The case of the CEO who didn’t like young people: Real-life leadership dilemmas to learn from

The case of the CEO who didn’t like young people: Real-life leadership dilemmas to learn from

Rick Spence | Published: 09/10/13
Did you hear the one about the CEO who didn’t like young people? Sorry, this isn’t a joke. It’s a true story, and not very funny. This CEO was so convinced that today’s Generation Y workers are lazy, disloyal, and spending all their time on “Spacebook,” that he endangered the future of his business. The cranky CEO’s story is one of 28 real-life, two-page case studies adapted from the files of Vancouver coach and consultant Nancy MacKay. The founder and CEO of MacKay CEO Forums has compiled these vignettes, from her own coaching experience, into a free e-book entitled What Great CEOs Do: How to Learn from Mistakes and Move On. While the book was presumably published to promote her CEO-roundtable business, it’s also a highly readable guide to solving many of today’s toughest leadership challenges.Among the characters you meet in MacKay’s menagerie: the CEO who couldn’t take bad news; the color-coded CEO (a red light means he’s having a bad day); the CEO who overly focused on failures; and the CEO who had to overcome a trust gap between her management team and the board of directors.

Like a good detective story, each anecdote begins with a precise statement of the incident that causes all the fuss. They each goes on to explain how MacKay helped the main characters solve the problem and more forward as an effective team.

These are real examples any aspiring leader can learn from. Great leaders are rarely born that way; they are formed through experience and challenge. And if you can read about the challenges rather than experiencing them — so much the better!

So what happened with the cranky CEO who didn’t trust anybody under 30? Since most of his direct reports were Baby Boomers, born before 1964, they tended to agree with their chief’s assessment. Which means none of the organization’s leaders were communicating very well with the people who composed one-third of the company’s workforce.

MacKay came on the scene convinced that the company was heading for extinction if it didn’t make peace with the young workers. “With this mindset,” she writes, “our CEO was in for a tough time attracting, retaining and developing top prospects for the long term.” She helped the CEO see the errors of his ways, and assisted him in reaching out to under-30s in three areas.

* “First, he developed an explicit life balance strategy for the organization, starting with the executive team and then cascading it throughout the company.” He made it clear the company wanted employees to take their vacation time and adopt more realistic working hours. He also introduced flexible work arrangements such as job sharing and telecommuting.

* Second, the CEO implemented an integrated succession and career planning strategy to make younger workers feel valued in the organization, and help them develop new skills. The new development tools included coaching, mentoring and job shadowing. According to MacKay, this strategy “improved morale and increased abilities across the company.”

* He also led development of a social media strategy to encourage responsible use of new technologies, both personally and professionally. He accepted that Facebook, Twitter and other social media are here to stay.

In sum, says Mackay, “this CEO saw his way through to accept and embrace generational differences, rather than dismiss or try to change them. He realized that he was destroying the very relationships the company needed to nurture for the future.” To seal the deal, he even created his own Facebook page.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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