Executive Times

Volume 8, Issue 1

January 2006


 2006 Hopkins and Company, LLC

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Executives thrive through evolution, although some may claim the influence of intelligent design. Whether adapting to new technology, competitors, regulators, supply chains, markets, or stakeholders, each executive decides what has to stay the same and what must change. Those choices apply to the executive personally, to his or her followers, and to the culture of the organization. The beginning of a new year can represent a fresh start at waving the evolutionary banner and rallying all to adapt to those selected changes that will lead toward a healthier organization. In this issue, we explore some recent stories of ways in which executives have chosen to lead. As you reflect on how other executives are dealing with their situations, think about how you can learn from them in improving your executive performance.


Fifteen new books are rated in this issue, beginning on page 5. Before you start your New Year’s diet, be sure to read the four-star rated book in this month’s selection, The China Study; you may change your plans. Ten books are recommended with three stars; and four books are mildly recommended with two-star ratings. Visit our 2006 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2006books.html and see the rating table explained as well as explore links to all 130 books we’re reading or considering so far this year, including 32 that we added to the list in December. If there’s something missing from the bookshelf that you think we should be considering or if there’s a book lingering on the Shelf of Possibility that you think we should read and review sooner rather than later, let us know by sending a message to books@hopkinsandcompany.com.


To become an executive evolutionary, you need volition, not ammunition. Andy Grove of Intel is featured in the cover story of Fortune’s December 12 “Lessons in Leadership” issue (http://www.fortune.com/fortune/ceo/articles/0,15114,1134617,00.html) and the article explores how Grove may be the best student and teacher of leadership for the 21st century. Grove even helped the writer of the article (Harvard Business School’s Richard S. Tedlow) ask the right questions of him to get to the truth. Here’s one excerpt on our theme: “What can others learn from Grove's odyssey? As we face a future where change is not only constant but accelerating, reality will transform itself more swiftly than most humans—or most companies—are hard-wired to handle. Even startups that overturn one reality are easily overturned by the next big change. Grove has escaped natural selection by doing the evolving himself. Forcibly adapting himself to a succession of new realities, he has left a trail of discarded assumptions in his wake. When reality has changed, he has found the will to let go and embrace the new.” Unlike in the process of natural selection, executives need the willingness to face new realities and choose to change.


Do you have the will to face new realities and change? What process do you use to examine what needs to change? How prepared are you for the next big change that you and your organization will face? Will you recognize the need for change and act in time? Will you will to change?


In those frequent situations when an executive follows someone of long tenure whose identity was merged with that of the organization, there’s a need to select the best way to disassociate from that person. Whether the change in leader was planned or not, taking on a new role provides an evolutionary opportunity for an executive to act in ways that are different from those of the predecessor. Two recent examples provide insights into how the disassociation can occur. We read in an interview with Disney’s Robert Iger in The Wall Street Journal (12/5) (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB113374725252213739.html) how he’s started to disassociate with longtime predecessor and colleague Michael Eisner: “I'm trying to take the spotlight off any one individual and put it more on the company. I think the company is ready for a change. Not that there was necessarily anything wrong with Michael's approach, but he'd been there for a while, and change is something the company could use and wants.” Without disrespecting Eisner, Iger points to a concrete way in which their leadership methods will differ. Martin Sullivan worked at AIG for 34 years while Hank Greenberg headed the company. Now that Sullivan has succeeded Greenberg in a forced move, their differences are becoming clear, as we read in The New York Times (12/18) (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/18/business/yourmoney/18aig.html): “The contrast is lost on few: if Mr. Greenberg ordered, Mr. Sullivan asks. If the former chief knew more than everyone, Mr. Sullivan asks to be educated. Mr. Greenberg surrounded himself with a tight circle of senior executives, while Mr. Sullivan eats lunch with midlevel employees who are permitted to submit anonymous questions ahead of time, lest they be intimidated. And if the former chief executive and chairman took pride in how he built A.I.G., Mr. Sullivan loves to tell midlevel employees that if he can be chief executive, anyone can be chief executive. ‘Martin's the first to find out, to listen and to get different points of view,’ said Frank G. Zarb, the chairman of A.I.G.'s board. ‘It's a great quality for a young C.E.O. He doesn't have his mind made up before he has the facts.’” In many respects, just be being himself, Sullivan disassociated himself from Greenberg. For those who want to emulate their bosses, there’s a lesson here about being who you are, not trying to be someone else.

As the right next step in your evolution as an executive, how might you need to disassociate from some of your colleagues? In what ways are you imitating the behavior around you and acting in ways that don’t reflect who you are? How can you be yourself and be an effective part of your organization at the same time? Have you become so closely associated with your boss that his or her behavior and yours are indistinguishable? 



