Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:32 pm
The Executive Committee (TEC) speaker Walt Sutton has spent the last 50 years as either a chief executive officer or a consultant to other CEOs.
He’s a guy with a very soothing, reassuring demeanor. He doesn’t carry a big stick, but when he speaks, you can hear a pencil drop in the meeting room (yes, some of us still use pencils). So this month, let’s hear from Walt.
He has nine keys for CEOs-kind of the bottom line on how to really distinguish yourself in this very lonely arena.
I have to be candid here. I’ve done a good job over the past 14 years as CEO of TEC in some of the areas he mentions. I’ve not done as well in some of the other areas. Our TEC staff and chairmen (about 40 professionals) would attest to this, I’m sure.
Here’s how it works. Give yourself a score on a point range from 1 (poor) to 10 (outstanding). I’ll share my own score along the way. I promise to be honest if you do too.
Tip #1: Survive.
We’ve all heard the story that most business start-ups disappear within the first five years. Why do the others survive? Because the owner, the chief visionary and architect of the concept doesn’t give up.
When Bob Nourse started TEC in 1957, he was building a business that his advisers said had insurmountable odds of succeeding. They warned that he, too, had some major personal obstacles such as his age, 57, and the fact that he had already failed as the CEO of a family business.
I was given the same advice by another group of advisers in 1973. They said that at age 30, I was too young and had no business experience. Neither one of us ever even thought about giving up. I give myself a 10 on this one. How about you?
Tip #2: Make the deals.
Walt believes that businesses are, for the most part, a bunch of successive deals, successive negotiations and successively smart compromises. The CEO’s job is to accept give-and-take to work for win-win and to stay above the fray of it all. It’s hard. Losing your cool is so easy. Actually, when we lose it, we’ve lost it for others around us as well. I give myself a 6 on this one. How about you?
Tip #3: Find and navigate the river of cash.
It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? In a recent column, I went into detail about how to do this, so I won’t belabor the point. A business runs out of cash for several reasons. It over-commits to its markets at cost points that can’t be justified. It builds for tomorrow, and tomorrow never happens. Its ownership bleeds its cash resources at the expense of the business. These are the major ones. I give myself an 8 with respect to cash management. How about you?
Tip #4: Bear debt and allocate profit. Regardless of whether the CEO owns the company or not, it’s critical that he or she personally feels responsible for the company’s debt as well as the proper allocation of its profits. To treat either as a balance sheet or income statement entry only is an abrogation of responsibility. I think I’m a 10 on this one. How about you?
Tip #5: Know the secret of your business and use it.
Every sound business has a secret. The question is, how is the secret deployed to make the business successful? If you haven’t done so, sit in a quiet corner somewhere and contemplate your secret of success. Then check out how well you are acting on it. In TEC, I know my TEC chairmen are my secret. Again, I’ll say it’s a 10. How about you?
Tip #6: Apply the rule of entrepreneurs and managers.
The trick as a CEO is to stay the entrepreneur but surround yourself with excellent managers. It is the CEO entrepreneur who expands and transforms the business, often at high risk. I don’t rate high here, but I have great managers. So I’ll say a 5 for me. How about you?
Tip #7: Build a society and define the seasons.
Translated, be the culture-setter as CEO. Don’t delegate it. Be the king or queen of the village with sound social structure, operating rules and seasonal definition (all businesses have a seasonal flux, and most CEOs know it like the back of their hands). Keeping the culture intact as the seasons change is a real challenge. I think I’m a 7 here. How about you?
Tip #8: Acquire and exercise vision.
This is the CEO’s main job at a higher order than his or her job description. Some would say the CEO needs a vision of perpetuation and change. I agree with that. I’m OK on the first count and lacking on the second. Hence a 5 on this one. How about you?
Tip #9: Live a life-mind, body, heart and spirit.
Do an inventory. The question is, where are you short? The older we get, it seems that the life part requires more attention than the work part. I struggle with this, and for that reason give myself a 6. How about you?
That’s it. My scores add up to 67 out of 90, or 74 percent. Walt says really top CEOs score 80 percent or higher, as rated by their subordinates. So I’ve got some work to do. How about you? Until next month, good luck "score carding" your performance as CEO.
Harry S. Dennis III is the president of TEC (The Executive Committee) in Wisconsin and Michigan. TEC is a professional development group for CEOs, presidents and business owners. He can be reached at (262) 831-3340.
October 1, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI