Profiles in Leadership
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In October 2008, Fred Tomczyk spent his first month as TD Ameritrade’s CEO under fire. He found himself running the financial services firm amid a punishing global economic crisis. But rather than retreat into survival mode, he decided to overhaul the firm’s business model.
Drew Greenblatt knew that Marlin Steel could not survive Chinese competitors, who were luring away his customers—big bagel chains that bought the company's wire baskets. The Baltimore firm was struggling to stay afloat in 2003 when a fateful call from a Boeing engineer led to some market research that changed everything.
Randall Hogan, chairman and chief executive of Pentair, says “thinking right to left” is a key to succeeding as CEO. He defines it as identifying where you are now as a starting point and then articulating a clear goal to reach a different point.
When Mattel hired Richard Dickson as general manager of its Barbie brand in 2008, the famous doll was in a lull. After hitting a high of $1.52 billion in Barbie sales in 2002, Mattel had struggled through a six-year decline. Dickson hit the ground running to put an end to "brand goulash."
In late 2008, Domino’s market share was plummeting. Instead of blaming collapsing sales on the nation’s economic downturn, executives chose a surprising strategy: They admitted their main product—pizza—wasn’t very good. Then Patrick Doyle took it a step further.
"Self-awareness," is what entrepreneur Joel Trammell says is the most important skill a CEO needs. "It’s hard to get authentic information from your employees. CEOs are constantly worried that they’re not hearing the full story."
During nearly 5½ years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, Lee Ellis relied on his sense of humor to keep him going. But it took his first three months in captivity for him to recapture his ability to laugh. Then 24, Ellis recalls the first time he flashed his humor as a POW.
When David Cote became Honeywell’s CEO in 2002, it was in disarray. And so he listed 12 behaviors that he wanted everyone to follow. He felt that unifying the company around the behaviors would work better than articulating vague, hard-to-measure values.
After three years as head writer for Saturday Night Live, Adam McKay was ready to quit in 2000. But before leaving SNL, McKay took his agent’s advice and approached Lorne Michaels with a series of demands he’d need fulfilled to stay put. Employing the "least-interest" principle worked for him beautifully.
Malcom McLean didn’t like to waste time, but in 1937, he had to spend most of a day waiting for his truckload of cotton to be loaded onto a ship in Hoboken, N.J. It gave him a bold idea. He saw what needed to be done to streamline shipping—but it would take him 20 years to make it happen.
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