Sonnenfeld in an article in Fortune magazine in May 2015, had this to say about CEOs:
In my 30 years studying CEOs retirements, I have found that chief executives fall into four primary categories when it comes to the way they think about their term lengths.
Prime examples: Rupert Murdoch and Fred Smith, who were preceded by such historic figures as Occidental Petroleum’s Armand Hammer and Boston Consulting Group Founder Bruce Henderson
They are often brilliant visionaries who believe that they are the one person on earth who is truly indispensable to their companies. William Black ran the Chock full o’Nuts café chain for 60 years, with his last two from his hospital bed at age 83. Monarch CEOs are driven by an elusive quest for an immortal, lasting legacy, as well as for the heroic stature that comes with the position. They want the world to be different because they lived, but they can be blinded by their visions.
Threatening successors are often eliminated before the board realizes what happened, increasing the board’s dependence upon such monarch CEOs; that was the case with Richard Fuld at Lehman Brothers. They often suffer a stormy, feet-first exit—either dying in office or as the victim of a palace revolt. BCG’s partners revolted while its founder Bruce Henderson was on a client assignment, not even leaving him a desk in the office. Happily, the Walt Disney board moved quickly enough before their once visionary savior, Michael Eisner, could derail the rising star Robert Iger, who was a genuine threat to Eisner extending his 20-year reign. Iger has taken Disney to historic heights, key strategic portfolio enhancements, geographic expansions into China, and 312% shareholder returns over 10 years (or 12 % annualized).
Prime examples: Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Martha Stewart, and Howard Schultz
Like the great generals of World War II (Patton, MacArthur, Montgomery, De Gaulle), these CEOs return to office at a time of crisis to revive their enterprise and lead their companies to greater glory than they did during their first tour of duty. Often, they have the credibility to make major changes at their companies. They have the leeway, as Michael Dell has emphasized “To show that this is a business, not a religion.” The challenge for some generals is to not exaggerate the sense of crisis as a pretext to engineer their return to power, as was the case with Harry Gray of ITT, William Paley at CBS, and Juan Trippe at PanAm. Company boards must ensure that the crisis is genuine.
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