couldn’t figure out where decisions got made at AT&T. This place was impossible.”

(Michael Armstrong, CEO of AT&T, May 1999)

What is one of the main responsibilities for a CEO?

“If we guarantee employment for some, we jeopardize employment for everyone.”

(Albert Dunlap, former CEO of Sunbeam, June 1996)

And is there a sense of competitiveness among CEOs?

“I can buy 20% of you or I can buy all of you. Or I can go into business myself — and bury you.”

(Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft to AOL Time Warner Chairman Steve Case, September 1998)

Do CEOs in general prefer downsizing?

“With all due respect to Jack Welch, I don’t want to go into history as ‘Neutron Heinrich.”

(Heinrich von Pierer, CEO of Siemens, February 2000)

What about the influence of politics — or the need to influence politicians?

“I’m sorry that we have to have a Washington presence. We thrived during our first 16 years without any of this. I never made a political visit to Washington and we had no people here. It wasn’t on our radar screen. We were just making great software.”

(Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft, December 1995)

Does corporate success really come down to “eat or be eaten”?

“If size did matter, the dinosaurs would still be alive.”

(Wendelin Wiedeking, CEO of Porsche, June 1999)

What is the greatest threat to a CEO’s job?

“The real challenge is to merge — and not to be merged.”

(Italian bank CEO, December 1997)

And, finally, what kind of pressure are financial markets putting on CEOs to be successful?

“It used to be, you were the CEO for a decade or more, to impress a culture upon a company and revivify them periodically. But now they’re just not given a chance by the market.”

(Wall Street analyst, on the June 2000 ouster of Proctor & Gamble CEO Durk Jager)

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