By popular request: what happened to David Moyes?

April 25, 2014

MacBeth wikipediaThe dismissal of David Moyes as Manager of Manchester United in April 2014 was both expected and unexpected.

It was expected

It was expected when media reports [April 21st 2014] announced his imminent departure, days after a Premier League defeat of his team, confirming there would be no European Cup matches next season.

Campaigns for his removal were gaining pace from disgruntled fans through the media. By mid-afternoon, a perfect storm was brewing on Twitter. A few scraps of information were repeatedly retweeted. ‘Moyes sacked. Moyes is about to be sacked. Moyes will be sacked soon/at the weekend/at the of the season.’

It was unexpected

It was unexpected because despite the poor record of the team, Moyes had been appointed as the choice of the departing Manager, the iconic and hugely successful Sir Alex Ferguson. He was understood to have been chosen for the long-term. In an emotional farewell speech to a packed stadium at Old Trafford, Sir Alex urged fans to get behind the newly-chosen one. His own last season had been a triumph of psychology over the aging legs of his team which finished Premier League champions.

Neither expected nor unexpected considerations took account of the preoccupations of the owners of the club, the American entrepreneurs, the Glazers. Their financial model has been widely recognized as involving finance of a creative kind to reduce their entrepreneurial risks When results disappointed, Moyes would have been seen as adding to the riskiness of their investment. Ten months into his long-term contract, he was toast.

‘It were well done quickly ‘

The club confirmed through Twitter the following morning that Moyes had been dismissed. It turned out he had been told the news very early that morning.

The timing was said to have been chosen to meet the requirements of information released to investors on the NY Stock markets.

The hunt for red assassins

I was surprised at the extent of the coverage of the story locally and globally. The early print editions of the British media had given it high visibility on the sports pages, writing as if his immediate dismissal was certain before the official announcement.

The early morning news bulletins followed suit, clearing the way for interviews with assorted pundits and players. When the news broke, the hunt for the assassins began. MacBeth morphed into Julius Caesar.

The poisoned chalice

Someone contacted me suggesting I should write about the poisoned chalice that David Moyes had received. Or hospital pass, I replied, remembering a tweet I received on the topic. Incidentally, the poisoned chalice is mentioned in the soliloquy by MacBeth which begins ‘if it were done when tis done….’

Another colleague wondered whether Moyes had indicated through his body language that he was not convinced that he was up to the job? Maybe, although there is something of a catch 22 around that line of questioning. Any authentic leader would recognize the foolishly high expectations of the fans on match day and as the game was being played. Anyone with super confident body language would likely be deluded or faking it.

The routinization of charisma

I go back to the pronouncement of Sir Alex regarding the appointment of his successor. In leadership terms, the former leader was deploying his emotional credit banked with the fans. It is known as an attempt to achieve the routinization of charisma. Sir Alex had acquired enormous credibility for his near miraculous powers of leadership. Much was attributed to the mystique of his charismatic personality. In practice, dilemmas arise, not least as the fans/followers reflect more rationally over the credibility of the replacement.

This analysis does not investigate the motives behind the appointment of David Moyes. Nor does it reflect on his tactical judgements of team selection and on-field substitutions. I leave the former to speculation by media pundits, and the latter to the larger number of pundits also known as football fans. What does seem to make sense is that the leadership issues at Manchester Unite can hardly be reduced to a simple error of judgement either in the selection of David Moyes, or in his dismissal.

Acknowledgements

To Susan Moger, Paul Haslam, Paul Hinks, Keven Holton, Ewan Leith, who were among colleagues who encouraged me put some ideas down for discussion on this fascinating leadership issue. To Wikipedia for the poster image of MacBeth.

Watch this space for further updates

April 25, 2014

Edward Spalton says:

Probably the best comment on this episode was by Richard North of eureferendum.com. that UKIP should try to recruit Moyes because he got United out of Europe in ten months.


Leadership succession: Tony Blair, Terry Leahy, Alex Ferguson, Lord Browne … and Steve Ballmer

October 7, 2013

Leaders hailed as the greatest by direct comparison with their contemporaries often leave a legacy that is tough for a successor to deal with

This point was examined recently by journalist Chris Blackhurst [October 3rd 2013] in The Independent. He chose four towering figures from recent years, from politics, business, and sport.

