Lessons from a Women CEO

Discussion in 'Working Women' started by bharthi, Mar 21, 2006.

  1. bharthi

    bharthi Junior IL'ite

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    Hey All,

    Interesting article on lessons from a lady who had been the CEO of a major corporation for 14 years.


    After a 14-Year Run,
    A Technology CEO
    Shares Some Advice
    March 20, 2006; Page B1
    Carol Bartz has outlasted most CEOs of big companies. She has been chief executive of Autodesk for the past 14 years, when the median tenure is just five years. She led the Silicon Valley software company through economic ups and downs. In May, Ms. Bartz will relinquish her CEO post and become executive chairman. But her longevity as CEO gives her a rare perspective on what it takes to weather mistakes and business cycles and to be an agent of change.

    Don't rest on your honeymoon-period laurels.

    When she first became CEO, Ms. Bartz joked that her task was "playing Wendy to the Lost Boys of Autodesk." The company had one product, profits were sagging and employees, who brought their dogs and cats to the office, weren't used to answering to anyone. Even by Silicon Valley standards, the atmosphere was chaotic, choking creativity.

    She quickly imposed a more traditional management structure, with schedules for product launches and for regular performance reviews. Many employees welcomed a CEO who could make decisions. But as business improved, some began backsliding to old habits. "If you arrive when a heart attack is occurring, people agree to change their diet," says Ms. Bartz. "But when things get stabilized, it's human nature to want to start eating hamburgers again."

    Executives must doggedly push improvements and keep reminding employees what they must do to achieve them.

    <REPRINTSDISCLAIMER>Don't typecast your employees, or hold a grudge.

    When Ms. Bartz fired Carl Bass, co-founder of a software company she'd acquired, Autodesk's chief engineer told her, "You can't fire Carl!" Mr. Bass was known as a technical wizard but often complained that the company wasn't moving fast enough. But Ms. Bartz insisted his attitude was hurting progress.

    A few months later, however, she invited Mr. Bass back, after reaching an understanding, and he began to rewrite a problematic version of the company's signature software. He eventually rose to chief operating officer. He'll succeed Ms. Bartz as CEO. "If you never change your mind about people, you won't have the talent you need," says Ms. Bartz.

    Motivate others by believing in the company.

    During the dot-com boom in the late 1990s, Ms. Bartz would wake up in the middle of the night stunned by how quickly Autodesk had slid into obscurity. "We were making software for Old Economy companies and no one cared about that anymore," she recalls. To keep most employees from jumping to dot-com start-ups, where they thought they'd become millionaires, she first had to convince herself that she believed in Autodesk's products and business model. "Sure we lost some people," she says, "but once I dug into myself and knew I believed in Autodesk, I could convince others to stay."

    Change with the business landscape.

    Refusing to be cowed by the dot-com bubble, Ms. Bartz also realized the Internet was radically altering business. "I knew we had to use the network to change how we design, manufacture and market products," she says.

    Under her watch, Autodesk began customizing products for specific industries, such as entertainment, autos and construction. It also began selling software by subscription so customers could use it for only a certain time period and get free updates. The result: more-stable revenues than when customers could use the software indefinitely but paid for upgrades.

    Invest in your business during downturns.

    Even when Autodesk's profits were sagging in the last downturn, Ms. Bartz made a major investment in three-dimensional software, considered the future of the industry. Her company is now capitalizing on this investment. As a CEO you always have to ask, "How do we stay relevant and make something work?" says Ms. Bartz. The software permits customers to see a three-dimensional model of what they want to design, which enables them to get more things right the first time.

    Unless you invest during downturns, you won't be ready for upturns, she adds.

    Gain knowledge outside your company.

    While some CEOs are rejecting board seat offers because of the increased work required in this environment of heightened regulation, Ms. Bartz thinks being a director at Cisco and BEA Systems has sharpened her leadership skills. "I get the chance to see how other CEOs operate and what other companies are up against," says Ms. Bartz. She also often attends the World Economic Forum "not to schmooze but to open my brain," she says. "You have to find ways to break the isolation of being a CEO."

    Know when to step aside.

    At 57, Ms. Bartz isn't ready to retire and wasn't shown the door by directors. "I cried my eyes out," she says about her first thoughts of stepping down. But she knew Mr. Bass was getting job offers, and she didn't want to spend years grooming another successor.

    She also likes the fact that she's stepping aside when Autodesk is at the top of its game, thanks to many of her initiatives, and when she still isn't bored. "It's very good to leave a job when you still love it," she says.

  2. orion80

    orion80 Platinum IL'ite

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    Great post. Thanks for sharing.

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