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CEO Legacies: A.G. Lafley Vs. Bob Nardelli

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on June 9, 2009

Nothing illustrates why US companies have found it so hard to innovate than the strikingiy different legacies left behind by two giants in the world of CEO-dom, A.G. Lafley, who is stepping down as CEO of Procter & Gamble and Robert Nardelli, who is leaving (left?) Chrysler. Lafley is leaving a company he transformed using cutting edge design and innovation methods while Nardelli left two companies—Home Depot and Chrysler in tatters by focussing on conventional numbers games and efficiencies.

Lafley opened up P&G to new networks of innovation, tools of empathy and synergies between silos. Nardelli repeated what he learned at General Electric, applying worn-out mathematical measurements inside two companies based on cultures of service and consumer understanding.

Over the years, I’ve talked with Lafley several times and was always struck with how “designy” his thinking is. He has a quintessential “integrative thinking” mind, as Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management, puts it in his book, The Opposable Mind. In it, Roger

describes the characteristics of Lafley's ability to be innovative. "Spontaneity, experimentation, flexibility and openness aren't terribly rate qualities in of themselves. But it is the mark of an integrative thinker to nruture those markers of originality while at the same time deepening mastery, whose markets--organization, planning, focus, and repetition--are originality's seeming opposite. From his first days as a manager, Lafley was consciously accumulating experiences that strengthened both his capabilities--originality AND mastery, not the one at the expense of the other."

Even with those abilities, Lafley believes that the job of changing P&G's culture from conventional to innovative is only 10% accomplished--at best. Building an innovative culture in old-style, big organizations takes a generation, eve with the best of leadership. Corporations in the US especially, have not had Lafley-like CEOs and its one of the basic reasons why it is in in economic and geo-political decline.

Reader Comments

John Evan Frook

June 11, 2009 1:18 AM

I feel buoyed by this ``good bit of journalism.'' Well done, Mr. Bruce Nussbaum. The reason fewer of these kind of articles are done anywhere else other than BusinessWeek is because it takes institutional backbone, and a tough writer/reporter to wrap up the efforts of a CEO, let alone two.

Evelyn Guzman

June 11, 2009 1:53 PM

This article has given us something to ponder on so we can emulate the qualities of a good business leader. Lafley has certainly used that and probably is not an egomaniac either. He was there to work and work well and so left a company that is better than when he found it.

Evelyn Guzman (If you want to visit, just click but if it doesn’t work, copy and paste it onto your browser.)

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February 15, 2011 4:54 PM

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April 7, 2011 2:44 PM

I truly appreciate you taking the time to post this. I really liked reading it and am looking forward to more posts from you! Keep ‘em coming.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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