The Inaccessible CEO

By Lear, Robert W. | Chief Executive (U.S.), December 1996 | Go to article overview

The Inaccessible CEO


Lear, Robert W., Chief Executive (U.S.)


Many CEOs seem to never have any time. They are overbooked and run behind schedule most of the day. They rush from one meeting to the next, usually arriving late and leaving before the meeting is over.

Their offices look like tag sales. People are lined up to see them, while they continue to take telephone calls. It is an unbelievably complicated process to make an appointment to see them, to arrange a lunch date or a meeting, to get a hearing on an idea. Their paperwork backs up; too many documents get short shrift or are understudied. They lug full briefcases to their cars, planes, homes, and even on vacations, but never catch up.

They travel incessantly, but always seem to be in the wrong place when they are needed. Their cellular phones look like they're surgically-and permanently-attached to their ears. Their itineraries change weekly.

In this constant flurry of activity, these CEOs frustrate their executives and directors, infuriate their service agencies, neglect their families, and drive their secretaries crazy.

They have become inaccessible CEOs who are caught up in a whirlwind of unnecessary activity that spawns inefficiency and precludes them from emulating their more organized, focused brethren.

What can be done about such executives? In some cases, not much. The CEO may be the company founder, or the senior member of a founding family and a large stockholder. Occasionally, despite an inaccessible, inefficient CEO, a company can continue to make a profit for some time-it just misses growth opportunities and needlessly loses long-term market position to its competitors.

But what about the board? Isn't it supposed to watch over the CEO? Yes.

But industrious, hard-working CEOs sometimes can fool a casual, uninvolved board that tends to correlate busyness with effectiveness. If the board doesn't actually see the CEO muddying administrative waters, and if the CEO keeps stroking outside directors with elegant trips and high board fees, he or she often can get by for months-or even years. Besides, this type of CEO tries to avoid as much as possible having any hardnosed, hair-shirt directors on the board who will ask difficult questions about his or her management style.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that it is the board's responsibility to sniff out underachieving CEOs and reform or replace them. In truth, that is what a wellordered CEO Performance Evaluation Program is supposed to do. Thank heavens, more and more companies and boards are in the process of implementing such programs. …

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