CEO's: Who Has 'It'?

The best executives and designers are those with an indefinable yet vital quality. Getting "it" requires a rare combination. By Harry Bernard

Before these ceo’s present business concepts or organizational ideas to their boards, they examine and research them from the outside in. Then they evaluate the results through the prism of an objective outsider’s point of view based on experience, knowledge of the market and the ceo involved. They’re on a constant lookout for warning signals or alerts regarding competitors, changing market dynamics, trends and opportunities. They demand an objective assessment of concept feasibility, as well as a nonbiased opinion of their key executives’ effectiveness.

Their most important HR decisions are derived from the above.

History is the final arbiter of who gets it and has demonstrated that, for instance, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei and Ben Franklin definitely got it. Their vision and common sense not only changed the way we see our world, but through the media of art, science and politics, they showed us how to adapt and change our lives for the better.

Looking at the world around us, we can point to Richard Branson as the entrepreneur who, among other things, gave us Virgin Airlines, a new way to travel in style without giving away the bank account. Then there are Warren Buffett and his bridge partner, Bill Gates — can we doubt that the two most powerful and wealthy men in America get it? Not because they are so rich and powerful, but because of the way they got there.

More relevant to our industry, let’s think about some of the people who have changed the way we think about buying and selling those things we use in our daily lives. In the world of retailing, no one got it as clearly as Sam Walton. His vision became a reality. And some reality it is — a rural general store offering a one-stop shopping experience has morphed into the world’s largest company and retail enterprise, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. There is no doubt in my mind that Sam Walton has changed the way our industry does business. And with sales of a quarter trillion dollars, Wal-Mart gets it big-time and never stops trying to get it in new ways.

And before we look at some other legendary pioneers in the world of fashion, we should recognize Paul Pressler, ceo of Gap Inc., as today’s retail poster boy for those who get it. He’s not only taken Gap’s merchandise back to basics, but has applied the business basics we described as entrepreneurial common sense to bring the company’s three key brands back to prominence and profitability.

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