On the week of the School Massacre in Connecticut we ask “where have all the leaders gone”

December 21, 2012

Last week ended with news of the Sandy Hook School massacre in Newtown Connecticut and President Obama’s public agony at failures in America to protect the nation’s childrenSandy Hook School Sign

Before the dreadful week-end news, I had been scanning the net to see what leadership stories I could find. These notes are in chronological order.

Leadership training

The first item I came across was a promotional ebook from a successful experiential leadership programme at the Said Business School, Oxford . The approach offers an imaginative mix of experiences involving drama, moral philosophy, music and poetry. The book [53 pages] is worth browsing by leadership trainers.

HSBC money laundering

The next item that caught my eye was the settlement of the money-laundering charges at HSBC. The bank has agreed a $1.9 billion fine with the US Department of Justice over anti-compliance regulations.

“We accept responsibility for our past mistakes. We have said we are profoundly sorry for them, and we do so again,” said Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver in a statement.

Branson Brand Bashing

The next story had a familiar feel, with cult business hero Richard Branson defending his Virgin Atlantic business from a bit of turbulence (Sorry. That cliché is almost compulsory). And alongside Sir Richard we have the egregious Willie Walsh, now fighting his corner from chief executive International Airlines Group (IAG) which now incorporates British Airways.

Sir Richard Branson pledged to keep control of his airline after his arch-rival, BA chief Willie Walsh, said that Singapore Airlines’ sale of its [49%] stake in Virgin Atlantic would lead to the demise of the brand.

From China with Love

Now that’s more like it. A full-on profile of China’s new leader as Xi Jinping, the new head of the Communist Party, made a visit over the weekend to the special economic zone of Shenzhen. The south China province has stood as a symbol of the nation’s embrace of a state-led form of capitalism since its growth over three decades from a fishing enclave to an industrial metropolis.

After Mandela

One of the all-time great leaders, Nelson Mandela, is hospitalized [later he was successfully operated on for Gall Stones]. The news comes at a time when the ruling ANC party in South Africa is engaged in further leadership struggles.

The Glass Ceiling in Oz

The Glass Ceiling has not yet been shattered in Australia, despite the influence of the mighty Rupert Murdoch and residual members of his dynasty.

Starbucks

The tax row in the UK continues to hit at Starbucks image, and perhaps its profits

Japan’s shift of leader

The Liberal Party [LPD]’s massive victory in Japan will re-elect former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who has called for major monetary easing, an increase in the inflation target and big spending on public works to rescue the economy.

Sandy Hook School Massacre

The Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/12/15/uk-usa-shooting-connecticut-idUKBRE8BD0Z220121215 contributed to the sense that political leaders have to deal with forces beyond their powers to deal with. There are calls in America for tighter gun control legislation, but few commentators believe that President Obama will be able to introduce meaningful change.

Reflection

Before the New Town Massacre, I was impressed by the number of encouraging stories in the news about leaders and leadership challenges. There are still positive leadership stories around, and the leader vilification count was rather lower than I expected. Indeed there were quite a few stories offering accounts of positive leadership. However, the end-of-week news takes us back to a more nuanced views of distributed power and leadership’s struggles, rather than stories of heroic leaders with the skills to deliver transformation through a compelling vision of change.


IBM appoints Virginia Rometty as CEO

October 26, 2011

And now there are two…female leaders of great IT corporations

Viginia Rometti will become the first female chief executive officer in IBM’s 100-year history on Jan 1st [2012]. She will succeed Sam Palmisano who has been CEO since 2002, and will remain chairman.

In a month which has seen the appointment of Meg Whitman brought in as an outsider at Hewlett Packard, we now have the IBM ‘lifer’ in charge of a second US corporate giant.

To go more deeply

Virginia Rometty to head IBM as first female chief executive

Rometti knows IBM is one mistake from obselescence

IBM’s Rometty just kept on rising

10 CEOs in the making: Virginia Rometti


Carol Bartz is fired as CEO of Yahoo

September 7, 2011

Carol Bartz

Carol Bartz

Carole Bartz was fired by a phone call as CEO of Yahoo. What does this tell us about the corporate culture?

Correction

The intitally published version of this post suggested Carol Bartz was ‘fired by an email’. That turned out to be false and I apologise for the error. She was fired in an unexpected telephone call. The core of the original post was that dismissal by email would have been outrageous. I’m not convinced about her ‘dismissal by mobile’, although there could well be mitigating circumstances for that. There remains an interesting story of how Ms Bartz has been treated since her appointment as one of the most successful female executives in Coprorate America.

