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CEO Capital: A Guide to Building and Leveraging CEO Reputation

Author: Leslie Gaines-Ross
Publisher Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
Publication Date: December 2002

Reviewer:G.A. (Andy) Marken
In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

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I admit that given the choice I'd rather read a book on management and management philosophy than PR strategy/tactics or fiction. I especially enjoy reading chief executives' autobiographies (authorized or not) because it gives us an insight into the individuals who have driven and who drive our economy.

Unfortunately, there hasn't been a lot of good reading about and for CEOs over the past year.

Scandals and image destruction have not only topped the news but have been the central theme of many of the articles that have appeared in BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes and other business, trade and management publications. CEOs as a group seemed to be viewed slightly better than lawyers and perhaps a little worse than PR people.

The few who took huge salaries, bonuses and stock options while raping the stock value and investments of millions. They made it difficult for the thousands of CEOs who struggle along trying to realign their companies, product lines and staffs to turn red ink black and deliver a fair return for all stakeholders - consumers, employees, business partners and shareholders.

Frankly this is a must-read roadmap for those thousands of CEOs and for the thousands of public relations people who have to counsel, support and guide them in communicating their precepts, visions and plans. CEO Capital isn't one of those guides on how to build a CEO's image and reputation because fortunately CEO cult worship seems to have finally fallen out of favor.

But Dr. Gaines-Ross' work seems to be one of the first how-to guidebooks for CEOs that isn't built one on or two individual opinions and what it takes to be a CEO with the right stuff. From her chief knowledge and research officer position at Burson-Marsteller, she (and her staff) have taken a long, hard and serious look at the link between a CEO's reputation and the success of the company. While most PR people feel the top manager sets the stage for the organization, she explains why and how the company can use that CEO capital to improve its stock position, gain customers, obtain and retain the best employees and attract business partners that can make the firm stronger and more profitable.

If you study companies in the past you find that getting the top company job usually meant you had arrived and the CEO held the job as long as he or she wanted. Today, that longevity has disappeared. The turn-rate at the top is now three-five years (if they are lucky). Dr. Gaines-Ross' book really is a guide for building the CEO reputation and corporate success.

She has resisted the easy route of CEO bashing and deriding the importance of using personality hype to further the CEO and his/her agenda. At the same time she reaffirms our fundamental faith that sound personal and professional values are still valid for a person to succeed. From a public relations perspective, these traits should be capitalized on and openly promoted. The key is clear, concise internal communications and a strong management team.

She has broken the job down into five stages and used excellent examples of each stage to assist the reader in understanding how he or she can work through the specific stage and ensure that they not only keep the position but succeed for the corporation. If you're like us you read the book and the light bulb goes on and you can look at examples of CEOs who followed the five stages and succeeded as well as those corporate heads who lost their way…and their jobs.

The stages Dr. Gaines-Ross identified are the countdown, the first 100 days, the first year, the turning point and the revision and reinvention.

The countdown could be compared to the quiet period for a firm when it is going public. The CEO quietly and privately plans the future, assembles his or her transition teams, gets the lay of the land and learns what people, programs and activities will stay, will be realigned or will leave. Here is where he or she sets the stage for his or her personal and professional future.

The first 100 days is the critical period for the CEO and the organization. The period is a delicate balance of action and listening. It is during this time that he or she listens and learns to gain the support of employees, board members and partners. At the same time they have to be proactive in completing unfinished business left behind by his or her predecessor as well as repair or eliminate programs that don't meet the firm's long-term goals and objectives.

By the end of the first year the new CEO should have all of the people, programs and actions in place. Everything may not have been resolved or changed but all of the stakeholders see progress and feel the CEO is leading the company in the right direction.

At the turning point the CEO has taken the steps that will transform the organization and prepare it for the future. Even if the company's earnings haven't improved dramatically during the first four quarters all of the stakeholders feel the company is moving in the right direction. Now it is time to produce! Everyone - the press, board of directors, shareholders, employees, business partners and customers - coldly evaluate the CEO's vision and actions. Succeeding at this stage, the CEO has generated substantial personal and professional capital. Failing at this stage means he or she is on the way out and a replacement is being sought.

During the final stage the CEO is comfortable in his or her role and position. He or she is now changing the company's vision to keep pace with the ever-changing competitive environment and market demands. His or her complete team is now collaborating on developing new strategies and executing new tactics to improve the position and future of the company and the CEO.

This is an excellent book of dos and don'ts for CEOs, potential CEOs and especially for the PR people who must help them get their message out to their various publics. Keep in mind throughout the book - and especially in your daily activities - that without sound, energetic and effective communications the CEO will find it difficult, if not impossible, in earning the trust of his or her many publics.

He or she sets the vision, the direction and the plan of action. But it is communications that fans the flames for enthusiasm, support and commitment.

This is a great PR how-to book for your personal library. It's also a gift you should consider giving to your CEO who has been around for awhile, for your new CEO or for someone who has his or her eye on the position.