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Bill George

Harvard Business School Professor, former Medtronic CEO

Category: Kudos & Gaffes

Leadership Kudos and Gaffes: Two Women Leaders

Leadership Kudos this week go to German Prime Minister Angela Merkel for her courage in keeping the Euro together as Greece’s finances unravel. Germany the healthiest economy in Europe, thanks to the strength of its export business and its competitive manufacturing base, and Merkel is willing to take the political heat on the domestic front to help finance Europe’s recovery. Germany is an important role model of economic success for the United States and other developed countries to study and even emulate.

Leadership Gaffes go to Carol Bartz, who was terminated by the Yahoo board of directors. Going out with guns blazing, Bartz told Fortune Magazine, that Yahoo’s board is “a bunch of dofuses” and “they f—ed me over.” Bartz may have inherited a struggling business model, but she presided over a series of strategic missteps.  She overestimated the much-hyped search deal with Microsoft.  She failed to realize the seriousness of the company’s restructuring need and foolishly promised “no layoffs,” a promise she later reneged.  Her indecisiveness over the Alibaba deal — back and forth, ultimately to no end — seems a metaphor for her tenure as CEO.  There are no winners in this mess.  

Leadership Kudos and Gaffes: Effective leadership in a crisis, and blocking job growth

Leadership Kudos for this week go to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his effective leadership during this weekend’s crisis with Hurricane Irene. Bloomberg was front-and-center and on the air waves urging New Yorkers to take the pending storm seriously and get out of town. Behind the scenes he coordinated effectively with FEMA, New York State and local officials as well as President Obama to minimize loss of human life and damage from the storm.

Leadership Gaffes go to President Obama’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for continuing to block the start-up of Boeing’s $1 billion plant in Charleston, SC that will produce the 787 Dreamliner, America’s most promising export for the next 25 years. Boeing is proposing to hire 6,000 employees in SC – IF the NLRB will let them. There’s no law against plants in right-to-work states, as both German auto makers BMW and Mercedes have shown with their highly successful SC plants. Meanwhile, Boeing is adding 2,000 unionized jobs in Seattle. With 25 million Americans unable to find full-time jobs, why doesn’t the Obama administration step in and get this resolved?

Leadership Kudos and Gaffes: Google’s Page focused on tomorrow’s market and HP’s Apotheker scrambling

Kudos to Google CEO Larry Page for his bold move to acquire Motorola Mobility to integrate Android mobile operating system.  Page took over day-to-day operations at Google in April, and since then he’s made strategic moves that streamlined and focused Google’s growth strategy.  Page is the right leader for Google at this time.  While Schmidt was instrumental in allowing Google to become who they are today, Page’s focus on mobile and social is positioning the company as a leader for tomorrow’s market. 

Gaffes to Leo Apotheker and HP for confused strategy to dump PCs, Palm, Smartphones and overpay for Autonomy. Does HP know what business it is in?  Apotheker and HP are scrambling, and this type of frenetic M&A activity is in marked contrast to rival IBM’s approach to disciplined value creation — largely through organic growth.  Gerstner and Palmisano, both storied leaders, took the long-term view.  Apotheker is not.  Only 18 months ago HP bought Palm, now they want to dump it along with their core business just as the mobile computing market is growing.   

Leadership Kudos and Gaffes: Schultz leading globally and domestically, Boehner’s leadership relying on chaos

Leadership Kudos this week go to Howard Schultz, founder and CEO of Starbucks,for his courageous restoration of Starbucks to a pioneering coffee house, nowexpanding around the world under Schultz’s leadership. When Schultz returned as CEOin early 2008, most observers were predicting that the Starbucks mystique was waning and its growth was doomed. Schultz jumped in and addressed the problems head on, even closing all stores for a day to get his employees retrained on customer focus. Since then, Starbucks’ revenues have grown in double digits, earnings have tripled, andfrom its low point in the fall of 2008, Starbucks stock has quintupled. Who says founders can’t successfully go back home?

Leadership Gaffes go to House Speaker John Boehner for explaining Republicans hard line on the debt ceiling on talk radio, “A lot of them believe enough chaos would make opponents yield.” He and his fellow Republicans were certainly successful in causing chaos and contributing to the historic downgrade of the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA+. But the deeper issue here is that Boehner sees everything as a win-lose contest between parties and isn’t focused on the country’s pressing problems: jobs, growth, and deficit reduction. With 25 million Americans unable to find full-time jobs, don’t we have enough chaos?

Leadership Kudos and Gaffes: Automakers lead on upping standards, while politicians distract the public

Leadership Kudos this week go the CEOs of U.S. automakers, Alan Mulally of Ford, Dan Ackerson of GMand Sergio Marchionne for their leadership in enthusiastically agreeing to automobile fuel economy standards that will increase to 54 miles per gallon by 2025. This represents a 50 percent cut in greenhouse gases and a 40 percent reduction in fuel consumption compared with today’s averages. For the next decade or more, using energy efficiently is the best new source of energy.

Leadership Gaffes go to all the politicians who distracted the country with a confidence-shattering debate on raising the debt ceiling – an artificially- egrocreated limit – instead of focusing on the growth and job creation the country so desperately needs. No matter how the politicians spin the agreement, there are no winners here, and a lot of losers, including the faith in our country’s fiscal stability.

