Monday, October 15, 2018

Lane gain

One of the joys, and nightmares, of staying in the same lane for 15+ years is subjects may change, but the underlying dynamics rarely do. Take CEOs and corporate boards, for example. Despite a ton of media coverage, and despite diversity numbers finally starting to turn last year, the corporate board picture remains largely the same: Old white guys and a few gals gathering to hold management accountable to results. Or so they say.

According to a friend who has lived longer than most chief executives, all CEOs really want are "zero taxes, zero regulation and zero competition." That's a little over the top but not far from the truth.

The minute you think something is really changing, or a new movement is afoot, insert name here: Activist shareholders or #Me, Too, the outcry dies down and things go back to normal. That's not to say there isn't positive diversity movement afoot. It's just not creating progress at the rate many have predicted but have been disappointed to see fall short.

Conflicting facts and data don't help. A recent news cycle created some real head scratching for the first time in a while. In two days, stories and sources painting two different pictures appeared in the Fake News Era (FNE), with the combined effect begging for a reset.

First, an Oct. 3rd news story in Bloomberg Business (Sources: Conference Board, Heidrick & Struggles Board Monitor) reported that older CEOs were staying in their jobs for longer than average following uncertainty created by the Great Recession. This line of reporting seemed to suggest that the devil you know is always better than the devil you don't know.

Since 2000, or the last big economic peak until a new one is marked, companies have been largely self selecting from internal/external slates of candidates with fewer "going outside" exceptions, as it once was called. The CEO turnover beat has grown dull yet highly lucrative for succession experts and leadership development gurus who have pretty much convinced themselves that transferability of talent and leadership from one industry to one another is a bygone concept.

The next story, an Oct. 4th A Wall Street Journal piece titled, "CEO Tenure is Getting Shorter. Maybe that's a Good Thing?" appeared based on GE's CEO firing and seemed to suggest a different reality. CEOs aren't lasting as long, 4.8 years on average, and turnover is now back in vogue based on several departures over the summer at big companies. At least two respected figures on my social feeds fanned the short-term flames. Big brand name companies not doing anything for years have that effect sometimes when they drop the hammer.

So what are we led to conclude about the CEO/board picture? No matter what you read day-to-day, no matter what any so called expert says, no matter if you're a CEO who gets fired or a budding board-level prospect, the overall climate may be changing, but it's not changing at the rate the headlines suggest. Nothing ever does.

Think of it as a proxy on a long, well-lived life. Some things go up, some things go down. All in all chances are you're going to have a steady run, assuming good health, love and faith. Which surprisingly are never publicly reviewed as pre-requisites for top jobs. Maybe they should be? Call it the Ken Chenault effect, or something along similar lines. It's impossible to cite a better story of CEO work and life than the former Chairman and CEO of American Express modeled prior to leaving the game earlier this year.

TGR pauses now to recognize the late, great Gerry Roche, a CEO kingmaker of the first order: While we're sad that he's no longer with us, it's heartening to know that Gerry lived a full life watching, working and living within the same messy picture outlined here. And that he did it authentically while holding a long-term view focused on what matters most: Relationships. Not the transactional mess that gets passed off as relational today; more to the point, that real relationship, in any context but especially business, starts with being a friend. Or as Gerry liked to say, a friend is a treasure that you can keep forever.

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Thursday, August 09, 2018

Summer snippets

Lake Garda, Italy (foreground, across from reflecting pool)

Dinner with a view -- and great conversation. In a beautiful far away land, I recently found myself playing second chair at a business dinner where the host was the CEO of a major European company and the primary guest was a POV client. Our gracious host wanted to know what I did, which is always an interesting exchange when there's no prompter. He had complained earlier in the evening about social media and how it seemed misused to the point of distortion.
Over some great wine, I asked him point blank: Do you have to have followers to qualify as a leader?

CEO answer: Yes, of course.

So does it matter how many followers you have on social media?

CEO setting his indoor pool color.

Host: No, not exactly (while starting to laugh.)

Next question: Did Hitler have followers?

Host: Of course. Was he a leader?

