Executive Times

Volume 10, Issue 1

January 2008


 2008 Hopkins and Company, LLC

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Turning the calendar page to a new year can provide a convenient time to conduct some executive fine tuning. For some executives, this means being determined to slough off those activities and behaviors that are less effective and to try to focus on the activities and behaviors that get the right things done. This issue of Executive Times calls attention to some recent articles in the news that might stimulate your own determination at making those changes that you think will improve your effectiveness. To whatever extent you can learn from the experience of others, these articles may help you think about your situation in new ways. 


Fifteen new books are rated in this issue, beginning on page 5. Two books received highly recommended four-star ratings; ten books are rated three-stars, and three books received two-star ratings. Visit our current bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2008books.html and see the rating table explained as well as explore links to all 165 books read or those being considered this year, including 18 that were 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. You can also check out all the books we’ve ever listed at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/All Books.html.



Strategic leadership makes all the difference in achieving organizational success, but the obstacles in achieving strategic changes can be formidable. There’s a comprehensive article on this topic in strategy + business titled “A Blueprint for Strategic Leadership” http://www.strategy-business.com/press/article/07405?gko=0a739-1876-26510307) that might help. According to the article, “…the quality of individual leadership matters. In case after case, in organizations and in society at large, when the single individual at the top is replaced, everything else changes — either for the better or for the worse. But the effectiveness of leaders depends, more than is generally realized, on the context around them. Over time, the leader’s capability is shaped by the top team’s quality, and by the capabilities of the full organization. These can either provide invaluable support for the changes a leader wants to make or render those changes impossible. Hence the best leaders pay a great deal of attention to the design of the elements around them: They articulate a lucid sense of purpose, create effective leadership teams, prioritize and sequence their initiatives carefully, redesign organizational structures to make good execution easier, and, most importantly, integrate all these tactics into one coherent strategy. … Through their actions, leaders have a great deal of influence over an organization’s culture, but very little of that influence is direct. They can’t make a team more skilled or committed through directives alone; requirements mean very little if they cannot be translated into specific behavior changes. … A design for strategic leadership is … not a new approach; it is simply the practiced, considered strategy for change that the best and most long-lived companies have always used. There is no real mystery to it, but it takes the kind of commitment, dedication, and respect that truly makes a company a great place to work.” The full article fleshes out the components of a design for strategic leadership and is worthwhile reading for any executive struggling with implementing strategic change.


How clear is the “why” or purpose of your organization or your unit within the company? How effective are you and other members of the leadership team? How well do you prioritize and sequence strategic initiatives? How well do you integrate everything into a coherent strategy?


Many executives can become frustrated when in trying to implement change face a barrage of excuses about why something new can’t be done. Jeffrey Pfeffer has a great article on this topic in the Leader to Leader Journal (http://www.pfdf.org/knowledgecenter/journal.aspx?ArticleID=664) titled “No Excuses Leadership”. Here are some of Pfeffer’s observations and suggestions: “Executives come from all over the world to attend programs at Stanford Business School (where I teach) and learn amazing things about how to manage people more effectively to build competitive advantage and how to build high-commitment, high-performance organizational cultures. And their response never ceases to amaze me: ‘Loved what you told us about treating employees better to capture their discretionary effort. Promoting learning by building a culture that tolerates mistakes? Great idea! Fixing root causes of problems—makes a lot of sense. Trouble is, we can’t do it. The boss should have been here. Too much day-to-day stuff takes precedence. It takes too long to make these changes. Wish we had the time, money, and the other resources to change the way we do things, but you know how it goes.’ It’s as if a requirement for entering the ranks of senior management today is the ability to make excuses for why it’s impossible to do things that most people agree are important. David Russo, the former head of human resources at SAS Institute and at Peopleclick, told me that when he gives speeches about how to build employee loyalty and motivation, it rarely takes more than 20 minutes before someone raises a hand and begins to explain that whatever Russo’s saying can’t be done in their organization. As he says, why bother showing up to listen to what to do if you aren’t going to do it? … So how do leaders break through the excuses that seem so common in organizational life? The first and most basic principle is not to accept reasons for why things that need to be done can’t be. … The next thing to do in the process of getting people to go beyond reasons why important things won’t work or can’t be accomplished is to articulate a vision that can inspire the effort required to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles. … a final word of advice for overcoming excuses: lead by example.”


What’s your attitude about excuses? How do you give and receive them? How easily do you accept reasons for why something important can’t be done? How do you help overcome obstacles? Do your own excuses invite others to emulate you?


