The Daily Dose: How to Be a 2014 CEO

 | Sep 06, 2013 | 11:00 AM EDT
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Bottom line: wage growth was abysmal for the umpteenth time in August. You know one part of the employment market where it's not horrifically weak? CEO land!

In case you have been in bear-like hibernation, there are a host of top gigs open, all of them offering seven-figure annual salaries and assorted perks that go quietly housed in the proxy statement. The role of CEO, however, is evolving once again right, and you need to be aware of how that is so if you have money at risk in a company looking for a strategy-setter.

A CEO's job used to be rather cushy. Sit on the highest floor at HQ miles away from the laborers driving the business, attend strategy meetings and then look forward to cashing in on the earnings per share growth target-related bonus each year of the three-year contract period. Newsflash: it's no longer 1985! The individual now looking to either be promoted to a 2014 CEO from inside a company, or wooed from the outside, must embrace a new school set of rules.

That rule list becomes acutely important to follow if assuming the role at a larger, global company that is probably too fat. That would be a company built through the years by failed strategies of managers now collecting retirement checks and enjoying Bloody Marys on Bermuda sand.

Three Things Done Wrong by the CEO Stories of 2013

1. Living in the past, and not listening to the marketplace.

Companies: Microsoft, Toys R Us

  • Microsoft (MSFT): Married to the PC cash cow, now forced to play catch up in mobile via much overvalued acquisitions.
  • Toys R 'Us: Has not moved quickly enough to exit stores, mobile strategy is looking woefully inadequate relative to Target (TGT) and Wal-Mart (WMT) -- both of which now have tech offices in Silicon Valley.

 2. Overhyping the business' potential successes, which on the Street is a recipe for a stock price disaster.

Companies: J.C. Penney (JCP), Electronic Arts (EA)

  • J.C. Penney: Hyped that it was the department store of the future, but forgot it takes money to build things and its customers make under $30,000 a year.
  • Electronic Arts: Former CEO often touted mobile potential, but consistently released subpar console games and didn't restructure the business fast enough.

 3. Blaming others/external conditions for not getting the job done.

Companies: Microsoft, JC Penney, Electronic Arts

  • Microsoft: Its struggles were a function of changing consumer computing trends.
  • J.C. Penney: Its financial woes were due to store disruptions from remodeling and a pressured consumer.
  • Electronic Arts: Its issues were apparently due to the entire world playing games on iPhones instead of consoles...

Musts on How to be a CEO for 2014

Embrace activists: 2013 has been the year of the activist stealing headlines and causing boards to quake in their boots. Other than the Bill Ackman Herbalife (HLF)/JC Penney flops, activists (shout out Carl Icahn with Apple) are showing they have good ideas on how to make all shareholders bank. CEOs need to check their egos, and invite these folks in graciously to talk shop as well as to open up board seats for them.

Surround yourself with winners, on the executive team and board: It's a little harder to do this immediately on the board as shareholders vote. But if you look around corporate America's boardrooms and executive team lists they remain full of yes men/women. The executive suite and boardroom should be like a president's cabinet -- full of people with deep experience, energy and strong opinions that could assume the CEO position at once and drive daily positive change. That is how shareholder value is created over time.

Learn how to communicate, being an introvert is unacceptable: Activists have taken to social media (Carl Icahn on Twitter on his Apple (AAPL) position) to talk their books. CEOs need to finally learn how to properly use social media (and companies need to let them with pre-approved comments) to reach out to employees and shareholders.

CEOs also have to get off the emails and take their message of positivity and transformation to the streets. When was the last time you saw Steve Ballmer share a Twitter selfie from a Windows phone alongside an employee live from a Microsoft store? Exactly.

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