CEO Coach Robinson- Blog # Five: What Season CEO are you?

by jeremy.robinson on February 23, 2010

At a recent CEO2CEO Conference this past November, Stephen R. Light, CEO of Xerium Technologies declared, “If CEOs have a season, my season would be winter.”  Then he went on to explain how as a CEO he specialized in turn-arounds.  Light’s self-aware observation of the season-CEO he is got me thinking about other CEOs.  Maybe some of the trouble CEOs run into is that they try to be all things to all people- a CEO for all seasons?  Maybe CEOs would do better if they knew which season they were and which one they weren’t?

With this season theme in mind, I’ve culled four names of top CEOs from Harvard Business Review’s 2009 list of top 50 CEOs and added my own editorial comments [These rankings and statistics are from HBR and not my own rankings.]

#1 Steve Jobs

Company: Apple
Tenure: 1997–Present

Image representing Steve Jobs as depicted in C...
Image via CrunchBase

Country: United States
Industry: Information Technology
Type: Insider CEO
Country-Adjusted: TSR 3,226%
Industry-Adjusted: TSR 3,188%
Market Cap Change: $150B

Coaches Notes:  Jobs is a Winter CEO.  Although he founded Apple, he also turned it around, bringing it back from the dead.  Interestingly, Apple, while providing beautifully designed and innovative products, continues to have a harsh, distrustful culture, reflecting the black mood of the clothes Steve Jobs wears. Its employees are boarder-line abusive to consultants and outsiders, thinking they’re better than anyone else.  Maybe they are, but do they have to be so arrogant about it?  And does this better than thou attitude reflect their CEO’s style?  I have no first hand evidence but my hypothesis would be that yes it does.  Will the culture change when Jobs is no longer the CEO?  I don’t think you’re allowed to have that thought right now at Apple, sorry to say.

#4 John T. Chambers

John T. Chambers, Chairman and Chief Executive...
Image via Wikipedia

Company: Cisco Systems
Tenure: 1995–Present
Country: United States
Industry: Information Technology
Type: Insider CEO
MBA: Yes
Country-Adjusted: TSR 922%
Industry-Adjusted: TSR 1,054%
Market Cap Change: $152B

Coaches Notes:  Chambers is a Spring CEO.  Back in the internet boom 90’s, he built Cisco into a powerhouse doing at least one acquisition per month. It was an amazing sprint.  Now that Cisco is an established corporation, Cisco, while formidable seems to have lost some of it’s edge.  You can’t live in Spring forever.

#7 Jeffrey P. Bezos

Jeff Bezos
Image by niallkennedy via FlickrCompany:

Tenure: 1996–Present
Country: United States
Industry: Retail
Type: Insider CEO
Country-Adjusted TSR: 4,592%
Industry-Adjusted TSR: 4,586%
Market Cap Change: $37B

Coaches Notes:  This guy may be the closest CEO for all season’s of any on the list, and maybe the smartest.  When the dot-com bust came and everyone counted the days until Amazon would go bust, it never happened.  Bezos’s company was one of the genuinely surprising companies of the internet era and continues to be innovative. Plus I have first-hand evidence that Bezos is an involved Dad so how could I not like this guy?

#9 Eric E. Schmidt

Company: Google
Tenure: 2001–Present

eric schmidt
Image by Charles Haynes via FlickrCountry: United State

Industry: Information Technology
Type: Outsider CEO
Country-Adjusted TSR: 387%
Industry-Adjusted TSR: 344%
Market Cap Change: $101B

Coaches Notes:  Schmidt is having an amazing run at Google but you always have to wonder is it because of Schmidt or what Google had become before he arrived. I’d have to guess that Schmidt is a Summer CEO if only because summer is the only season Google has ever had. I imagine the employees working away in their verdant fields almost like the first color shots in that old movie of ‘The Wizard of Oz’.

Wait I hear something- is that the munchkins singing?  What would happen if Google had a winter season?  Would that mean the end of the world as we knew it?  It might.  So sing on, munchkins!

I hope you never have to have another season besides summer CEO Eric Schmidt!

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