Tag Archives: Steve Jobs

October 21, 2013 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , ,

Can a CEO opt-out of earnings calls?

In case you missed it, last week Google’s CEO announced that he may not be joining future earnings calls. Some news reports are citing vocal chord troubles, while Page himself suggested it was a need for him to “ruthlessly prioritize.” But how can Larry Page be a CEO if he can’t talk? Do they do all of their strategy meetings via Google Hangout? And if it is a question of priorities, shouldn’t his shareholders be a priority 4 times a year?

Many are citing the precedent of Steve Jobs opting out while battling cancer, which was obviously an extreme example. Others may recall Jeff Bezos who was very clear that he wasn’t going to concern himself with Wall Street’s short term priorities. But that didn’t mean he didn’t show up.

What are the implications of a CEO stepping back from investor relations commitments like a 4 time per year call? I’ve had many a client over two decades that would prefer to decline the quarterly firing squad known as the analyst call. And I’ve had a few that probably would have been doing their Company, and their shareholders, a service by playing hooky on those days.

We know that at least one-third of a Company’s valuation is tied to intangibles. When pressed to get specific about what those things are, quality of management, leadership and vision are the most frequently cited variables. Perhaps Google feels that the CEO-investor version of playing hard to get will increase his perceived value?

Woody Allen said it best, “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.” My view:  if you want to be the CEO, you have to show up.

 

December 29, 2011 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , , , ,

2011’s Reputation Winners

Reputation building requires relevance – sometimes that relevance comes from an event in the news, and sometimes it is created and crafted by the choices, statements and actions of individuals. History is filled with examples of reputations ruined in a single action or in a brief news cycle, and 2011 was no different.  (Watch for that blog soon). 

But winning the reputation battle…that is another story altogether.  Here’s my list of reputation winners of 2011 – who would you add?

  • NYC as a tech hub – the success of FourSquare, Twitter’s NY office and Facebook’s plan to come to NY in 2012 have put NYC back on the map as a legitimate technology center.
  • Tablet Computing – sure, Apple still dominates the category – but the holiday success and popularity of the Kindle Fire and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab have taken Tablets from a product (the iPad) to a category.
  • Populism and mass protest – three letters – OWS.  But this wasn’t the only movement that captured attention this year – think about the protests over Russia’s elections, the Arab Spring or even India’s anti-corruption movement. 
  • The British Monarchy – there is nothing like a royal wedding to make an out of date institution like the monarchy relevant again.  Will and Kate have captured the hearts of the public in a way we haven’t seen since Princess Diana.
  • Social Media – no longer the wild, wild, west – social media’s acceptance in the mainstream world and in the board room makes it a big winner of 2011.
  • NCAA Basketball – scandals in college football and an NBA lockout made college basketball the darling of winter sports – where the love of the game rules the day
  • Steve Jobs – The untimely passing of Steve Jobs, and the insight into the long range plans he left behind for Apple has taken an iconic leader of our time and made him even larger and more iconic than when we was living. 
  • Google’s Sergy Brin – taking back the reigns of Google and tackling tough issues like China while restoring Google’s focus on the ideas that work is helping Google get its mojo back.  Let’s watch Google+ in 2012.
  • GM, Ford and the American Automotive industry – Once the industry America loved to hate, complete with CEOs taking private jets to Washington to ask for a bailout, the American Automotive industry is on the rise, fueled by bold leadership by CEOs like Dan Akerson, who dares to say out loud what many just think, or Alan Mulalley, who arguably led the industry’s reputation turnaround.
  • Lady Gaga – once known simply for her eccentricity (meat dress, anyone?), Lady Gaga has emerged as a leading equality advocate – for LGBT issues and for anti-bullying in general.

October 13, 2011 | cwinters | Tagged , , ,

Occupy Wall Street Must Get Relevant, and Fast

If you live in the NYC area and watch the evening news, you might have the impression that Occupy Wall Street is the biggest thing to hit since Lady GaGa.  Think again.

In a recent poll, just 17 percent of Americans say that they are following the protest closely – down from one in four in April.  It is not surprising that more people followed the death of Steve Jobs than Occupy Wall Street…but more people are also following the situation in Afghanistan closely than OWS.  

It seems to me that the OWS protest is more like organized labor’s inflatable rat than a real movement…you see it, and move on without engaging unless you are already a supporter.

