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One of the best examples of that came at IBM more than 20 years ago, as the once-dominant Big Blue was losing billions of dollars and looking for new leadership.
The board’s pick, Lou Gerstner, didn’t just come from outside IBM but from outside the industry. Three weeks into his job, Gerstner presided over his first strategy planning meeting. As he later told a Harvard Business School class, “after eight hours I didn’t understand a thing.”
But Gerstner’s challenge at IBM wasn’t forming a new strategy for selling computers to businesses, although it took months for him to fully realize that. He learned he had to change IBM’s culture.
He needed to get the competitive, goal-oriented individuals who collectively had once kept IBM at the top of its industry to buy into the idea of being collaborators who would achieve their goals as members of a team.
What’s happening at Best Buy Co. looks a little like the IBM story. It’s certainly true that going outside to Hubert Joly, the CEO of the travel and hospitality company Carlson, got the same sort of baffled reaction in 2012 as Gerstner’s appointment as CEO in 1993.
Best Buy’s stock dropped 10 percent that day. No securities analyst called Joly an inspired choice for the Richfield-based company. One just called him “unimpressive.” None of them knew if he had ever worked in a store.
It’s now clear that Joly’s lack of retailing experience hasn’t hurt a bit. His leadership gifts, for communication and strategy development, have been very much on display.
Joly has said he wasn’t looking for a job when he decided to go to Best Buy. He was attracted to the challenge of turning around a $45 billion company many investors had given up for dead.
That’s another trait the old soldier, Clausewitz, noticed in the best generals. Nothing beats hunger for honor and renown as a motivator.
Clausewitz appeared frustrated that this concept so easily got confused with simple glory-seeking — something not admired in the Prussian officer corps or in a corporate boardroom.
But, he wrote, show me a great leader who did not first aspire to do great things.
The Target board should know that its best candidates will have many positive traits — including the fiery ambition to lead Target back into the ranks of America’s most-admired companies.
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