An organization’s success or decay depends on the people an executive chooses to perform selected roles. The unnatural selection process in most organizations can involve labyrinthine methods of culling individuals for various jobs. We read in The New York Times (12/6) (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/06/business/media/06westin.html) about the way in which ABC News president David Westin may have pleased everyone in how he chose the replacement for the late Peter Jennings as anchor of “ABC World News Tonight.” According to the Times, Westin said, “One of my concerns was, in deciding what to do after Peter left us, not simply who would be on the air at 6:30 every evening East Coast time, but how we could restructure and redefine what we were doing.” He ended up selecting Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff to be co-anchors, but not before negotiating three months with veteran newscaster Charles Gibson. After Gibson and Westin couldn’t come to terms on tenure, Westin selected the new team. “He got his anchors in place without opening himself to accusations that he had passed over the most respected senior newsman in his shop. And he also managed to avoid threatening the popularity of ABC's most profitable news program, ‘Good Morning, America’ - which might have had the unwelcome result for Mr. Westin of discomfiting another important constituent: the leading lady of ABC News, Diane Sawyer.” While the process may have been lengthy and convoluted, it seems that Westin made a choice that fit ABC’s total situation. The real evaluation of his decision will appear in the form of ratings. Stay tuned.


What process do you use in selecting individuals for specific roles in your organization? How do you ensure that all the pieces fit together to ensure the most promising outcome overall? How do you take into account the stability of leaving a person in place versus the change to a new role that could provide new energy and experience? How do you go about selecting the fittest individuals for your organization? 



Some organizations become well-known and succeed based on their precision, the rigorous way they go about conducting business. As with many good qualities, when carried to excess, advantages can become shortcomings. Or, in our evolutionary theme, rigor can turn into rigor mortis, especially when a flexible alternative emerges. The poster companies for this condition in December were Viacom’s Paramount Pictures, Dream Works SKG and GE’s NBC Universal. All the business press reported the surprise 11th hour acquisition of Dream Works by Paramount. Everyone expected Universal to come to terms on that deal. The reports were consistent. While GE followed its usual practice of haggling on price following rigorous due diligence, the Dream Works partners perceived reneging. Paramount entered, and presented a contract within one week. According to The New York Times (12/12) (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/12/business/12dreamworks.html), ‘“Dealing with G.E. is unpleasant and difficult under any circumstances,’ said Mr. Geffen in an interview on Saturday. He said Universal apparently thought ‘we had no choice and were going to squeeze us and squeeze us. After a year of dealing with them, they still did not have a concluded finished contract ready to sign.’” When Paramount Chairman Brad Gray first brought the deal to the Viacom board, they balked on price, and said no. When GE stumbled, Gray proposed a creative approach to financing the acquisition, and won quick board approval. Flexibility capitulated precision.


How do you know when to apply precision, and when to be flexible? Are you prepared to step in when a competitor stumbles? Does your culture show signs of rigor mortis? How do you invigorate your organization?



We read four ideas on becoming an effective executive from the late Peter Drucker in Fortune’s December 12 issue: build on people’s strengths; know your market; control your time; and pull the weeds. Read the article at http://www.fortune.com/fortune/ceo/articles/0,15114,1135362,00.html to find out what he means and how you might apply his ideas to your situation.


How are you progressing as an evolutionary executive? What do you need to focus on in 2006 to transform yourself and your organization?



Here are selected updates on stories covered in prior issues of Executive Times:


Ø      In the October 2004 issue of Executive Times, we noted that Pfizer VP “Dr. Peter Rost stated publicly that importing drugs is safe and will lower costs. Pfizer has consistently warned that importation would place Americans at health risks.” It should come as no surprise to readers that Pfizer fired Rost, and he’s now suing them.

Ø      We called attention in the October 2005 issue of Executive Times to the pressure from Mississippi insurance commissioner George Dale on carriers to settle in favor of the consumer in any case where there’s a doubt about whether or not Hurricane Katrina property was from wind (covered) or water (not covered). We read in the Insurance Journal (12/16) (http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/southeast/2005/12/16/63098.htm) that Mississippi Senator Trent Lott has sued State Farm Insurance over his claim for coverage on his beachfront home that was destroyed in the hurricane. ‘“Today I have joined in a lawsuit against my longtime insurance company because it will not honor my policy, nor those of thousands of other south Mississippians, for coverage against wind damage due to Hurricane Katrina,’ said Lott, R-Miss. ‘There is no credible argument that there was no wind damage to my home in Pascagoula.”’ The pressure increases, and the wind or water controversy storms ahead.



While some leaders succeed through conformity with what’s expected of them, many make their mark through taking a path that is unconstrained by what anyone else has ever done. One of the most independent individuals we’ve ever observed died at age 90 in the middle of December, leaving behind legends about how he followed the beat of his own drum. William Proxmire entered the national stage in 1957 when he won a special election to complete the term of Wisconsin’s legendary Senator Joe McCarthy, who died in office. Proxmire observed the scene in the Senate, and spoke out against both majority leader Lyndon Johnson and House speaker Sam Rayburn for their control over committee assignments. Some called that speech “Proxmire’s Farewell Address.” It wasn’t; he remained in the Senate representing Wisconsin until he chose not to seek reelection in 1988. Best known for his “Golden Fleece Awards,” which called attention to what he considered wasteful government spending, Proxmire left a more lasting legacy. His Truth in Lending law clarified the interest rates being charged on loans. He denounced redlining by insurers and lenders, and brought those practices to public attention, and pressured financial institutions to stop. He sponsored a law that made it illegal for American companies to bribe foreign countries for business contracts. After twenty years of his pressure through 3,000 speeches, he prodded U.S. approval of an international treaty outlawing genocide. Every morning the Senate was in session, he spoke in favor of this treaty. He was beholden to no one. He refused all campaign contributions, and what money he spent on running for office involved paying postage to return contributions. Some called him a maverick. Perhaps they were right, since he was always independent in thought and action, and was never quick to adhere to the wishes of any group. He had all the characteristics of the consummate independent executive. He’s already missed, and there’s no one like him on the national political stage.


