Saturday, July 17, 2010

The CEO Archetypes #3 The Thomas Crown

Impeccable haircut, impeccable tailoring and impeccable manners.  They are not interested in the trendiest restaurants, but they know the best restaurants on every continent.  They play sports where they never have to actually touch the ball: squash, golf, polo.  They sail.  They have real art in their offices.  Their shirts are the whitest white.  They wear belts.  They have their shoes shined. They are never surprised.  They never sweat.  They can quote Sun Tzu and Rabalais. They are gentlemen.  They are discreet.  They speak more than one language but their language is never vulgar.  They don't use a wine distributor, they are partners with a vintner.  There is an air of either perfect breeding or man-of-mystery about them.  Some are to the manor born and others are self-made Jay Gatsby's.  They all smell faintly of Chanel Egoiste and Gurkha Centurian's.  The Thomas Crowns are...well they are as cool as Steve McQueen.

I have worked with a few of these authentically cool dudes.  Jim Pelkey, Greg Reyes, Ryan Wuerch, Peter Hopper, Roy Sardina and Tom Adams.  I met John Chambers once...he is the southern gentleman's version of the archetype.  John knows the difference between velvet and velveteen.

I have also met or worked with a few close-but-no-Chohiba Thomas Crown's. Larry Ellison appears to be a Thomas Crown, so does Ed Zander.  But, for me, neither one has the subtlety to pull it off. Ted Turner is a Thomas Crown in his own wacky way.

The hallmark of this archetype is complexity.

Thomas Crown's are generally sales and marketing guys that have moved into CEO roles.  They know appearances count because it reflects their attention to detail, not because they are trying to impress anyone.  Who would they worry about impressing?

In my experience a Thomas is a hands-off manager.  They stay focused at the 100,000 ft level, allowing their team to run day-to-day operations.  They are deal hounds, always scanning the horizon for the next big partnership, merger, acquisition or product opportunity.  They think about shareholders.  They care about employees.  They are demanding yet understanding with their executive team.  If you are an employee in one of their companies you might never see them.  They do not practice much management by walking around.  And yet you feel their presence every day in every decision.  They do not need to be hands on because their presence is pervasive.

The Thomas likes engineers and technologists, but has no problem going outside and buying rather than making technology to sell, leaving their team scratching their heads wondering what went wrong.  Nothing went wrong, but when a Thomas sees something of value, they seize sentimentality here about what their own team is working on. 

A Thomas is a loner.  A great guy, but not exactly a buddy.  Too much of a gentleman to be class conscious, he is as likely to ask his favorite barrista at Starbucks to crew on his boat as he is his CFO.  No one would ever think of asking him to be crew.  He is only captain.

The Thomas' always run big companies.  Even when they are only doing $10 mil in revenue, the Thomas already sees it as a multi-billion-multi-national enterprise.  These guys are complex and they need the complexity of the large diverse company to occupy their craniums.  So they create complex products, businesses models and organizations.  It keeps them interested.

For these guys, money is just a scorecard.  It can be made, lost, replaced many times.  That is the fun.  They seem not to fear failure, but to consider failure their adversary.  The are playing a game against it.  Sometimes they play at the hairy, scary edge. 

What the Thomas knows cannot be replaced is time and wasting, losing or squandering it is a cardinal sin.  Don't be late with a Thomas or they will likely have left without you.

These are the glamorous CEO's.  They are legend.  They are the ones movies get made about.  If someone is going to be a super-hero or jewel thief in their spare time, Hollywood believes it is this archetype.  In my experience the opposite is true, most of the Thomas Crown's I have dealt with are family men with long-term marriages and kids.

Of course they play lacrosse with their kids, not baseball.

I like these guys.  They value their corporate cultures.  They worry about whether they have the right talent in place.  They encourage strategic thought.  They don't dip their pen in the company's ink.  They might face an indictment or two...but other than that they are an HR wonks dream.

Ok, #4 is Michael Scott.


1 comment:

  1. Nancy, I can't believe I made it to your BLOG.

    I consider it a compliment, and for the record I don't play LaCrosse, but I do play soccer with the kids, and Upland Game Hunt with them and sail with them......but you are right I can't/won't ever play baseball with them.

    I too know many people like this (along with a ton of Sheldons (type #5)) I think that CEOs in ALL of your categories are interesting at different times in a company's lifeline. As you know I HATE managing big companies and I think the challenge is usally gone by then.

    Not sure I am a perfect fit for Thomas Crowne model. But I do love running coompanies and letting the people we hire do their job, it's what we are supposed to do!

    Roy Thiele-Sardiña