A rising pharma star's Executive Dream Team

Our son Jeff names his executive "Dream Team" for Fortune Magazine along with the rationale of his top picks. Who would be on your dream team? It’s nice to see Fortune featuring some of our great leaders, not just exposing poor leaders. We have many exceptional leaders these days who deserve some positive kudos for the amazing leadership they provide great organizations.

Supreme Court Ruling on the Accountable Care Act

Here is my Op-Ed on Supreme Court ruling on the Accountable Care Act, published on HBS' website ( I believe it is time to focus on living healthy lives, not just disease care with a national "Healthy Living" campaign. This is the only way to bring health care costs in line and make America a nation of healthy people. Your feedback is welcome!

Harvard's prescription for a broken American political system

Last week Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria and a group of senior faculty members led by University Professor Michael Porter and Professor Jan Rivkin, co-chairs of HBS' U.S. Competitiveness Project, led a seminar for 400 leaders and policy makers at the Newseum in Washington DC on the subject of U.S. competitiveness. Fortune magazine did the following article on the session.

Leaders' Character Must Take Precedence over their Resumes

By Bill George for the Star Tribune, published June 23, 2012.

The tragic fall of Rajat Gupta, a man who helped so many organizations, is a vivid reminder of the frailties of human character. Convicted of insider trading, Gupta, who once headed global consulting firm McKinsey & Co., joins a lineup of failed leaders that includes ex-HP CEO Mark Hurd, investor Bernie Madoff, Berkshire's David Sokol, ex-Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn, and Chesapeake Energy's Aubrey McClendon.

Will the parade of leaders who fail to fulfill their leadership responsibilities ever end?

CEOs are public figures. Their actions are constantly being scrutinized inside and outside their organizations. For this reason their actions must be beyond reproach. The greatest failure for any leader is putting self-interest ahead of the organization's interests, which is precisely what these leaders did.

A year ago, I wrote an article titled "Why Leaders Lose Their Way" that analyzed ways in which high-profile leaders get seduced. What I learned in researching that article is that leaders who focus on external gratification -- money, fame and power -- instead of inner satisfaction, tend to abandon their roots and lose their grounding. That makes them vulnerable to small unethical violations that gradually build into unfathomable actions.

In choosing leaders, people place their trust in them, believing they will always do their best to build the organization and ensure their organizations can navigate difficult times. Leaders who put their self-interests ahead of their organizations violate this most basic responsibility of leadership.

Why? It's not because they don't understand their responsibilities. Rather, too much credit is given to leaders, who are applauded when things go well as if they were one-person bands. Eventually, they start believing their press clippings.

As Novartis Chairman Daniel Vasella told Fortune magazine: "The idea of being a successful manager is an intoxicating one. It is a pattern of celebration leading to belief, leading to distortion. When you achieve good results, you are typically celebrated, and you begin to believe that the figure at the center of all that champagne-toasting is yourself."

At this juncture, failed leaders start to believe they are above rules that govern others, and even above the law. Fueled by hubris, they violate the most basic principles, rationalizing that they won't get caught. When confronted, they try to talk their way out of it, rather than admitting their mistakes. This only compounds their problems by creating a trail of distortions that eventually brings them down.

It's easy to feel angry toward these leaders, but that misses the larger point. Violating the inherent trust their organizations place in them doesn't just harm the leader, it hurts everyone associated with the organization as well as its reputation. Their actions cause employees, investors and customers to lose confidence in their organizations. It can even put their organizations in play. That's what happened at Chesapeake Energy as Carl Icahn gained four board seats in a proxy contest. Best Buy could be next, due to Brian Dunn's misconduct and former Chairman Richard Schulze's failure to address it.

Gupta's actions tarnished the reputations of many organizations, among them McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, and Procter & Gamble. In the case of HP's Hurd, his termination left the company without a CEO or a viable strategy, leading to a decline in HP's market valuation of $60 billion, or 55 percent.

