BOOKS: From fat cats to boss cats

BOOKS: From fat cats to boss cats - Despite their bad press since Enron, CEOs are still the linchpin of a sound company. Paul Judge hails a manual for leaders that rehabilitates the breed.

by Sir Paul Judge, chairman of the Board of Companions at theChartered Management Institute, and benefactor of the Judge Institute ofManagement
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Despite their bad press since Enron, CEOs are still the linchpin of a sound company. Paul Judge hails a manual for leaders that rehabilitates the breed.

Fat cats! Failures! Felons! Fraudsters! We all know about CEOs from the media.

Their image is like that of airlines. At any one time there are around 8,000 commercial aircraft flying through the air - a miracle of organisation. Yet we normally read about jet planes only when they crash. Likewise, with free enterprise, the popular mind can tell of the horrors of Enron, WorldCom and BCCI, and knows all about the infamous bosses - Robert Maxwell, Ken Lay and Michael Milken.

Enterprise - The Leadership Role redresses the balance by setting out the importance of the role of CEO. The funding of our society's schools, hospitals and social programmes depends on the fact that most businesses do not crash, and that it is the chief executives who have the key responsibility for creating such successful organisations.

The great strength of Roger Parry's contribution is that it is a rigorous attempt to describe the conflicting and ever-changing requirements that face a chief executive. Parry is himself a CEO, and heads Clear Channel International. Building on his own experience, he provides a logical and comprehensive checklist of the huge range of issues that a CEO must address.

A volume like this cannot provide all of the answers. Yet I would heartily recommend it to anyone who is taking charge of a company or a division. Starting with the need to define the business vision, Parry moves through nine further chapters that deal with all aspects of strategy, people, finance and communications. Each area is carefully organised and contains a tremendous amount of experience and common sense.

This is a manual for CEOs. It does not seek to be at the frontiers of management science but it does provide a widespread review of all the chief exec's tasks.

I was particularly pleased by the chapter entitled 'Ensuring accountability - Structure'. So often a company states that it has a strategy but does not make the hard decision that, if you want something done, then you need someone to do it. Parry's book gives structure its proper place by stating that appointment decisions are among the most important facing a CEO but are also the ones that most directly communicate a company's values and priorities to its employees.

Similarly, the emphasis on cash management is one that is often overlooked among grand prognostications about policy and earnings per share. I know from my buy-out of Premier Brands from Cadbury Schweppes that in the end there is no doubt cash is king. Fiscal engineering plays its part, but recent history endorses the view that the companies that count the cash from customers will do better than those that just issue mountains of financial paper.

This book will also be of value to public and charity leaders. I was particularly struck by Parry's comment on the tactics of implementing the vision and strategy. 'Being good at tactics means empowering managers and employees so they have a sense of ownership of the issues and make the day-to-day problems their own,' he says. 'Constant intervention ... is the opposite of empowerment. It demotivates people and lets them off the hook for performance.' A comment of use to those trying to manage the public sectors of the economy.

Although the book contains many quotes from business leaders, there is perhaps too much emphasis on a few, such as Jack Welch and Lou Gerstner. It would have been good to have included more European and Far Eastern business leaders.

Parry covers the field well. I would recommend this book to CEOs - and to business journalists, so that they can appreciate the challenges faced by the bosses they write about.

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