Rarely do clarion calls sound this loud. Longtime media-industry executive Leo Hindery, who once headed AT&T and several other large companies, now sees plenty of problems in the modern world, in business and out. He uses his new book, It Takes a CEO
to issue both his diagnoses of the ills, and proposed cures. With the expansive tone of a politician, Hindery addresses a wide array of issues: inner-city unemployment, lack of health insurance, violence on television, corporate greed, outsourcing, undermotivated young people, and even, in brief stretches, the growing trend towards obesity in Americans.
Readers who enjoy reflectiveness and broad perspective in their CEOs will relish Hindery's conversational but unmistakably serious approach. Far from being a conventional memoir of corporate jobs held, boardroom battles won and lost, and shareholder value created, It Takes a CEO clearly focuses on more ambitious goals. Hindery opens his book by declaring his desire to inspire future generations of CEOs, and he returns numerous times to compare his perspectives and experiences as a young businessperson graduating from Stanford's Graduate School of Business to those students coming into the economy today.
Hindery strays from the conventional business-book formula; from the very first pages of the book, in other words, Hindery focuses on the dramatic social trends that waste human potential and drain pools of potential consumers and employees. Hindery will raise some readers' eyebrows with his direct, sometimes bracing opinions. In discussing the accounting-manipulation and fraud scandals that rocked corporate America around the turn of the century, he naturally mentions the typical villains, such as leaders at Tyco, Worldcom, Adelphia, and Enron. He also displays his disgust with Wall Street analysts who praised companies publicly while privately disparaging them. Citigroup's Jack Grubman catches a few barbs from Hindery, for example. Interestingly, though, Hindery doesn't stop there. He also castigates Citigroup's current CEO, Sandy Weill, whom many in the business world admire as a consummate dealmaker. Hindery finds Weill's compensation as CEO wildly excessive, and opines that Weill "deserves a lifetime banishment from positions of corporate leadership." Hindery similarly attacks the leadership of well-respected companies such as Cisco and Disney.
Perhaps the strongest part of It Takes a CEO, though, is that it doesn't stop merely with entertaining opinions and sharply worded broadsides. Hindery also shares his experience with prospective CEOs by offering solutions. On the topic of executive compensation, for example, Hindery offers several measures that he considers wise: a smaller pay spread between CEOs and rank-and-file employees, expensing of employee stock options in profit-and-loss accounting, and elimination of short-term vesting on options. It's this kind of practical advice, and constructive spirit, that makes Hindery's book a valuable one. --Peter Han
From Publishers Weekly
According to Hindery, CEOs are uniquely positioned to save the world from the corrosive effects of airline deregulation, the flight of jobs to China, Wal-Mart's rapaciousness and the lack of national health insurance. Hindery, AT&T Broadband's former CEO and former president of TCI cable (and current recreational race car driver), shows how, in isolated instances, CEOs have solved one of the aforementioned difficulties, specifically noting how Costco's CEO, Jim Sinegal, in contrast to Wal-Mart's leadership, manages to pays the company's employees a living wage, and how discount carrier JetBlue has fostered financial success and both employee and customer satisfaction by upending the traditional airline service model. These cases give Hindery hope that future generations of CEOs will launch "the equivalent of a Marshall Plan to help rescue the U.S. economy and its middle class." Hindery spends most of his time exposing and condemning egregious executive behavior, corporate shenanigans, the perils of offshore outsourcing, the prevalence of gross-out reality television and how, at the end of the earnings period, the employee everyman suffers. His aims are admirable and his perspective is unique, but it's a tough sell that CEOs, not generally seen as champions of the middle class, will be the ones who remedy the societal ills Hindery has in his crosshairs.
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