Why? The protestors are certainly getting plenty of ink and air – which is the key criteria for legitimacy for many in my profession. 

  • Sustainable movements need a leader.  A face for the cause.  Would the Civil Rights movement of the 60s been the same without Martin Luther King Jr.?
  • You have to be for something.  Much like the broader, more generic protests of the 60s, it is clear that the OWS protestors are against “the establishment” – but they offer little in terms of specific recommendations.  President Clinton pointed this out in a recent interview, and recommended that the protestors get behind the Obama Job Plan
  • They need defining moments that create a real connection with the broader population.  Historically, these moments come from the missteps of the establishment, particularly law enforcement.   One of the founders of the movement seems to think that the arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge are that moment – but I’m not sure that is sustainable.  And I’m not sure jumping on the beat up Bank of America bandwagon will do it, either.

In totality, OWS needs a relevant, sustainable narrative, delivered by a credible and compelling spokesperson.

June 13, 2011 | cwinters | Tagged , , ,

On Leadership and Legacy

From the moment a leader takes office, his or legacy is being created. Some leaders think about it, a lot….others don’t. This piece on Forbes makes the point that legacy is created by the defining moments of leadership – like Steve Jobs introducing the iPad – and that you need to be thinking about your legacy from the first day in office.

I agree with the notion that defining moments have an impact on legacy…but we don’t always recognize a defining moment, or have the ability to plan for it. Take President George W. Bush – for me, September 11 provided two defining moments of his presidency (not including the Michael Moore footage of him in the classroom). The first, when he told the rescue workers “We’ve heard you, and the whole world hears you.” This was seemingly a spontaneous reaction to unimaginable devastation and heartbreak. He probably didn’t plan it, but it was an authentic defining moment – whether you are a Bush fan or not. The second was an orchestrated planned event where he declared “Mission Accomplished” – about a mission that was far from accomplished. Manufactured, forced and inauthentic. Two defining moments of a monumental event…both contributed to his legacy.

If those of us who work with leaders do our jobs properly, the moments we can plan for – the unveiling of a new product, a keynote address, announcement of a major corporate strategy – will accrue positive reputational points for our clients and contribute to a lasting legacy.

But to me, legacy is equally shaped by how leaders lead in the moments they couldn’t plan or anticipate. How do they weather adversity? Calm the troubled waters?

I would argue that leaders who are distracted by their legacy, from the first day they assume a position, may not be as effective at creating that legacy as those who focus on leadership instead. Make the most of those defining moments when they arise, but lead first….an enduring legacy will follow.

March 1, 2011 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , , ,

Should Succession Planning Be A Communications Priority?

Succession Planning is a hot topic, with some of America’s Most Admired companies in the thick.

Speculation abounds about Warren Buffett’s successor, with general consensus being that Berkshire Hathaway can succeed in naming a potential new CEO, but that Buffett couldn’t be replaced. The communication about identification of successors, “should Buffett need one” are presumably about Buffett’s age…and perhaps a bit of a reaction to all of the emphasis on succession planning due to recent photos of a frail, thin Steve Jobs (who missed Apple’s annual meeting) entering a cancer clinic.

In contrast, it would seem that discussion of a successor at Apple might, unfortunately, be prudent, in the midst of Steve Jobs third medical leave in seven years. Yet Apple’s shareholders rejected a proposal requiring that Apple detail a succession plan. The company had opposed this proposal from the Laborers International – who has been advocating for succession planning and disclosure of such for the past few years and made similar proposals to Whole Foods and Bank of America.

There is no doubt that succession planning is a Board of Directors’ imperative…but should it be a communications priority? Do your stakeholders need to know about your succession plans, or simply need to know that you have plans in place? This is particularly sticky when your leader is iconic, like Buffett and Jobs.

My two cents: stakeholders need to know that you have a succession plan in place, like Frontier Communications’ innovative board member/potential successor mentor program. Unless that succession is imminent – whether a planned succession like Gates or Welch, or potentially accelerated by a health problem, or scandal, like HP, the specifics of your succession plans need not be disclosed. It undermines the authority of the leader in place, and diminishes his or her relevance.

In a perfect world, a succession is planned with an appropriate transition period…the successor is named, has his or her “tires kicked” by key constituencies, and works closely with the current CEO through a transition period. By the time that transition occurs, it becomes somewhat of a non-event. But we all know that this isn’t a perfect world.

