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G100 Network Notebook | March 2018

A Growing Wave of Activist CEOs

The CEOs of Dick’s Sporting Goods, Delta, and Citigroup, by responding publicly to the Parkland school shooting, joined a growing group of business leaders speaking out on contentious issues. Harvard Business Review offers an update on CEO activism, leading with how Marc Benioff triangulates employee support with organizational values, culture, and history to determine when and how to speak out:

“Anybody who says a CEO doesn’t have a right to say what they want for their company doesn’t understand what leadership is,” he told us. In fact, Benioff considers activism to be not a leadership choice, but a modern – and an evolving –  expectation. “CEOs have to realize that Millennials are coming into the organization and expecting the CEO to represent the values of that organization.”

Who Are Your Company’s Connectors?

HR leaders should consider organization network analysis (ONA) to drive higher performance and align systems for reward and recognition, say John Boudreau, research director of USC’s Center for Effective Organizations, and Babson professor Rob Cross. ONA, which measures interactions to reveal patterns of influence, can supplement traditional people analytics to identify key connectors and track their relationships, ultimately strengthening the succession pipeline:

ONA reveals not just the number and frequency of connections, but also which people create energy and a sense of purpose. These are ideal succession candidates because, while leaders are typically told that a larger network is better so they maximize social and political activities, recent research shows that this is often the opposite of what drives successful innovation, execution, scale, and well-being.

The Value-Driven CEO

In his seven years as Merck CEO, Ken Frazier has rededicated the organization to R&D and overseen a near-doubling in stock price, though it was his decision to leave a presidential advisory council last summer that drew national attention. In Harvard Business Review, Frazier goes deeper into promising results for cancer drug Keytruda, building the next generation of leaders, and how the company thinks about long-term value:

Merck has existed for 126 years; its individual shareholders have turned over countless times. But our salient purpose in the world is to deliver medically important vaccines and medicines that make a huge difference for humanity. The revenue and shareholder value we create are an imperfect proxy for the value we create for patients and society.

Pushing Back on Blockchain

At this month’s BoardExcellence meeting, directors discussed the role and promise of blockchain in digital transformation. But blockchain is not as revolutionary as its proponents say, counters economist Nouriel Roubini, noting that tradeoffs between speed and verifiability inhibit widespread adoption, particularly in financial services:

Bitcoin is a slow, energy-inefficient dinosaur that will never be able to process transactions as quickly or inexpensively as an Excel spreadsheet. Ethereum’s plans for an insecure proof-of-stake authentication system will render it vulnerable to manipulation by influential insiders. And Ripple’s technology for cross-border interbank financial transfers will soon be left in the dust by SWIFT, a non-blockchain consortium that all of the world’s major financial institutions already use.

Lessons from a Grand Slam Legend

Economist and author Tyler Cowen’s recent interview with tennis great Martina Navratilova demonstrates his talent for drawing insights from disparate subjects. Their delightful, albeit lengthy, discussion reveals the benefits of learning outside your domain, the downside to more technology in sports, what a communist defector thinks of US politics, and how to think about executing against stiff competition:

Navratilova: It’s always cat and mouse with your opponent. That’s the fun part. Sometimes, it’s easy to overanalyze. Better to hit the wrong shot well than hit the right shot badly.

What We Get Wrong about AI

Ignore the dystopian talk: superintelligent machines will not be here for a long time, says Kai-Fu Lee, former Google China head and founder of Sinovation Ventures. A pioneer in speech recognition technology, Lee offers a historical- and reality-based perspective that focuses on how AI changes the way we work today. From his new book:

What AI has done is maybe come back to say, “Hey, Kai-Fu, maybe you and mankind have been fooled by the industrial revolution into thinking doing repetitive tasks can possibly be a reason for your existence. If you think that way, think no longer. AI is taking all those jobs away. Only what AI cannot do can possibly be a reason for your existence. And it is perhaps about creativity, it is perhaps about love, it is perhaps something else, but it sure isn’t routine jobs.