He takes as his thesis that succeeding an influential leader is tough. His point is that the departure may be made with more concern by the leader for legacy than for the organisation’s longer term well-being.

The trigger

The article was triggered by the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United football club which was followed by a poor start to the season for the new manager David Moyes. Moyes was very much Ferguson’s chosen successor, one of clearest examples available of a leader’s critical decision over succession.

At Old Trafford, David Moyes has succeeded Sir Alex Ferguson, only to find that last season’s Premiership champions are in poor shape, that the Manchester United squad requires urgent strengthening. As worrying for United’s fans and owners is that Moyes appears to have been put in charge of a team in torpor. They’re no longer playing with the same drive and hunger that so characterised the Ferguson reign.

Blackhurst makes the general point succinctly:

Beware the chieftain who has been in office for a lengthy period; who is used to getting their way, who only needs to snap their fingers and it will be done; who refuses to countenance stepping down, to the extent that no successor is properly groomed; and when they do finally decide to go, it is too late. Quitting while ahead – it’s the best management attribute of all.

He illustrates with the examples of Tony Blair, Sir Terry Leahy of Tesco, and Lord Browne of BP. He touched briefly on Margaret Thatcher, and might have added Steve Jobs of Apple, and [another very recent example] Steve Ballmer of Microsoft. A closer examination suggests that the situations and the leaders are too varied to provide a nice clean theoretical idea. Was internal selection possible or desirable? Did the leader leave without being forced out? Was the evidence of declining personal abilities to do the job?

Sir Alex Ferguson, for example, announced his retirement a few years earlier and the market value of Manchester United plummeted. The evidence is that he retracted and spent the next few years considering how his eventual retirement might be planned more successfully. He did not ‘refuse to countenance stepping down’, although Margaret Thatcher’s political demise was closer to the description offered by Blackhurst.

Tony Blair was successful in winning three elections for Labour, which he had reshaped as New Labour. His legacy is haunted by his military policy in Iraq. Blair tried but was unable to arrange a successor he wanted. Gordon Brown is seen as contributing to Labour’s defeat at his first election. Sir Alex a close confident of Tony Blair seems to have learned from his friend the art of personal retirement planning with an impressive and rapid entry into the lucrative celebrity circuit.

Terry Leahy at Tesco appears to have selected Philip Clarke or agreed with the decision. Mr Clarke found that the company was in near free fall.

Lord Browne, whom Blackhurst suggested stayed to long at BP, left after personal problems. His chosen successor Tony Hayward was engulfed by the greatest disaster to befall the company.

Steve Jobs left Apple for health grounds, but had some say in the appointment of his successor.

Lady Thatcher had no say in the matter, although her departure opened the way to Tony Blair’s successive election victories.

The dilemma of succession

Succession remains a dilemma for a leader, and for those considered candidates as a successor. The issue has been around for nearly as long as stories have been written about leaders. We should at least be aware of the possibility of the ‘hero to zero’ process, as an earlier and over-generous evaluation of a leader is rewritten.

An example of this can be found in an article in Business Week in 2006 hailing the succession planning in Microsoft when Steve Ballmer replaced Bill Gates. Mr Ballmer’s departure this month [Oct 2013] was told in a different way.


End of an era as Sir Alex Ferguson retires as Manager of Manchester United

May 8, 2013

Sir Alex FergusonSir Alex Ferguson retires in a relatively smooth fashion. Nevertheless, his departure means an inevitable period of transition for the global club he helped to build. Front-runners are emerging as a successor

The announcement today [May 8th 2013] should not have been surprising. Sir Alex announced his retirement once before, some years ago, and the shock waves around the news prompted a recantation.

Age shall not weary them

I do not need to check his age. He was born of December 31st 1941, making him a few days younger than myself. Our careers took us on very different paths, although over the last two decades I have found myself regularly writing and talking about his leadership style and achievements.

The most bizarre of those efforts was at an event in Miami where I had been asked to compare his achievements with those of Pat Riley, the iconic coach of the Miami Heat basketball team.

What they do teach at Harvard Business School

Much later, Harvard business School invited Sir Alex to talk about his leadership style. My envy was only slightly lessened by the comforting thought that at Manchester, business students had been studying a case through the textbook Dilemmas of Leadership [Edition 1 only : maybe a revised case is possible for Edition 3, if I don’t retire before it comes out].

