Balancing on the Pinnacle

Few of us will ever know what it's like to be the boss of a big corporation. We just gaze up at the heights of the super-executive floor and wonder. This month, however, MT offers an insight into the minds of those who view us from the summit. Miranda Kennett, our First-Class Coach, has been working away over the past six months to coax a sizeable number of Britain's top leaders onto her analyst's couch to find out what's on their mind. How do they cope with their role, what are the toughest challenges, what keeps them awake at night? It's a highly unusual series of insights and opinions that reveal what really makes these unusual individuals tick. A feature to cut out and and keep (or to photocopy and distribute).

by Matthew Gwyther, mt editor
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

If one had to generalise, one would say these leading figures are all seriously driven people. It is raw determination and force of will that sets them apart. None of them is a pussycat and Lord Stevenson, who has chaired both Pearson and HBOS - and was our Dream Team Chairman a couple of years ago - was especially scathing about the character traits of some of his peers. But they all appear to love what they do, however tough the going gets. And that goes for the women too, who formed a good proportion of the cadre.

View From the Top does not, of course, have any input from individuals who jumped off the chairlift, those who took a long, hard look at the demands of such jobs - whether they had already reached the summit and had a taste of them or were merely en route - and said 'thanks but no thanks', opting for a more stable work/life balance instead. As Carolyn McCall, CEO of Guardian Newspapers, says: 'There's a lot of talk about work/life balance, but bosses aren't that bothered. They're not that good at their own - and while they are getting results they won't change.'

Someone whose work/life balance has recently lurched violently in the wrong direction - especially for a man pushing 80 - as he took the most exulted chairman/CEO position is Joseph Ratzinger, now better known as Pope Benedict XVI. He presumably enjoys his View From the Top because he sees himself as chosen and put there by God. (Not before he'd put in the requisite amount of lobbying among the curia, of course.) Our Vatican Inc feature shows what an extraordinary business the Catholic church is, with billions of dollars on deposit and hundreds of thousands of very low paid staff scattered to the four corners of the earth. It spent more than it earned last year.

A bit of Teutonic belt-tightening is perhaps in order. Alternatively, the Holy Father could try to increase his top line with some cool new marketing. Where better to learn - naked plug - than at the conference 'Making the Case for Marketing', which MT is co-hosting with the CIM this month (

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