CEO Camp's valuable lessons

Dec. 21, 2004

Every year teachers ask kids to write essays about summer camp -- what they discovered and how they'll greet the world differently as a result of their experiences. In that spirit, then, here's what I learned at CEO Camp, otherwise known as IndustryWeek's Executive Summit and Best-Managed Companies Awards Program, held Feb. 1-3 at Turnberry Isle Resort & Club in Florida:

  • One of the most important roles a CEO performs for his organization is not to attract customers, but to fire them. Specifically, CEOs must be ruthless in identifying and eliminating those clients whose incessant demands or differing objectives (i.e., they believe that their revenues are far more important than yours) make them profit killers. Making sure that a company is focused only on profitable market niches -- and that his or her company has the information technology and analytical rigor to do customer-based P&L statements -- is any CEO's most important financial function. How many customers will you fire this year?
  • A CEO's most important weapons in pushing his or her company forward are trust and passion. Trust in particular is a two-way street: First, a CEO must hire the best leaders he or she can find and then trust them to run their business units with little supervision. At the same time, the CEO must demonstrate both to employees and to external constituencies -- directors, customers, community leaders, Wall Street analysts -- that he or she is worthy of trust and that talk about values and culture and empowerment still means something when the going gets rough. Passion is an asset that too few CEOs possess. Yet fundamental change, whether in market focus or organizational culture, demands that a CEO be engaged in a kind of continuous communication and cheerleading that only true passion -- for your employees, for your company, for your industry, for an ideal -- can sustain. Do you trust your key staff? Do they trust you? More importantly, where does your passion lie? Is it where it should be, or is it time you were doing something else?
  • CEOs of manufacturing companies must transform their companies from being producers of goods to being providers of information to their customers. In effect, CEOs of manufacturing concerns must turn their companies into consulting firms that help their customers make more money -- but which get paid not with consulting fees, but by the purchase of products that support that good advice. And because just-in-time production environments make for nervous customers (Will my shipment arrive as scheduled? Will I have to shut down my line?), information about your production process, provided in a timely fashion, is now almost as valuable as your product. How have you reorganized your company to provide consulting value to your customers? How have you implemented information technology to connect with customers in a way that allows them to manage their business more effectively?
And what will you learn in your own CEO camp this year? Send e-mail messages to John Brandt at [email protected]

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