Every week I think nothing new is happening in the world of reputation. And I am always wrong. There are always CEOs coming and going, companies that get into trouble and lose reputation points and new things to learn. That’s the best part. Here’s a few:
1. Booz Allen released their fabulous CEO Succession report. I read it every year and welcome the insights. This year they focused on new CEOs, a topic dear to my heart and book. This year they found that 14.2% of CEOs of the world’s 2500 largest public companies changed over. This is a sizeable increase from last year when the turnover rate was 11.6%. This increase makes sense because as boards battled the recession, it was not the opportune time to change chief executive reins. Better to batten down the hatches when times are tough. Strikingly, Bozo found that outsider CEOs are making a comeback. In 2011, 22% of all new CEOs were outsiders compared to 14% in 2007. That’s definitely surprising to me since the trend has been in favor of insiders for a while now. The possibility is that companies need fresh new ideas and outsiders with global experience as they now look to grow. You should check out the report because there always is a lot of fascinating information on the world of CEO transitions. For example, outsider CEOs are more likely to lose their jobs, the number of CEOs being appointed chairman has declined and nearly 90% of new CEOs have not been a CEO before. That last fact is astounding and perhaps why we get asked about our services on CEO First 100 Days as often as we do. In another post, I will provide Booz’s insights on advice on CEO’s first year in office.
2. Reputation Institute released its worldwide reputation findings on the Most Reputable Companies. Their headline reads, “Reputation Is Impacted More By What You Stand For Than What You Sell.” In their research, they found that “People’s willingness to buy, recommend, work for and invest in a company is driven 60 percent by their perceptions of the company and only 40 percent by their perceptions of their products.” That’s an important finding and mirrors Weber Shandwick’s results on the importance of the company behind the brand. We are on the same wavelength, clearly. They also found that only 11% of the top 100 companies have better reputations abroad than at home. “It’s because reputation isn’t something that’s easy to export,” says Nicolas Georges Trad, Executive Partner at Reputation Institute. Love that quote.
3. I also attended Spencer Stuart’s CMO Summit this week on innovation. It was illuminating in how innovation gets baked into companies from the head marketing honcho. Whereas one company CMO panelist was analytical in her approach, another was more artistic and qualitative. Goes to show that culture drives execution. From the panel, I learned about another usage of HIPPO which is always a bonus to me – it is a reference to the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. Everyone in business knows what that means.
I feel like I have read this article before. The title in USA Today yesterday was “CEOs stumble over ethics violations, mismanagement.” Is it 2002 over again when Enron, WorldCom and Adelphia made headlines over ethical transgressions and wrongdoing? I agree that there seems to be a rush of these events recently but I am not sure it is vastly different than it has always been. The Internet has certainly added to the scrutiny of corporate executives but the spotlights were just as glaring and intense as they were years ago. In fact, I tend to think that wrongdoing on the part of CEOs stayed in the news for a longer period of time than they do now. I am waiting for headlines about JPMorganChase CEO Jamie Dimon to be replaced soon. Not sure what will substitute for him in the days ahead but I can bet $5 that something will surface in the next week to knock Dimon off the front pages (so to speak). And whistleblowers have been around for a long time. It is not the first time I have heard about a note being sent to a board member about an executive transgression.
The real difference is that there is zero tolerance for these missteps and for a simple reason — “reputation.” It was interesting to me that the word “reputation” did not appear once in the USA Today article. Boards are making split-second decisions about CEO tenures because they know the downside of having their reputations tarnished, trashed, torn and tattered. Not only are their own personal reputations at risk but that of the companies on whose boards they sit (and that impacts their compensation which is often in stock). As Lucian Bebchuk, director of corporate governance at Harvard Law School said in the article, “Boards do seem to move faster to deal with scandals and public failings that attract shareholder and media attention.” Being in the headlines and chatted about online about reputation failure is the new scarlet letter. I hope that next time an article appears, the reputation damage that brings down share prices, dampens employee morale, attracts headlines and invites investor activists gets mentioned. The cost of reputation failings are higher than ever and the stain can be very deep. In fact, it takes years to wash out.
Yesterday I was asked to talk about what I do at Weber Shandwick to our Crisis and Issues group in New York. It was an end of the week get together to take the edge off of all the long hours. I talked about reputational issues and answered several questions. It was a nice opportunity for me to reflect too.
I was asked where all the celebrity CEOs had gone which made me recall my first book on CEO reputation. The book was released at the height of the dot com boom when 22 year old CEOs were the norm and celebrity CEOs were plentiful. In my book, I tried to make the point that it was not CEO celebrity that mattered but CEO credibility. As I was answering this question, I realized that I hit on some of the right notes as to why CEO celebrity was not the same today but missed a few. In fact, I mentioned that being CEO today was not an easy job whatsoever. CEOs are much more embattled. Here are some of the reasons I talked about yesterday but others as well taken from an Economist article I was saving to post about.