Me: Yes, with the exception of one essential, missing trait: Character.

CEO then began to golf clap, metaphorically speaking, branding me, The Analyst. But that's not the point.

Character is what it always comes down to, sooner or later. For anyone still jumping on political band wagons, know that in the end, character still matters. And it always will.


'He who fires first generally wins.' Recent legal maneuvering at MGM, which clearly was negligent during last Oct.'s worst ever shooting massacre at Mandalay Bay, raised my ire more than any story this year. The idea that CEOs and boards can sit in a room and weigh the legal costs at the costs of everything else on Earth, including the loss of life, and then let only liability costs and crafty self perceived loopholes determine their actions leaves a ton to be desired. It's not leadership, period.

Here's hoping more change agents, more diversity and more principle-based people can move the status quo forward. Because what exists now inside MGM is unacceptable. What may be even more frustrating is how two versions of the story appeared in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times during the same cycle, and one was clearly more informative, fuller than the other. Fake news or no fake news, it's getting harder by the day to discern facts, much less reality, assuming a shared one still exists.
Hizzoner has some explainin' to do. Or not. Former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has been implicated in a secret payment to an employee that he fired: Miguel Southwell, the former GM of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

According to the Atlanta Journal & Constitution, the payment was arranged through the CEO of local real estate firm, Carter, who then proceeded to deny any knowledge of the payment through a company spokesperson -- who used to work for the AJC. For their sake, I hope they're right. To issue sweeping denials without all the facts present, such as proof of the payment itself, makes little sense, assuming evidence is eventually uncovered, which it nearly always is when it comes to financial transactions.

Reed has been a somewhat closely followed subject at times by yours truly. See a previously published piece here that appeared immediately following the former GM's firing in 2016: Off the book payments that emerge after the fact are never a good thing, publicly speaking.

Whoever emerges to represent Reed legally will have their work cut out. Oh, one more thing: The position of Airport GM remains open if anyone would like to step up and apply. Someone always will. # Character matters.

Good day,


Jeremy C. Garlington
Point of View LLC
Phone: 404-606-0637

Friday, March 09, 2018

Short bursts -- with longer lines

This is the first blog posting since October 2017. Did you miss TGR? Ok, moving right along...

There are way too many channels with nothing on -- to borrow an old T.V. phrase. Content is everywhere, both bad, good and somewhere in between. In a previous posting, the statement, "community trumps content," was made with conviction. But the message also unintentionally overlooked a key dynamic. We may engage in community, but each message reaches individuals differently, at different times and on different channels: Media, friend to friend, social, mobile, tablet, etc.
Leaders tend to reflect their own realities, starting with the first one: It's all about them, one channel at a time. With attention spans at all-time lows, getting a message to stick has never been more challenging. Unless, of course, you're the owner of a certain Twitter handle. Which you're not so best to keep moving. 

Credible individuals, first. Fake news, second. According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in institutions remains at epic lows. Yet trust in experts and individual journalists has increased. Despite what we hear every day at ad nauseam.

Which means if you work for a "fake news" outlet such as CNN or The New York Times, while the brand may take shots, individual reporters have increased their standing. Due, in part, to their own personal branding efforts on social media. It also doesn't hurt to have a subject named Trump around to cover 24-7.

T-Rex playbook. If you think your boss is demanding, then consider Rex Tillerson's day-to-day.

The best broadcast interview of the year so far has to be the February 18th "60 Minutes" with the Secretary  of State. Even the well trained would be wise to accept a few cues out of the T-Rex playbook. Tillerson is an expert at delivering a message, diffusing the negative while appearing to stay true to thyself. Not many can do all that, much less in a single interview. Then again even fewer have worked globally at such a high level. Tillerson's vow to "ride for the brand," is a great battle cry, IMHO. Full disclosure: TGR is a big fan of Rex Tillerson, an American CEO original if there ever was one.

