A friend inquired the other day about why corporate reputations in the US seem so closely tied to the personalities of their CEOs. The obvious answer is that leadership matters, both in style and substance.
A friend inquired the other day about why corporate reputations in
the US seem so closely tied to the personalities of their CEOs. The
obvious answer is that leadership matters, both in style and
No one can doubt, for example, that Lee Iacocca was indispensable to
Chrysler Corporation’s escape from bankruptcy in the 1980s.
In fact, virtually all successful organizations in the US today are led
by famous or near-famous figures, or by people who hope to become famous
someday. Ours is a nation that worships personalities. We convert the
merely successful into celebrities, not because of who they are, but
because of who we are. The reason why CEOs are more important to
corporate reputation in the US than anywhere else has more to do with
culture than with business.
Ours is a culture of solitary heroes and individual achievement. Most
chief executives would rather be on the cover of Fortune than receive a
Baldridge Award for quality. Why? Because the latter is a collective
achievement, while the cover of Fortune is about one person.
This phenomenon drives individuals to achieve their best, but the
downside is a culture of hero-worship that talks about team goals and
group accomplishment, but rewards individuals. McDonald’s Corporation
directors recently gave CEO Jack Greenberg stock options valued at more
than dollars 25 million, largely because its stock had performed so well
the previous year. Was he worth it? Ask the other senior managers - they
received nothing. Does such a system breed resentment? No one at
McDonald’s would ever say so, but it’s hardly a team approach to
Ford is preparing to announce the divestiture of Visteon Automotive
Systems, its highly successful auto parts unit. As Ford executives
consider whether this should take the form of a spin-off to shareholders
or an IPO of the entire unit, the decision will depend, in part, on the
value they can derive from the move. So what is their primary concern?
The fact that current Visteon president and chief executive Craig
Muhlhauser is all but unknown to Wall Street.
Asian firms value group accomplishment over individual achievement
because their societies value group identity. Latin American, Middle
Eastern and even European cultures are more collectively oriented than
Until we read, see and hear more about team achievements in our society
and less about who scored the winning goal or who’s leading in the race
for the Heisman trophy, we will continue to celebrate headline heroes
and think of everyone else on the team as supporting cast.