- CEO tenure is shorter than it used to be (on average 6.6 years, according to Booz’s research). They usually come into office with great fanfare. They get approximately two years of grace when they start out (more like 18 months), 2 years to provide evidence that their strategy is working and two years to get pushed out. After six years like this, it’s best to be a CEO nobody.
- CEOs don’t have all the power anymore. Most CEOs now have separate chairmans that are looking over their shoulders and asking a lot of questions. Booz found that in 2002 48% of incoming CEOs were also chairmen. In 2009, that number dropped to 12%. Hard to be a celebrity when there is power sharing going on.
- CEO compensation is always a headline and increasingly links the CEO title to perceptions of greed. CEO compensation is actually declining.
- Shareholders and stakeholders are not sitting idle. They are much more aggressive. Some hedge funds are actively browbeating CEO and corporate decisions and in executives’ faces. The ridicule can get strenuous.
- Boards are more active too. They don’t want their reputations shamed either by poor CEO decisions or poor behavior. And according to Korn Ferry, new board members are more likely to be deep in international experience and have worked abroad. They are not necessarily golfing buddies like board members of yore. Angry birds maybe, but not necessarily tee time!
With all these barriers in place to curb the power of CEOs, celebrity CEOs can hardly flourish. Instead, we are looking at a new world of convening CEOs who communicate internally to employees, communicate online or through video to netizens, travel to speak to customers and influencers at forums they convene themselves (IBM‘s Smarter Planet method), partner with third parties and government to problem solve on today’s economic woes and so forth.
RHR International was mentioned today in an article in the WSJ about the recent revolving door for CEOs. Not that this is new. CEOs have been coming and going for some time now. But what was new was that among the 83 CEOs of publicly held companies surveyed, the board seemed to be a greater source of tension than it used to be. Nearly three quarters wish they were included more in board discussions of succession planning. And as one would expect, the top two threats to their tenure, according to CEOs, were the current economy (39%) and rapid industry change (22%). However, a third top threat to CEO tenure was strategy disagreements with the board (17%). As a watcher of CEO trends, I find it noteworthy that CEOs mentioned disagreements with boards and desire greater collaboration over transitioning. The disagreements over strategy (spin offs, shedding assets, etc) does seem to be a rising cause for CEO exits these days. Something has changed. I wonder if the new tension that is developing is because boards are more active now because of the criticism that they were no more than a rubber stamp on CEO activities or if the strategic choices facing boards today are infinitely more complex and disruptive. When no one knows the true answer, there is room for disagreement. CEOs and boards seem to be caught in this new tango.
Another finding which I liked seeing because it provides some hard numbers about something I have observed was that half of CEOs feel isolated and lonely. For this reason, CEOs should reach out to other CEOs in different industries, find mentors or retired CEOs to talk to. It can be debilitating so finding an ear to listen and advise is highly recommended.
Because I am off from work for the holiday, I have a little time to catch up on things I meant to read in the months before. I was particularly interested in some research on CEO transitions and its impact on the value of the enterprise conducted by FTI. A few facts jumped out at me from their study among the financial community. They found that one-third (32%) of investor decisions are impacted by the reputation of the CEO. Moreover, the reputation of the CEO was more important to investors than the reputation of the company’s products and services.
The research covers the value at risk depending on what type of CEO transition occurred. The greatest risk to the enterprise is when a CEO is forced to resign.
Because of my work on CEO tenures and how to build CEO reputation, the findings confirm my own research over the years that CEOs need to show success by that 12 month marker. FIT found that investors give new CEOs about six months to assess the challenges and opportunities facing the company, setting a vision and strategy. They give new CEOs more leeway to improve market performance and valuation — about 12 months. After the first year, all engines need to be firing.
Another particularly interesting finding was what investors look at in their first 100 days to further establish the CEOs credibility in their eyes….here is what they said was of “significant importance.” Despite the ranking for “charisma,” it is still interesting that it is still estimated to be of high importance and only 16% said it was of limited importance. FTI concludes that investors take a multi-dimensional view of new CEOs. They expect to see it all.
|During First 100 Days Of A New CEO||“Significant importance”|
|Grasp of the company’s challenges and opportunities||96%|
|Knowledge of/experience with industry dynamics||92|
|A strategic plan||88|
Last night I was asked how long I had been blogging. I threw out a number without thinking about it. However, since I was not sure, I went online to determine how long it might actually be and I was curious about whether I had hit an anniversary of sorts. Should I be celebrating my 5th or 8th or 10th year anniversary of blogging about reputation?
My first web site was CEOgo.com. I defined it as “The premier site on chief executive officers, leadership and management trends.” Actually, there was no other comparable site so I could have easily said it was “The site on chief executive officers, leadership and management trends.” CEOgo is no longer live since it was closed down after I left my previous position and I joined Weber Shandwick, starting anew with reputationXchange. I started CEOgo in February 2000 (according to when it was registered) which answers my question on how long I’ve been blogging — 11+ years. Who would have thought I had so much to say on CEOs, CEO reputation, corporate reputation, CEO transitions, leadership and all things reputation-related. CEOgo was the site to go to on CEO turnover, whether CEOs were insiders or outsiders, average tenure, reasons for departure, reputation-building, etc. It certainly chronicled my thought leadership in this area and eventually rolled itself all up into my book, CEO Capital. And although much has changed (the more common division of the Chairman and CEO role for one), much has stayed the same. It is among the hardest jobs there is, next to being President of the U.S.
