CEOs of Tomorrow

Posted by: Matthew Boyle on May 1, 2009

In compiling our list of the 25 CEOs of Tomorrow, we spoke with dozens of academics, headhunters, CEOs, directors, and management gurus about what qualities will define those who take corner office jobs in the years ahead, and how the current recession will impact their approach to business strategy and leadership. We got some great opinions.

First off, our experts all agreed that the CEO of tomorrow will have to view the federal government as a partner, rather than simply a customer – or an antagonist. (Fittingly, Harvard Business School plans to revive a class it last offered in the late 1970s on managing in a regulated environment.) In such an environment, a legal background is a plus – Pfizer’s CEO Jeffrey Kindler was formerly the drug giant’s top lawyer, and the No. 2 executives at both Bank of America and Merck are both former general counsels.

Regardless of background, tomorrow’s chiefs will be more accessible – and not just to shareholders, but to employees, customers, even activists – increasingly tech-savvy, more aware of risk, quicker with decisions and, of particular importance today’s uncertain world, comfortable with the fact that CEOs no longer have all the answers. “They have to give up the premise that the world is predictable and move into the reality that the world is full of ambiguity and will continue to be that way,” says Joan Caruso, an executive coach with the Ayers Group in New York who works with big banks like Goldman Sachs. “It requires a different way of leading.”

Here are some other astute comments:

Randy McDonald
Senior VP, Human Resources, IBM
Power will no longer be the characteristic that a lot of leaders want to have. They want to convert that power into influence. There is a difference: Power can be dictatorial, while influence is collaborative.

Betsy Atkins
CEO, Clear Standards; Director, Polycom, Chico's FAS, Reynolds American, and SunPower Corp.
The CEO of tomorrow needs to see the federal government as partners and collaborators, not just customers or obstacles. Also, you cannot be an effective CEO if you are not a deep listener who can absorb what is said and more important, what is not said.

Robert Knowling
CEO, Telwares; Former CEO, NYC Leadership Academy, Covad Communications
I think the next wave of CEOs will be real adept at understanding what levers you pull in advance of downswings to take advantage of the growth spurt that comes later. Everybody is looking at this downturn and saying, "Woe is me," but smart executives are spending hours figuring out how to get all the benefits for their company when things improve.

Rakesh Khurana
Professor, Harvard Business School
The CEO of tomorrow will have a strong set of persuasion and diplomacy skills, and the ability to appeal to something other than shareholder maximization. I don’t think many of today’s CEOs can do this. It requires the next generation.

Jeff Sonnenfeld
Founder, Chief Executive Leadership Institute
CEOs in the past were reliant on their staff to brief them and run cover for them. This Baby Boomer generation was weirdly and sadly overprotected. Before, it was unusual to not catch a CEO on the phone. Today that’s impossible. The next-generation CEOs will shed that staff, as they resent how bureaucratic their bosses became.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter
Professor, Harvard Business School
The CEO of tomorrow will be much more informal and accessible. They will answer their own email and do their own blog.

Melanie Kusin
Vice chairman, Heidrick & Struggles
It’s not the loudest shouter in the room anymore. It’s the one who is so true and so transparent that everyone in the room trusts them instantly.

Reader Comments

Holly Garfield

May 5, 2009 1:11 PM

The recent past had business resenting government regulation. We asked for smaller government, we got it. We got all sorts of companies juggling, hiding, scamming, etc., etc. Government, when properly done, prevents the snake oil salesmen from getting into legitimate business. It prevents critical industries from taking on systemic risk. It prevents the Bernie Madoffs from hiding for as long as he did. It has the rules to keep things honest and above board. It has the resources to enforce those rules. It is not small. The doors to our current downfall were ALL opened through deregulation. And, sure enough, humans flowed throught those opened doors, to their own interest, as humans are inclined to do. One of the keys to good regulation is that it aligns the interest of the individual with the interest of the group. We need regulation that reasserts that interest alignment. And the new CEO needs to be a key player in the process. It is in the interest of the good companies, and good CEOs, to keep the weak, the self-centered, the outright dishonest out of power. And that is a role for government and regulation.

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