Kudos & Gaffes
Leadership Kudos go to European financial leaders IMF president Christine Lagarde and EC bank president Mario Draghi for stepping up to resolve the Euro crisis, in part with IMF’s €2.2 billion loan. Their concerted leadership has gone a long way to stabilizing the financial crisis, although much more work well be required to bring the budgets and debts of member countries back to fiscal responsibility and stability.
Leadership Gaffes go to the Olympus board of directors and former CEO Michael Woodford for poor governance that led to the cover-up of $1.7 billion in losses. The details are murky but the failures of leadership are very evident. As a result of the board’s poor governance, a great company is being destroyed and customer and investor confidence is being shattered.
Leadership Kudos this week go to John Hope Bryant, founder, chairman and CEO of Operation Hope, the nation’s leading non-profit organization committed to financial literacy. Since founding Operation Hope in 1992, Bryant has raised more than $500 million to help the poor achieve financial literacy. He is vice chair of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy, appointed by former President George W. Bush and reappointed by President Barack Obama. Bryant is a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum and author of Love Leadership. With HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and Finnish philosopher Pekka Himanen, Bryant founded Global Dignity Day, which has had global impact in restoring dignity for all people of the world. Most recently, Bryant started the Silver Rights Movement to help all people achieve financial literacy and 5MK – or Five Million Kids – to help children become financially literate. He is a remarkable leader: compassionate, passionate, and focused on helping the poor around the world.
Leadership Gaffes go to Corporate Lobbyists for their attempts to water down the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). While some clarifications in definitions may be necessary, we shouldn’t lose sight that FCPA has been an important force for the integrity of U.S. corporations in doing business overseas, setting a higher standard than those practiced by many other nations. The act has given the United States more than the moral high ground, it has also given American companies a competitive advantage. By taking a higher road of ethical standards and focusing on product and service superiority, rather than paying bribes, U.S. companies outmatch non-U.S. companies in terms of real value creation. Indirectly, FCPA is having the impact of encouraging other nations also to set high standards of business practice. Reducing the U.S. standards for integrity would be a major mistake.
Leadership Kudos this week go to Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, co-chairs of President Obama’s Deficit Reduction Commission. Last December they proposed a $4 trillion reduction in U.S. deficits over ten years with a balanced plan of spending and entitlement cuts, and revenue increases. Although the commission passed the plan with an 11-7 vote, it was not enough for a mandatory Congressional vote. The thoughtful plan was ignored by President Obama and Congressional leaders in both parties. A great tragedy that led to the historic downgrading of U.S. sovereign credit ratings this past summer.
Leadership Gaffes go to Congressional Super-Committee for failing to come to a compromise agreement to reduce U.S. deficit by $1.2 trillion, setting the stage for automatic across-the-board cuts to go into effect. Confidence in Congress has dropped to 9%, and deservedly so. Congressional leaders continue to put party politics ahead of the needs of the country, as our financial state erodes and we lose competitiveness to many other countries. When will our politicians wake up and put their country first?
Leadership Kudos for the week go to Andrew Mason, CEO of Groupon, for leading his creative web-based company to a successful initial public offering whose value results from a unique marketing and promotional idea. After much controversy over the summer months, Groupon’s IPO came to market during a turbulent period for stocks. Priced at $20.00 per share, Groupon rose almost immediately by 31% to $26 per share. After five trading days, it sustained most but not all of its increased value, closing last week at $24.25, a 21% increase above its initial offering. Throughout this period Mason has been steady and committed to moving his young company ahead.
Leadership Gaffes go to Silvio Berlusconi, the now deposed leader of Italy, who finally stepped down officially as prime minister over this past weekend. Berlusconi’s flagrant mismanagement of Italy’s finances has brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy. He served three times as prime minister, dating back to 1994, yet today is one of the world’s richest people with nearly $8 in net worth. Berlusconi’s ethics are highly questionable, as he continues to favor his own enterprises to the detriment of his country. His successor, Mario Monti, is a man of the highest integrity, economic understanding, and the character to lead Italy through the current crisis.
Leadership Kudos for the week go to Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicholas Sarkozy. Their tenacity and political courage enabled them to forge a deal to prevent the pending default in Greece and requiring the bankers to take a reduction of 50 percent in the value of their bonds. This was not an easy sell politically in either country, but they both recognized the importance of the Euro and keeping a single trading group in Europe. Only time will tell whether Europe’s other high-debt nations like Spain, Italy and Portugal will move aggressively to get their economies in order and reduce their debt, but Merkel and Sarkozy have sent an important signal of what is required to save the Euro.
Leadership Gaffes go to MF Global and CEO Jon Corzine for taking the firm into bankruptcy by betting $6.3 billion on the sovereign debt of Italy and Spain, refusing to listen to colleagues who pleaded with him to reduce the risk, and declaring “our positions have relatively little underlying principal risk.” In this volatile era solid risk management, adaptability to changing markets, and high levels of liquidity are essential for survival.