Each of us is fallible. To minimize the likelihood of leaders losing their way, it is essential to screen them carefully for their values and character. Leaders should be recognized for who they are, not just what they are, as character takes precedence over their résumés. Authentic leadership development opportunities enable them to integrate their life stories and crucibles into their thinking and understand their weaknesses, shortcomings and failures as well as their strengths. Ultimately, great leaders must be comfortable with their vulnerabilities. This requires years of careful preparation to ensure they are ready for the responsibilities of leadership.

Perhaps because of these well-publicized leadership failures, there has been a marked shift in recent years from hiring external candidates to the promotion of insiders whose character and values have been carefully tested. Recently-appointed CEOs seem to have a deep understanding of their personal responsibilities and the importance of staying grounded as leaders and human beings.

Bill George is professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, author of True North, and former chair and CEO of Medtronic, Inc.

Speaking Against the Marriage Amendment

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune published this piece on Sunday, May 20, 2012.

Now that the debate over the Vikings stadium is settled, taking center stage is an issue that has far graver consequences for Minnesota's future: the marriage amendment.

President Obama's unqualified support for same-sex marriage came on the heels of North Carolina's overwhelming vote to pass a constitutional amendment banning it. In Minnesota, the actual ballot question is whether to prohibit same-sex marriage in Minnesota's Constitution.

But even if the amendment fails, same-sex marriage will remain illegal in Minnesota by statute.

This is not a religious issue, because churches, synagogues and mosques have the right in any case to determine whom they will marry.

My interest in this issue is twofold. First, I believe in freedom of association for all Minnesotans. Second, as a former CEO of Medtronic, I know firsthand how important and challenging it is to recruit and retain talented people. Doing so requires a culture that accepts people as they are -- not in spite of differences, but because of them.

Defeating this amendment is essential not only to provide civil rights, but also to ensure that Minnesota is open and welcoming to everyone -- regardless of religion, gender, race, national origin or sexual orientation. Would Medtronic's new CEO, who is a Muslim born in Bangladesh, have left General Electric had he not believed that Minnesota was open to people with diverse life experiences?

To sustain their growth, local companies like Target, General Mills, 3M, U.S. Bancorp, Best Buy and Cargill must attract creative professionals from around the world. In his 2003 book, "Rise of the Creative Class," Richard Florida found that tolerance -- openness to diversity regardless of race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation -- is one of two key factors in recruiting creative people. He ranked Minneapolis No. 29 on diversity, well below competing cities like Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, New York and Boston.

Local business leaders have been remarkably progressive within their companies, enabling them to sustain their growth and diversify their leadership teams. Passage of this amendment would make it increasingly difficult for Minnesota companies to recruit and retain the talented people required to build global companies -- not just gays, but anyone whose choice is to be part of an open society that rewards performance over social issues.

Our corporate leaders need to speak out forcefully against this amendment, because their companies have the most to lose if it passes. To date, only former CEOs Wheelock Whitney and Marilyn Carlson Nelson have done so, while other corporate leaders have been notably silent.

In North Carolina, the business community failed to speak out against its amendment. CEOs and bank chiefs like Brian Moynihan of Bank of America remained silent, while only Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers warned about the amendment's consequences. Rogers didn't mince words:

"We're going to look back 10 or 20 years from now and think about that amendment [like] the Jim Crow laws [legalizing racial discrimination]. We're competing with people around the world. We've got to be inclusive and open."

In the late 1940s, African-Americans faced discrimination when Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey spoke in defense of racial freedom. In retrospect, how would that era's leaders have felt had they not opposed racial discrimination?

Until the 1967 Supreme Court decision, many states banned interracial marriage. Imagine how families would be affected were those laws still in effect.

In my final years at Medtronic we faced a difficult situation when the Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts could reject gay males as scoutmasters. Since Medtronic Foundation policy prohibited grants to organizations that discriminate, it withheld funds to the Boy Scouts until its policy was changed, causing significant controversy inside the company. As a result, the local Boy Scout chapter amended its policies to be open to all leaders, and our community is better off for that.

Do Minnesotans want to become a parochial haven, or will we be a role model of diversity and quality of life for everyone? Minnesota corporations are leaders on jobs, family-friendly cultures, education, health care and the arts.