What to do when succession is forced, unexpected or accelerated? This is the time for amped up communications programs to support the new leader…to build trust, engage key stakeholders and create a leadership platform and profile for your new leader. Make the time. Or you may be dealing with another succession sooner than you planned.

January 19, 2011 | rtauberman | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

For Johnson & Johnson, the Hits Keep on Coming

For Johnson & Johnson CEO William Weldon, 2010 was, as Queen Elizabeth put it a few years back, an “annus horribilus.” The Company’s various divisions issued a seeming never ending string of recall notices from pain relievers to cold remedies to contact lens solution to antacids. J&J’s McNeil Consumer Healthcare division, makers of Tylenol, Sudafed and Benadryl captured headlines throughout the year with a series of problems at its facilities.

Through a series of public relations fumbles, belated mea culpas and operational gaffes, J&J, a consumer healthcare icon, whose 1980s Tylenol tampering response was widely seen as the crisis communication gold standard, has seen its reputation significantly tarnished and its sales plummet. Generics and store brands from CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid have never had it so good.

This track record garnered for Mr. Weldon a place next to the likes of BP’s Tony Hayward and HP’s Mark Hurd a place on list of the worst CEOs of 2010 by Sydney Finkelstein, the Steven Roth Professor of Management at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth as reported by CNBC.

Unfortunately, it appears that 2011 is starting right where 2010 left off for J&J as the company issued its latest recall of 43 million bottles of Tylenol, Sudafed, Benadryl and Sinutab manufactured at McNeil’s now infamous Fort Washington, PA plant. Using a time-worn public relations ploy, the news of the recall was released on a Friday evening prior to a long holiday weekend. Mr. Weldon, once again spoke of action plans, quality reviews and commitment to consumer safety.

For those of us in crisis communications who know all too well how reputation is tied to a company’s proactive, transparent and thoughtful response, it is sad to see what has become of J&J. The blogosphere is once again full of chatter with reminiscences of J&J’s gloried past, recollections of its expert management or previous crises and calls for executive changes long overdue.

This past weekend also brought news of another medical leave to be taken by Apple CEO Steve Jobs. The issues of Apple’s history of communications or non-communications about Mr. Jobs’ illness and succession planning at the Company are fodder for another blog post. This latest episode and the quick hit to Apple’s stock price shows the close relationship between corporate and executive reputation at Apple and what may happen with the Company’s visionary leader on the sideline. Conversely, for J&J and Mr. Weldon the reputational issue may be a CEO staying too long in a position.

January 18, 2011 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , , ,

Is Executive Branding Ever Too Much of a Good Thing?

The Apple PR machine is on overdrive convincing the world that the team at Apple is up to the task of running the company without Steve Jobs. And they’re doing a pretty good job of it, in large part because they’ve weathered this crisis once before, and have the results to prove it. They’ve got the financial community on board, with supportive analyst quotes about the depth of management. And they even got a NYT story today with a headline that talks about Apple’s deep bench.

Yet an informal poll around the office today failed to yield a single member of our MWW Group news junkie team that could name a single member of theirs (other than Jobs) — even with all of the media attention around this news and the management team at Apple.

Has Jobs become so larger than life, that Apple just couldn’t be Apple without him? Is his “brand” too much of a good thing?

The tech sector is filled with iconic, branded leaders –Ellison, Jobs, Gates, Bezos. No first names, or companies, needed. Even in that crowd, the Jobs mystique is legendary – it’s hard to say whether the iPad, and its migration to an entire i-lifestyle, made Jobs cool again, or if it was the other way around. (Remember, he was actually ousted from Apple in the mid 1980s).

I think the question isn’t whether Jobs has been “over-branded.” Plenty of organizations have transitioned an iconic CEO – Welch at GE, Gates at Microsoft, Kelleher at Southwest Airlines – to name a few. All of these companies have retained strong, positive reputations. The question really is whether Apple has done enough to prepare for an eventual transition. Should members of their team have better name recognition outside of Wall Street, particularly since this is not Jobs’ first time taking a leave of absence for serious health issues?

It is my sincerest hope (and seemingly that of the Twitter-verse) that Jobs will return to the helm, fit as a fiddle. But even under the best of circumstances, he can’t stay forever.

To me the real question is whether Apple can “culture-ize” the Jobs mystique, so it can continue beyond his years of service, like Walt Disney. Or will it need to re-invent itself under the vision of a new leader, and become a new, equally successful Apple?