Leadership Kudos this week go to President Barack Obama, who had “a very good week.” Obama’s steady head about foreign policy – tough-minded but cool – and the tireless efforts of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are showing consistent results. The latest was the ultimate success of Obama’s policy in Libya that paid off when strongman Colonel Moamar Gaddafi was killed in Thursday’s shootout. On Friday the President announced the end of U.S. engagement in Iraq with all troops slated to come home by the end of the year, a peaceful end to nine years of bloodshed. These successes add to his support of the Arab Spring and the liberation of Egypt and mounting signals that he would like to move away from involvement in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the President is being very tough with the Pakistanis and holding off Iran’s advances in the Middle East. Finally, he signed at long last three free trade bills with South Korea, Columbia, and Panama that will give a boost to the economy, in spite of opposition from his own party.
Leadership Gaffes go to Abbott Labs and its CEO Miles White for breaking up a great health care company by spinning off Abbott’s $18 billion pharmaceutical business in search of “unlocking shareholder value.” In his 12 years as Abbott’s CEO, White has done a good job in moving the company into medical devices and expanding its revenues in all its businesses. It is hard to see how any sustainable economic value will be created by this bit of financial engineering. Abbott’s move seems intended to mask the reality that the company has been unable to fulfill its mission of discovering drugs and is facing the loss of patent protection on its leading drug. To its credit Abbott has followed a broad health care strategy similar to Johnson & Johnson and Novartis, but the latter two firmly believe their breadth and impact on health care are well served by their strategies. After decades of success, why shift to chasing short-term shareholder value?
Leadership Kudos for the week go to U.S. Justice Department for presenting a carefully constructed case for insider trading against Raj Rajaratnam, leader of the Galleon Fund. The case led to his criminal conviction and sentence of eleven years in federal prison, the longest ever for insider trading. Sadly, Rajaratnam drew many other people into his illegal trades, often with money and favors, who have already pled guilty to participating with him in these activities
Leadership Gaffes go to Reverend Robert Jeffress and backer of Governor Rick Perry for calling the Mormon faith “a cult,” and those Republican presidential candidates who failed to denounce him. The separation of church and state is a bedrock principle of the United States, and as long as candidates for president adhere to that principle, their religion should not become a political issue. Our political leaders should be focusing on the many problems the country is facing by uniting us, not by permitting attacks on candidates for their religious beliefs that only tend to divide the nation.
Leadership Kudos go to all those who have finally recognized Steve Jobs’ leadership legacy. Jobs didn’t fit anyone’s classic description of a leader but he was always authentic, passionate, visionary and committed to the highest standards – AND he grew wiser by understanding his failures and following his heart to the end. It is great to see him so recognized at his passing. His best advice that we can all follow: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
Leadership Gaffes this week go to Reed Hastings of Netflix who tried to be too clever with Qwikster. He got caught with chasing his escalating stock price . . . and wound up destroying 65% of Netflix market cap. Hasting needs to get back to focusing on his customers before he loses them to competitors Amazon and Apple. While Hastings admitted his error, he doesn’t seem to acknowledge the root cause of his mistakes. As Rob Kaplan says, it’s time to look at the person in the mirror.
Leadership Kudos this week go to Jeff Bezos of Amazon, introducing his latest product breakthrough, a new tablet called Kindle Fire. Listed at a remarkable price of $199 (Apple charges $499), the Fire will offer users a remarkable array of Amazon products, all stored on Amazon’s cloud and rapidly downloaded. Staying true to his convictions, Bezos stayed the course with his on-line retail strategy in 2002 when the stock market collapsed and his stock lost 92% of its value. Then he invested heavily in Amazon’s first hardware product, the Kindle, revolutionizing the book reading business. This week Amazon’s market capitalization topped $100 billion. You have to admire Bezos’ courage is taking on Apple frontally, something H-P and others have failed to do.
Leadership Gaffes go this week to the Kodak Board, which has presided over the demise of a once-great corporation. In past twelve years Kodak stock has lost 99% of its value, plunging from $75 to a new low this week of $0.78. (That’s not a typo!) Anticipating the digital revolution but unable to develop an internal leader, the board went outside its ranks to recruit George Fisher, then CEO of Motorola, who served as CEO from 1993-2000, but was unable to move the company into the 21st century. Fisher was succeeded by Dan Carp, who drifted from one strategy to the next during his five years as CEO. Then Antonio Perez was recruited from H-P to save the company once again, something he has failed to do. A sad tale, much like H-P, of a board that can’t figure out what business it is in.
Leadership Kudos for the week go to Starbucks Chair & CEO Howard Schultz, who returned as CEO three years ago and has restored SBUX to its original coffeehouse feeling where baristas and customers have real relationships, not the assembly line feeling it had slipped into. Revenue and earnings growth have been restored, thanks to Schultz. And Howard has the courage to take a stand on our political impasse, buying full-page ads imploring people not to give to either party until someone puts country ahead of party. Who says leaders can’t stay true to their values and their roots and build great global franchises?
Leadership Gaffes this week go to Solyndra leadership and government officials who funded it. Solyndra squandered a $535 million government “loan” by building solar panels its customers didn’t want. Now it is bankrupt and can’t repay the loan. Maybe renewable energy companies should be held to the same economic tests that other industries are – of keeping their costs below their revenues without subsidies – and bring costs in line while innovating. A sobering experience for everyone who believes in subsidizing preferred technological solutions.