Disney CEO Bob Iger shares five efficiency tips in an interview with Devin Leonard in the 12/10 issue (http://money.cnn.com/2007/12/05/news/newsmakers/iger_howiwork.fortune/index.htm?postversion=2007120604) of Fortune. Here’s what Iger does: “1. Get up before dawn. I get up at 4:30 in the morning, seven days a week, no matter where I am in the world. It's a time of day when I can be very productive without too much interruption. … 2. Be punctual. Meetings need to start on time. I'm zealous about that because my day needs to be managed like clockwork. If people are late for meetings, the meetings tend to go late, which throws off my agenda thereafter. I frequently start the meeting even if all the people expected to be in attendance aren't there. … 3. Lose your driver. I drive myself to and from work. I love the privacy. … 4. Write notes. It's rare that I will spend time with our talent. But I try to let them know if I've appreciated something they've done … That's when I'll take my fountain pen and use my trusty Disney stationery, and write a nice, simple note. I think that goes a long way with people. 5. Put history to work. … There's huge value to our heritage. But it needs to be carefully balanced with innovation - and not just what is new today, but what will be new in the future.”


Could any of these efficiency tips help you in 2008? Is your effectiveness constrained by the inefficient ways in which your day is structured? What changes can you make to get more of the right things done every day?



Some executives feel guilty when they spend time on hobbies that seem unrelated to work. Here’s a prescription for 2008: take hobby time as needed because it’s good for you. We read in the Career Couch column (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/02/jobs/02career.html) in The New York Times (12/2): “Hobbies can enhance your creativity, help you think more clearly and sharpen your focus, said Carol Kauffman, an assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School. ‘When you’re really engaged in a hobby you love, you lose your sense of time and enter what’s called a flow state, and that restores your mind and energy,’ she said. In a flow state, you are completely submerged in an experience, requiring a high level of concentration. Research shows strong correlations between flow states and peak performance, said Ms. Kauffman. Being in that heightened state of concentration raises the levels of neurotransmitters in your brain — chemicals like endorphins, norepinephrine and dopamine — that keep you focused and interested in what you’re doing and that energize you, said Dr. Gabriela Corá, a psychiatrist who is managing partner of the Florida Neuroscience Center … ‘Making time for enjoyable activities stimulates parts of the brain associated with creative and positive thinking. You become emotionally and intellectually more motivated,’ she said.” So, take some hobby time and feel better at work.


What activities do you love that sharpen your focus and help you think clearly? What energizes you? Are you doing enough of those activities to remain at peak levels of overall performance?



Before leaping into a new year with a lengthy to-do list, it makes sense to examine the lessons learned from the recent past. To help jumpstart your examination of recent lessons, here are a few of the lessons shared by lawyer, writer, actor and economist Ben Stein in the 12/9 edition of The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/09/business/09every.html) titled, “Lessons From the Pits of Travel and Investment:” “As I went through my financial and travel records for 2007, I realized that — as usual — I had made a great many mistakes. I’d like to help you to avoid making the same mistakes, so here they are. … When it comes to travel, do not trust a certain airline as far as you can throw it when it tells you a flight is on a wide-body plane. … never take a room on the top floor of a hotel without careful examination. Noisy, vibrating air-conditioners are often right above you, driving you crazy. Be warned. … As I was looking at my stock statements for 2007, I noticed I had done fabulously well — by my very modest standards — on my large, broad-market index funds (especially Fidelity Spartan Total Market and Vanguard Total Stock Market), on my Canadian and Australian index funds and on an emerging-market index fund and a developed-market index fund. But many of my individual picks had been clobbered. My belief is that I am not alone here. Unless you are a thorough genius like Warren E. Buffett, buying individual stocks is tricky, especially in a wildly down market for financial stocks. My resolution for next year is that I will buy only broad indexes and Berkshire Hathaway, if I have any money left over after feeding our three dogs, six (yes, six) cats and my endless extravagance.”


What lessons from the pits have you learned from recent experience? Which of your recent mistakes have you acknowledged, accepted and used as an impetus to do something different in 2008? 



Here’s an update on stories covered in prior issues of Executive Times:      


Ø  In the March 2004 issue of Executive Times we speculated about the messy leadership changes at Coca-Cola but never revisited what happened. Not long after that, E. Neville Isdell returned to the company from early retirement in Barbados and as CEO oversaw the process of stabilizing the company and moving it forward. We read in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (12/6) (http://www.ajc.com/business/content/business/coke/stories/2007/12/06/CokeCEO_1206.html) that Isdell announced that in mid-2008, the company will split the role of Chair and CEO, and Muhtar Kent, whom Isdell brought back to Coke a year ago, will become the new CEO. The article anticipates a model transition will occur.

Ø  In some prior years, we’ve noted Fortune’s annual list of the 101 Dumbest Moments in Business. Here’s a link to the 2007 version that appears in the 12/24 print issue: http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2007/fortune/0712/gallery.101_dumbest.fortune/index.html.



