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Ducks in a Row: the Difference Between Winning and Losing

by Miki Saxon


What separates success and failure for new CEOs?

Some crash and burn, like Robert Nardelli and Apple retail chief Ron Johnson when he moved to Penney.

Others flourish.

Since becoming CEO at Microsoft, Satya Nadella has made revolutionary changes in both products and culture that would/could never have happened under the old regime and the stock is up 53%.

The world said that Apple under Tim Cook would be mediocre or even fail; it was assumed that no one could follow Steve Jobs. But in the three years April since Cook took the reins Apple split 7:1 and more than doubled its stock price.

What do these pairs have in common?


Nardelli and Johnson were both outsiders who lacked interest or understanding of the existing culture. Both tried to use brute force to radically overhaul the existing culture and both failed miserably.

Nadella and Cook were both insiders; Cook was with Apple 13 years, while Nadella had 24 at Microsoft, and so far both are succeeding brilliantly.

Does this mean CEO jobs should always go to insiders?

Absolutely not.

Does it mean that changing the culture is a bad idea?

Absolutely not.

Lou Gerstner was an outsider who radically changed the culture at IBM.

And he sums the lesson up best.

“I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—it is the game.”

Flickr image credit: Jeffrey

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