The Hindu Business Line : Lessons for today’s CEO from Barack Obama Page 1 of 3
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Wednesday, Feb 04, 2009
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News Update Lessons for today’s CEO from Barack Obama
Front Page The current global economic turmoil is forcing many organisations to do some introspection, and
Corporate draw up their own strategic change maps. If we look at the critical role of the CEO in implementing
Markets such initiatives, there are several operating principles in Mr Obama’s election playbook that are worth
Info-Tech emulating, says ACHAL RAGHAVAN.
Commodities Almost all organisations go through turbulent periods, during which their core capabilities are severely
Industry & tested. The turbulence may be caused by factors such as significant events in the market-place,
Economy economic upheavals, dramatic inflection points in the technologies that drive the business, sharp
Logistics changes in customers’ needs, game-changing strategies implemented by a competitor, leadership
Government upheavals within the organisation itself, and so on.
Columns These periods can be called “defining moments” in a company’s history — when the strategies and
States actions of the CEO, and the manner in which the organisation aligns itself to the change strategies,
Web Extras determine whether it can weather the turbulence and continue on its growth path.
Archives CEOs under pressure
Features This is a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty and governments are trying to co-ordinate the
timing of various financial strategies, to maximise their beneficial impact worldwide. “Bailout” has
suddenly become the buzzword in business dailies.
eWorld The US economy is officially in recession, with negative consequences for countries as diverse as
Brand Line India (primarily in the case of its IT services industry) and China (for its manufactured exports).
Mentor Europe and Japan have slowed down significantly. Falling oil prices in recent months have impacted
Life Russia’s revenues, which are heavily dependent on oil and gas exports.
The New Overall, popular wisdom has it that the global economy will get worse in 2009 before it gets better in
Manager 2010 at the earliest. The current period could well qualify as a “defining moment” for many
BL Club organisations, large and small, worldwide. On a much larger scale, it could also prove to be a defining
Smartbuy moment for many countries and their governments.
Markets are shrinking, customers are cutting back, shareholders are nervous, and CEOs are under
Stocks pressure to “do something different” to keep companies afloat. “This is the way we have always done
things here” is not acceptable anymore – look at the sharp reaction to the CEOs of the US Big Three
automakers using corporate jets to fly to Washington to plead for bailout. “We need to change our
Quotes business model” is an emerging theme — except that most organisations typically exhibit significant
SE Diary resistance to change.
Under these circumstances, the CEO has to step up and take charge quickly. Here is where Barack
Obama and his election campaign come in.
Cross Currency Obama and change
Rates The US President, Mr Barack Obama, won his election on a simple and powerful message of
The Hindu Business Line : Lessons for today’s CEO from Barack Obama Page 2 of 3
Shipping The context for this change was two-fold — growing opposition to the Bush-era policies and actions
both at home and abroad, and the deepening crisis in the US economy. The US was beginning to
experience its own “defining moment”.
Given this background, Mr Obama’s strategic intent is clear. He wants to change the way the US is
Archives governed, and the way the economy is managed; he wants to change the industries in which future
jobs will be created; he wants to change the manner in which the US responds to environmental
issues and global warming; and he wants to work with other governments and countries in a
Yesterday collaborative fashion — and not force US’ views on others by sheer muscle power.
In Focus Taken together, this represents a fundamental and strategic change for the “American way” as a
In Depth whole, both within the country and internationally.
If we look at the US government as an organisation, and Barack Obama as its CEO, the
shareholders are the US citizens. Mr Obama has worked relentlessly over the last one year on
communicating his strategic change message to all his shareholders, and the election results show
that a majority of them have aligned themselves to this change.
He realised the need for a committed and energetic organisation at the grassroot level. He zeroed in
Search on the young voters (who were known, till then, for showing little or no interest in politics) to be the
“agents of change”.
Mr Obama signalled his commitment to his change strategy by acting quickly on the first step — the
appointment of key members of his leadership team — months before even assuming office. Hitting
The Hindu the ground running, as he has done, is a message in itself — that the situation is grave, and that
The Hindu there is no time to lose.
Business Line By appointing several knowledgeable but strong-willed people to key positions, he has made it clear
Business Line that he is confident about his own leadership skills in managing a talented but disparate team. He
ePaper has also demonstrated common sense and humility in seeking expert help in areas which are not his
eBooks And he stuck to his campaign and his theme in spite of distractions, in contrast to John McCain, who
The Hindu suspended his election campaign to make an abortive dash to Washington, when the $700-billion
Images bailout package came up for discussion.
The current global economic turmoil is forcing many organisations worldwide to do some
fundamental introspection, and draw up their own strategic change maps.
If we now look at the critical role of the CEO in defining and implementing such strategic change
initiatives, there are several operating principles in Mr Obama’s election playbook that are worth
Analyse and understand the global and local context for change.
Tune in to shareholders’ expectations, frustrations and values. Ignore them at your own peril.
Take the time to formulate the strategic theme. This is the single most important step in the whole
Stick to this theme right through, notwithstanding distractions that are sure to pop up.
Create a strong leadership team, where each member brings “best-in-class” knowledge and wisdom
to the team.
Learn how to manage a team which doesn’t always say, “Yes, you are right”.
Communicate — in a consistent and clear fashion.