CEO Wisdom
    Category: Column By : Andrew Tani Read : 857 Date : Friday, October 17, 2014 - 00:44:40

    Chris, the Etihad purser in his early 30s was pleasingly attentive during my flight back from Amman, Jordan. He served me like a sheik. He noticed and profusely complimented the new Sony Vaio tablet that I was using. All was fine until he said, “I can just imagine how my mother in her old age would feel if like you she gets her hands on one of those!”

    His innocent remark hit me like a ton of ice cream. I reminded him of his mother in her old age! The nerve, I thought. In the airplane mirror I checked out my face. Ho hum... all of fifty-nine years were indeed written on it.

    When I returned to my seat, I reflected on the lessons of generations. First we are children to our parents, then we become parents to our children, after which we become parents to our parents, until finally we become children to our children.

    Where am I in my personal journey? What have I done for my succession? Have I done enough to ensure that the show continue when I’m no longer around? Or will it end when I move on?

    These are what CEOs should ask themselves. If business performance is your only success metric, then you may lose sight of your most valuable legacy: the organization’s sustainability.

    I remember meeting Cheong Choong Kong, former chairman and CEO of Singapore Airlines, in 1991. When asked how his airline was consistently profitable while other airlines weren’t, he replied: “Mr. Tani, if you want to know how we made $1.2 billion in earnings last year and how we will make $2 billion this year, please talk to my president and COO. But if you want to know how we will generate profits five years from now, then I’m the one to tell you. My main responsibility is sustainable performance.” When asked how he delivered on that responsibility, he explained, “I have two senior HR managers who report directly to me. Every year we hire the best graduates for our management trainee program. From that batch, we choose one or two of the best. I personally design their careers and nurture their growth. This way, Singapore Airlines will never run out of future leaders.”

    I was impressed. My book, “Get Real” describes CEO types. Type I CEOs wear the CEO and COO hats, and have the trader’s mentality—results-driven, process-forgotten. Some become Type II CEOs, with an industrialist’s mentality—process-driven, results-oriented. Process-attentive CEOs can delegate operational responsibility to a COO. Some grow into the Type III visionary CEOs like Cheong—vision-driven, sustainability-oriented.

    Over half of your staff are Gen Y, aged between 25 and 35 years. The rest are Gen X and a few Baby Boomers. And what about your customers? What are you doing to manage the generation shift? Be sustainability-oriented, and heed the lesson of the generations. Always.