Where Have You Gone, Jack Welch?

In the last post I described how most people who work for large organizations are eliminated—not fired. However, at the highest levels of U.S. corporations, executives are getting fired by the boatload. I am talking about the CEO, the person at the top, the one who must be held accountable for the organization’s actions and results. 

CEOs are getting fired in record numbers in recent years.  As in tennis, the higher you go the more costly the unforced error. In one recent year, one out of every five CEOs of the top 200 companies were fired (that according to a Booz Allen study). Research also shows that between 1995 and 2006, CEO firings shot up by sixty percent. These are terrible numbers and point to a disturbing trend. CEOs are making more mistakes than ever—especially more serious, career-altering errors.

All of this CEO turnover is wreaking havoc on the publishing world. In the 1990’s, books by—and about—CEOs were a cottage industry. Led by Jack Welch, CEO books sold like…well, CEO books. There was of course Welch, but also other CEOs like Bill Gates publishers could count on.  However, since Jack Welch retired most of a decade ago, there has been no one to take his place (the only one who has come close is Warren Buffett). The celebrity CEO is a dead phenomenon, and book publishers along with company stockholders are left weeping at the graveside.


Will the superstar CEO ever make a comeback? Perhaps. But more than half a century ago, Peter Drucker wrote that “no institution can possible survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it.” Maybe Drucker was right. Maybe we don’t need celebrity CEOs to run our companies. Perhaps all we need  are leaders with more humility than hubris; executives more concerned with the fundamentals than the fame. This won’t do anything to reinvigorate the CEO part of the business book category, but it might be just what we need to help lead us out of these recessionary times into a more prosperous era.


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