Monday, April 17, 2006

The 80/20 Rule in CEO Coverage


Today I spent some time reviewing saved articles in my files on CEO Celebrity. I turned back the clock to the late 1990s and early 2000s before Time Warner and AOL merged and the dot.com bust. The topics of CEO charisma and CEO as Brand were everywhere. Soon after the toppling of the CEO icon as Enron imploded, GE's then CEO Jack Welch was interviewed on the Jim Lehrer Online Newshour report (December 2002). He was asked about CEO celebrity and I couldn't help but applaud him as I sat alone in my office despite the four years that passed since these comments.

Welch said: “We resist 99.9 percent of all interviews. It happens when you’re in a big company and your company is successful because of a lot of people, you end up getting your mug shot all the time. You end up on television all the time and then you’re called a quote, charismatic CEO, out trying to do something. You’re not trying to be charismatic. You’re trying to motivate employees, you’re trying to work internally, you are trying to improve processes, you are not trying to get publicity because half the time it’s crappy. You’d like the mole to go away.”

Welch is so right. Most CEOs never start out wanting to be the center of media attention. In fact, even in the crazy heady celebrity CEO days, most CEOs just wanted to keep their heads down and take care of business. The few that did get the frenzied attention agreed with Welch that rallying the troops and communicating the message were good enough reasons to accept invitations to appear live.

As a research study pointed out, 20% of CEOs generated 80% of the media coverage leading up to the scandalous years. We were seeing the same CEOs in the spotlight over and over again -- John Chambers (Cisco), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Jack Welch (GE), Jacques Nasser (Ford), Carly Fiorina (HP), Michael Eisner (Disney). Perception did not exactly match reality. The way the media reported on CEO celebrities made you think that all those Fortune 500 CEOs were grabbing mikes and throwing their shirts to the ground during employee pep rallies.

No way.

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