The Ferguson touch

The story of his exceptional career and robust style is becoming well-known. [Use the right-hand vertical side bar to find the tags to the various LWD posts written since 2006].

A period of mourning

On hearing the news, someone with inside knowledge of the club told me “It’s a period of mourning. I’ve followed them since I was a child. I love the club. For young people, he’s the only manager they remember.” She listed a range of well-known names as possible future managers, including an insider.

The 3Ms

Speculation on succession throws up three early front-runners, David Moyes of Everton, Jose Mourinho of Real Madrid, and Roberto Martinez of Wigan Athletic. One a Scot, one Portuguese, and one Spanish. I would not want to place a bet although I expect there to be a name already close to being announced.

Footnote

Another list of front runners from The Independent

Later, the three names were linked as follows. Moyes replaced Ferguson; Mourinho went to Chelsea, and Martinez replaced Moyes at Everton.


Is there a ‘Leadership vacuum’ at Lloyds TSB?

November 14, 2011

António Horta-Osório

Reports are suggesting that Lloyds Bank faces a leadership vacuum since CEO Antonio Horta-Osorio look medical leave two weeks ago

The Leadership Dilemma

The leadership dilemma has been reported as one of dealing with shareholder discontent. According to the Sunday Telegraph [13th Nov 2011]:

Major institutional shareholders are concerned at the lack of information from the bank since Mr Horta-Osorio left on medical advice two weeks ago …a number of investors said that they had not been personally contacted by Glen Moreno, the senior independent director, or by Sir Win Bischoff, the chairman, about the issue.

The sentiment among investors is that even if Mr Horta-Osorio returns to full health, it would be difficult for him to return because of the signal his absence – the result of “extreme fatigue” – has given to investors.

“It is clear the job was too big for him,” said one top 15 shareholder.

Another investor questioned why the bank was not speeding up its internal contingency plan.

Behind the headlines

The Telegraph article suggests that the company has failed to have addressed the reactions of its shareholders to the departure of Mr Horta-Osorio. Looking behind the headlines, I wondered whether the story was encouraged by parties dissatisfied with the performance of the board, and would welcome news that would discredit them before rhe appointment of an internal figure as interim CEO (Mr Moreno has been considered as a favourite candidate).

Another possibility is that powerful institutional shareholders see opportunity to exercise more influence over the Board’s decisions

What didn’t happen

What appears not to have happened is for a rapid line of communications to have opened up with the most influential stakeholders. While ‘wait and hope’ may have been a consideration, it is often a dangerous kind of strategy under conditions of corporate turbulence.

To go more deeply

The textbook Dilemmas of Leadership examines the importance of trust based leadership[chapter 6] and the challenges presented by corporate turbulence [chapter 11].


Apple faces a Jobless future

August 25, 2011

Tim Cook and Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, iconic leader and one of the great creative innovators of his era, leaves the company he founded and built into a global superstar

The departure of Steve Jobs as leader of Apple on medical grounds has been anticipated in and outside Apple for some time. We can anticipate even more news coverage of the iconic figure whose design genius was behind a steam of products since the time of the first Apple personal computer, launched as the Apple 2

Quirky but much loved

This was quirky but much but much loved. Even the earliest versions were revolutionary in appearance and functioning. They suggested a future for personal computing that could not be imagined in the market leading IBM product and its host of imitators trying to be as compatible as a possible at lower cost.

The Apple Mac

Then the Apple Mac came along. This was even more obviously evidence of new species emerging. They are coming from a common ancestor, but retaining a genetic capacity to visualize as well as to digitalise.

IBM and clones under threat

Apple products become a serious threat to the generic sounding PC (i.e. IBM’s products and its clones). Compatibility was more an aspiration than a reality for each set of products, and even today there are enough differences to create famous entry barriers to switching from one of the two IT tribes.

Design excellence

Apple developed a brand image of innovation and design excellence. The company succeeded in grabbing a share of the emerging mobile phone market with its i-phone and then the tablet market with the i-pad. Apple stores became cathedrals for worshippers.

And each of the innovative leaps in the company was utterly associated with the design genius of Steve Jobs. Stock levels were seen to shift according to reports on his deteriorating health.

