CEOs

Does a Coach or CEO matter?

When it comes to management, the answer is an unequivocal no.

Soccernomics, the beautiful book written by Financial Times Columnist Simon Kuper and University of Michigan Professor Stefan Szymanski, makes the convincing case that "it turns out that coaches and managers simply don't make that much difference."

When studying years of soccer matches, the authors conclude that "the vast bulk of managers appear to have almost no impact on their teams' performance and do not last very long in the job. They seem to add so little value that is tempting to think they could be replaced by their secretaries, or the chairman, or by stuffed teddy bears, without the club's league position changing. The importance of managers is vastly overestimated."

How can this be?

As a culture, we laud coaches and CEOs for their superior management skills. Give them diety-worth reverence. Put them on the covers of magazines, see them interviewed on television repeatedly, and even some nations elect them to the top government job. 

The Great Man Theory of History happening in real-time.

What really matters are the players and the employees. The market makes this clear.

Johan Cruyff, the famous Dutch international soccer player who went on coach FC Barcelona to four straight La Liga titles and a Champions League title, said simply, "If your players are better than your opponent, 90 percent of the time you will win."

Those that can perform a specific task repeatedly, with few flaws and consistent enthusiasm are treasured and well compensated by the market. Often there is a shortage of the best talent, and there is massive competition to secure their services. 

You see, soccer teams have perfect market information on thousands of players. It is clear who on the pitch can play and who can't. Either you can play soccer, or you can't play soccer. Either you can perform the task at hand, or you can't.

Soccer players more or less get the job they deserve.

However, when it comes to coaching this is not the case. The market for managers does not work well. Many of the best managers rarely get proper attention while numerous managers who add no real positive value continue to get promoted to better-paying jobs.

You see this off the pitch as well.

According to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data from MyLogIQ LLC and Institutional Shareholder Services, among S&P 500 CEOs who got raises last year, the 10% who received the most significant pay increases scored—as a group—in the middle of the pack in terms of total shareholder return.

Similarly, the 10% of companies posting the best total returns to shareholders scored in the middle of the pack in terms of CEO pay, the data show.

Quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Herman Aguinis, a professor of management at George Washington University School of Business, reinforces this point, “Stars are often underpaid, while average performers are often overpaid.” 

The disparity between CEO compensation and performance appears to persist over more extended periods as well. Professor Aguinis analyzed the earnings of more than 4,000 CEOs over the course of their tenures against several performance metrics and found virtually no overlap between the top 1% of CEOs in terms of performance and the top 1% of highest earners. Among the top 10% of performers, only a fifth were in the top 10% in terms of pay.

On and off the field more coaches and CEOs are more sun god and head of public relations, less visionary executive. 

The forte of best-paid coaches and CEOs is often not winning matches or generating more revenue, something frankly they have little control over, but keeping all the various constituencies united behind them. Hence why as a culture we frequently prize charisma over competence.

Chris Tomlinson, a business columnist for the Houston Chronicle, penned recently, "There is also no shortage of CEO candidates and little competition for them. Few companies need CEOs with unique skills, and boards tend to buy charisma rather than skills anyway. The general economy and market forces within an industrial sector are far more accurate predictors of a company’s performance, regardless of how much the CEO earns."

All of that being said, I do think thought leadership and vision matter immensely, regardless of how it pays.

Leadership is different from management, but that's for a separate post.

-Marc

Marc A. Ross specializes in global communications, thought leader management, and event production at the intersection of international politics, policy, and profits. Working with senior executives from multinational corporations, trade associations, and disruptive startups, Marc helps business leaders navigate globalization, disruption, and American politics.

What CEOs need to learn from Michael Cohen and AT&T

Ross Rant March 2018.png

One of my all-time favorite political campaign books is The Selling of the President.

Written by Joe McGinnis, the book covers the story of how Richard Nixon was repackaged and reshaped for the American public as a candidate for president in 1968. Eight years after Nixon’s losing presidential campaign and his lackluster television performance at the Nixon-Kennedy debate, he faced all the old image problems.

Nixon hired then 28-year old Roger Ailes to remake his image. An image that would win at the ballot box, and more importantly, on television. Ailes created television moments that made Nixon, not smart, not knowledgeable, but well-liked. Ailes created television moments that engaged numerous constituents on their terms.

1968 was no time for policy, it was a time for charismatic personality and shared values.

McGinnis’ book makes clear, presidential candidates can be rebranded and remarketed. Television does not expose and demystify the powerful. Instead, it makes personality stronger. Television ensures style is substance.

David Miller, of the legendary political consultancy Sawyer Miller, saw how television and mass communications would change not only candidates but commerce. He wrote in an article for the Yale School of Organization and Management that just like candidates, if done correctly, corporations could use the tools of television and campaign management to ensure market size and good paying consumers.

Miller wrote: “Corporations must recognize that it is now in their long-term self-interest to develop much more democratic relationships with all of their shareholders, community members, and the public at large.”

Miller foresaw how the corporate world was quickly resembling a politician’s world and how a politician relates to constituents. 

As information channels increase, multiply, focus on niches and distinct tastes and thoughts, corporations need to forge an emotional bond with their various constituents - just like a politician.

The only sensible and meaningful way to do is - establish a relationship and commercial transaction based on shared values.

Today’s masters of the universe CEO is poor decision away from disrupting a relationship based on shared values. Corporations can no longer control the flow of information and can lose control of the narrative within hours.

Corporations are under assault from government regulators, reporters, shareholders, and employees all demanding style that supersedes substance. 

CEOs today need to woo their customers, engage regulators, listen to shareholders, reinforce employees, and make their case daily. CEOs need to communicate more often, on more platforms, and more broadly. Sawyer believed CEOs needed to define themselves before someone else set them - just like a candidate who works like they are up for reelection daily.

As all significant institutions continue to lose sway and influence, the pressure on corporations and CEOs to fill this void increases daily.

For AT&T it wasn’t the paying for access, advice, and public affairs expertise which was a bad idea, it was that they paid an individual (Michael Cohen) who was out of step and not in line with the shared values of AT&T’s numerous constituents.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said as much in a memo distributed to employees last week.

“Our reputation has been damaged,” Stephenson wrote. “There is no other way to say it—AT&T hiring Michael Cohen as a political consultant was a big mistake.”

Companies need to sell worthwhile goods and services - this for sure will continue to matter. But the transaction now has an emotional connection as well.

As pointed out in Edelman's 2018 Trust Barometer: "A good reputation may get me to try a product—but unless I come to trust the company behind the product, I will soon stop buying it, regardless of its reputation.

63% of those surveyed agreed with this statement.

The Edelman Trust Barometer provided a clear directive for today’s CEOs - building trust is job one.

Winning commerce of the future will happen when a company is trusted, provides high-quality services and products, and where business decisions reflect shared values.

AT&T hiring Michael Cohen is losing commerce.

It is not essential to much to be smart and knowledgeable, but it is necessary to be well-liked.

-Marc A. Ross

Marc A. Ross specializes in global communications and thought leader management at the intersection of politics, policy, and profits. Working with boardrooms and C-Suite executives from multinational corporations, trade associations, and disruptive startups, Marc helps business leaders navigate globalization, disruption, and American politics.