Now their leaders need to speak out against the marriage amendment to ensure that Minnesota will continue to be one of the most progressive workplaces in the nation.

Facing Reality, Starting with Yourself

In my 2009 book, 7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis, the first lesson when encountering a crisis is to "face reality, starting with yourself." This week we have contrasting examples of leaders confronting crises who took sharply different paths: JP Morgan's Jamie Dimon and Best Buy's Richard Schultz.

Schultz founded Best Buy in 1966 with a single store called "Sound of Music." He has built his company into an international chain with 1,250 stores, 170,000 employees, and $50 billion in revenues. Although he twice turned the CEO role over to long-standing colleagues, Brad Anderson in 2002 and Brian Dunn in 2009, he never relinquished control.  As Best Buy's board chair, Schultz dominated both the board and the company, with few board members or executives who dared challenge his power.

Without question, Schultz is a brilliant entrepreneur who built a great organization. He was named one of the Twin Cities top five executives of the decade in the 1990s. In 2004 Best Buy was named "company of the year" by Forbes magazine.  He amassed a personal fortune, retained 20 percent of Best Buy's voting shares, and endowed the Schultz School of Entrepreneurship at St. Thomas University.

In the last three years Best Buy's model of selling all forms of electronic hardware has lost ground to on-line retailers like Amazon, and its sales have slipped. Schultz and Dunn have been slow to react, resisted making fundamental changes in Best Buy's business model. Last December Schultz got some very disturbing news from a reliable source in the company: CEO Dunn was having "an extremely close personal relationship" in Best Buy's headquarters with a 29-year-old female employee. Schultz confronted Dunn with the allegations, which he denied.

What did Schultz do next? Nothing. He buried the issue, not mentioning it to Best Buy's board, its general counsel or head of human resources. Nor did he launch an internal investigation to see whether the allegations were true. Not surprisingly, the issue surfaced again in March, this time directly to members of the board. The board took immediate action, terminating Dunn that day and hiring two experienced investigators, William McLucas and Tom Strickland, to determine the veracity of the charges. Their report led to Schultz's forced resignation as board chair on May 14 and caused further turmoil at the company.

The lesson: Schultz failed to face reality and acknowledge his role in supporting, and perhaps dominating, CEO Dunn. As a result, he was forced to resign in disgrace, a sad end to a brilliant career.

In contrast, Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan, upon learning of the firm's $2 billion loss in a hedging transaction, took full responsibility for the problems. He didn't hide from the media, as he talked openly about what happened. He went on Meet the Press the next day, telling David Gregory, "We made a terrible egregious mistake. We were stupid. There’s almost no excuse for it.” The following day he accepted the resignation of the trader responsible for the losses. He acknowledged that the losses came at an extremely awkward time in the finalization of the regulation of the Dodd-Frank law in defining proprietary trades and hedging, but didn't blame others.

The lesson: While the losses at JP Morgan are not insignificant, they represent less than 10 percent of the firm's annual profits and can be absorbed without basic harm to the bank. While the crisis was front-page news for the past week and has triggered several investigations, Dimon will be able to put it behind him in due course and continue to build his bank. All because he faced reality and took full responsibility for the problems.

Op-Ed Higlights Charlotte's Role in Competitiveness

Harvard Business School is undertaking a major initiative on improving U.S. competitiveness.  This is being led by Professors Michael Porter and Jan Rivkin.  A key element is to encourage business executives to take the lead in their local communities to form clusters and to strengthen their competitiveness often by forming industry clusters.

Last week we were in Charlotte with Duke Energy Chair and CEO Jim Rogers to study Charlotte’s initiative around the energy cluster, and we met with over 150 local leaders to talk about our initiative and Charlotte’s efforts.  Jim Rogers and I have written an op-ed in the Charlotte Business Journal examining the decisive actions Charlotte has taken to create sustainable jobs in this region.  Full piece here.  

This op-ed draws upon the case entitled Envision Charlotte: Building an Energy Cluster.

