Lessons from the Top: The 50 Most Successful Business Leaders in America--and What You Can Learn from Them


In the bestselling tradition of In Search of Excellence, fascinating and revealing profiles of the most successful business leaders in America and the strategies, methods, and motivational techniques they use to help make their companies great.

What makes a great business leader? What qualities do the men and women at the top of the world's best-run companies have in common? What lessons can they teach other managers and CEOs?

Thomas J. Neff ...

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In the bestselling tradition of In Search of Excellence, fascinating and revealing profiles of the most successful business leaders in America and the strategies, methods, and motivational techniques they use to help make their companies great.

What makes a great business leader? What qualities do the men and women at the top of the world's best-run companies have in common? What lessons can they teach other managers and CEOs?

Thomas J. Neff and James M. Citrin provide the answers to these vital questions in Lessons from the Top. Using the most exacting standards imaginable, and employing the research expertise of the Gallup Organization and the analytical tools of investment advisers Lazard Freres, they selected the fifty best executives in business today and interviewed them about their long-term strategies, career milestones, key accomplishments, and guiding beliefs. The result is an unparalleled course in what it takes to create a successful, well-organized company in any industry.

Lessons from the Top profiles such well-known people as Jack Welch, Bill Gates, Lou Gerstner, and Andy Grove, as well as less familiar figures like Bill Steere of Pfizer, Shelly Lazarus of Ogilvy & Mather, Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco International, and Frank Raines of Fannie Mae. In the final section of the book, the authors distill the qualities these accomplished individuals share, as well as delineate six essential principles of business leadership.

A winning combination of entertaining stories about life at the top (and how to get there) and rigorous business insights, Lessons from the Top received high praise when it was published in hardcover and went back to press six times. With a new Introduction, the paperback edition will bring its important lessons to an even wider audience

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Inside Lessons from the Top:

"I think you've got to continuously make sure [employees] understand how important they are. As a CEO, you need people more than they need you. My job is to keep our people interested in staying, and working, and growing and prospering with this company."
--Larry Bossidy, Chairman & CEO, AlliedSignal

"When I look at potential products or services, I see them through the eyes of the customer, because that is what I am, a customer. I am like a chef. I like to taste the food. If it tastes bad, I don't serve it."
--Charles Schwab, Chairman & Co-CEO, Charles Schwab

"We reward failure. I remember some guys came up with a lamp that didn't work, and we gave them all television sets. You have to do it, because otherwise people will be afraid to try things."
--Jack Welch, Chairman & CEO, General Electric

"The real trick to marketing is finding a core idea which the world can use. You find the universal, and then you make it the core of what you do."
--Shelly Lazarus, Chairman & CEO, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide

"Customer satisfaction is the most important issue to me, and if you really believe that, then you've got to tie it to your reward system, to your management practices, and we do...We measure customer satisfaction in every way imaginable."
--John Chambers, President & CEO, Cisco Systems

"The key to building an enduring new medium is passion, people, perseverance, perspective and paranoia."
--Steve Case, Chairman & CEO, America Online

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385493444
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/17/2001
  • Edition description: 1ST CURREN
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas J. Neff is Chairman of Spencer Stuart U.S., hailed by The Wall Street Journal as "The No. 1 Brand Name in CEO Searches." He has been profiled on the cover of Business Week and in the business section of the New York Times. James M. Citrin, Managing Director of Spencer Stuart's Global Communication and Media Practice, has written articles for the New York Times and has appeared on CNBC and CNN. Both authors live in Connecticut.
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Read an Excerpt

What Makes Business Leaders Great

Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Who are the best business leaders in America? What makes them great? What can we learn from them as we try to turn our own aspirations into reality?

These three questions have driven us from the moment that we began this project in April of 1997. They are relatively simple questions to ask. But they are extremely difficult to answer.

We had originally intended to open Lessons from the Top with an anecdote describing a real phone call we had received from a corporate board member asking us to launch an executive search for a new chief executive officer.

