Illustration by Amy Martin
Speakers noted that as the top dog, the CEO
promotes a company’s culture, or its values,
attitudes, and motivations. But the culture
must be supported by everyone else, from key
managers to staffers throughout the ranks.
Even during the recruiting and interviewing
process, a company can identify candidates by
building into interviews questions that speak
to the culture.
“Culture is the conglomerate of everyone”
in a particular setting, and leaders establish
a culture by the people they bring in, says Shaw.
A compelling story can help leaders uphold
and communicate a company’s culture.
Stanford GSB marketing professor Jennifer
Aaker says that people embrace and remember
narratives — which can be rich with characters,
emotions, or actions — far more than they
recall facts and data. A story about the history
of a particular product, for instance, can
enhance a company’s culture by conveying
its heritage or sense of purpose and direction.
Ideally, leaders can combine stories with facts
and data to speak to both the “rational” and
“emotional” sides of the audience.
Once a company achieves success, the CEO
should already be considering how it will
transform to its next stage, says Mark Leslie,
lecturer in management at Stanford GSB and
former CEO of Veritas Soft ware. Too many
companies, especially large corporations,
miss big opportunities to transform
themselves, Leslie says, citing Kodak, Borders,
and BlackBerry as examples. The time for top
executives to think about a company’s next
big opportunity is during the good times, or
“right when you’re least likely to think about
it,” he says.
Leslie cites other firms, such as Oracle, that
entered new lines of business or made strategic
acquisitions to continually evolve over decades
and find paths to growth.
Indeed, even small companies in their
early stages must be willing to test and explore.
Taweel recalls that even as Asurion runs its
core business, it also experiments with several
new potential opportunities. “You never know
what exactly is going to hit,” he says. Δ
H. Irving Grousbeck is the MBA
Class of 1980 Adjunct Professor of
Management at Stanford GSB.
The burden is on executives to present
the company and its opportunities
effectively to candidates. For instance,
Asurion’s predecessor, Road Rescue, was in
the unglamorous area of vehicle towing. But
Taweel and Ellis recruited Gerald Risk, who
earned his MBA from Stanford GSB in 1996,
as chief financial officer in part by “painting
a compelling vision for the company,” says
Risk, who ultimately joined and now serves
as its vice chairman.
Speakers described their interviewing
processes, which in some cases include at
least one meeting in a restaurant to allow the
intervie wer to see the candidate’s interaction
with staff. Some executives include other
senior-level managers in the interviewing
process. David Shaw, the event’s lunchtime
speaker and director of Stanford’s football
program, adds that he has recruits spend time
with team members.
Executives also emphasized the
importance of background checks. One idea
is to call references after hours and leave
voicemail, says Andrew Saltoun, a 2008
graduate of Stanford GSB and CEO of health-
benefits manager Integra Partners. Saltoun
tells references that if the candidate is good,
call back, and if he doesn’t hear from them,
he won’t hire the person.
Compensation isn’t the only way to
retain employees, speakers said. Employees
also appreciate a company’s investment in
them. Saltoun noted that to boost retention,
he spends significant time learning about
the goals and motivations of individual
employees. “Retention is part of my everyday
dialogue,” he says.
While it’s tempting to postpone or put off
firing an employee who’s not working out, don’t
give in. Dragging your feet on letting someone
go isn’t in anyone’s interest and sends the
wrong message to others, speakers said. CEOs
can certainly give an employee on the way out
a generous amount of notice and can help him
or her find another more appropriate role.