Symbolic leadership

This is one of the clearest example of symbolic leadership to be found in modern times. Steve Jobs was Apple. The closest parallel I can think of is that of Walt Disney. Incidentally, you can find fascinating comparisons of the two companies in the book Disney Wars.

All is not gloom and doom

There are naturally signs of bereavement at present at Apple. But all is not gloom and doom. Apple has had a strong internal candidate waiting to step up. The evidence is that the company has faced the realities of succession. Tim Cook is already highly regarded internally for his operational and organizational talents. He was appointed in what seemed like one last symbolic act after his strong endorsement by Steve Jobs in his letter of resignation. We will learn much more of Mr Cook in the coming months. Will Apple now enter a post-charismatic era in its public image?


Decline of a dynasty? Elisabeth Murdoch ducks board position on News Corp

August 6, 2011

Elisabeth Murdoch has declined an invitation to be nominated for a place on the board of News Corp. The move signals a decline in the prospects of a Murdoch dynasty

Rupert Murdoch’s actions over a period of years suggests his intentions of establishing a Murdoch dynasty at News Corp. The story has all the drama of a TV soap opera with a dash of reality TV as well. Part of the interest has been over which sibling would be most favoured to succeed the tycoon.

Any Murdoch is better than none

It has been suggested by biographers that any Murdoch would be prefered to someone outside the family. This is harder to achieve in a world in which there are interested parties or stakeholders. These extend to institutional investors, and governments concerned with Corporate responsibilities for ethical governance.

As might be expected, the eldest son Lachlan was front runner for heir to Rupert before signalling his reluctance to pursue a career in News Corp although remaining on the board. This placed youngest son James as a front runner in the speculation stakes. The 2011 problems of governance in the proposed takeover of Sky may have weakened the chances of James, but arguably have weakened the chances of all the Murdoch family to take over at the top of News Corp.

Elisabeth

Rupert Murdoch has no prejudice against women as business leaders. Elisabeth Murdoch was for a while a front-runner as his heir, and has demonstrated considerable leadership flair in creating her own media businesses. However, Elisabeth has, like Lachlan implied that her interests would lie outside the top job at News Corp. However, her interests have remained intertwined with those of her father.
Although allegations of nepotism have been made, there can be little doubt of her capabilities to manage large media operations.

According to the BBC

News Corp said Elisabeth Murdoch, 42, told [News Corp] directors that it would be “inappropriate” to join the board. She was expected to join the News Corp board after it bought Shine Group, the television production company she runs.

Prudence

Rupert’s eldest daughter Prudence MacLeod sits on the board of Times Newspapers Ltd, part of News International.

Then there’s Wendi

Rupert’s formidable wife Wendi has been considered a serious candidate for some while. A trust-fund established for their children has become a critical aspect within the power relationships in the extended family.

Leaders born and made

Dynasties provide rich materials for students of leadership. The eventual winners in the succession stakes sometimes justify what others call nepotism. Often however, second and third generation family members lack the entrepreneurial flair of the founders.


Tesco: Continuity in Leadership, but what about Strategy?

June 11, 2010


When the internal candidate Philip Clarke replaced Sir Terry Leahy [left] as head of Tesco, The first reports were almost exclusively focused on the departing leader rather than on the arriving one

The lament was understandable.

Profits, dividends and earnings per share doubled and then doubled again during Sir Terry Leahy’s 14‑year tenure. It works out at a compound annual growth rate of 10%. Very few large companies improve these measures at double-digit pace for a decade and a half without blowing up at some point.

Part of the secret, you suspect, is that long [leadership] reigns have always been part of Tesco’s culture. As every football follower knows, changing managers frequently is a losing strategy. Leahy is only the fifth chief executive of Tesco since the company was formed in 1929. He has seen four chief executives at both Sainsbury’s and at Asda [UK arm of Walmart] during his time at the top.

Praise from his predecessor

Within hours of the announcement, [June 8th 2010] Lord McLauren, Leahey’s predecessor, was on BBC’s Five Live lunchtime radio programme. He gave a glowing account of Leahy’s efforts and the merits of another internal appointment ‘from the Tesco family’. On being pressed, he added he had drawn up a private short-list of three internal candidates, and that Philip Clarke was ‘up there at the top’. He refused (naturally) to name the other two executives.

The endorsement ended abruptly when the interviewer suggested that Sir Terry may have eclipsed Lord McLauren’s leadership contributions.

