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“The Mind of the C.E.O.,” by Jeffrey E. Garten (Basic Books and Perseus Publishing, February 2001, 320 pages) In the days of the robber barons, the chief executive officer was a secretive man (he was always a man) who lived his life away from the prying eyes of shareholders, gossip columnists, government bureaucrats, and the anarchists who made life so unpleasant for the World Trade Organization at last year’s Seattle meeting. Now a CEO has to fret about the impact of globalization, the Internet, the speech she will deliver at the Davos World Economic Forum, and whether any of his company’s factories is exploiting workers in Burkina Faso. It’s all part of a natural progression, though, argues Yale School of Management dean Jeffrey Garten in his book “The Mind of the C.E.O.” The world’s economy has been transformed in the past decade almost beyond recognition, and in Garten’s view, political institutions have been slow to respond to the new reality. Plus, corporate governance, American-style, now dominates the world’s largest companies with its demands for transparency and accountability. So with the world’s political leaders stymied, the modern chief executive officer has had to take up the slack. But there’s a problem with all of this, says Garten: The modern corporation is not a public service organization. And the corporate executive is explicitly charged with maximizing shareholder value and making profits. So what’s a CEO to do? Garten’s book is billed as a conversation with the people at the top. He was given extensive face-time with them, to tease out their thoughts about the above-mentioned quandaries, as well as more typical corporate concerns, such as what it takes to build a coherent marketing strategy and hence a successful company. Garten spoke with such luminaries as General Electric Company’s Jack Welch, America Online, Inc.’s Steve Case, Intel Corporation’s Andrew Grove, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, DaimlerChrysler’s Jurgen Schremp, and Nokia Corporation’s Jorma Ollila. But while the dust cover might lead a reader to think that these CEOs hold forth at length, it’s really Garten who does the talking. This book is his analysis of the exquisite dilemmas facing the modern CEO and the corporation. It contains Garten’s suggestions for doing a better job. As such, it’s a good primer on the state of both the economy and its main protagonists at the beginning of the millennium. In fact, most of the book is taken up with the consideration of Big Ideas. Garten begins with a discussion of the strange world we’re living in today. While the economy has become global, we’re mostly bereft of the central institutions needed to guide it. So the CEO finds him- or herself “lost in space,” as he puts it, with little guidance in running a multinational entity. Garten then moves to the Internet. With the benefit of hindsight, he says it’s obvious, as well as ironic, that the main beneficiaries of technology aren’t the dot-com upstarts, but rather the old brick-and-mortar businesses that have successfully learned to harness the Internet. These companies now can reach customers and clients more easily; can coordinate such things as component purchases more efficiently; and can communicate their ideas and policies to the public in a more expeditious way. The growth of the Internet, says Garten, has intensified the already rapid economic globalization under way. Companies can now conduct business more easily across borders; indeed, they often can ignore borders altogether. And this new globalization has brought about the global megacorporation, exemplified in all its strengths and weaknesses by such colossi as DaimlerChrysler. Garten painstakingly describes the culture clashes inherent in such arrangements, and explores the resistance to U.S.-style capitalism in not only the developing world, but in Western Europe and Japan, where, historically, CEOs have tended to be more secretive, and where companies are often compelled to retain redundant workers and pay more social costs. Garten uses the interviews with CEOs mainly to drive home his own points. As he talks about the Net, and the challenges posed by nongovernment groups opposed to the WTO or World Bank, he peppers his arguments with quotes from the CEOs. But rather than letting the CEOs speak their piece, he’s more interested in coming up with a new concept of the modern, enlightened corporation: It’s focused and profitable, yet can exert a positive influence on labor conditions and legal institutions. (The book also brooks disagreement with the author’s concept by chieftains like Murdoch, who doesn’t believe that corporations have duties beyond maintaining profitability and satisfying the demands of the market.) “The Mind of the C.E.O.” is not all touchy-feely. Garten shows how a strong-willed CEO with a clear idea of what’s got to be accomplished can do good and do well. Before Ford Motor Company was sidelined by the SUV/tire recall crisis, its chairman, Bill Ford, was well on his way toward defining the environmentally aware automobile company — while raking in the profits. Garten gives other examples of a quality that he calls “true north,” that unique combination of clear-headedness and idealism. And he shows the way in which a CEO possessed of grand designs but lacking the ability to follow through can be ousted, as was Xerox Corporation’s Richard Thoman, who resigned last May. It’s a good read for execs who like to see the big picture. And because of the possibility of political uncertainty, both long-term (the paucity of international institutions) and short-term (as this was written, the wrangle over the U.S. presidency was continuing), it’s a picture from which no competitive company dares to avert its gaze.

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