Friday, July 31, 2009


I hate that first Friday of every quarter, when I have to meet three of my school friends for dinner. We’ve met almost regularly since the past twenty years (yes, that’s how long ago I passed out of school... somehow). But over years, as much uncivil, raucous and impressively fat my three loudmouthed friends have become, have I become more docile, quieter and thinner. We’re the oddest Hangover combination; and restaurants that have been graced by our benign presence in the past, shiver at hosting us again... I keep asking myself, why do I keep going? And here I was again with them, a couple of hours into another Friday’s dinner, caught in a completely dunce of an argument about who has been the better US president till date – Bill Clinton (their choice) or Obama (my choice)?

To cut them all to size, I broke down my argument intellectually, and told them that a brilliant President/ CEO (of a country or a company) as per global research needs to have five outstanding necessary characteristics and how Obama had all of them:

Outstanding Characteristic #1: Passion: In a classy 2005 HBS paper, Dr. Jonanthan Byrnes (who also teaches at MIT), after an exhaustive international research, identified “essential characteristics” of transformational leaders. The top one was “capacity for passion!” Describing it as the “fire in the belly,” Dr. Byrnes says exceptional leaders are simply “people who leave their footprints in their areas of passion!”

I told my friends how one look at Obama speaking either after his win or even, say, recently in Cairo, was enough to prove how passionate a person he is. My friends retorted how even Bill Clinton’s State of the Union address to massive crowds proved his passion. In fact, the US economy had the most positive feel because of his speeches only. Sensing a tied point, I moved on.

Outstanding Characteristic #2: Dynamism: I argued that simply passion is not enough, but dynamism, both mentally and physically, is also a complementary requirement. In a May 2009 HBR paper titled ‘Those Poor CEOs...,’ Melissa Raffoni proves how the top characteristic of “The best, most successful CEO” groups is that “they’re made up of... dynamic CEOs”. In the book ‘The Ghosn Factor: 24 Lessons from the World’s Most Dynamic CEO’, Miguel Rivas-Micoud shows that Carlos Ghosn – CEO of two companies (Japanese Nissan and European Renault) – travels 150,000 miles on an average annually, or 411 miles/day! He’s half a week in Japan and half in Europe, every week without fail.

And that, I argued, is Obama’s forte, what with his travelling to various continents – Africa, Europe, Asia – within the first year of his getting elected. But then, I had to accept, in the most authoritative study of ‘Presidential Travels’ since 1953, the US National Tax Payers’ Union proclaims Bill Clinton is America’s ‘Best Travelled President’. I had to get to the next point...

Outstanding Characteristic #3: Authoritative: Yale University’s Prof. Samuel Huntington’s paper Political Order in Changing Societies says, “Authoritarian regimes are more capable of rational, consistent, and responsible decision making...” Prof. John R. Oneal of the University of Alabama, shows that “(shareholders) rates of return have been greater under authoritarian regimes.”

There is no doubt that Obama is authoritarian! When Obama wishes things done, he passes executive orders! From appointing different genders/ races in his cabinet to threatening truant countries despite opening up talks with them, Obama means business. Could Clinton ever do that? My friends remind me that not only did Clinton appoint Madeline Albright, the first woman secretary of the state in US history, but also actually declared war on Iraq (on 16th December 1998, as it refused to allow UN inspectors to inspect its various chemical plants). Hmm, they had a point... and I didn’t want to lose! So I gave them my best point.

Outstanding Characteristic #4: Driven by gut feel and emotions: The Burson Marsteller CEO Survey, 2006, shows how “no effective CEO is driven solely by numbers.” The survey further proves that 71.4% of high-revenue-company CEOs believe that “intuition and gut feeling” are very influential in guiding their decision making!

I showed how Obama doesn’t just go by numbers, but emotionally decides on the cuff too. His response against the police to the recent arrest of a Harvard professor proves it and he’s loved the world over for it. My friends corrected me that on one hand, Obama is not loved that much in Asia, and on the other, he looks completely non-emotional and military-like as compared to, say, Bill Clinton, who was and is loved like mad the world over – even in countries at complete war with US – and was one of the few presidents who cried when he got elected, and never felt ashamed of it. I was losing the battle.

Outstanding Characteristic #5: Multi-tasking: I rambled off how a dynamic CEO has to be a master multi-tasker! And none the better than Obama, who not only manages to host dinners, sign executive orders, travel, give speeches, but also manages to meet up school kids, replies to many emails himself, and most importantly, regularly exercises and keeps a fit body. Could Bill Clinton ever manage to do anything else while signing his executive orders? At this point, I saw my friends breaking up into uncontrollable laughter, giving each other high-fivers and almost toppling over. Before I could ask them the reason, one of them managed a few words through the howling episode, and said, “Dude, you’ve never heard of Ms. Lewinsky, have you?”

