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7 habits of highly effective tech company CEOs

Rob Enderle | April 8, 2013
There's no CEO 101 course that outlines the best way to run a tech company. But the legacies of Jobs, Watson, Gerstner and Gates--combined with the current work of Whitman and Rometty--offer seven lessons for the corporate leaders of tomorrow.

No company is all good or all bad. Even a troubled company can have enough assets that, if they are emphasized and the problems are downplayed, it can appear more valuable and its products more attractive. Most CEOs don't really understand the power of perception. Carol Bartz struggled with this at Yahoo, and she lasted less than three years there.

At the other extreme, CEOs can venture too far from reality and simply destroy the company's credibility. (Then again, this can work. Look at P.T. Barnum, who created an empire by getting people to believe in the impossible.)

3. Never Underestimate the Power of Intelligence

This goes back to Sun Tzu, who argued that intelligence was the general's most important resource. EMC's Joe Tucci stands out as the one CEO who seems to understand the importance of intelligence. EMC's efforts to use data analytics to analyze its customers, its partners' customers and even its competitors' customers stand out in an industry of cobbler's children when it comes to actually using the products that technology companies build to their own internal advantage.

All too often these days, you see CEOs surrounded by people telling them what they want to hear. Given how common confirmation bias is, that's deadly. John Akers, the only IBM CEO ever fired, was the poster child for this problem. While it wasn't really his fault, the practice of protecting the CEO from bad information almost killed the company.

If you don't know what's really going on with your employees, customers, competitors or market, it isn't a question of if you will fail. It's only a question of when.

4. Communicate a Clear Vision

Bill Gates stands out among recent CEOs for his impact regarding vision. He clearly wasn't always right, but when Microsoft almost missed the Internet, his personal efforts got the company on track-and Netscape, the firm that almost displaced Microsoft, is now a distant memory. Netscape's Jim Barksdale wasn't a technology visionary. All he could seem to imagine was how to make a bad clone of Microsoft. In the end, that wasn't a great strategy.

Having a vision that customers, employees and investors can understand is as critical to success as a navigator is to a ship traveling long distances. If you dont know where you're going, you absolutely won't get there-except by accident. Basing the success of your company on a fortunate accident is rarely a best practice. Someone has to have a vision. If that's lacking, the company will flounder.

5. Think Strategically About the Future

Companies are expected to last forever. IBM was one of the very few tech companies designed to measure its life in centuries. In recent times, Michael Dell stands out-first by making acquisitions that positioned his company against a strategic future, then through his efforts to take Dell private so it could be reformed around his view of where the world will be in the next decade.


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