Charlotte Emerges as an Energy Cluster, Pointing Path to Competitiveness

NPR station WFAE hosted a very thoughtful discussion on leadership, economic development, and competitiveness.  Read more about the program, or listen.

Google’s Stock Split Irks Governance Experts, But Is the Right Move

Google’s announcement late Thursday that it would split its stock 2:1 by creating a new class of non-voting shares has governance experts up in arms. From the standpoint of sound corporate governance, I have not been in favor of dual class structures as they can serve to protect complacent owners or management. As the pressures from short-term shareholders for immediate results have grown, I believe that they have a place if used selectively. Google’s situation meets this criterion since it is integral to the firm’s historic shareholdings and is consistent with its need for long-term investment and strategic flexibility.

                On one level this can be seen as Silicon Valley versus Wall Street, but it is indicative of the much larger issue in the struggle for control of corporations that pits advocates of short-term shareholder value against corporate leaders and founders focusing on long-term value creation. For the past quarter century advocates of short-term actions have been on the rise, pressing to replace “complacent management” (their term, not mine), take control of boards of directors, or force the sale of companies. They have lined up a formidable array of shareholder advisory firms, governance experts, academics, lawyers and politicians to provide intellectual and legislative support for their ideas.

                Their influence on corporations, boards of directors, and investors has been enormous, contributing to short holding periods for stocks, which have fallen from eight years to six months. Many corporate leaders feel compelled to respond to these influences or face severe consequences, as their never-ending pressure has resulted in much shorter CEO tenure and higher turnover at the top. They are forcing companies like Genzyme to be sold to Sanofi or Kraft and Abbott to split into two companies. On the negative side, managements of such giant companies as General Motors, Sears, Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, Yahoo, and Kodak who bought into their ideas have wound up in bankruptcy or lost their ability to compete. An even greater concern is the devastating impact on the long-term competitiveness of American companies in global markets.

                The new generation of corporate leaders understands this impact and is taking steps to reverse it. Leading Silicon Valley companies like Apple, Intel, Facebook, Google, and Seattle's Amazon, as well as established companies like Ford, IBM, Exxon, and Merck are ignoring these short-term pressures to invest in long-term strategies to ensure sustainable shareholder value increases.

                While Apple’s market capitalization has skyrocketed from a mere $7 billion in 2003 to more than $550 billion today, the late Steve Jobs “spent zero time thinking about Apple’s stock price,” according to one of his direct reports. In fact, Apple’s stock price did not move upward at all in Jobs’ first six years back at the helm. Similarly, Mark Zuckerberg has fought to retain absolute control Facebook's ownership from its founding through the forthcoming public offering.

                Thus, it's not surprising that Google founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin are attempting to retain control so that they can continue to invest for the long-term, as they made very clear in last Thursday’s letter to shareholders:

"We have always managed Google for the long term, investing heavily in the big bets we hope will make a significant difference in the world. Some of these bets have been tremendous, funding our activities and generating significant gains for our shareholders… The ability to take these kinds of risks has been crucial to Google’s overall success and we aim to maintain this pioneering culture going forward. The proposal we announced today is consistent with the governance philosophy we articulated when we took the company public, as well as the trend for newer technology companies to adopt strong dual-class structures. We believe that it will provide great competitive strength—insulating Google from short-term pressures."

                Google is repeating the practice of Ford Motor Company when the Ford family took the company public in 1956. As Kevin Hoffman writes in American Icon, Ford would not have survived the turmoil of the last decade without the Ford family's commitment to the company’s long-term survivability without declaring bankruptcy, as General Motors and Chrysler did. While not adopting the dual stock structure, companies like IBM, Exxon, Whole Foods, and Merck are taking similar approaches in their commitment to long-term. They are clear about their long-term goals, share progress openly, but never waver from their direction, in spite of shortfalls in earnings, declines in stock price, and criticism from security analysts, media and short-term shareholders.