Latest Books Read and Reviewed:

 (Note: readers of the web version of Executive Times can click on the book covers to order copies directly from amazon.com.  When you order through these links, Hopkins & Company receives a small payment from amazon.com.  Click on the title to read the review or visit our 2006 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2006books.html).


Title (Link to Review)



Review Summary


The Universe in a Single Atom

Bstan-dzin-rgya-mtsho, Dalai Lama XIV


Collaboration. From a lifetime interest in science, the Dalai Lama provides a calm voice about the similarities in thinking and practice between science and religion (especially Buddhism) and proposes many ways in which science and religion can collaborate.

The China Study

Campbell, T. Colin


Choices. Comprehensive research on diet and health presents incontrovertible conclusion: avoiding animal-based foods and consuming a plant-based diet leads to improved health, whether we like that or not.

Our Endangered Values

Carter, Jimmy


Concise. Former President weighs in on topics including war, the environment, poverty, civil liberties and the church and state divide in a calm and concise manner. Carter is worth listening to, whether you agree with him or not.

Polar Shift

Cussler, Clive


Magnetic. Readers keep coming back to the Cussler brand for the pleasures of one-dimensional villains out to destroy the world, a cooler than words hero (Austin here) who foils the scheme, and a fantastic plot that exudes scientific possibilities.

Hamburgers and Fries

Edge, John T.


Greasy. Edge continues his series on iconic American foods with this exploration of the best burgers and the people who serve them. Less for spud lovers about the perfect fry.

How to Cook Your Daughter

Hendra, Jessica


Abuse. Memoir of the sexual and emotional abuse she suffered as a child, which her father, Tony, left out of his own 2004 memoir, Father Joe.  Raw sadness in this story of courage and recovery.

The English Teacher

King, Lily


Hardy. Best teacher at New England prep school, praised for her teaching of Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, struggles with her own emotional life, a new marriage to a widower with three kids, and a reluctance to tell her own son about his father.

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers

Li, Yiyun


Change. Debut short story collection showcases talented writer’s skill in presenting character, setting and conflict with expertise. Each of the ten stories reveals struggles between a traditional past and an uncertain future.

Memories of My Melancholy Whores

Marquez, Gabriel Garcia


Romance. After giving himself the gift of a 14 year old virgin prostitute for his 90th birthday, the protagonist remembers scores of past prostitutes and continues his search for love.

Cinnamon Kiss

Mosley, Walter


Frustrations. Easy Rawlins returns in installment 10 of this series, and works on a missing persons case to get money to care for his sick daughter. All the complexity of characters and relationships continue.

The Story of Chicago May

O’Faolain, Nuala


Transformations. Quirky biography of May Duigan, who changed her lifestyle frequently in a life of adventure and crime, all the time adapting and surviving.


Olsson, Karen


Hometown. Debut novel replaces “Austin, Texas” with “Waterloo” and presents the great interplay of journalists, politicians and musicians, all behaving as adolescents. Special treats for Texans, and promising new author for others.

Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt

Rice, Anne


Childlike. The doyenne of vampire novels shifts to Christianity, and offers a version of what the life of Jesus may have been like at the time of the return from Egypt. She makes the 7 year old Jesus the first person narrator, adding a childlike quality to the writing.

The Planets

Sobel, David


Lyrical. Author shares her wonder at scientific data and love for the solar system through lyrical writing.

Henry Adams and the Making of America

Wills, Garry


Optimism. Adams’ nine volumes of the history of America 1800-1817 come alive, thanks to Wills, and his optimism and historical methods shine. Engaging reading for all interested in this historical period.


ã 2006 Hopkins and Company, LLC.  Executive Times is published monthly by Hopkins and Company, LLC at the company’s office at 723 North Kenilworth Avenue, Oak Park, Illinois 60302. Subscription rate for first class mail delivery of the print version is $60.00 per year (12 issues). Web version subscriptions are $30.00 per year. Single issues: $10.00 print; $5.00 web. To subscribe, sign up at www.hopkinsandcompany.com/subscribe.html, send an e-mail to executivetimes@hopkinsandcompany.com, call (708) 466-4650, or fax to (708) 386-8687. For permission to photocopy or e-mail Executive Times, call (708) 466-4650 or e-mail to reprints@hopkinsandcompany.com. We will send sample copies if requested. The company’s website at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/archives.html contains the archives of back issues beginning in the month after the issue date. 

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