Experience says that the best complements are not necessarily the best successors.
Professor David B. Yoffie of the Harvard Business School has just published a book that analyzes the keys to the success of Bill Gates (Microsoft), Steve Jobs (Apple) and Andy Grove (Intel), these last two have already passed away. The three companies have a dream capitalization, an indisputable prestige and are at the forefront of innovation, and this is what the author defined as the "red threads" in the 3 cases:
Build optimal platforms and ecosystems, not focus on product development. Better platforms and ecosystems become better products.
Shaping the organization itself around the personal vision, being very disciplined and effective in the execution, with a deep reasoning, compensating and above all listening and learning.
Take advantage of dexterity and strength, as in judo and sumo.
In this context, Professor Yoffie made an analysis about the successors of these 3 legends of the modern history of entrepreneurship, reaching the conclusion that the executives who for years were their right arms, their "perfect complements", and that together with they took their companies to the place they have today, they were not good successors. In that sense, experience says that the best complements are not necessarily the best successors.
Steve Balmer at Microsoft was very good at handling people and clients, while Bill Gates was very good at technology and strategy, however, he did not do well replacing the latter after his retirement as CEO of Microsoft. On the other hand, Craig Barrett stood out in Intel in terms of production and operation, and failed to take the place of Andy Grove, an expert in strategy, marketing and sales. Finally, we have the case of Tim Cook, excellent in the management of the supply chain, operations and sales, unlike Steve Jobs, a genius of design and product development, as well as marketing. Cook took the place of Jobs, however, as in the previous cases, the exercise has not worked quite well.
And this is where I put my experience on the table, and I reaffirm my approach that a CEO requires the best team to be successful. Not only each member of that team must be better than the CEO in their area of competence, but also, there must be a fit, a complement between each member of that team.
However, this complementarity does not mean that all the members of that team are the CEO's ideal successors to take the company to the next stage of growth, even changing the business model created by that CEO.
As I have commented in previous posts, the line of succession must be clear, prepare the profiles that, eventually, will assume the position before any eventuality, retirement or new projects assumed by the current CEO. A good complement, as the author reveals, is not always a good successor, and that is also true in reverse. Would Microsoft have been so successful with Bill Gates assuming control of everything? Would it have been enough for Apple with Jobs' innovation without Cook's logistical expertise? Would Grove have brought Intel to that level without Barrett's operational management skills?
The premise is clear. This is about consolidating teams, and that each piece contributes to the success of organizations. People come and go, ecosystems of innovation and development must arm themselves with this in mind. Is your organization prepared to last beyond names?
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