A Little of This, A Little of That

June 13, 2010

A Little of This, A Little of That

I have been mighty busy of late. I think about posting all the time but the days seem to leave little time for reflection. Several items of interest have been collecting in my reputation-obsessed brain so here are a few for an early Sunday morning.

It seems that many people are learning about “leadership” these days. Because people know about my keen interest in the reputations of leaders, I get asked when I am among friends what I think of Obama’s leadership. The discussion usually gets heated because everyone is now an expert on the topic as we read and hear about how President Obama is dealing with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. For me, President Obama is exhibiting “no drama” leadership. I do not need him to be overly angry, emotional and making a human spectacle over the man-made disaster now at his doorstep. The majority of the American public that elected him did so exactly because he was reasoned, calm, rational and thoughtful. We got what we voted for.

Yesterday’s WSJ had an interesting article about the importance of “near misses” or close calls in the science of disaster. This type of study is really the science of risk assessment, something that many industries do regularly to calculate the chances that something will go wrong.  Nuclear power companies are big fans as are industries such as aviation, NASA and more. For example, NASA puts the chance of any shuttle mission ending in disaster at 1 in 89. Sounds like risk-y business to me.  The concept of assessing a company’s “near misses” is appealing to the reputation protection business. If a company could regularly tabulate and review  its near misses, it might be able to prepare for improbable events and develop strategies that come in handy when a crisis arises. I recall reading about a hospital that meets monthly to review its near misses where things could have gone much worse for patients and other members of the facility.  The regular discussion among hospital staff sensitized them to how human error could raise the risks they face every day and make them more alert for problems that might surface. I think it would be a good idea for companies to regularly practice “near misses” meetings to review how they would react quickly, who would do what, what else could go wrong and what would protect their reputation from  full-blown disaster. We might have fewer reputation scars if we practiced better.

The third item I thought I should mention this morning was that Booz & Co. released their comprehensive CEO succession annual research. Many years ago, I started a database on CEO turnover when I realized that CEOs were losing their jobs by the boatload. It may have been in 2001 when Enron exploded but it became a major source for the media on who was in and who was out. It was a great deal of fun compiling all the stats on why CEOs departed, the average tenure of departing CEOs, regional variations and all the many reasons for the rising turnover rate.  I have to say that I miss being in the quarterly departure rate business. We stopped doing it because it was so time intensive. But I was one of the first to report on CEO turnover and for that reason, I totally enjoy the Booz report every June.  A few details are worth noting because CEO turnover is explicitly tied to company reputation recovery. One way to get a company’s reputation back on track is to bring in a new CEO over a CEO who did not do the job. It is one way of providing a clean slate and giving the company a grace period to correct failings and start anew.

  • The number of forced CEO turnovers declined indicating that boards are getting better at picking the right candidates and supporting them.
  • There has been a “harmonization” of CEO turnover rates regionally with 10 year averages between 12 and 14%. The US used to be known for its rising CEO turnover rate but it seems to have evened out worldwide.
  • The trend towards a separate Chairman and CEO is real and growing. North American companies are now splitting the role more often which is quite a change from years ago. Comined roles (where one person holds the CEO and Chairmen job)  in 2009 fell to 16.5% in the US and 7.1% in Europe. Years ago, the figure in the US was about 50%. Interestingly, Booz reports that no one governance role (separating the roles or combining them) outperforms the other.
  • More companies are having their outgoing CEOs become chairmen and annoint the incoming CEO as an “apprentice” CEO. The chairman oversees the growth of the CEO this way.
  • Insider CEOs continue to be the norm, perform better and last longer.

There are many more interesting details in the research which I hope to cover in another post. This one is getting too long for casual reading. Enjoy your Sunday.

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of reputations.

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