Books Special: Steve Tappin tells us a secret

And it's a big one for all ambitious MTers: how to be a CEO, and what life is like in the corner office...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Happily enough, a brand new book – launched last night – tackles this very subject, in impressively comprehensive fashion if the unexpurgated title is to be believed: The Secrets of CEOS – 150 Global Chief Executives lift the lid on business, life and leadership. Luminaries like Terry Leahy, Martin Sorrell, James Murdoch and Alexey Mordashov are name-checked on the jacket, with the remaining 146 leading men and women having to make do with an appearance within the covers. That’s a lot of C-suite horsepower, however you slice it.

The book – written by Heidrick & Struggles headhunter Steve Tappin and financial journalist Andrew Cave – ranges far and wide over its high-altitude territory, taking in everything from the impact of globalisation and the credit crunch to Web 3.0 and sustainability. It also offers a useful five-class taxonomy of CEO types, complete with big-name examples. Leahy is a commercial executor, Sorrell is a corporate entrepreneur, and so on. Tappin and Cave’s stated aim is to get as much real-world ‘experience’ into the book, and they certainly do that. The quote-rate in these chapters is correspondingly high but can feel a little relentless at times, occasionally leaving the reader wondering exactly what point is being made.

There is a thought-provoking peek at what the future of corporate leadership might be, and the qualities that leaders in waiting should be cultivating. The authors’ premise in this section is that the old command and control model is dead and should be replaced by a devolved ‘cellular’ organisation. It’s a timely and constructive concept along similar lines to those suggested by Gary Hamel in his latest work The Future of Management (there are certainly worse footsteps they could have chosen to follow in).

Tappin and Cave finish with what they call the CEO health warning: a section which reveals in fairly stark terms some of the personal sacrifices that life at the top of the corporate pyramid entails. But pragmatism rules here too, and the emphasis is on coping strategies that can help keep body, soul and family life together. For an in-depth opinion on the book from a man who has hired and fired his fair share of CEOs, read Paul Myners’ review from the latest MT here.

The launch party was at least as high-octane as the subject matter, held at the swanky Deck of the National Theatre looking out over London’s South Bank. A long way from the usual glass of warm Chardonnay in a book shop basement that is all most new business books can expect by way of a welcome to the world. The assembled crowd of the great and the good included its fair share of faces – including web 1.0 darling turned web 2.0 pioneer Brent Hoberman (still looking every bit as fresh-faced as he did in the days) and Barbara Judge, chair of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, butt of much Private Eye coverage and wife of Sir Paul of Judge Business School fame.

That Nick Ross off the telly was there too, although we’re not quite sure why (perhaps Heidrick’s are looking to bag him a NED or two). MT’s very own Emma Reynolds, star of this year’s MT 35 under 35 list, was another star attendee. We’ll let her off missing last night’s other top party – the 35 under 25 networking bash at Liberty’s – on account of the fact that she is also one of the book’s eponymous 150 CEOs.

Co-hosts Lord Browne (formerly BP’s Sun King) and Ben Verwaayen (recently ex-CEO of BT, soon to be head of Alcatel-Lucent) both made short speeches, with Browne offering a couple of rather more pithy CEO secrets of his own: be optimistic and don’t lose the plot. Sounds like good advice to us.

'The Secrets of CEOS – 150 Global Chief Executives lift the lid on business, life and leadership' by Steve Tappin and Andrew Cave is published by Nicolas Brealy, price £18.00

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