Recently I had discussions with several C-suite clients about a comparison between the legacies of two great CEO’s: Steve and Sam.
Steve became CEO in 1996 of a company he and a friend founded 20 years earlier and created the most visible company in the world. Today, Company A has the most valuable brand in the world. With its consumer focus, an amazing strength an innovation and product design, and world-class execution, Company A has dominated the world in its chosen markets to the tune of $108B in FY 2011. Company A is also the most valuable company in the world based on market valuation.
In a different situation, Sam took over as CEO in 2002 of a company founded in 1911. Through its long history, Company _B_ has created the 2nd most visible brand in the world. With its business focus, an amazing strength an innovation and product design, and world-class execution, Company B has dominated the world in its chosen marketplace to the tune of $107B in FY 2011. Company B is also 1 of the top 5 most valuable companies in the world based on market valuation. In fact, last year an investor named Warren bought almost $11B worth of company B stock citing the company’s long history of excellence.
FY 2012 brought CEO changes at both organizations for different reasons.
Tragically, Steve passed away after illness just as the new fiscal year is starting leaving the company in Tim’s hands. Much has been written about Steve’s legacy and leadership choices. Some have voiced concern about the future of Company A without Steve since he seemed to make himself indispensable. Externally, he was the visible face of Company A. Internally, projects that Steve was personally involved in got fast tracked while others languished.
At the same time, Sam retired from Company B and handed the CEO reins to Ginni. Little fanfare accompanied Sam’s departure. Some news outlets did cover the powerfully simple framework of questions Sam had used to lead the company’s world-wide employee group of over 350,000. Here they are:
Why would someone spend their money with you — so what is unique about you?
Why would somebody work for you?
Why would society allow you to operate in their defined geography — their country?
And why would somebody invest their money with you?
My C-suite clients and I were talking about the probability of future success of both organizations. We discussed the insight offered by author Jim Collins in his book How The Mighty Fall. In particular, we considered the results of Collins’ research on successfully resilient organizations and his advice for CEOs: utilize rigorous discipline, question relentlessly, be humble and avoid arrogance, watch for risk denial, be wary of silver-bullets.
In the end, our conversations return to the choices made by Steve and Sam. Choices around customers, competitors, costs, capital, and communities are very different between companies focused on consumers and businesses. At the same time, choices around discipline, insight, creativity, support, and values do not need to be different. Steve and Sam made very different choices yet were both been remarkably successful. Their legacies have yet to be written and will become clearer with time.
We did agree that Sam did not receive the notoriety he deserved.
What do you think?