Damn it!!! I should have known they’d bring it up! Couldn’t the world look beyond personal indiscretions? Damn their laughs! Damn the Lewinsky factor!! I had had it with the dinner... It was useless arguing with this bunch, ever! And as usual, the whole restaurant was staring at us, what with the three garbling giants lying on the floor guffawing their guts off. It was a wonder they didn’t choke on something, given the tones they’d stuffed in during the dinner... Geez, I’m sure you all must be wondering why in heavens do I keep going back to having dinner with the Tyrannosaurus bunch. Hmm, I know, it’s a paradox, I keep asking that myself. I’ve known them for thirty years of my life now; and over the years, they’ve kind of become very close to me. I know that they look like aliens, they behave like aliens, but they really mean no harm and come in peace. Yeah, I hate them (sigh...), but I love them too...for in their life, there’re not many people they have as friends, except me... Guys, they ain’t heavy, they’re my brothers...


Thursday, July 16, 2009


The last time I wrote my trademark ‘Lousy CEO’ dummies guide almost a year and a half back, I was strangely inundated with requests for a reprisal from my handful of‘ friends’. Sensing how my ‘loving ones’ were simply trying to stoke a similarity between my habits and those lousy CEO habits I’d written about (I have to admit, there does sometimes seem to be a remarkably frightening similarity...), I’d chosen to give their caring requests a sweet by. But as many bridges have already been blown on the river Kwai, I decided to finally present the second in the inimitable ‘Highly Lousy CEO©®’ series, focusing on the world’s worst CEOs and their equally (dis)regarded HR habits!

Lousy Habit #1: Believing old is the new gold!: Lousy CEOs passionately believe that the older they get, the better they become. Outstanding CEOs don’t, and realize that with age, they will lose their effectiveness! The Spencer Stuart CEO Survey report (November 2008, ‘Route to the Top’) shows how not only the median age of S&P 500 CEOs recorded in 2008 was lower than those recorded in the past six years, but also that in the past 28 years, the percentage of CEOs in the list who are either 49 years or below has increased by a smashing 29%! Compared to 53% of CEOs who were aged 60 years or above in 1980 in the S&P 100, today only 23% are.

Lousy Habit #2: Never say die...till you’re dead!: Lousy CEOs are infatuated with the hypothesis that they personally cannot ever be replaced. Outstanding CEOs commit themselves to succession planning. A remarkable 2009 Booz Allen report statistically proves how the count of planned successions (as a percentage of total successions) has increased over the past years. HBS wrote in 2006 (In Search of Excellence: In CEO Succession) how “merely announcing who your next CEO will be, can move (up) the market value of your company by 15% or more...”

Lousy Habit #3: Always recruit an outsider for a CEO!: Even if a lousy CEO buys the succession planning argument, he would almost always choose an external candidate over an internal candidate as his replacement. Outstanding CEOs always choose internal candidates. The 2009 report from Booz Allen titled Stability in the Storm proves – after evaluating 2,500 leading global companies – how even during times of downturn, 76% MNCs rely on internal CEO candidates to steer the company to safety. They state in another report (The Perils of Good Governance), “The outsider who comes in to whip a company into shape is most likely to get a thrashing.”

Lousy Habit #4: To hell with loyalty!: Lousy CEOs believe that if they don’t keep jumping jobs every few years, they’ll be perceived as being out of fashion. Outstanding CEOs almost never leave their companies during a lifetime. In a research I quote often, Forbes proves how a mind numbing 81% CEOs of America’s top 100 corporations have never changed their jobs (or have changed at best only one) throughout their lives! A monumentally similar 75% CEOs of leading non-US corporations have spent more than 35 years or more with the same company they lead.

Lousy Habit #5: Multi-tasking is for sissies; specialization is the future! The Institute for Innovation and Improvement profiled the legendary Bill Gates and reported that “Gates is the original multi-tasking man...” In fact, the ambidextrous Gates’ belief in multi-tasking is so supreme that “once, Gates hung a map of Africa in his garage, so he could have something to occupy his mind for the precious seconds spent turning on the engine of his Porsche.” Multi-taskers today are not only more educated than non-multi-taskers (78% more), but also are better paid (in general, a whopping 200% more) as they lead to more productivity (Dr.Gibbs in a Chicago Graduate School of Business co-authored paper). Lousy CEOs specialize; excellent CEOs multi-task!

With these words, I end this ‘lousy’ editorial! Man, these guys have started giving me too much varied work... Phew, I need a new focused job! But how the hell will they ever fi nd anybody who can do my job? Who cares... Hey, what’s this lousy slip doing on my table... and why’s it coloured a silly pink?...