“Didn’t eclipse me at all” he growled “he built on the successful company I established … and Phil will build on what Terry has accomplished” [quoted from memory].

Other BBC eulogies followed
:

Under Sir Terry, Tesco led the way in offering banking services and introducing the Clubcard, the store card that has been copied right across the High Street. He has also overseen the store’s expansion [overseas]. The company now employs almost half a million staff worldwide, with stores in China, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Japan, Malaysia, Poland, the Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, South Korea, Thailand, Turkey and the US.

Enter Philip Clarke

Philip Clarke said he was “honoured and delighted” to succeed Sir Terry. Mr Clarke has worked for Tesco for many years and joined the board in 1998. He had held responsibility for the supermarket’s Asian and European operations, as well as for IT.

The Guardian was quick to provide an informed account of Philip Clarke and the challenges he was facing:

Clarke, who has been on the Tesco board since 1998, was judged one of the frontrunners to replace Leahy. The son of a Tesco store manager in the Wirral he has reached the top rung 36 years after he did his first shelf-stacking shift for the supermarket as a schoolboy.
Analysts said that the biggest challenge in Clarke’s inbox come next year [2011] would be deciding what route to take with its loss-making US arm Fresh & Easy which is run by Tim Mason, who was also promoted to deputy chief executive. Fresh & Easy made a loss of £165m on sales of £354m last year and outgoing boss Sir Terry Leahy hinted at its annual results in April that its scope might be “hundreds” rather than the “thousands” of stores first envisaged when it was launched in 2007.

“Pile ‘em high ….?”

Tesco’s diversification both geographically and in product offerings has become a model for Business School study. Will the one-time local retailer get back to its original ambitions in America with the less than successful Fresh and Easy chain? Will it become more involved in the challenges of the financial sector? Will continuity in selection of a leader be followed by continuity of strategy? Whatever happens, the firm has come a long way from its original “pile ‘em high” philosophy.


The Search for a New leader: Now its BA and Willie Walsh

May 15, 2008

Update: The post below [May 15th, 2008] was updated [December 16th, 2009] as British Airways faced a highly damaging strike of Cabin Crew over the Christmas holiday period. Original post follows:

When a company starts looking for a new leader, rumours about the incumbent are bound to arise. The most recent case is that of British Airways and its CEO Willie Walsh. Students of leadership succession should keep a close eye on unfolding events.

The duty of a corporate board is to safeguard a company’s future viability, and that must include monitoring of its leadership. While secrecy is desirable, it may suit pressure groups to bring matters to public attention. For example, shareholder activists seek advantage for their narrower interests, which would include getting the best short-term deals on investments, but might also include the possibility of becoming king-makers for a change of leadership.

The Independent reports that

[British Airways] has appointed the recruitment consultants Whitehead Mann to find a new chief operating officer and possible successor for its embattled chief executive Willie Walsh.

The successful candidate will fill a newly created role, devised after the recent Heathrow Terminal 5 fiasco. Both BA’s director of operations, Gareth Kirkwood, and head of customer service, David Noyes, parted company with the group last month [April 2008] . The two roles will now be combined to create the position of chief operating officer.

The airline, which will publish its full-year results on Monday, is believed to have instructed Whitehead Mann to find a senior level candidate who could be considered for a position on the board within two years, and could also be a potential replacement for Mr Walsh within five years.

Opening Sacrifices?

For ‘parted company’ read sacked. Gareth makes an opening sacrifice in BA’s attempts to allay criticisms for a wave of customer service reactions. David will do for the time-being for operational failings, as Terminal 5 lumbers into action.

Later, [May 13th 2008] BAA, Heathrow’s operating organization announced the departure of Mike Bullock, its Managing Director at Heathrow, another victim of the Terminal 5 opening (or non-opening, if you prefer). At least the BBC announced it, beating the BAA web-site to the news.

The departures at British Airways seem more in the nature of opening gambits, if we want to puruse the theme of chess as a metaphor for corporate strategy.

The Times has reported that public sentiment strongly in favour of BA finding a replacement for Willie Walsh.