The board member, someone we had worked with over a period of years, wanted us to develop a list of candidates who could succeed the company's CEO, a man who had just informed the board that he intended to retire at year's end.

Up until that point, the phone call was fairly typical. Recruiting senior executives and board members to build our clients' management teams is what we do at Spencer Stuart. Each year, as one of the world's largest executive search firms, we interview over 40,000 executives around the world, in the course of more than 4,000 assignments that we conduct out of 50 offices located in 25 countries. Our recent assignments have included recruiting new CEOs to lead AT&T, Delta Airlines, Quaker Oats, Reader's Digest, J. Crew, and Weyerhaeuser.

Spencer Stuart has been recruiting such top talent for more than 40 years. So this particular phone call did not set off any unusual alarms. What was surprising, though, was hisnext request: Our client asked us to advise the board as well about what they should be looking for in their next CEO. Not only what industry background, company size, and geographic breadth, but the more subtle and potentially important characteristics. Who is the right kind of leader? What kind of attributes should he or she have?

The reason this brought us up short was that it was one of a number of similar requests we had recently received from our clients, firms that range from venture capital-backed start-ups, to some of America's largest companies.

Given the growing interest in this question, we decided to forgo opening the book with an elaborate story, and plunge right into the heart of the issue.

What, in fact, makes someone a great business leader? What does it really take to lead an organization successfully in today's ever more competitive and fast-moving world economy?

When we considered this carefully, we realized that it is not surprising that these questions are surfacing more frequently. They are the very things that individuals, whether given the responsibility of running an organization or managing a department, must answer and answer quickly.

As the deposed former chief executives of AT&T, Kmart, and Sunbeam can well attest, managers are being given less and less time to make a difference today.

Operating in what feels like an ever-tightening vise--being squeezed by global competition on one side and a rapidly changing, technology-driven business landscape on the other--it is only natural for managers to look for comfort in what has worked in the past. Unfortunately, as they have learned the hard way, we are no longer operating under the old rules. When a company's board loses confidence in its CEO, it often takes decisive action. And conducting a search for a new leader is often the action it takes. It is often also the point where we come in.

What Spencer Stuart Does

Executive search is a specialized form of management consulting that focuses on defining a company's leadership requirements as a function of its strategy, and then identifies, interviews, and recruits the most appropriate candidate to execute that strategy.

Developing insight into business leaders' careers and lives--what makes them "tick"--is essential for us to fulfill our mandate, as we set out to find the right executive.

To assess a candidate for a top position, we perform an in-depth appraisal of the executive's career accomplishments, management style, obstacles overcome, mistakes made and lessons learned, leadership philosophy, formative life experiences, and personal and professional ambitions. Given that executives are often competing for these high-profile appointments, it is in their interest to make certain that we understand their industries, companies, and careers as much as possible.

Meeting with all of these executives, and developing insights into their business successes and what makes leaders great, has provided us with the privilege of learning from many of the top business leaders in the world. We have grown professionally and personally as a result and wanted to share what we have learned. This was one of the principal reasons behind writing this book.

To give these lessons about success and leadership maximum impact, we decided that it was critical to hear from the very best. And rather than simply subjectively picking the "best" leaders to study, we felt compelled to apply an objective and rigorous analytical process. This decision was partially the result of the fact-based, analytical approach that was instilled in both of us earlier in our careers as management consultants at McKinsey & Company.

So we undertook to do what no one else has done before. We put together a rigorous methodology aimed at identifying the very best business leaders in America and then interviewed those leaders at length to discover why they have been so successful.

There are, of course, entire libraries of books that analyze key leadership qualities. But most are rather academic in their approach, or are limited by a single author's perspective.

And while there are scores of annual rankings of top business managers, our review suggests that these tabulations have neither the requisite analytical rigor nor the depth to elucidate the stories behind the rankings.

Neither approach seems to bring to life what it takes to be a great leader in a way that can be applied to real life.

