CEOs, blockchain, and focus

Appearing in In The Black magazine, March 2022

Decoding CEO-Speak
By Russell Craig and Joel Amernic
University of Toronto Press

There is little dispute that the CEO of a corporate sets the tone for the company but the actual mechanism is not always clear. Craig and Amernic focus on the language used, with a close reading of CEO statements and speeches, and a series of demonstrative case studies. Language can be used to lead a company in a positive way but when unbalanced it can also have a negative impact. The metaphor of business as an ongoing war which must be won at all costs can encourage actions which are ethically dubious, especially in the tech and media sectors. An emphasis on cost-cutting can lead to reductions in safety and environmental standards.

Craig and Amernic provide lists of words, phrases and themes to watch for. Some CEO language is about self-aggrandisement, although this usually slips into blame-shifting when things go bad. A CEO who offers personal vignettes is usually going to ask employees for ‘sacrifices’, and one who uses technical accounting terms is likely to be hiding underperformance or other problems.

This is useful information for financial analysts, shareholders and regulators. The book does not offer any solutions but it provides a means to determine what is really being said.

Blockchain and Banking: How Technological Innovations Are Shaping the Banking Industry
By Pierluigi Martino

Blockchain technology is being slowly adopted across the business landscape but so far, according to academic Martino, the banking sector has been wary of it. In one way, blockchain represents an existential threat, as it has the potential to directly link lenders and borrowers. Disintermediation has long been a worry for banks, and the breadth and security of blockchain could turn it into a painful reality. But blockchain also raises the possibility of drawing more customers into an increased level of financial activity and expanding the range of services on offer. This would require the banks to establish and take responsibility for customised blockchain systems, and to communicate their new role to existing and potential customers. So far, says Martino, this has happened in only a few cases.

A key obstacle is the cryptocurrency connection, something which raises interoperability and regulatory issues. Martino proposes several ways to incorporate blockchain into traditional banking operations but he admits that it requires a new business model as well as a different mindset. But, he points out, blockchain and other fintech innovations will eventually come anyway, so the question is really whether the banking sector will ride the wave or be swamped by it.

Focus: How to Plan Strategy and Improve Execution to Achieve Growth
By Vikas Mittal and Shrihari Sridhar

Many business plans look wonderful on paper. The problem is that they fail in their first encounter with the real world. Mittal and Sridhar are interested in finding out why, and in this useful book they examine the issue from several perspectives. They begin with a questionnaire for CEOs about their strategy planning process as a means of identifying strengths and weaknesses, and then examine a number of pathways to improve the development and implementation of plans.

Too often, they say, planning is focused inwardly rather then being driven by customers, with a disjunction between operations and profitability. This usually requires a reconsideration of the metrics needed. Many CEOs complain that much of the information provided to them is not relevant to planning. Therefore, the process has to reach down into the middle and lower levels of the company for important data. Significantly, greater involvement across the company can improve execution, which is a major benefit.

While there is place for aspirational goals in plans there also needs to be quantifiable objectives and firm timelines. Mittal and Sridhar demonstrate their points with relevant case studies, and the result is a package that provides assistance in a difficult, but essential, area.

Downloadable Resources


The changes seen in workplaces and management over the COVID-19 era will have profound long-term consequences, but according to the Future of Work report from PwC Australia many companies have not yet come to grips with the issues. The report includes a Future of Work Maturity Radar, a tool that allows leaders to assess the readiness of their company and develop solutions. The report is structured across four dimensions: work type, workforce composition and capabilities, workplace and the experience of work. There is also a link to a series of podcast discussions on how to optimise the transition under way.

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Digital currencies

Noel Quinn is Group Chief Executive of banking giant HSBC, so it his job to think about the future of finance. In this essay he discusses an emerging form of digital funds known as Central Bank Digital Currencies. These are legal tender backed by a government authority, avoiding many of the issues associated with cryptocurrencies. Quinn sees great potential but he accepts that there are risks that must be mitigated. He believes that a collaboration between government agencies and private banks would be the best way to go. Important views from someone who can speak with authority about the subject.

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As a consultant specialising in leadership and communication, Gabrielle Dolan brings a great deal of experience to bear. In this podcast series she interviews a range of leaders, mainly but not exclusively from business. Most of the interviews are about forty minutes, giving Dolan the opportunity to explore issues in depth, and she usually focuses on how the interviewee met particular challenges. In a recent interview, for example, she spoke to Anne Sullivan, national and regional head of retailer Georg Jensen. The discussion looked at how to lead an organisation in times of pandemic stress and plan for eventual recovery.

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Wealth report             

An important study from consulting giant McKinsey, The Rise of the Global Balance Sheet, assesses the world economy since 2000. The good news is that net worth has tripled. The bad news is that it largely comes from asset revaluation, with real estate alone now accounting for about two-thirds of global net worth. That is, funds are not being effectively used to improve productivity, and debt is detracting from real growth. The report looks at areas where productivity gains are potentially available and posits that a new investment paradigm is emerging. A video summary by the author is also available.

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The rapid growth in global wealth | McKinsey


Meetings can be useful but they can also be the root of wasted time, low productivity and executive exhaustion. In this short TED Talk, thought leader Cindy Solomon provides some helpful hints. Only invite people who are directly relevant to the task. Ensure that the invitation is framed with a purpose statement in active terms. Set a specific length and stick to it: 30-40 minutes is best. Be willing to decline invitations to a meeting if you cannot see a way to add value. Finally, consider whether a meeting is really necessary. Your time is valuable, so spend it wisely.

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