Four factors, three CEOs

Amy Merrick | May 22, 2016

Sections Strategy

Statistics suggest four factors common to CEOs. But can we see those factors at work in three well-known corporate chiefs?

 

Jeff Bezos

Amazon.com’s CEO puts in 65-hour weeks, and a New York Times article on the company’s high-pressure work environment describes Bezos as having “an instinct for bluntness bordering on confrontation.” But his execution skills are strong. Amazon’s sales increased 20 percent last year, topping $100 billion, and the company reported $2.2 billion in operating profits. The Washington Post, which Bezos purchased in 2013, has dramatically increased monthly visitors to its website. Blue Origin, a space company Bezos has funded with his personal fortune, recently launched an automated spacecraft into suborbital space, an important milestone.

STRENGTH: Execution

 

Steve Jobs

Jobs, who died in 2011, would likely score low on interpersonal skills. In Walter Isaacson’s biography, a friend of Jobs reported that the Apple cofounder “had the uncanny capacity to know exactly what your weak point is, know what will make you feel small, to make you cringe.” At the same time, Jobs was reportedly relentless in executing improvements. “The great accomplishment of Jobs’s life is how effectively he put his idiosyncrasies—his petulance, his narcissism, and his rudeness—in the service of perfection,” wrote Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker.

STRENGTHS: Creativity/strategy

 

Satya Nadella

Only the third CEO in Microsoft’s history, Nadella worked for 22 years on a wide range of the company’s products, from Windows NT to MSN to cloud services, before being promoted to the top in 2014. Chicago Booth’s Steve Kaplan taught Nadella in an entrepreneurial finance class and remembers his former student as particularly strong in strategy and general ability, encompassing both qualitative and quantitative analysis. “He can take a situation and analyze and articulate the issues involved,” Kaplan says, adding that Nadella, unlike some notoriously abrupt CEOs, also has good interpersonal skills: listening, treating people with respect, and working well with his team.

STRENGTHS: Creativity/strategy, general ability