Soundview Executive Book Summaries

CEOs Know the World is Watching

It seems like each morning brings us new headlines in the on-going crisis in the Gulf region. Sometimes news stories go by at such a clip that it’s difficult to decide which one deserves comment in a forum like this blog, one which isn’t specifically devoted to what’s generally termed “hard news.” However, there was one recent story that ties in to a summary Soundview featured this year.

There was near universal outrage when BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward took a day off to watch his yacht compete in a race. BP spokespeople claimed it was Hayward’s first day off in months. Unfortunately, this is a situation where the court of public opinion decides whether an individual deserves a day off or not. The issue brings up the way in which a CEOs actions rapidly become fodder for public debate. CEOs aren’t elected officials. They are private individuals, but the top positions in high-profile companies carry a set of expectations on par with political office. Is this fair? I’ll leave that for you to comment.

Hayward’s actions remind us of some poor decision-making profiled by author Tim Irwin, Ph.D. in his book Derailed: Five Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Failures of Leadership. The book is one of the more popular summaries currently in our library. Hayward attending a yacht race is similar to Irwin’s discussion of former Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli’s private elevator at Home Depot headquarters. When asked by Soundview about Nardelli, Irwin said, “Over time, that elevator became this glaring symbol. It was a picture of his alienation and his dismissive attitude toward people at Home Depot. Nardelli lost the confidence of the very people he needed to fulfill his vision for the company.”

One can only wonder if Hayward’s yacht will come to be a similar symbol.


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