Back in November, Harvard Business Review unveiled its list of the world's best-performing CEOs using a new methodology that no longer relies solely on financial metrics but also takes into account the company's engagement with social and environmental issues, leading to the "triple bottom line" (you can read more about TBL in this Economist article from 2009). For the first time, HBR also included CEOs who began their tenure prior to 1995 - they had previously been removed due to the unavailability of a key metric used in the ranking. I was surprised to learn that "about one-quarter of this year's top 100 started the job before then". I suppose we hear more about those who burn out and are forced out, which gives the impression that most CEOs have a short tenure, but the average tenure now is 9.7 years. I do believe that staying in the top job for two decades requires unusual energy and health management, and I hope that HBR will write an article some day about the systems and processes they have in place to operate at their best.
Back to the list: the use of social and environmental considerations kicked Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com out of the first spot, and anointed in his place Lars Rebien Sorensen, CEO of pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk. Sorensen was also the focus of an extended interview with HBR, in which his take on his job came across as particularly refreshing. Sorensen himself recognizes the importance of his Nordic background in guiding his actions, and the role that six years in the US when he was younger have played in shaping his leadership.
I enjoyed his perspective on diversification, especially the example he gave of his company, which manufactures drugs to treat diabetes, when it was pushed to diversify into the adjacent market of glucose monitoring: it seemed like a good idea on paper, but everything was different, from the technology to the regulatory environment. He also discussed the company's geography-dependent pricing (with a strategy based on both generic and differentiated products) and the way his modest, down-to-earth attitude helps him lead his employees.
Another interview I liked was that of Analysis Group's CEO Martha Samuelson (married to the son of Nobel-Prize winner Paul Samuelson), who describes her approach on managing with soft metrics. She argues that "saying 'you can't manage what you don't measure' ignores how much you end up changing people's behavior when you measure it too closely" ("formula-based, data-driven pay systems also fail to incentivize people to engage in softer activities, such as mentoring and recruiting") and advocates instead for a "black-box system that depends on extensive discussion of soft metrics and what seems fair."
Finally, that issue's "Life's work" featured the great choreographer Bill T. Jones. I love his work and I enjoyed hearing him speak with Theaster Gates at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston a few months ago. In the interview, I was most impressed by how aware he is of his personality flaws, with comments such as "Considering how volatile and confrontational I can be, it's a wonder there's this crops of talented people around me." I liked this quote because leadership books often give the feeling that tough conversations won't have to happen if you're a good leader (you may have difficult ones but you'll change everyone's mind eventually), and Bill T. Jones reminds us that leaders can be flawed too. Behind the bravado, Jones also lets us see a man who owns up to his doubts and insecurities, for instance when he first states in the interview that he's depressive. And here is his answer to the question of how he finds talent: "Which one [applicant at a casting call] can you not stop looking at? Not because she's the best but because she has a hunger for the material and shows you something in it."