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Making of a CEO, An Excerpt

Sandeep Krishnan is an adjunct professor at IIM Bangalore. His book ‘Making of a CEO’ found its genesis in a popular course he taught at IIM Bangalore, where the students interviewed and analyzed twenty CEOs to learn how they charted a clear path to the top. The book explores nuances of leading in different contexts like start-ups, large corporations, family businesses, educational institutions, not-for-profits, public sector and the government.
Here’s an excerpt from the book.
The chief executive officer (CEO) epitomizes the organization. The organization’s existence and its future are defined by the role the CEO plays. The CEO is the ultimate decision maker and can often be defined as a combination of a chief operations, marketing, finance, people and communications officer apart from the other key roles. The success or failure of the organization is often directly attributed to the CEO. At one level, the CEO is also the chief decision officer.
Great CEOs leave their footprints behind. They have the ability to transform businesses and even change the way society operates. Bill Gates changed the way the world works with Microsoft. Steve Jobs changed the way the world designs gadgets with Apple. N.R. Narayana Murthy of Infosys paved the way and showed how corporations can share their wealth with employees in India. Dhirubhai Ambani, founder of Reliance, showed how an entrepreneur can start from scratch to create an empire. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, co-founders of Google, changed the way the world searches for information. It is amply clear that every CEO has a unique opportunity to leave behind an enduring legacy.
In this book, the word CEO is sometimes used synonymously with positions such as managing director and chairman if the incumbent is also, in many ways, handling the operating role of running the company. Research shows that the role of a CEO is becoming more significant and often has a more direct impact on the company’s performance. With the environment of organizations becoming more dynamic and competitive, it is the top management’s strategy led by the CEO that can steer the company towards sustained growth. A CEO also shapes the culture of the organization—either sustaining or changing it. An interesting example of this would be of the ex-chairman of IBM, Louis V. Gerstner, who is credited for its turnaround. Gerstner revived the ailing IBM by pulling the levers of its culture, changing the attitude towards teamwork, providing solution to the customers, integrating different business units, changing the measurement of results, and improving communication with external and internal stakeholders. In the end, it is a well-known fact that Gerstner got IBM to dance!
There are leaders in corporates, NGOs, government and public sectors who have made a tremendous impact. There are great examples of public servants heading government enterprises and making a lasting impact on society. In India, E. Sreedharan illustrated how a government servant can influence society by high levels of effectiveness. He is credited with the successful execution of key projects that helped the Indian public. This includes the Konkan Railway, a 741-kilometre line that connected Mumbai to Mangaluru. As per Wikipedia, ‘With a total number of over 2,000 bridges and 91 tunnels to be built through this mountainous terrain containing many rivers, it was the biggest and perhaps the most difficult railway engineering project in the Indian subcontinent at the time.’ He was then entrusted with another key project: to develop the metro lines for urban transport in the National Capital Region (NCR), called the Delhi Metro. The success of the project gave E. Sreedharan a new name: ‘Metro Man’. The ability to lead and make a difference in the society has made E. Sreedharan one of the most successful CEOs that India has seen in the recent past.
Verghese Kurien, known as the Father of the White Revolution, made a tremendous mark on the cooperative movement in the country. He is credited with establishing Amul and the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB). Kurien was able to bring dairy farmers into the fold, changing the dairy supply chain of the country. His ability to organize the cooperative movement, first in Gujarat through Amul and then later to replicate the experiment across the country through NDDB, points to a leader who could articulate a vision and execute it to make a large-scale institution.

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