Chief Executives Who Stand Out From The Corporate Crowd

What is it that makes a good boss stand out from his or her corporate colleagues and rivals?

Key attributes for a successful chief executive would include the ability to lead others, to see in advance what needs doing and to be passionate about problem-solving.

Another characteristic of any good CEO, is their ability to understand fully the often complex scope of their company’s operations.

It is a challenge which can be made easier by a manager gaining as much experience as possible while climbing the promotion ladder.

Harriet Green, CEO of travel group Thomas Cook, tells aspiring leaders to broaden their approach early on in their careers.

“I always encourage executives to take the jobs that are not necessarily the norm, because you will learn a great deal more about your own boundaries,” she says.

“Whereas if you just do the job – the fast track to the top – maybe you’ll be a sort of thinner, taller leader, and not a rounded out one.

“So take a little bit of risk.”

The importance of ethics

But one of the risks that prospective leaders should not run, says Wang Shi – the founder and chairman of Chinese property giant China Vanke – is with business behaviour.

Business scandals have certainly made the news in recent years – underlining the point that ignoring ethics can have a serious and lasting impact on a firm’s bottom line.

Wang Shi maintains that managers “have to balance” the hunt for profits with the need to be ethical in the way that they treat customers and others.

“If you only get money but you don’t care about a thing, right or wrong, you cannot last. That cannot sustain you for the future.”

If a boss does the “right thing”, then the money will come, he says.

And doing the right thing extends to how a company treats its staff.

“CEOs need to be able to inspire and share their values with people throughout their organisation,” says management expert Steve Tappin and presenter of CEO Guru.

Sense of purpose

It is a point underscored by Frits van Paasschen, the CEO of Starwood Hotels, who points out that US civil rights leader Martin Luther King did not have an “I have a plan” speech.

“He had an ‘I have a dream’ speech, people have to have a sense of what the purpose is – of what a company’s about.”

If a company pursues its goals correctly, then profits should flow from that, he argues.

“We’re about giving guests great experiences so they come back, so we can create great returns for people who own the hotels.

“It’s really that simple. If you can make your guests happy, these other things start to take care of themselves.”

Yet, when learning how to be a good boss, Rupert Soames, CEO of energy supplier Aggreko, cautions that a manager needs to make sure they learn from those who respect their own values.

“I went to this guy, and got my brain reprogrammed. I disappeared for three weeks and came back as a different human being.”

His colleagues were not impressed by the changes.

“They hated it, and I hated it, and I managed to keep up good behaviour for about three weeks and then relapsed – and everybody sighed in relief.”

He says a manager should try to be real to themselves, but should also understand “that being real and being yourself is not necessarily a virtue.

“You’ve got to be a little bit more sophisticated than that.”

‘Being open-minded’

Another problem comes as a company grows.

There is a real challenge in holding on to what made a firm great in the first place when your kitchen tabletop business morphs into a corporate behemoth.

“There’s a lot of companies that as they get bigger, get slower and can’t innovate,” says management expert Steve Tappin.

A good manager needs to have the “vision and values to create a business fit for the 21st Century,” he says.

These days, all firms need to face up to the reality of a globalised marketplace, and the impact of social media both on them and their customers.

When something goes wrong for a firm, a company may have only hours to react to what can often be a Twitter storm of criticism.

Generation gap

Allan Zeman, chairman of the Hong Kong-based Lan Kwai Fong Group, says a good boss should focus on “thinking about tomorrow, being open-minded”.

Mr Zeman points out that there is often a clear generational gulf between top managers, who may be in their forties or fifties, and their media-savvy customers in their early twenties.

“Young people today are different. They care about things that we never cared about growing up – the environment, clean air, green – all the buzzwords that today make up our existence.”

And he has this advice for any would-be CEOs.

“In my world there’s no bad staff – there’s bad bosses, bad leaders.”