In a recent NYT article headlined, “The Decline of the Baronial CEO,” in which it stated that the CEO, whether of a private or public company, had to recognize that they were no longer the “baronial chief executive of another era, sitting atop an industrial dominion with all the attendant privileges.” Apparently fast economic growth and rising earnings did camouflage the cost of outlandish indulgences for a very long time.
What surprised me is that this article might have been more in tune with reality had it appeared about a dozen years ago, a time when the advent of technologies created a complete different corporate order.
But changes are slow to come…
As a CEO of a private, PR firm, I understand that the physical moment when one steps out of a “baronial suite” into a more open concept may be an ego-downer. But it has brought about benefits in its place -- a greater employee connectivity, which has triggered a far greater collaboration, allowing for more idea exchanges and insights into the CEO’s mindset.
Traditionally, public and private CEOs have always had “bosses” in the form of Board of Directors and/or other stakeholders who can dampen a CEOs unilateral decisions. But more often, than not, they have just rubber-stamped the CEO’s decision, as a way of expressing their loyalty. Apparently, that too has changed, with the advent of more activist investors, as well as GenXers and older millennials, who are rapidly moving into management positions and have become more involved in the growth of the company and less inclined to allow a CEO the power of another era. Today, all have a voice to be reckoned with and, as such, this has collectively clipped the wings of a CEO’s dominance.
Witness the recent exiting of the CEOs at the helm of Ford, General Electric and US Steel. These departures are just another sign of a transformed economic landscape and that a 20th century relic of bountiful privileges for the top honcho, is drawing to a close.