Carole replaces Jerry

Ms Bartz took over at Yahoo in 2009 from one it its co-founders Jerry Yan. She made organizational changes, cut costs and attempted to move out of search-oriented business.

According to the BBC Ms Bartz emailed her own staff yesterday [Sept 6th 2011] to say

“I am very sad to tell you that I’ve just been fired over the phone by Yahoo’s chairman of the board”

Larry Magid, a technology analyst said the company has not seen enough of a turn-around under Ms Bartz’s leadership. “She hasn’t done anything to change the company’s fortunes, and they are still anxious to find a leader who can move them up,” he said. Critics also claim that Yahoo has failed to make significant strides in two of the most lucrative segments of the market; search and social networking.

Tim Morse, the company’s chief financial officer will serve as and interim chief executive while the board of directors select a new CEO. Shares of Yahoo jumped at after hours trading on the news [6th Sept 2011].

Bartz and the Glass Ceiling

In an earlier Leaders we deserve post we looked at the impressive track record of Bartz. The press comments on her appointment suggested that the Glass Ceiling was still alive and well for female executives in Corporate America. It also hinted at ageism (Bartz was in her 60s on appointment).

Dismissals we deserve

It can be argued that Carole Bartz ‘deserved’ to be fired for failing to meet the expectations of the marketplace. However, the manner of her firing may tell something about the culture of Yahoo, and attitudes to women and ageism in global corporations and financial institutions.


Does Carol Bartz disprove or confirm the glass ceiling theory?

February 19, 2009
Carol Bartz

Carol Bartz

The appointment of Carol Bartz replacing Larry Page as head of Yahoo has provided leadership headlines. Do the stories confirm the view that despite her success, prejudices against female executives still remain widely intact?

An article by the Economist on the appointment of Carol Bartz [January 17th 2009] prompted one irate reader to object of the double standards applied to male and female executives. The Economist painted a picture of someone driven by insecurities of early maternal bereavement who developed excessive discipline and who rejected notions of work life balance. For good measure the article added that at 60, she was “strikingly old” to lead an internet company.

A sympathetic and informative piece in Forbes by Carol Hymowitz

outlined evidence of her leadership capabilities at her previous role at Autodesk and makes the point that Bartz is one of

.. still just 23 woman at the helm of the nation’s 1,000 largest companies. Besides Bartz, only Paula Roseput Reynolds has been at the helm of two public companies–AGL and Safeco.

Hymowitz contrasts this with the frequency with which ousted male CEOs are hired into other big leadership roles. Her story continued:

[Bartz] was CEO at Autodesk for 14 years, much longer than most chief executives, whose median tenure is just five years, [where she] quickly imposed a more traditional management structure, with schedules for product launches and regular performance reviews. While doing this, she also coped with breast cancer, which she was diagnosed with just days after joining Autodesk Afraid to tell anyone that she had a “female disease,” she took off just a month from work after having a radical mastectomy, instead of the prescribed six to eight weeks.

During the dot-com boom of the late 1990s when Autodesk, many of her employees were suddenly being wooed to dot-com start-ups with the promise that they’d become millionaires. She convinced her best talent to stay put but also realized the Internet was radically altering business–and Autodesk had to adapt and learn to use the network to design, manufacture and market products differently.
As a business leader, Bartz also is known as someone who doesn’t hold grudges and is willing to change her mind. At one point, she fired Carl Bass, the company’s technical wizard at the time, over strategic disagreements. She quickly realized this was a mistake, hired him back a few months later and eventually named him her successor.
Bartz admitted she wasn’t ready to retire when she handed over the CEO spot to Bass in May 2006. “I cried my eyes out,” she said in an interview then. But she also knew Bass was getting offers elsewhere and she concluded that stepping aside was the right thing to do instead of spending years grooming another successor. “It’s very good to leave a job when you still love it,” she said at the time.

What do you think?

I know that female leaders in the business world have not been given the same sort of publicity as their male counterparts. I scan the papers regularly to add examples to my meagre collection. Carol Hymowitz argues that the glass ceiling is still pretty much intact. That is to say, the lack of case examples reflects a deficit of women in top executive roles. It’s an old argument. Is Hymowitz right that it is still salient? What do you think?