Pick the Right Mix

Posted 01.16.2009

CarolbartzEarlier this week, Carol Bartz, the highly successful former CEO of Autodesk was recruited to be the CEO of Yahoo.  She may be the last, best chance to turn the internet pioneer around.  In a New York Times interview, Cisco CEO John Chambers called Bartz the “best player in the draft.”  Given his experience with Bartz as a Cisco board member and her track record in growing Autodesk from $300 million to $1.5 billion in revenue during her 14 year tenure, it’s not hard to figure out why Chambers is so high on her.

On the other hand, what seems obvious to some may not be to others.  In the same Times article, Christa Quarles, an analyst with Thomas Weisel, said about Bartz, “The most glaring deficiencies are that she has no consumer or Internet or advertising experience.  The question is whether she will bring someone in who can fill those deficiencies.”

Come on Christa.  What leaders like Chambers and Bartz understand is that the bigger the job, the more it’s about leadership and the less it’s about long term technical knowledge. 

A few years ago, a friend of mine who started his career as an engineer and has since been the president of a couple of significant defense related businesses, explained his progression by drawing a picture that looks a lot like this chart:


Obviously, there’s no hard and fast rule about the ratio of leadership to technical skills as one moves into higher level roles.  The point, though, is the mix should absolutely change. 

In a meeting with a newly promoted C-suite client yesterday, we were talking about exactly this point.  He’s doing a great job of transitioning from being the “go-to” subject matter expert to being the leader of a team of “go-to” experts.  Has it been easy for him?  Not entirely.  He’s learning to let go of doing things that he’s enjoyed doing for many years while he’s picking up new techniques and routines for staying informed at the right level for his role.  Right now, he’s working on setting up regular pulse checks with his team so that he can advise and stay informed on key issues. 

My guess is that Carol Bartz is doing the same thing at Yahoo.