One of the things I look forward to most when I open The New York Times on a quiet Sunday morning is their “Corner Office” feature. As benchmarks go, this one works for me, because it shows the human side of chief executives.
It also provides insights into the philosophies, mindsets, and struggles that business leaders endure as they made their ways to the top. Not every one of these profiles is insightful or memorable. But every few Sundays, The Times highlights a corporate honcho who hits the nail on the proverbial head.
Last weekend, “Corner Office” highlighted Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna, the health insurance juggernaut. It turns out Bertolini is a Detroit native (but of course), from a working class background. In recovery from a serious skiing accident, Bertolini found yoga. And that led to the epiphany that perhaps rank and file workers in his company were suffering financially.
And that led to a series of culture-shaking action steps at Aetna, including raising the company's minimum wage to $16/hour, and improving benefits. Nice steps, of course, but remember – Aetna is a public company with a responsiblity to millions of shareholders.
As Bertolini explains, there are times when a CEO has to take a stand about more than just the present quarter. As executives are fond of saying, “at the end of the day,” it's about how the company is positioned for the long haul. As Bertolini told The Times, his first step was to take some pressure off that incessant need to produce financial reports. As a result, he reduced Aetna's quarterly guidance, as well as the financial metrics it used to release.
The mantra? “We're going to the future.”
And while Bertolini acknowledges some fallout, he transformed Aetna into a mission-based company:
“Our messaging with our shareholders has changed..We had some investors leave because they wanted more dividend or more share buybacks. We cut our share buyback in half. We didn’t increase our dividend until we had a lot of extra cash on hand. You get the shareholders you deserve.”
It's like being fixated on PPM weeklies or weekly sales reports, losing sight of the company's long-term perspective and progress. A downside of data is that too much of it can obscure or warp the entity's bigger vision.
Like Bertolini, Amazon's Jeff Bezos (now the richest person in the world) has consistently aggravated many of his company's investors because of his policy of pouring more and more revenue into infrastructure, research and innovation. When you bought Amazon stock a few years ago, you had to accept Bezos' long haul strategy – his vision – to make the company that revolutionized e-commerce, e-books, and smart speakers.
Or you could have invested in Enron, Kodak, or Kmart.
Bertolini's money quote – “You get the shareholders you deserve” – rings true whether you're running a public traded corporation or a fast food restaurant.
But even thinking about any radio company – whether it's one of the “bigs” or a mom & pop operation – management's ability to dream up, clarify, and sell its vision to your shareholders, stakeholders, or staff makes the difference between great companies and the also-rans.
We've seen that on display at the Radio Show this week, not just from the many CEOs roaming the halls in steamy Orlando, but on the exhibit floor and in panels and sessions featuring some of broadcasting's best and brightest. It is not difficult to identify leadership that “gets it,” that isn't just spewing hyperbole and popular radio catch phrases, but instead, is articulating a prescient direction for their companies, shareholders, and employees.
One of the more (in)famous quotes from President George H.W. Bush (41) came out during a period when he was having trouble articulating his domestic policy plans for the country. A friend suggested he spend a little quiet time at Camp David, figuring it out. Apparently that advice didn't impress the President who expressed his frustration with “the vision thing.”
Radio companies, and the stations in their portfolios, need a mission, a raison d'être a clear statement of purpose that employees, clients, and stakeholders buy into. It's not a framed piece of paper hanging in the lobby – it's a clear concept delivered from the top about who the company is, where it's going, and why it matters.
Whether you're dealing with a board of directors or a room full of disc jockeys, “the vision thing” is part and parcel of any enterprise's success. The lack of a true direction often leads to whiney, frustrated shareholders, stakeholders, or employees.
These days, as so much of the media business – especially broadcast radio – is in flux, rebooting, pivoting, and a lack of priorities lead to ambiguity, which begets that dreaded lack of focus. That lack of vision is what makes those who have invested in the company – either financially or with their careers – frustrated, restless, and unsettled.
“The vision thing” is that fundamental building block that sets the tone, lays out the path, and paves the way for a future in a climate that is anything but predictable or certain.
“You get the shareholders you deserve” puts the onus on leadership…to lead. As it should be.
So, what's your “vision thing?”
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
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