Computer Usage Gives Some CEOs Strong Advantages
Peters, Tom, THE JOURNAL RECORD
Most chief executive officers, surveys suggest, are not smitten with the desktop computer, even if they own one. But some are, and its impact is effectively documented by Mary Boone's book, "Leadership and the Computer" (1991, Prima Publishing, P.O. Box 1260MB, Rockland, Calif. 95677).
While Boone provides several useful frameworks, 16 pithy interviews with CEOs give the book its special edge. A few examples:
Richard Pogue is managing partner of the global, 1,200-attorney firm Jones Day Reavis & Pogue. The outfit is "technologized" from stem to stern, via electronic document exchange (even with clients), computer-based research and computerized dockets.
Pogue is an electronic-mail addict. He insists that the medium is a major spur to keeping communication "personal," collegiality high, and far-flung offices part of the team. E-mail, he adds, lets people "converse" with him who otherwise might be too intimidated to drop by his office. And while a memo may sit in his briefcase for weeks, the "psychology of wanting to wipe that screen clean" impels Pogue to respond almost instantly to his 35 to 40 daily electronic messages.
Chairman Burnell Roberts of the huge Mead Corp. is hooked on e-mail, too, calling it "a marvelous facilitator" and noting its surprising "intimacy." Roberts and his colleagues also built a unique global data base of personal contacts. When Roberts goes overseas, for instance, he'll tap into the data base to survey possible contacts; the constantly expanding, electronically tied network is essential to Roberts' global team-building and knowledge-capitalization efforts.
Roberts is also a frequent user of Mead's on-line human resource system. He likes the unfiltered information it provides on up and comers:
Top management, he surmises, is much more likely than conservative personnel staffers to consider job candidates with unconventional profiles.
William Esrey heads United Telecom (and, thence, US Sprint). He also touts e-mail for opening "a dialogue" with employees at all levels, from all over the firm. "(They) feel that they are dealing directly with me," he said, and speak differently than if the communications were being screened.
(Esrey promulgated a few e-mail "rules." One urges users not to take even a second to go back and fix misspellings or other glitches. "The idea is that you communicate (with no fuss)," he emphasizes.) But e-mail is the least of it for Esrey. At US Sprint, for instance, he played a hands-on role in developing an on-line program that provides cash flow/cash position figures, updated daily. The system went a long way toward getting everyone focused on cash management. Esrey regularly taps into external data bases as well. …