Executive Word -- Execution Starts At The Top

Lawrence A. Bossidy says a CEO's interest in the core processes of people, strategy and operations will equal success.

Lawrence A. Bossidy Former Chairman and CEO (retired June 30, 2002) Honeywell International Inc. Morristown, N.J. Born: March 5, 1935 Education: B.A. in economics, Colgate University. Career Highlights: 1957: Joined General Electric Co. as a trainee. 1984: Became GE vice chairman and executive officer. 1991: Became chairman and CEO of AlliedSignal Inc. 1999: Became chairman of Honeywell International Inc. following merger of AlliedSignal and Honeywell Inc. 2000: Retired from Honeywell. 2001: Returned to Honeywell as chairman and CEO. Family: Wife, Nancy, and nine children. Interests: Golf, including an occasional round with his former GE colleague Jack Welch.

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At the behest of the board of directors, on July 3, 2001, then-recently-retired Honeywell International Inc. chairman Larry Bossidy returned to the $25 billion technology and manufacturing firm as chairman and CEO. Bossidy's self-described assignment, in the wake of Honeywell's scuttled merger with General Electric Co., was "to restore the discipline of execution to a company that had lost it." In "Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done" (2002, Crown Business), a just-published book that he co-authored with management consultant Ram Charan, Bossidy is characteristically blunt about Honeywell and about CEOs who haven't gotten the job done. IndustryWeek Senior Editor John S. McClenahen questioned the always disciplined Bossidy. IW: How do you define execution? Bossidy: One of the things, obviously, is making the numbers. But it's a lot broader thing than that. Whether it's satisfying customers, or introducing new products on time, or having productivity initiatives that are completed on time, [execution] is about organizations that emphasize and pride themselves on being able to get things done. IW: Why, as you claim, is execution the most important job of any business leader? Bossidy: The success of . . . CEOs basically depends on how well they can execute. Businesses don't fail because they have ill-considered plans. Most of them don't. [But] they can't execute those plans. Execution has to start at the top [with a CEO's] intense interest in [the core processes] of people, strategy and operations. You run these processes with enough vigor to make sure that the output from them, once implemented, makes your company better. IW: Why do you as a CEO, for example, spend a lot of time discussing issues with employees and writing letters and personal notes to managers with whom you've done reviews? Bossidy: If I can't get the people thing right, I can't get the rest of it right. I worked laboriously putting together my own strategic plans when I was coming through GE. We'd go up on a day certain and we'd review those strategic plans. And frankly you would not get very much feedback. I [have] always thought that people who make the significant effort are deserving of feedback. So the purposes of the letters are two-fold. First, [the notes are to say] thank you for your efforts and [to say] here are three or four things I think are worthy of your considered attention going forward. And then there may be another letter that summarizes all the agreements that we have reached in a people review, a strategic review or budget review. If I've written something in the letter that you disagree with, you have the right to call up and appeal it. We settle it right there, because the next time I come [to visit you] I'm going to have this letter with me and I expect what's in it to [have been] done. IW: In your reviews, why do you ask about the hows and whys of what managers are doing -- even when logic might suggest someone else should be asking those questions? Bossidy: I have never had high regard for these lofty executives who think that their role is [simply] something with advanced strategic planning. If you can't connect strategic planning with the implementation of that plan, it's worthless. So every time I listen to a strategic plan or a significant operating suggestion I ask, How are you going to do it? What kind of people are you going to be able to muster? What are the financial resources required? What's the timeframe? And what's it going to mean for us once you get it done? Is it going to give us a competitive advantage? Or does it just simply catch us up? E-mail nominations for Executive Word to Editor-in-Chief Patricia Panchak at [email protected].
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