In light of this, we set the ambitious dual goals of:

1) Being as analytically sound as possible in constructing our list of business leaders, and

2) Articulating their stories in as personal and approachable a style as possible.

Based on the methodology described below and in Chapter 3, we created the list of business leaders that is as close as we could come to answering our first question, "Who are the best business leaders in America?" ...

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Table of Contents

Introduction to the Paperback Edition xiii
Part I The Search for the Best Business Leaders in America 1
Chapter 1 What Makes Business Leaders Great 3
Chapter 2 Evaluating Today's Business Leaders 11
Chapter 3 Methodology: A Closer Look at the Numbers 17
Part II Profiles 29
Overview to Profiles 31
Mike Armstrong (AT&T): "You've got to have the guts to make a decision." 35
Carol Bartz (Autodesk): Leading by example 41
Hans Becherer (Deere): Creating customers for life 47
Gordon Bethune (Continental Airlines): It's how you'd run an airline 55
Larry Bossidy (AlliedSignal): "There was a time when I thought brains were everything." 61
Jim Broadhead (FPL Group): Execute 67
Steve Case (America Online): You've got mail 73
John Chambers (Cisco Systems): "Everybody here knows what we want to accomplish." 79
Michael Dell (Dell Computer): The power of direct 85
Elizabeth Dole (American Red Cross): Managing the nation's material, human, and inner resources 91
Bob Eaton (DaimlerChrysler): "You don't want to be a manager. You want to be a leader." 99
Bernie Ebbers (MCI WorldCom): "The only real values are the eternal ones." 105
Michael Eisner (Walt Disney): "What you are striving for is magic, not perfection." 111
Don Fisher (The Gap): The Gap Formula for Success is as easy as 1-2-3: luck, common sense, and a small ego 117
Don Fites (Caterpillar): (Earth) Mover 123
Bill Gates (Microsoft): Missionary 129
Lou Gerstner (IBM): "Once you think you can write down what made you successful, you won't be." 137
Ray Gilmartin (Merck): "Working for a higher purpose" 143
Ace Greenberg (Bear Stearns): "We hire PSDs: people who are poor, smart, and have a deep desire to be rich." 151
Hank Greenberg (AIG): "You look for white blackbirds." 157
Andy Grove (Intel): The boss must be in charge of training 163
Charles Heimbold (Bristol-Myers Squibb): Rallying--and leading--the troops 169
Martha Ingram (Ingram Industries): Keeping everything in balance 175
David Johnson (Campbell Soup): Winning 181
Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines): "Culture is your number-one priority." 187
Bill Kerr (Meredith): "We have to keep earning the trust of our customers." 193
Chuck Knight (Emerson Electric): "Keep it simple." 199
Dennis Kozlowski (Tyco International): "There is a lot one person can do." 205
Ralph Larsen (Johnson & Johnson): "Edicts don't work." 209
Ken Lay (Enron): The $30 billion corner store 215
Shelly Lazarus (Ogilvy & Mather): 360-degree branding 221
Bill Marriott (Marriott International): Taking care of the customers, and the people who take care of the customers 229
Lou Noto (Exxon Mobil Corporation): "You've got to do what you do well." 235
Paul O'Neill (Alcoa): "The test is how you connect with people." 241
John Pepper (Procter & Gamble): "What do you want to achieve?" 247
Frank Raines (Fannie Mae): Reluctant role model 253
Howard Schultz (Starbucks): Sharing success 259
Charles Schwab (Charles Schwab): "I am the customer." 265
Walter Shipley (Chase Manhattan): "If people feel valued, you have a much stronger company." 271
Fred Smith (Federal Express Corporation): "Not to be an entrepreneur is to begin the process of decline and decay." 277
Bill Steere (Pfizer): "Fads come. Fads go. We concentrate on what we do best." 285
Bob Tillman (Lowe's Companies): Bet the company, with everyone's help 291
Alex Trotman (Ford Motor Company): Drive 299
Dan Tully and David Komansky (Merrill Lynch): "There is only one question to ask: What's best for the customer?" 307
Mike Volkema (Herman Miller): Serious about business, serious about people 319
Charles Wang (Computer Associates): "You must have a moral compass." 327
Sandy Weill (Citigroup): Let's build something together 333
Jack Welch (General Electric): "I don't think anyone understands the value of informal." 339
Al Zeien (Gillette): Focus 347
Part III Lessons Learned 353
Introduction 355
Chapter 1 The 51st Business Leader: Peter Drucker "Yes, you want to manage for results. But what do you mean by results?" 357
Chapter 2 Doing the Right Things Right: A New Definition of Business Success 361
Chapter 3 Common Traits: A Prescription for Success in Business 379
Appendices 389
Appendix 1 (Gallup Survey) 389
Appendix 2 (Financial Analysis Methodology) 393
Appendix 3 (Interview Guide) 397
Acknowledgments: The Making of Lessons from the Top 411
Index 417
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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2003