I have anniversaries on my mind today because I am looking at my five-year anniversary at Weber Shandwick. Although I like to think that annniversaries come and go and corporate life has its good-and-plenty ups and downs, I have to say that my past half decade at Weber Shandwick has been fulfulling, productive and full of pleasurable surprises. The leadership and collegiality are truly the real deal and I am thankful for what I have been encouraged to accomplish. And I have also been lucky enough to work with Liz and Jen who make all the difference to my ability to face those very early mornings that are my habit.
It is important not to let important milestones just pass — whether 11 years of blogging about reputation or 5 years at Weber Shandwick. I consider myself lucky.
CEO reputation is always of interest to me and of course this week has been a cataclysmic and newsy one with the medical leave of Steve Jobs at Apple and Google Eric Schmidt’s relinquishing of the CEO title to Larry Page.
WIth CEOs on my mind, I stumbled across a research study by Wharton finance professor Luke Taylor who built a model to understand what happens when boards fire a CEO and what holds them back, if anything. Taylor found that there are two costs to firing a CEO — the severance payment (direct costs including headhunters and other exec departures) and second, what he calls “entrenchment” costs. Entrenchment costs are the personal ties that get severed when board members decide to let a CEO go.”Taylor’s model found that the entrenchment cost per firing was, on average, $1 billion — far more than the $300 million in direct costs.”
One of the downsides to firing CEOs in his model is that more aspiring executives might not choose the CEO track. In past research I have done, I learned that the CEO role was already diminishing in stature due to public scrutiny and stress. The economic problems of recent years have probably dampened that corner suite goal even further. See below.
His model does, however, predict that if the entrenchment cost went to zero — meaning that sacking a CEO came with only financial costs and no intangible consequences — the annual rate of CEO firings for the S&P 500 would go from 2% to 13%. That would result in a one-time bump in value for the S&P 500 of 3%. Taylor notes that this higher level of firings could potentially cause talented individuals to choose career paths other than those that might lead to a CEO position.
The whole idea of entrenchment costs is fascinating, especially because it is over three times more costly than just severance costs according to Taylor’s research model. The Wharton Leadership article said:
According to Taylor, this remaining $1 billion probably stems from two factors. First, there is a personal cost to board members who terminate the company leader — in the form of the time and stress of making a management change — as well as the loss that directors face in the departure of a business ally or golfing friend. Another contributor may be the fact that the board simply does not care all that much about maximizing shareholder value — at least not as much as keeping a CEO with whom they feel comfortable.
Of course this became more interesting when I read that entrenchment costs depend on company size. For the larger S&P 500 companies, Taylor found that the entrenchment costs were nearly zero. Whew. That was a relief to learn since this research was alarming me – board members hesitating to fire poor-performing CEOs because of their feelings (?) and losing golf partners (??). I agree with Taylor that the larger the company, the more board members have to lose in their own reputational equity. No one wants to be on those board of shame lists.
Reputation works in funny ways but maybe it works well when it comes to decision-making on large company boards. Sounds like a good thing.
I was sent a column today that recently appeared in BloombergBusinessWeek on the CEO revolving door. It is worth reading because the author, CEO Kevin Kelly of Heidrick & Struggles, argues that perhaps we are giving CEOs too little time to accomplish too much. We expect miracles in the first 100 days and if that is not long enough, we say we will give them another 100 days. By the end of year one, we expect these new CEOs to be turning around the share price, keynoting at Davos and chiseling their strategy into stone tablets. I was just thinking the same because this weekend I read articles about two CEOs’ performance on their first year anniversaries. The two CEOs barely got credit for what they had accomplished. It takes CEOs at least two years to hit their stride, crisis or not. Of course, if they are not working out, it is time for the boot but lets admit it, most incoming CEOs take about one year to change what was not going right in the first place. From months 12 to 24 or 36 months, the best of the rest starts to take hold.
That’s my two cents for the day.
Interesting fact about BP CEO Tony Hayward’s departure and I have to agree with the WSJ here. He is not departing the position with a huge payoff as many other big time CEOs do. Yes, he is getting a severance package but it is not even close to what we have seen over the years when troubled CEOs leave their offices. As the Journal says: “While Hayward may, inwardly, be smarting, he is stepping down with dignity. A lesson other corporates would do well to note.”
I think that CEOs who act with dignity and integrity can help restore the state of CEO reputations today. Of course, as the Journal points out, there are many other reasons that this may have come to past but I think that the message is clear that BP now starts the recovery period of repairing their once-esteemed reputation and even a departing CEO can play a role beyond his or her tenure.
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.