SSA Notebook | April 2012

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1. The Most Essential Skills of Great CEOs

Great CEOs have the capacity to redefine their operations and navigate through rapidly changing economic and technological conditions – but is it too simplistic to say that exceptional leadership only results from financial and technical savvy? According to this Forbes article, the answer is no. The author argues that financial and technical skills, not people skills, are what enable CEOs to steer in response to strategic opportunities, and change course when it’s right to do so. The author references A.G. Lafley’s definition of a CEO’s job: “to interpret external realities for the company,” and points to a few historical examples where financial and technical dimensions have allowed successful leaders to master their role.

2. What Large Companies Can Learn From Start-Ups

“Start-ups shouldn’t exist at all. They exist because of the opportunities that large corporations leave on the table.” This is what Y-Combinator founder Paul Graham told Danielle Casse, president of G100, when he spoke with him a few months ago. Graham led a provocative discussion on what large companies can learn from start-ups at a G100 meeting in New York. Graham is one of the most influential people in the world of start-ups. In Silicon Valley, his name is universally known for launching hundreds of some of the most innovative companies and mentoring the entrepreneurs behind them. This issue of Fast Company includes an article about Graham and how his network of entrepreneurs “operates as a distributed peer-to-peer replacement” for the traditional company.

3. The Next CEO of Microsoft

Here’s a long, insider look at Steve Sinofsky, widely believed to be the next CEO of Microsoft. His demanding operating style is allegedly responsible for Microsoft’s quiet comeback. Yet, like any corporate survivor, he has enemies. This Business Insider report is full of blind quotes and un-sourced criticism: “Steven Sinofsky is known for delivering exactly what he promises, and always on time. He’s also an extremely polarizing figure. Stubborn. Secretive. Dictatorial. Several people we spoke with for this article claim Sinofsky’s influence and personality drove them out of the company. Another former employee called him a ‘cancer.’ Others used much ruder words than that. But even his biggest detractors admit he’s brilliant when it comes to shipping complicated, high-quality software on a regular, predictable schedule. This has earned him the trust and respect of both Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.”

4. Lafley v. Jobs on the Customer

Steve Jobs famously said that customers don’t know what they want. A.G. Lafley and others have argued that understanding customers requires close-up, first-hand observation about the way people live, shop, and use products in their home. Scott Anthony weighs both arguments – and sides with observation, citing this example from P&G: “Lafley himself hit on one of these kinds of insights when he was a young brand manager at P&G. Customers regularly rated the packaging of Tide’s laundry detergent as ‘excellent.’ Then why, Lafley wondered, did he never see a customer open a package by hand, relying instead on scissors or nail files? It turned out that customers didn’t want to risk breaking their nails on the so-called excellent packaging.”

5. For Amazon, One Second Could Cost $1.6 Billion in Sales

Website abandonment occurs for a variety of reasons, but speed is definitely one of them. Recent data from a study looking at the tolerance of slow webpage speeds for the average US web user has demonstrated surprising results. The statistics revealed that Americans have an astoundingly high level of impatience. For example, “1 in 4 people abandon a web page that takes more than four seconds to load.” The implications of this impatience are even more astonishing, and some companies are getting ahead of it.” Amazon calculated that a page load slowdown of just one second could cost it $1.6 billion in sales each year.” In the search field, speed is king, particularly for e-commerce sites. However, ease of navigation, which this article does not mention, likely follows closely behind speed and should not be overlooked.

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