However, Richard Northedge argues that

Walsh ..is directly culpable too [for the recent Terminal 5 opening fiasco]. Unfortunately, BA cannot afford to lose him. It has other problems that require solutions – from its pension deficit to its industrial relations – and Walsh is the best man it has. But stakeholders require some recognition that Walsh’s acceptance of responsibility is not just hollow words: it would be appropriate if, when the remuneration committee considers bonuses, it acknowledged the need to punish Walsh.

The Walsh Legend

Mr Walsh arrived at British Airways in 2005 already as something of a celebrity. His reputation had been secured as a former pilot who aspired to leadership. He had risen through the ranks at Aer Lingus to be acknowledged as a transformational figures for the fortunes of that company.

Stories accumulated about his hands-on style, and were used to sketch his operating methods.

He was known for negotiating toughness. Successfully reinventing Aer Lingus as a profitable no-frills airline, while other established European flag carriers went to the wall, he slashed costs by 30% and shed more than a third of staff. [saying]”we make no apologies for focusing on profit” … [and that] “a reasonable man gets nowhere in negotiations”.
He is renowned for not driving an expensive car and choosing not to take on a secretary, instead writing all his own letters and answering his own phone.

Mr Walsh’s obvious toughness and eye for increased profitability no doubt caught the attention of BA’s board. After the UK airline’s long history of staff disputes, most recently the wildcat walkouts in August 2005 in support of sacked workers at the airline’s main caterer, he must have seemed ideal.

Be careful of what you want…

‘Be careful of what you want. You might get it’ runs an office-wall summary, capturing the myth of the Faustian pact. Maybe that is another version of getting the leaders we deserve. The appeal of a tough leader for BA was obviously appealing, not just to the Board, but to its major shareholders.

Students of leadership succession should keep an eye on events at British Airlines. We will continue to watch Willie, at Leaders We Deserve.

To go more deeply into succession planning

We touched on British Airways in the context of Mandrill Management .

Travolution is a useful site for wider issues of the industry

The Post Office/Royal Mail leadership succession activities were noted including attempts to have a fall-back plan if Allen Leighton were to leave.

Times Warner’s appointment of Jeff Bewkes also makes an interesting succession story.

EADS strategic issues under Louis Gallois
and also its leadership challenges have been covered.

There have stories of the rise and fall of varous sporting leaders. When Liverpool owners approached Jurgen Klinsmann, the story blew-up as a scheme to get rid of the popular Rafa Benitez.

England’s Rugby Football Union eventually appointed Martin Johnson and relegated Bryan Ashton to the bench.

Numerous posts covered the stories the longest leadership succession saga of modern times.

The transition from President Vladimir Putin to Dmitry Medvedev is offering further insights into succession issues in internationally important arenas.

Overall, the events covered in these posts indicate recurring themes within recent leadership succession stories. A thorough examination might produce a valuable contribution to understanding of the dynamics of leadership succession. They may also hint at the likely outome to the story of Willie Walsh at British Airways.


Bob Nardelli. A good leader for Chrysler in its present plight?

November 4, 2007

bob-nardelli.jpgIf you believe in situational leadership you may feel that Bob Nardelli’s style is an appropriate one for Chrysler, following the Cerberus takeover

The bloodletting at Chrysler is not going to be pleasant. It calls for a special kind of leadership to avoid worse outcomes than might have been possible. There have been business leaders in the past who relished the prospects of being in charge in such a crisis. They had earned their reputations as uncompromising men willing to made the big decisions in a slash-and-burn situation.

Uncompromising men? It’s just that there are fewer stories about equally ruthless business women, because they haven’t had as many opportunities. A few years ago there was Linda Wachner, America’s first Fortune 500 female boss, whose high-handed management style was blamed for the bankruptcy of clothing company Warnaco. And I have little doubt that if Margaret Thatcher had found herself in change at Chrysler at the moment, she would have entered into the spirit of things with her legendary energy and decisiveness.

Heroes and villains

In times of crisis, it is tempting to portray events as dominated by the actions of great villains or heroes depending on your view of capital market mechanisms. The leader as hero rescues what can be saved, and in the process accepts that casualties as a vital part of winning the battle. That might be called the unconditional free-market view. Opposed to that, is notion of the leader brought in to a company in trouble is a villain, a mercenary, a ruthless bounty-hunter contracted to deliver what is required, ‘dead or alive’ in order to earn his own booty on behalf of a powerful rapacious corporate raider. That’s the unconditional anti-capitalist view.

