The following 7 rules apply to public companies across a variety of industries – particularly to Enterprise Software, FinTech and Information Services companies. 1.) Make Your Numbers 2.) Regular, Transparent Investor Communication 3.) Drive Expanding Operating/EBITDA Margins 4.) Don’t Stockpile Cash 5.) Control Waste 6.) Use Debt as a Tax Shield 7.) Board Composition –…
Personality Analytics Holds the Key as to Why Apple Was More Innovative Under Steve Jobs than Tim Cook
Apple has lost its creative mojo under Tim Cook. Incremental product enhancements have become the norm, replacing a time when revolutionary new products, space age design and landmark advertising was the standard. What changed? Look no further than the CEO chair. Apple founder, CEO and creative genius Steve Jobs prematurely passed away in October 2011. Jobs’ hand-picked successor, Tim Cook, is by experience an operator with a background steeped in supply chain experience. Cook could not be more different from Jobs from a personality standpoint (see our table below).
The importance of assessing a CEO’s personality when conducting a CEO selection process (corporate boards, executive recruiters), or investment due diligence process can not be overstated. This is especially true of industry verticals marked by rapid change where the cost of having an ineffective CEO can be extremely high. It is not so rare to find a situation where a CEO, Board and institutional investor base were slow to realize that a given company’s customers were migrating elsewhere due to product obsolescence or other factors that ought to have been recognized. Few participants want to acknowledge this type of deterioration early or mid-cycle and only do so when it’s too late.
CEOs that create “adaptable” corporate cultures are less likely to lead companies that suffer irreparable declines due to product under-investment or other negligent factors. Adaptable cultures are less likely to be caught off guard and instead lead market change.
Corporate cultures are often an extension of the CEO’s personality. Yes, CEOs influence culture and corporate strategy even in mega-cap companies. Look no further than Microsoft (MSFT) during Steve Ballmer’s tenure as compared to Satya Nadella‘s time as CEO. MSFT’s product & services strategy is dramatically different as is the firm’s approach to competing and partnering with other technology companies.
We highly value the personality trait “openness” in large part because of its relationship to adaptable cultures. Steve Jobs and Tim Cook score similarly on the openness scale – 92nd percentile and 94th percentile respectively. However, looking at the personality sub-traits under openness, Jobs scores far higher than Cook in the two most creative personality sub-traits: “artistic interests” and “imagination”.
Given that Cook lags in these areas, one would need to get comfortable with the idea that a non-creative personality like his (32nd percentile and 14th percentile as detailed below) is capable of generating massive creative output from Apple’s 120,000-plus employees. This is asking too much of Tim Cook in our view. What doesn’t come naturally doesn’t come easily and may not come at all.
Our May 2018 CEO personality analytics research piece may be found here: Personality Analytics: Technology CEOs Analyzed
Our recent podcast on the subject:
1.) Be Bold:
- Similar to VCs, public investors want to invest in a bold vision. (See Tesla). Why does TSLA enjoy a premium valuation to other Auto OEMs? Answer: Musk’s vision and spin.
2.) Don’t Be Bullied by Investors – Dictate Your Story:
- Tell the Street you plan to take margins down temporarily to pursue “X” initiative. Investors will cut you slack so long as you explain the rationale, the execution and the intended outcome.
3.) Balance Execution Today with Investment for Tomorrow:
- Don’t fall into the short-term EPS growth trap at the expense of new product development, keeping your products fresh and building a culture of innovation.
- If you pursue the short-term – investors will love you in the short-term (fleeting). The key is to build long-term value over years and decades (see AMZN, CSGP and SSNC as examples of the latter).
It is true. Your CEO’s personality influences his/her ability to scale (among other things). It may seem self-evident. One’s intuition may suggest such a relationship between personality traits and workplace effectiveness. Well, it is more than a hunch. Published research demonstrates a relationship between CEO personality traits and company performance. Gow, Kaplan, Larcker and Zakolyukina…
We have been critical of Xerox’s (tkr: XRX) senior leadership since 2012 when I wrote a letter to former Xerox CEO Ursula Burns advocating a strategic M&A plan (read my letter here). We agree with Messrs. Icahn and Deason that XRX put itself up for sale. Listen to our recent CEORater Podcast on the subject: Ep. 114: We’ve Been On The Xerox Case Since 2012
BlackRock (tkr: BLK) is going “activist” within the passive investment (i.e. index funds) side of their house. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the approach (we don’t entirely agree with the social activist element nor the activist approach to passive funds) there is great merit to the idea of holding public company management teams and Boards accountable from a strategic, tactical, operational and general Corporate Governance standpoint.
Additionally, both institutional investors and company management teams need to do a better job of engaging one another. BlackRock’s Corporate Governance effort should be a catalyst to kick start a more substantive and frequent dialogue between institutional investors and public company management teams. For that, we applaud BlackRock.
We share our perspective on this matter in CEORater Podcast episode 111:
Further, here is Larry Fink’s open letter to CEOs and Boards: Read Here.
We Have Entered an Unprecedented Era of Shareholder Tolerance It is interesting that corporate boards and institutional investors are willing to tolerate “Distracted CEOs” and founder CEOs who wish to exercise outsized control of the companies they founded. Both are examples of poor corporate governance. Our definition of a Distracted CEO is the CEO that…
GE CEO John Flannery has his work cut out starting with re-vamping GE’s Board. Our advice? 100% of GE’s BoD members should have experience within the industry verticals GE cares about. Equally important – GE BoD members should consist of a mix of Insiders and Outsiders with the weighting in favor of Insiders. More detail in CEORater Podcast Episode 81:
The Three “I”s for Selecting Board Members:
1.) Intellectual Curiosity
2.) Industry Experience
IBM lacks Board members that have Software industry experience other than CEO Ginni Rometty. We recommend that IBM turn over its Board and replace BoD members with new members who have significant Software industry experience given that Software – particularly a strategic M&A plan focused on Software/SaaS/AI/ML/Info Services acquisitions – is likely what will lead IBM out of its malaise. If IBM does not address its BoD and Executive shortcomings proactively it is probable that an Activist investor will make changes for IBM – with or without the latter’s consent. Click HERE for our CEORater Podcast episode concerning the 3 “I”s.
What is the most important factor in identifying companies that will be successful over time? Answer: the senior leadership team.
Quality leaders should be offended when they are referred to as “managers”. Effective senior leadership teams don’t “manage” – they “lead”.
Quality senior leadership teams have a greater influence on a given company’s success (however you want to define it) than any other one variable.
End market you say? Quality teams will capitalize on strong end-markets and have the courage to exit weak end-markets even when it may be politically difficult to do so.
Quality teams set the culture. Quality teams insist on hiring quality people and won’t sacrifice quality to satisfy a growth expectation.
Quality teams will push back on board members who have overly aggressive growth expectations that may jeopardize the company’s foundational core.
Quality leadership teams will pursue new, exciting product initiatives that have promise – even when data points and milestones are few during the early days of that product’s life cycle. Even when doing so may mean cannibalizing the core and pissing off investors.