In addition to such victims of “industry dissonance” as the late Enron founder Kenneth Lay and CEO Jeffrey Skilling, there seems to be a movement, possibly due to the dramatic economic shifts occurring at the start of the century, where the status-loving, jet-setting, deal-making celebrities of the 1990s are being replaced by awareness-sensitive leaders who are more performance oriented and less egocentric.  Some clear examples of this trend are Disney’s preference for consensus builder Robert Iger over the more domineering Michael Eisner; Hewlett –Packard’s choice of low-key Mark Hurd over high-profile Carly Fiorina; and Intel’s transition from charismatic, rough-and-tumble Andy Grove to the more diplomatic and soft-spoken Paul Otellini.

When Otellini took over as CEO in May of 2005, he converted Grove’s old antagonistic philosophy of “only the paranoid survive” to the more discrete “praise in public, criticize in private.”  To integrate a sense of connectedness into the company culture, Otellini hired sociologists and ethnographers to better discover what emotional ties potential customers had to certain product images in one particular region over another.  Intel even hired doctors to work with their ethnographers to explore which technologies the elderly might find most useful in monitoring their vital signs or tracking how victims of Alzheimer’s ate.  “I have seen more flexibility,” admitted Sony vice president Mike Abary, in a Business Week article, ‘more of an open mind-set than in years past,” appreciating the shift toward Intel’s increasingly collaborative attitude.

When Bill Ford Jr. took over as CEO of Ford Motor Co. after firing Jacques Nasser, it became clear that the corporate culture there was shifting away from Nasser’s aggressive, hierarchical status style to Bill Ford’s more collaborative awareness style.  Bill is a passionate environmentalist and student of Buddhist philosophy.  He’s much more people-oriented than Nasser, who shook up the company with his hyper-aggressive management style.  Yet Bill Ford is no pushover.  As Mark Fields, president of Ford’s Americas division, puts it in an issue of Time magazine, “You don’t have to be a tyrant to be tough.”

Though Bill Ford has since yielded the presidency to former Boeing executive Alan Mulally, he maintains a strong influence over his family’s company, remaining executive chairman.  No lover of hierarchy, he answered, in a Newsweek article when asked about his giving up his title of CEO, “I’ve always said that titles are not important to me…What’s important is getting this company headed in the right direction.”

After handing the CEO mantle over to Mulally, Ford said, “I have a lot of myself invested in this company, but not my ego.  I just want the company to do well.  It’s not about me.”

Mulally was characterized in the Wall Street Journal as a new-age Lou Gerstner, a “gregarious man…an executive with a strong track record for building teamwork in a large organization.”  This fit with Bill Ford’s style of maintaining the connectedness of his management team-“searching for a combination of subordinates who shared his desire for a teamwork-oriented, collegial management culture.”  In Mulally’s own words, as described in another Wall Street Journal article, “You talk to customers, dealers, Ford employees, UAW, your suppliers, your investors-everybody…I know that’s what I have to do.  I need to network with these groups.”

 While General Motors and Chrysler floundered in 2009, Ford’s U.S. market continued to grow.  Upon rising to the leadership of Ford, Mullaly had acquired what he jokingly termed “the biggest home-equity loan in history”-cash and credit worth almost $30 billion-a brilliant deal, according to financial analysts.  With its focus on smaller cars and electric vehicles, Ford was in much better fiscal shape than its competitors, an indication that connecting with employees and customers does work where other approaches are not as nimble.

David Nour is a social networking strategist and one of the foremost thought leaders on the  quantifiable value of business relationships. In a global economy that is becoming increasingly disconnected, David and his team are solving global client challenges with Strategic Relationship Planning™ and Enterprise Social Networking best practices.David is the author of Relationship Economics (Wiley, 2008), The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Raising Capital (Praeger, 2009), ConnectAbility (McGraw-Hill, 2010), and the Social Networking Technology Best Practices Series. He is a contributor to The Social Media Bible (Wiley, 2009) and is currently researching and writing his next commercial book on Customer Economics .David’s unique perspective and independent insights have been featured in a variety of prominent blogs and print publications including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Association Now, Entrepreneur and Success magazine.
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