Opinion: Some CEO “nuggets” to digest over the holidays


By Mike Felmlee, CEO, Prouty Project

I recently attended the CEO2CEO Leadership Summit: “Thriving in the Global Ideas Economy” in New York City. It was an opportunity for me to join Chief Executive Magazine along with other fellow CEOs to explore how we can align our organizations, people, and capabilities for a “global” future while maintaining bottom-line performance and transforming our culture for the new economy. A tall order for sure.

We tackled a plethora of business challenges and issues at the New York Stock Exchange building with the likes of Doug Oberhelman, CEO of Caterpillar; Kurt Schneider, CEO of Harlem Globetrotters; Abhi Talwalkar, CEO of LSI; and Bill Nuti, CEO of NCR among others. We benefited from the collective wisdom of having another 75 CEO’s in the room that day.

It was like drinking from the proverbial “fire hose” as I found myself scribbling furiously to gather as many CEO “nuggets” as I could. Some were serious, others were drop dead hilarious, and all of them were delivered with the incredible passion and energy it takes to thrive in their respective industries.

I offer the following handful of CEO nuggets for you to chew on over the holidays…

On Politics – Fiscal Cliff:

“The good news is that the President and both parties want the financial cliff to get fixed. The bad news is that we can’t seem to figure out how the politics of all this will work. One thing we do know is that they will need to do it different than we would in the business world. It simply works differently and I think guiding the country through this process may even be worse than making sausage. No question, it’s going to be ugly, and it will probably smell even worse.” - Doug Oberhelman CEO, Caterpillar

On Global Competition:

“Why is it that I rarely see hands raised when I ask my employees if they shop at Wal-Mart? Are they embarrassed? If not, then why do they complain when we outsource some of our work offshore to remain competitive? Wal-Mart is the largest importer of Chinese products in the world. I just don’t get it.” - Anonymous

On Global Brands:

How do you turn an iconic domestic brand into an iconic global brand?

“As parents, many of us remember the Harlem Globetrotters with Meadowlark Lemon and Curly Neal. However, if you ask your children today I’d doubt they know who those two gentlemen are. We learned the hard way that you can’t sell nostalgia. Thus, we needed to think completely different. We had to stop thinking we were a basketball team and start believing we were a global entertainment company. This enabled us to utilize a pull strategy targeting families throughout the world with children between the ages of 6-14 by using the internet and YouTube to introduce our new stars. It worked. Today, 7’8” Tiny, who can dunk a basketball without jumping, and others are global sensations because of the internet. And, not only do our internet fans come to our shows, they buy our jerseys and our video games. This has led to even bigger sponsorships which helped to transform this company.” - Kurt Schneider CEO, Harlem Globetrotters

On Culture:

“At Intel, I had more than 12 direct reports. But, Patrick Lencioni convinced me to reduce the number of executives on my senior leadership team. Today, I have 5 direct reports. We’ve built an incredible bond within this smaller group that I’m convinced enabled us to weather the storm and stick to our convictions when our market cap dropped almost $1 billion awhile back. No question, this smaller size has improved our organizational alignment, agility, and speed. And the tone at the top of the organization is always the same regardless of who you talk to.” - Abhi Talwalkar CEO, LSI

On Talent:

“I spend 40% of my time on assessing talent, moving it around the organization, and looking for more of it. I realize the best teams generally have the best talent. But, I think they also have to have the best VP of Player Personnel. I like to play this role. Thus, I interview 2-3 people every week whether we’re hiring or not. This way I can find out what’s going on in the marketplace and when we find a great person we can always find a home for them.” - Bill Nuti CEO, NCR

I hope this provides some CEO nourishment for you. And, please, enjoy your holidays!

Mike Felmlee is the CEO of the Prouty Project and he works with management teams and boards of directors to facilitate strategic planning, team and leadership development, and executive retreats. Mike has 28 years of financial and operational management experience in the healthcare, manufacturing, and public accounting industries.

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