Digital governance. The mighty Coca-Cola Company, or Coke for short, recently named two new members to the company board, raising the total number of directors from 14 to 16. During a time when no large company is expanding their board, but that point digresses. 
Those with longer memories may be able to recall when who was (or who was not) on the Coke board was a really BIG deal. Not anymore. One of the new appointees, an executive named Caroline Tsay, is a digital native. Meaning her entire career has been focused on the cloud and other digital-based software systems. There aren't many major company boards that have actually embraced digital realities despite the ongoing blather. Early in an accelerating trend if you're looking for the takeaway. Unlike diversity, digital reality may have real teeth. Disclaimer: This does not include the much hyped FANG masters of the universe, or Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google.  

Yawn in succession. Staying with boards for a minute, has anyone in that sector really looked at themselves in the mirror lately when it comes to CEO succession? They might see a big yawn such as what's outlined here Bored boards and their enablers have been saying the same things to themselves for so long, it takes a healthy dose of Five Hour Energy

to find anything new or remotely interesting about what's going on. And maybe that's the whole point. If you don't know it's succession, and remain asleep, then oblivion is a great place to be. If you're a CEO and there's no succession plan in place, then you better keep moving because something or someone will swing around at some point and bite you in the you know what. Or not if you're lucky.

Then there's General Electric (GE) and their epic board shake-up in the face of management failure of the first order. Their problems are a far cry from the last paradigm when GE management practices were widely lauded. That paradigm is now over if it wasn't already a decade ago. If you're looking for a proxy on how to struggle with change, then look no further than Boston or Connecticut, or wherever GE's base resides these days.

Next posting: TGR will go deeper into the divide between the CEO/board level and the rest of the masses. Feel free to send through any particular lines or thoughts. Reverse mentoring seems to be a positive trend, would love to hear others. 

Happy Spring hunting. Robins, grab those worms!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Renewed call

It's now a norm. Something bad happens in the cultural zeitgeist, causing widespread reaction. If it's on a large global scale, such as the recent Las Vegas tragedy, there's a pause to reflect for about 24 hours. Then the opinions, argument and divisiveness come. Like a boulder rolling down a steep hill. Or train travelling down the track. Pick your own analogy.
The only agreement struck anymore is that some things are truly heinous for no readily apparent reason. Or at least not one that can be offered up immediately to inquiring minds. The Why question rarely gets answered during tragedies yet that doesn't stop us from asking it over and over. What remains odd is how that's really the only time anyone cares about the Why.

And then there are the moments that are so personal and individualized that no one else can possibly understand what’s happened despite all the means to share at our fingertips. Someone who used to be pretty close died recently after a tragic accident. Details were sketchy via Facebook. It didn't exactly hit like a ton of lead as if someone nearer had passed, but it did provide pause. On the same day, the car I was driving hit something, causing a bad flat on the side of a busy interstate here in Atlanta. Thankfully, Jake from State Farm came to the rescue. Sometimes things just happen; sometimes they happen for a reason. There is no single either/or that stands up to time.
When things happen on the public stage now, it's  nearly impossible to watch the range of reactions, most of which are overblown, lacking perspective and loaded with opinion vs. fact. Anything and everything is fanned like a fire straight from the T.V. set or smart phone screen to wherever we're taking it all in. Everyone suddenly becomes an expert if they weren't already. Hours are spent arguing over issues that don't really direct impact us.

Thankfully, this is not the case when you travel to Italy or to Israel, or at least that wasn't my experience during a two-week trip in early September. The first obvious difference is TVs set to 24-7 news channels don't permeate every public space. Nor do people sit around on their phones texting and talking as if the world is going to end. No, they're actually out, living and going about their lives in wonderful places with great sunsets (see below.)

Torri del Benaco, Lake Garda, Italy

Tel Aviv beach, Tel Aviv, Israel

It's refreshing to be among people who choose to live first, work second. This isn't an endorsement; just an observation. Any American worth his or her salt misses efficiency after a while. That may be our greatest asset. Another admirable trait is our creative spirit. We are an ingenious, industrial and innovative people. Or at least most are -- short of a few who haven't experienced disruption yet. 

It's my sincere hope that with a little more grit, shared values and sensory leadership that we can emerge stronger and better for the next season. If we can't, well, I know who remains in control, always.
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Thanks for continuing to read, JG