When a business giant is just a square peg

There are some who believe you hire the best people for the biggest jobs regardless of holes in their knowledge or background. The belief is that great leaders adapt, and their vision will be clear no matter what areas they delve into.

The résumé of Kevin Turner, who spent 11 years as chief operating officer of Microsoft, didn’t really mesh with the demands of the world of hedge fund Citadel. And he became an example of a leader who can’t necessarily walk into the boardroom of his choice and dazzle in a different culture.

Turner lasted only seven months as the first chief executive officer of market-making unit Citadel Securities. He was hired by billionaire Ken Griffin to manage the vast complexity that goes with introducing products across many geographies and markets. But at client meetings, he seemed not to possess a real grasp of the world of finance. Some believed he relied too heavily on buzzwords and catchphrases gleaned from the business books he consumed voraciously. And his reported unwillingness to engage with employees below him didn’t help.

It’s not only Turner who’s had a rough go under Ken Griffin. In 2008 he hired former Merrill Lynch exec Rohit D’Souza to help create an investment bank, but he quit a year after signing on. His replacement was given the boot seven months after that.

“I want tension in my business,” Griffin says. He believes it creates change.

HR Memos D

It could be that Turner’s own management methods doomed him to a short lifespan at Citadel, but it might also be a case of too much belief in the ability of one leader to re-create magic in a setting that demands a different kind of it.

— Adapted from “Maybe a Good Manager Can’t Run Everything,” David Paul Morris, Bloomberg Businessweek.