First, let me say that if you ever have the opportunity to be on national television news, beware that what YOU want to talk about is unlikely to be what you actually talk about on air. That was the case yesterday with my appearance on the Fox Business News network which was supposed to be an uplifting message about CEO New Year’s Resolutions for 2012. Instead, it was a discussion of who I believed to be the best and worst CEOs of 2011.
Granted, that’s still good coverage for the DeVos Graduate School of Management and Northwood University (and me), so no complaints about that. On the other hand, I’m always uncomfortable being put in a place of judgment when it comes to any individual, including CEOs. I only know what I see so it seems a bit unfair to say somebody is the “worst” or “best.” (On a side note, if you wonder why I look so serious at the beginning of the interview, we can talk sometime about the challenge of speaking to a camera lens in a studio in Flint and somehow making it look like you’re engaging in conversation with Cheryl Casone in New York!)
Anyway, the segment is about five minutes long which really doesn’t provide a lot of time for rationale, so I wanted to say a couple of things about the folks I spoke of yesterday. These were the ones I chose for Worst and Best CEOs of 2011. Understand (as I do) that this is all a matter of personal opinion, and I’m sure there were folks who saw it and said, “Seriously? You have to be kidding.”
For repeatedly telling a story that nobody believes, I would suggest John Corzine of MF Global is the worst for the past year. The best he can do is say, as he did in Congressional testimony, “I simply do not know where the money is” which is supposed to be an excuse I guess for misplacing $1.2 billion. The excuse is confounded by the fact that he apparently was one of the most active traders as well. In the end, he is either lying or is one of the most disconnected CEOs we’ve seen in a while.
For providing the worst apology, and the worst strategy for delivering that apology, I nominated Reed Hastings of Netflix. Not only did he insult hundreds of thousands of customers with his September email, but he is notable for how quickly he fell from grace in doing so. Earlier in 2011, Baron’s Magazine had him listed as one of the top 30 CEOs in America. By the end of the year, having lost 70% of market value and $11 billion, he unlikely gave up his spot on the next list.
The final answer I had for the top 3 of the bottom, was Bank of America CEO, Bryan Moynihan. I am reminded of a saying when I was growing up which was that sometimes, you just have to take your whuppin’ and move on. At a time where Americans are still ticked off with the fact that big banks apparently did not loosen up with the federal bailout, B of A decided to institute a $5 charge on debit transactions. The public went nuts of course and Moynihan in October stated that he was “incensed” at the constant criticisms of Bank of America. Yeah, I imagine.
With all the admiration generally given to Jeff Bezos of Amazon, I still think he is underrated. Looking at the evolution of the Amazon business, the enormity of the “One-click” model to sales, the success of Amazon Prime, and most lately the release of the Kindle Fire, I see him as one of the most innovative (and gutsy) CEOs around. Yes, Steve Jobs and Apple do the sexy stuff, but Amazon consistently roles the dice in areas that others are just playing with.
Similarly, Patrick Doyle of Domino’s has shown how to take brutal product criticism and turn customer service (and listening) into a brilliant marketing strategy. The thing is that they aren’t making this stuff up. Domino’s honestly did focus groups and surveys and follow-ups. They endlessly tested new recipes with franchisees and customers. In the end, they retooled the whole product from bottom to top and built their brand, and their culture, in the process.
Finally, Sam Palmisano, retired CEO of IBM, stands out to me as a strong and consistent leader, brave enough to turn the enormous company around and out of areas that were unprofitable regardless of the legacy of IBM. He also created some pretty neat leadership development programs, focusing more on developing leaders through structured experience than through classroom training. During his tenure as CEO, for the most part Palmisano stuck to his vision and as a result, the IBM of today is a place where employees are proud to work and customers are pleased to do business.