Purpose, CEOs and good buys

Appearing in In The Black magazine, October 2017


Dear CEO

By Thinkers50 Group (Compiled by Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove)

Bloomsbury, $30, 240 pages ISBN 9781472950680

Dear CEOOne might often wonder why anyone would want to take on the difficult, demanding role of CEO of a major company. The good news is that the fifty essays presented here, as letters from key thinkers in management and leadership, offer both philosophical guidance and practical advice.

Julian Birkinshaw and Jonas Ridderstråle see ‘analysis paralysis’ as a central obstacle, and they underline the point that the CEO job is about making decisions and seeing them through. In a similar vein, Sangeet Paul Choudary argues that digital transformation requires the restructuring of business models from resource-driven to user-centric. It will require new metrics as well as changes to governance structures. But it is coming, ready or not.

Human resources has emerged as a key issue for CEOs. Christie Arscott and Lauren Noël look at how companies can attract, retain and advance women, especially millennial women. Early targeting and tailored training are crucial, but the right mindset is also needed.

Tom Peters agrees that investment in people is essential. Go for the best people, he says, and go for the best in yourself as well.

Indeed, if there is an overarching theme in this collection it is about self-knowledge. It is easy to think, once you are in the big chair, that you know everything. Wrong, say several contributors. Listen to those around you, especially those with different backgrounds and perspectives. You’ve just started to learn.


Psyched Up

By Daniel McGinn

Portfolio, $30, 281 pages, ISBN 9780241310526

In terms of fear, many people rate public speaking in the same category as falling from a great height. Understandable but unnecessary, says McGinn, who has a wealth of tips on overcoming anxiety, especially in the business context. He looks at the pre-performance rituals of athletes and entertainers, uncovering a variety of techniques from the coach’s speech to support from colleagues. He acknowledges that some ‘centring’ rituals do not seem to have much logic but he notes that confidence is a feeling more than an intellectual process.

He is willing to examine the techniques he has developed for himself, such as reviewing a project of which he was proud or a goal he achieved, before plunging into a high-stakes task (this is especially good for job interviews). Some people work better in a busy environment, and like to have music in the background; those who are more introverted prefer to focus themselves in silence. The idea is to find what works for you, although McGinn interviews psychologists and marketers to indentify the underlying principles.

But he emphasises that boosted confidence is a supplement to, not a replacement for, professional competence. Getting that promotion, giving that speech, or winning that contract requires the ability to do the job better than anyone else. This book, however, is useful in showing how to communicate competence rather than jitters.


Top Stocks 2017

By Martin Roth

Wiley, $28, 256 pages, ISBN 9780730330134

Top StocksThis is the 23rd edition in the Top Stocks series, which surely must qualify for some sort of award. Roth emphasises consistency, analysing ASX-listed companies according to strict criteria over several years, with the study of each company complemented by a useful series of comparative lists and tables.

The key message for the past year has been that investors cannot look merely at sectors but have to delve into the statistics of individual companies. In terms of market capitalisation and after-tax profits the big four banks dominate but the best performers for return on equity are the much smaller Vita Group and Blackmores. The big players in the resources sector are handing in unspectacular but solid results, especially Fortescue Metals. Some of the best investments have been with mid-sized companies, and Roth cites some rising stars in the technology and healthcare sectors. Overall, it has been a pretty good period, with 72 of the companies in the book reporting higher profits, and 47 of those reporting double-digit profit growth. This strength has not always been apparent in a market tossed around by international events and political instability but bodes well for the future.

For investors and financial advisers this series is a crucial asset, and this edition is no exception. Think of it as a way to go beyond the headlines to understand what is really important.


Why Purpose Matters

By Nicholas Barnett and Rodney Howard

Major Street Publishing, $35, 240 pages, ISBN 9780994545268

For an increasing number of organisations, making profits is not enough. But finding a larger purpose is a difficult process. Barnett and Howard provide a useful guide, dividing the book into three parts. The first is an extended business fable about a company seeking to find its purpose. The second is a ‘how-to’ guide, and the third is a series of case studies, ranging from IOOF to the Geelong Football Club. The authors make clear that establishing and embedding purpose is by no means easy, and it has to be undertaken over a timeline of years, not months. The CEO has to be the clear sponsor but any attempt to impose purpose from above will fail. It needs to grow from the values of the employees, officers, and key stakeholders, and most of all there must be a genuine desire to make a social difference.

The fable explains the likely pitfalls as well as the benefits but it is the guide that provides the real value, walking through the steps of commitment, discovery, engagement and embedding. Incorporating purpose into the organisation can mean structural shifts as well as new methods of measurement, but the long-term advantages of improved productivity, employee retention and, most of all, making the world a better place, are worth the effort.


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