Business Leaders of the 90’s vs. Business Leaders Today


business speakerThe business leaders in today’s climate are battle-tested, have access to immediate information from multiple sources and know how to use it. In comparing the business leaders of today with leaders of the past, one must understand the tremendous impact Henry Chesbrough’s book entitled, Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology has had upon today’s business culture.

The CEO of a small, medium or large enterprise today can engage in a global marketplace that is far more vibrant than was the global marketplace in the 1990’s. To compete in the global marketplace, CEO’s must not only accept Chesbrough’s “open innovation,” but must also build organizations with collaborative capabilities.

Today’s successful CEOs and business owners understand the value of open business cultures. In the 90’s, most corporations and SMEs adhered to “closed” cultures where company research was highly secure and never shared outside the enterprise.

The global marketplace has forced businesses to change the way they do business and especially the way they bring products to market. In markets where getting products to market quickly is extremely important, collaborations between companies that share research, manufacturing and even marketing capabilities have proven to be cost-effective and fast. This represents a major shift from the cultures of the 90’s.

Harvard’s Top Ten 

While the Harvard Business School’s top ten CEO’s of 2010, is based upon big corporations, it gives valuable insight into the direction large businesses and SMEs must pursue. The study included interviews and performance analysis of 1,999 CEOs around the globe.

Statistics from the Study

  • Six of the top ten CEOs were in IT businesses.
  • 38 percent of the top 50 CEOs were from US companies.
  • 16 countries were represented in the top 50 CEOs.
  • 12 percent of the top 200 CEOs were in the energy sector.
  • CEO performance did not cluster in either free-markets or emerging markets.
  • CEOs hired from within an organization outperformed CEO recruited from outside the organization by a wide margin.

Terms Used to Describe Top CEOs

In reading the depictions of the top 10 CEO’s, the most consistent keyword was “innovative.”  Business leaders in the 90’s were overseeing closed cultures so innovation had to come from within. It is a different ballgame today.

Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Group oversees more than 400 companies. He was described as tenacious. Rupert Murdoch of News Corporation was described as resourceful and strong with a powerful work ethic.

Xerox’s Anne Mulcahy, a one-time drummer in an all-girl rock band who played cricket in college, was described as “fun-loving.” She was the only CEO with an inkling of fun in her depiction.

Renowned investor Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway was also described as patient and steady. Indra Nooyi or Pepsico received high marks for initiative and innovation changing Pepsi’s affiliation to fast foods to healthier foods.

The biggest difference in business leaders of today vs. business leaders of the 90’s is their commitment to build corporate cultures that are open and committed to successful collaborations. This requires training, newfound teamwork, development of smooth flow processes and excellent communication skills. Old habits of the cultures of the 90’s are sometimes hard to change.


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