Wednesday, February 08, 2006

What Makes Rupert Run?

I just enjoyed a lively breakfast with Rafael Pastor, who is the CEO of an interesting company called Vistage International, based in San Diego. Vistage is the world’s largest CEO membership organization. It offers structured development programs and peer-to-peer coaching for CEO’s of primarily small to medium-sized companies. Vistage’s track record is remarkable; on average, its member companies grow 250% faster than their non-member counterparts.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about. Rafael Pastor used to be a very senior guy at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, a massive media empire that touches half the world’s population. In addition to several prominent international posts, Pastor ran the company’s U.S.A. Networks International, and accordingly, he wound up regularly interacting with the great man himself. While reminiscing about his experiences at News Corp, Rafael said that Murdoch’s great leadership could be summarized by five attributes:

1. He is an instinctive visionary. Murdoch doesn’t ignore data. But what’s special about him is that unlike many “professional” managers, he doesn’t simply rely on the data to make the big decisions. He draws from all sorts of available data on markets and his company in order to keep his decisions grounded, and he trusts his own experience, knowledge, and instincts about his business. Murdoch still has that wondrous trust in his gut about where the market is going and what his company can do to capitalize on it. So don’t expect him to make big strategic decisions based strictly on a spreadsheet analysis. And don’t expect him to be afraid to take chances in pursuing big picture unchartered directions that will set News Corp apart from his competitors.

2. He has an intuitive sense of what appeals to customers. Unlike many media moguls who operate in rarified corporate atmospheres and rely on sterile market research for insights about customers, Murdoch makes it a point to really, truly understand the average customer. What are their lives about, what turns them on, what are they really like? The more a leader talks to customers, reads stories about them, asks questions about them, probes about their likes and dislikes, and observes them in action, the more he or she can feel confident about using “intuition” to make bigger decisions about what they’d be willing to buy.

3. He pays attention to details. Murdoch may sit on a $55 billion asset throne, but the man’s antennae are remarkably attentive to key operational, pricing, and marketing decisions that are germane in every pocket of his global empire. That sort of attention does two things. One, it gives everyone in News Corp the message that discipline and solid execution are expected in any leadership position. Two, it allows Murdoch to be that “instinctive” visionary and “intuitive” customer advocate without falling prey to recklessness or just plain stupidity. In my upcoming book Break From the Pack, due mid-year, I describe effective leaders as having a “passion for purpose” and a “passion for precision”. Too bad the book is already in production. I would have included Murdoch as one of my exemplars.

4. He’s an excellent dealmaker. Let’s face it, the track record of big media mergers and acquisitions stinks. (Think about the dismal deals like AOL and TimeWarner, Disney and CapMarketsABC, Viacom and CBS, Matshusita and MCA, Sony and BMG, Vivendi and Universal, just for starters). Yet here’s a guy who’s an outright serial acquirer and his track record is darn impressive. I don’t think dealmaking is part of anyone’s DNA. Rafael agreed that Murdoch’s effectiveness is in large part due to the issues in #1, 2, and 3 above. That means that his acquisitions will be attuned to cutting edge visions, deep customer needs, and a commitment to detail-rich execution. And that means they’re more likely to succeed.

5. He leads by inspiration. Murdoch, for all his wealth and power, is not what you'd call a "strong dominant" personality. He’s not particularly “charismatic” either. Yet people who work for him sense that he’s extraordinary. People want to please him. Maybe it’s his low-key devotion to his business. Maybe it’s his lack of outsized ego. Maybe it’s his ability to forge new directions while staying committed to the customers. Maybe it's that he leads by showing others that he too is honestly inspired by the work he does. All I know is that even someone as successful as Rafael Pastor still talks about Murdoch with notable admiration and attachment.

These five attributes are not part of your normal MBA curriculum, but they're worth considering and cultivating if you’re aiming for a senior leadership career.


Anonymous WorldwideIncome said...

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1:25 PM  
Anonymous WorldwideIncome said...

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8:17 AM  

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