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CEO: Micromanager or chief strategist?

   
Yeoh: Today, with modern tools, it is a sin not to be hands-on as a CEO. Photo by Abdul Ghani Ismail/The Edge
The Edge Malaysia, NetV@lue, 23 December 2002

By Karamjit Singh

While some CEOs feel burdened by the weight of leadership and with so many expectations and responsibilities, Steve James, chief operating officer of Accenture, gives the example of how CEOs of multinational corporations (MNCs) lead their organisations.

“In most MNCs, the CEO is actually the chief strategist—responsible for strategy and execution of that strategy. They are also very visible to the people in the organisation and in maintaining the company culture. They are very good at communicating with outside investors and in a transparent manner as to what is going on in the organisation, what they plan to do and how they plan to do it.

‘I think most successful CEOs limit themselves to these activities and don’t get involved in the day-to-day management of operations.”

In response to James’ thoughts on what an MNC CEO should focus on and his thoughts on leadership, Tan Sri Francis Yeoh, CEO of the YTL Group, a Malaysian MNC, was asked for his views.

The Edge: What are your thoughts on the thinking that the best CEOs are those who act as the chief strategist and as the main communicator with investors and their own people. They don’t get involved in day-to-day operations.

Yeoh: Sounds like what the former CEO of Enron believed in. Real growth and real profits, not virtual ones, are of interest to me. YTL has delivered a compounded growth of over 50 per cent over the last decade or so and paid real dividends! If that takes day to day management to achieve then so be it. I’ll stick to the winning formula.

I understand that from your office desk, you are able to watch your revenues every day and even every minute. Normally. CEOs of such large corporations will get reports from their CFOs [chief financial officers], perhaps at weekly intervals. Aren’t you in danger of micromanaging when your focus should be on strategy?

Today, with modern tools, it is a sin not to be hands-on as a CEO. Many have forgotten about the Barings debacle and recently Enron. A CEO today does not have any excuse not to be in touch in the day-to-day operations.

The fact remains that the whole management is aware that the MD [managing director] is interested, they will feel incentivised and are comforted that when they offer good business advice for growth and profits, I can respond immediately.

The worst thing in management is to let the people who work hard think you are not interested and throw a bureaucratic wall in their face. I am very interested at all times to make sure that the revenues and the profits delivered are not “virtual” but real. I owe them and the shareholders that.

How important would you rate developing skills and leadership of your top people and how do you do this?

Very important indeed. Staff training at all levels are encouraged.

For the top 150 leaders, we have an annual meeting and it is spread geographically throughout where our businesses are located, be it a power plant, a cement plant or our hotel in Phuket. This gives every leader a chance not only to know each other well but also to familarise themselves with the work nature of their colleagues.

In this way, system integration is resulting in efficiencies and productivity is achieved. We are now equipping all levels of our staff with ICT run by our own YTL e-Solutions team through a programme run together with NetG of the US.




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