Any executive who still believes that he or she retains control over how one will be remembered should read some recent obituaries to get a reality check. Following the death of former General Motors CEO Roger Smith at the end of November at age 82, every single obituary referred to the not very flattering portrait of Smith in Michael Moore’s film Roger & Me. In the movie, Smith was portrayed as uncaring about the impact of layoffs on people and communities, and came across as anti-labor. Most obituaries did go on to describe many of Smith’s positive achievements, but many listeners and readers probably tuned out. For those who want to know more of the story after the headline, here are a few perspectives. Current GM CEO Rick Wagoner said, (http://media.gm.com) “Roger Smith led GM during a period of tremendous innovation in the industry. He was a leader who knew that we have to accept change, understand change and learn to make it work for us. Roger was truly a pioneer in the fast-moving global industry that we now take for granted.” In Motor Trend, Ed Williamson, a Florida Saturn dealership owner said of Smith, (http://forums.motortrend.com/70/6486009/the-general-forum/roger-smith-dead-at-82/index.html), “… if it hadn’t been for him, I don’t think that Saturn would have ever gotten off the drawing board. We’re thankful for that, and that will probably be the No. 1 piece of his legacy.” In the same article, Dave Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research, noted, “The creation of Saturn really created, in contrast to Roger & Me, an example in GM of a case study to really illustrate the new role that was required between labor and management. It brought a new model to the concept of selling vehicles.” Smith’s tenure at GM was a period of relative peace between labor and management. For those who want clarity on a legacy, think about Roger Smith. From one point of view, he was anti-labor, while from another he forged effective labor and management relationships. Despite a record of good and bad decisions, the legacy of Smith was out of his control. In addition to learning from his experience, that lesson is part of his legacy.


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 2008 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2008books.html).


Title (Link to Review)



Review Summary


Super Crunchers Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart

Ayres, Ian


Statistics. Conversational presentation of the ways in which vast amounts of data are being gleaned by savvy analysts and used to make significant decisions.


Dream When You’re Feeling Blue

Berg, Elizabeth


Nostalgia. Novel set in Chicago during World War II packed with historical detail and the ways in which three sisters lived, loved, worked and sacrificed.


Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World

Clinton, Bill


Something. In a preachy but non-political way, the former President offers myriad ways in which each of us can do or give something to help others. Lots of resources and links on how to give.


The Chase

Cussler, Clive


Momentum. Set in 1906 in San Francisco, this novel features a new hero, detective Isaac Bell, who’s hired to chase down the Butcher Bandit, and does so in a race car and a locomotive.


Spook Country

Gibson, William


Global. Post modern novel increases paranoia. Author pairs virtual art using GPS with criminals and a mysterious cargo container that has the attention of spies and others.  Science fiction meets the evening news.


The Bishop at the Lake

Greeley, Andrew M.


Grand. Another Bishop Blackie Ryan novel; this time he has to solve a mystery of how someone tried to kill a fellow bishop who was inside a locked room. A predictable and comfortable story, well-told.


Doing What Matters: How to Get Results That Make a Difference

Kilts, James M.


Effectiveness. Former Gillette turnaround  CEO (also Nabisco, Kraft and General Foods) shares his practical and disciplined approach to management. Readers will find useful advice and behavior to emulate.


Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice

Malcolm, Janet


Compact. Brief biography of Stein and Toklas with a focus on what they did during World War II, and who helped them survive.


Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life

Martin, Steve


Resolute. Memoir describes how Martin was resolute in his early years to learn to become a performer, and how hard he worked to acquire and develop skills.


Now and Then

Parker, Robert B.


Protect. Another Spenser novel in which Parker does what he does best: character and dialogue. All the action involves Spenser doing whatever it takes to protect Susan.

The Book of Vice: Very Naughty Things (and How to Do Them)

Sagal, Peter


Armchair. Sagal reports on the fieldwork he did, often with his wife, to tell the rest of us about seven vices. Smiles and chuckles all around, especially as we learn that many vices are boring.


The Good Husband of Zebra Drive

Smith, Alexander McCall


Adjustments. In the eighth novel of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, the characters adjust to emerging needs and interests of others.


Wall Street Noir

Spiegelman, Peter


Spread. Seventeen writers and their short stories in this collection show that Wall Street has spread far from lower Manhattan. Good writing if you like this genre.


Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts

Tavris, Carol and Elliot Aronson


Justification. Psychologists present solid research and readable examples and illustrations of why we justify our actions. Readers may not accept culpability more easily, but we can understand why we deceive ourselves and others.


The Dark River

Twelve Hawks, John


Crossing. The second book of the Fourth Realm trilogy reprises the old characters and introduces new ones, adding an intensity as well as more paranoia as the vast machine expands its reach and the Traveler needs to cross the dark river to another realm.



2008 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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