Tapping Into CEO Wisdom

If you knew what the best CEOs know, where would you be now in your career? Probably a lot further up the corporate ladder. Thus, Jeffrey A. Krames’ book “What the Best CEOs Know” (McGraw-Hill, 2003) is the book for all those who’d like to tap into the collective wisdom of the best CEOs in corporate America. He chose seven exceptional leaders for his book – Michael Dell of Dell Computer Corporation, Jack Welch of General Electric, Lou Gerstner of IBM, Andy Grove of Intel, Bill Gates of Microsoft Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines, and San Walton of Wall Mart. While most of them are no longer CEOs today their companies prospered during their stint as CEOs and the ideas they pioneered still live on in these companies.

Krames tackled the topic on two fronts: first, he identified the traits that defined the successful CEOs and second, he summarized the strategies used by these exceptional leaders in founding and/or turning around their respective companies. The results are insights that capture the essence of the leaders and their successes which are easy to digest and accept because you know that these are based on lived information on the CEOs.

Effective Leaders

For example, one common characteristics of leaders that he cites is “The most effective business leaders understand the critical role of culture, and how difficult it is to bring about meaningful cultural change.” Now culture change is a “soft” intervention, which many businessmen may be hard pressed to accept. But Krames cites experience on how the CEOs used culture change to transform values into a better bottom line.

The leap to accepting his other insights maybe too big to take however. For example, Krames claims that “Many exceptional CEOs have an evangelical leadership.” While he may not have meant this literally, he makes a good case for its figurative meaning. He writes, “Each had a fire-in-the-belly excitement that helped to arouse enthusiasm in others. They felt strongly about a particular idea, product or process, and were able to use the bully pulpit of their office effectively to spread their gospel.” This phraseology shows that Krames does have a masterful use of descriptive language that makes this business book different from the run-of-the-mill boring prints of other authors.

Corporate Visions

Perhaps due to the wealth of information one can draw from the CEOs lives, the portion on strategies may look rather thin Curious readers would want a blow-by-blow account of the CEOs struggles as they grapple with the intricacies of business challenges of the millennium. But if the author did so, the book would not have turned out to be a 240 pages read that is so easy on the time of busy people trying to make their careers and businesses. It is a tribute to Krames distillation process that he has been able to draw the best lessons from the CEOs experiences and outline the major strategic steps they took to bring the companies towards their corporate visions.

The next step after reading the book should be for the reader to be able to apply the learning’s in their own careers and businesses. Krames makes the transition easy by prefacing each case study of a CEO with the hypothetical case study for the reader to solve. In this way, the reader gets to flex his skills in trying to see where all the lessons
fit in his own reality.

While I take my hat off to these icons of business leaders of America. I would also like to have our own set of local business icons who can unstintingly share their expertise and experiences and who we can all salute with similar pride. Perhaps, its time to have a book called “What the Best Pinoy CEOs know.” Who knows, without famed Pinoy ingenuity they probably can teach Krames a thing of two or more about leadership.

Author: Regina Galang Reyes. First published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer May 28, 2003

Photo credit: www.sxc.hu


Founding Editor, People at Work, Business, Phiippine Daily Inquirer

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