    Lessons From the Top

    James Citrin and Thomas Neff compile a set of business anecdotes from the results of their exhaustive surveying, hoping to convey the important lessons of 50 of America's top business leaders. Each leader profile has interesting personal details, a leadership 'philosophy' to lead off the profile, and examples to help detail how the profile has made them successful. What's particularly telling is that all the Leaders are chosen based upon the authors model of what a good business leader is -- that is, they 'load' the deck by having asked who is first to come to mind when specific categorical questions are asked, such as 'commitment to diversity'. (They included the questions used in the initial survey, which was used to narrow the field to 50 Leaders.) Note, however, that leadership in management has been defined as how well they are able to get people to willingly adopt, follow and achieve their vision, and these questions ask nothing of that. Also, it's weighed by company financial statements and 'fame' of Leaders. Smaller companies with great Leaders will not get mentioned. For example, there is a small company in Los Angeles, that, in 2000, earned $500,000.00 per employee, by putting customers first, employees second and ownership last. Insisting that continued education was paramount to the success of the company, he sent a young manager to his alma mater, CalTech, for post-graduate work. He was always heard saying: 'Customers first! Change is good! Have fun!' and his employees followed suite and found ingenious ways to improve quality, save money and enjoy work -- and they did it because they loved the president. That's LEADERSHIP. The real surprise among smaller surprises is that an astonishing number of Leaders did not stay at their jobs for long (although, an equally astonishing number have been at the same company virtually all of their career). This suggests that loyalty is not a Leadership trait. (Note also that most of the companies had been wildly successful, long before the Leader arrived.) Another surprise is that very few of the Leaders earned advanced degrees, some earning honorary degrees (perhaps for charitable contributions to the school?). The richest man in the world, Bill Gates, didn't graduate from college??? Just shows how having a spectacular product will make you look like a great leader (Disney! Mobil! Campbell's Soup!) Why, even disgraced Enron CEO Ken Ley is among the Great. What wasn't a surprise is that most Leaders attributed their success to a customer-based, quality-driven philosophy. That is, what quality professionals have known all along (and said much more succinctly by Eli Goldratt): the key to making money now and in the future is to make customers happy now and in the future (and making employees and suppliers happy now and in the future). Read Dr. Deming's 14 Points, and you'll see that every Leadership trait described in this book is accounted for in Deming's quality philosophies. 'Write what you want to read' was advice given to the authors, but was it sage advice? The book, 430 pages long, reads like a 50 section fluff piece on people that may not have given them the time of day, but not for being raised to the stature of 50 Best. The first three chapters, which outline the surveying and the structure of the book only show how eager the authors are to make nice with the big boys. They should've discarded the advice, and taken some from the Leaders: 'write what your CUSTOMERS want to read'. Last comment: the Lesson Learned, supposedly a synopsis of what can be gleaned from the Leaders profiles, sums it up with Six Core Principles, strangely without mentioning the most frequently mentioned Leadership mantra 'Please your customer'. With that glaring omission, I can't see how

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