Leadership Kudos and Gaffes: Leader of a Model American Company

Leadership Kudos this week go to Caterpillar and its CEO Doug Oberhelman. Caterpillar is rapidly becoming a role model American company, showing how American companies can compete globally. With its Midwest roots and values, heavy manufacturing in the U.S. and steady long-term investments, CAT has become a global leader in its field, with large exports to Asia, Europe and the rest of the world. In its most recent quarter CAT’s global revenues were up 37% and its earnings up 44%, as the company has added 6,000 American workers. More companies should follow CAT’s lead.

Leadership Gaffes go to Republican Tea Party and Democratic liberal Congressmen for blocking deals negotiated by President Obama and Speaker Boehner to solve the articifically-created debt ceiling crisis. These politicians continue to put the country at risk as they maneuver for selfish political advantage.

Leadership Kudos and Gaffes: Leading and supporting a team, while the other is burying his mistakes

Leadership Kudos this week go to Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer. While founder Mark Zuckerberg gets the media attention, it is Sandberg whois steadily building Facebook into a great growth company. Her steady hand on thewheel is driving a well-oiled machine that continues to take on broader challengesand strengthen its management talent. Watching the P&L as well as numbers ofparticipants, Sandberg is the driving force behind Facebook’s growing market value,estimated by some as high as $100 billion.

Leadership Gaffes go to News Corporation’s founder and CEO, Rupert Murdoch.  Who else? Murdoch has aggressively built his media empire by taking over newspapers and television stations and turning them into mouthpieces for his political goals. Now his tactics, many of them unethical and even illegal, have caught up with him. He can fire Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton (or “bury his mistakes,” as he likes to say), but the buck stops with him. His scandal threatens even the British political establishment. Is it time for him to accept responsibility and step down?

Kudos and Gaffes: Remembering a quiet leader and continued failed leadership on the economic recovery

Leadership Kudos go to former First Lady Betty Ford, who passed away this week at age 93. A quiet leader, Ford showed remarkable courage in publicly acknowledging her chemical dependency and later establishing the Betty Ford Center for treatment of people suffering from alcohol and drug dependency. After she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Ford urged other women to seek treatment for their cancer. Throughout her long lifetime Ford proved that public leaders can retain their graciousness and humility while serving millions of people.

Leadership Gaffes go to U.S. economists who have wrongly predicted since early 2009 that jobs would recover and unemployment would decline sharply. Last month’s unemployment numbers – in contrast to forecasts of virtually every economic forecast – finally made it clear that the current U.S. economic improvement is tepid at best and is proving to be a jobless recovery. With 26 million Americans unable to find full-time jobs, the time is long overdue for new approaches for jobs creation.

Leadership Kudos and Gaffes: Dean Nohria is making transformative changes while the MN politicians fail to act

Leadership Kudos this week go to Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria. After only one year in office, Nohria is making transformative changes at  HBS to make its mission of “educating leaders who make a difference in the world” a reality. He has launched major changes in the MBA program to give students more leadership opportunities, global immersion in companies, and entrepreneurship, all in a new year-long course called FIELD. He is focusing on the role of business in society and the regaining of trust in business leaders with emphasis on values and ethics. Already more students are going into manufacturing and services, and a higher proportion of women have been admitted than ever before. His visionary leadership is putting HBS on a very positive course for the future.

Leadership Gaffes are awarded to Minnesota politicians for their failure to reach agreement on a balanced budget, thus shutting down state government, just in time for the 4th of July weekend. All state parks and museums and the Minnesota Zoo are  closed for the holidays. Those concerns didn’t keep the politicians from declaring their own five-day holiday, presumably they can spend it in neighboring Wisconsin where budgets are balanced and parks are operating. This is not good news for former Governor Tim Pawlenty, who left his successor a $5 billion deficit so he can run for President as a fiscal conservative.

Leadership Kudos and Gaffes: IBM Palmisano’s Leading by Values and Winklevoss’ Persistence

Leadership Kudos this week go to IBM and CEO Sam Palmisano on the occasion of the company’s 100th anniversary. Since taking over from Lou Gerstner nine years ago, Palmisano has built IBM into the world’s leading information technology company, eclipsing HP, Microsoft, and Intel. He has done so by focusing on “leading by values,” collaboration, and intense focus on meeting global customer needs with tailored systems. Now with 440,000 employees in 170 countries and $100 billion in revenues, IBM’s market capitalization has grown steadily to $200 billion.

Leadership Gaffes are awarded to Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss who continue to try to extract more money from Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg. The Winklevoss twins had an idea for an on-line dating site, not a social network, but they never designed it, got a patent on it, or commercialized it – all of which are clear criteria for intellectual property. To get rid of the case, Zuckerberg and Facebook settled for $65 million in cash and Facebook stock, which is now worth a multiple of that figure as Facebook’s value has grown. Recently, a judge threw their case out of court, but these talented twins – Harvard graduates and Olympic rowers – won’t give up. As Zuckerberg said, “They should get a life.”