Young people around the world learn of their national heroes and traitors in terms rather like these. Cultural forces sustain the views, as part of each culture’s ‘national heritage’, regardless of efforts at history teachers to offer a more nuanced explanation of events and of the impact of individuals.

Many years ago, Thomas Carlisle took the view that great leaders could be excused human flaws. Assuming they have something special which achieves great results, we must beware of belittling them for being all too human. That’s one argument. Carlisle warned against what he called valetism. (‘No man is a hero to his own valet’).

One of various objections to Carlisle’s idea is the way in which heroes suddenly become villains (the hero to zero effect), but in either case are granted exceptional abilities. It anticipated the more technical studies of leadership in search of the right stuff, the essence of leadership.

It took us a hundred years of work to suspect that the impact of great leaders was to a considerable degree based on the perceptions of followers. That’s why I am rather keen to promote the suggestion that we get the leaders we deserve, and that they are to some degree the creation of our collective imaginations.

Remember Chain-Saw Al?

Before returning to Chrysler, it may be worth recalling the rise and fall of other leaders once hailed great, and then trashed. ‘Chain saw’ Al Dunlap comes to mind. Older subscribers will remember Al as hero of Wall Street, the wizard of down-sizing. Al was in demand for a company in need of the slash and burn treatment. Al kept producing the goods, metaphorically. He eventually was found not to be producing the goods literally, and had been engaging in all sorts of creative accounting.

Morer recently, we witnessed had the rise and fall of Sam O’ Neal at Merrill Lynch. Sam had been lauded as Sam the Man who had shaken Merrill Lunch out of its strategic slumbers. He had also presided over the company at the time when it hit the buffers as one of the biggest losers in the sub-prime markets this year. Exit Sam with some $16 million compensation for his efforts during the good years.

Once the performance of Merrill Lynch fell, Mr O’Neal’s contribution, and his leadership style were called into attention. He was autocratic. He would not listen to advice. He could be very difficult to work with. And so on.

Which brings us back to Bob Nardelli

When Nardelli left Home Depot, earlier this year, the consensus was that

Home Depot faces a well-known dilemma. It has long passed a growth phase when its stock was rising in sensational fashion. Efforts to maintain the growth led to a decision to bring in new and dynamic management. When the desired growth was not achieved, the leader was deposed. Nardelli’s demise was made easier by his management style and a skill at extracting extremely favourable personal rewards. It should be noted that this might suggest he was a difficult boss, but not a stupid one

When Cerberus acquired Chrysler, they turned to Nardelli.

Why? Private Equity business deals require leaders to be able to follow a plan, stick to the numbers. They may or may not be ‘good with people’. If they are, it’s a bonus.

Matching the situation and the leader

Situational leadership suggests that different situations call for different leadership skills. In one well-known leadership formulation, leaders are invited to assess situations and seek an appropriate style. In Chrysler’s situation, the temptation for the new owners is to regard a directive style as appropriate. That’s how it’s worked in the past. Hello, Bob, I think we’ve got just the job for you …Yes, a bit like Al., but we don’t want any financial tricks. Remember what happened to Al.

So is Nardelli likely to be a good leader for Chrysler?

There are no easy answers in a case study like this one. Conclusions have to be supported by argument and indications of the assumptions being made. So far, I’ve been putting forward a qualification that it is not possible to put leaders into one of two boxes ‘good or bad’. This is based on the evidence that leaders may have a style that suits them to some circumstances better than others.

The next point to consider is good for what and for whom. In evaluating Nardelli’s impact at Chrysler we may wish to take the broad view that Chrysler appears to be in need of drastic and painful change, and that Nardelli was attracted with a deal in which he is generously rewarded for carrying out the painful operation of change.

I suspect he has some of the characteristics of the tough-minded leader required to meet the short-term financial objectives of Cerberus. I don’t know if he will succeed in the wider challenge of creating something permanent that will be recognised as the New Chrysler. Sadly, among the biggest losers at Chrysler will be tens of thousands of workers who will be without jobs over the coming months. The unconditional free-marketeers will Maybe argue that the alternatives would likely have led to even more job losses at Chrysler further down the line. Maybe a tough approach now will create more jobs elsewhere, than a more ‘humane’ and collaborative approach which fails to bring about changes in market prospects of the ailing corporation.