                It should be noted that these companies are not anti-shareholder. Rather, they are deeply committed to creating long-term shareholder value and prepared to defend against short-term pressures that would take them off course. Shareholders always have the option of selling their shares if they don't like the company’s direction or prospects, which is a more effective means of impacting management than proxy contests. We faced similar issues in my years at Medtronic; only our commitment to patients and dedication to long-term strategy enabled us to increase shareholder value more than forty times during those years.

                It is encouraging to see companies with the courage to take a stand for ensuring their companies remain competitive. Ultimately, their actions will make the U.S. more competitive as companies invest in people, research, and facilities to ensure their long-term success.

Enhance Your Overseas Experience

This article originally appeared in Harvard Business Review.

As the world becomes increasingly global, the need for true global citizens to lead organizations in business, nonprofits, and government is far greater than in decades past. Global citizens who understand the importance of cultural nuances are able to bring people together across organizational boundaries and are more effective working and collaborating anywhere in the world.


Becoming a global citizen requires that aspiring leaders spend time living in different countries early in life, so they can appreciate cultural differences, incorporate what they learn into their work lives, and build networks of global relationships. A key to the success of IBM's Sam Palmisano, for example, was the understanding he gained by living in Japan that enabled him to create IBM's "globally integrated enterprise" in 2006.

Corporations seek leaders who are comfortable in many cultures; they want those who can speak multiple languages and understand the nuances of doing business outside their home regions. In fact, many global companies have formal international rotation programs to build such global leaders. German consumer company Henkel requires its leaders to work in at least two countries to be considered for promotion.

But the benefits aren't just organizational. Living in different countries and cultures can lead to a rounder, more fulfilling life. Take our experiences, for example. Bill had formative experiences living with his family in Belgium in the early 1980s and in Switzerland ten years ago. Leading global businesses since the early 1970s and serving as a board member of two European companies, Bill's travels throughout the world shaped his ideas for developing global leaders. John found working abroad in Europe and the Middle East not only improved his understanding of the importance of cultural and regional differences, but also helped him build a global network of friends and colleagues and lasting memories of the places he visited.

For aspiring leaders who want to become global citizens and increase their global fluency, here are some suggestions to get started:

1. Target at least one fundamentally different culture. While it may be tempting to live in a culture similar to your own — for example, Americans working in Great Britain — the most compelling learning experiences come from living in cultures that are sharply differently from your own. Chinese professionals working in South Africa, for example, will find their existing cultural assumptions challenged as they gain increased humility by learning local languages and coping with different norms.

2. Spend time studying overseas. Studying in different cultures enables young leaders to understand cultural nuances and become actively engaged with global organizations. Harvard Business School now sends all 900 MBAs to work overseas in its Global Immersion Program. Global organizations prefer candidates who have studied abroad because these early experiences will broaden your perspective about seeking fascinating global opportunities throughout your life. Look for opportunities, and if you're already out of school, ask if your organization offers programs to give you experience abroad.

3. Learn the local language. As English becomes the language of business, it is tempting to get by with limited knowledge of local languages. That's a mistake. Learning local languages enables you to appreciate cultural nuances and develop more personal relationships. Being fluent in multiple languages makes it easier to learn new ones and opens up career opportunities.

4. Don't judge cultural differences or local people. When your new environment is sharply different from prior experiences, it's tempting to make snap judgments about your experiences and stay attached to your own culture. Resist that temptation by observing, listening, learning, and understanding rather than judging. Use your insights to improve local ways of operating, but don't rush to criticize.

5. Share international experiences with your family. Living in new countries brings your family much closer together and will be a time for growth, bonding, and learning as a family. Hold parties for your local neighbors, join a local church, and get involved in your children's school. Host regular visits from parents and close friends. Balance breadth and depth in your travels to explore many different areas and countries, and spend time talking with local people. But don't travel so much that you fail to get deeply involved in your new community and explore its richness.

The coming decades will belong to those global citizens who are comfortable operating anywhere in the world and who can collaborate with people of different cultures to develop solutions to the world's most pressing problems. Organizations filled with these global citizens will not only survive but thrive and grow. For you, life will be richer and more fulfilling.