The Big Rocks

Posted by Robert Beauchemin on Jul 15, 2010

The busier you are, the more important it is to stop and read this story.

One day, an expert in time management was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration those students will never forget.

As he stood in front of the group of high-powered over-achievers, he said: "Okay, time for a quiz."

He then pulled out a one-gallon "wide-mouth" mason jar and set it on the table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one by one, into the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked "Is this jar full?"

Everyone in the class said: "Yes." Then he said: "Really?"

He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar, causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the space between the big rocks. Then he asked the group once more: "Is this jar full?" Read the rest of this entry »

A Thousand Marbles

Posted by Robert Beauchemin on Jul 5, 2010

I don't know the author of this piece, but wanted to share it anyway.


A few weeks ago, what began as a typical Saturday morning turned into one of those lessons that life seems to hand you from time to time. Let me tell you about it.

I turned the dial up into the phone portion of the band on my ham radio in order to listen to a Saturday morning swap net. Along the way, I came across an older sounding chap, with a tremendous signal and a golden voice. You know the kind; he sounded like he should be in the broadcasting business. He was telling whomever he was talking with something about "A Thousand Marbles." I was intrigued and stopped to listen to what he had to say.

"Well, Tom, it sure sounds like you're busy with your job. I'm sure they pay you well but it's a shame you have to be away from home and your family so much. Hard to believe a young fellow should have to work sixty or seventy hours a week to make ends meet. Too bad you missed your daughter's dance recital he continued." "Let me tell you something that has helped me keep a good perspective on my own priorities."

And that's when he began to explain his theory of "A Thousand Marbles." "You see, I sat down one day and did a little arithmetic. The average person lives about seventy-five years. I know, some live more and some live less, but on average, folks live about seventy-five years." Read the rest of this entry »

Personal Characteristics of a Great CEO

Posted by Robert Beauchemin on Apr 23, 2008

In a previous post I talked about what would make a Great CEO and concluded that a Great CEOs, those in the top 2% of the Bell Curve, would have had a broad experience. Well, there is more to it than just a broad experience. A Great CEO for me has some personal characteristics uncommon on many people. I know that, as a CEO, I was certainly conscious about improving these aspects of my personality. So here are the top characteristics I would consider an exceptional combination:

Stamina – Not age. Ideally your looking for someone in its 50's with the energy of a 35 year-old go-doer. The job of a CEO is very demanding, meeting challenges after challenges, analyzing situations, making decisions, aligning all staff towards common goals, traveling, and keeping the family happy in the process. The CEO regularly clocks in 12 hour days, often working 6-7 days a week. This is not a job for the faint of heart.

Educated – Not Necessarily Formally. MBA maybe, well read for sure. The CEO needs to stay current on the stock markets and on industries, on leadership, on people management, on marketing, on technology, on performance management, on micro economics and macro economics. The CEO must have an insatiable thrust for learning. The worst CEOs know it all from the get-go. Read the rest of this entry »

What makes a great CEO?

Posted by Robert Beauchemin on Mar 18, 2008

Let's start with the premise that CEOs are not all equal.

Like in any population, the population of CEOs is grouped according a standard Bell Curve. 2% are exceptionally good, 14% are good, 68% are average, 14% are not good, and 2% are exceptionally bad.

What gives an extra edge for a CEO?

I submit it is a broad base of experiences.

You are looking for a CEO that has successfully acted in multiple industries and varying types of organizations, and doing so, has developed different sets of muscles.

He/she has experienced selling fewer larger ($10M+) transactions as well as smaller and high volume transactions.
He/she worked in complex (Outsourcing/ERP/Engineering) solutions, or simple over-the-counter consumer transactions.
He/she dealt with sophisticated customers (Governments/Corporate America) and sold over the web, where there is hardly any interaction.
He/she ran organizations operating with 80% gross margin and 25% EBITDA and in those with 25% Gross Margin and 10% EBITDA.

You want the same CEO to have also run companies in different geographies, against different political backdrops.
He/she has also lead a start-up company, did turnarounds and sat atop a large corporation.
And he/she has run a subsidiary for an American as well as for a European company.

You want someone who has lived through fast growth, but also knows what it feels like to fire 25% of the staff, or to take a company out of stagnation.
You want some who has run both a private and a public company.
And yes, you want someone who has come very close to missing payroll.

Evidently, no single CEO has all of that. And if you ever find one with all that experience, he/she has to be what Jim Collins calls a Level-5 Executive. Someone who has built enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.

So may be, hiring someone from the industry is not all that great after all. Someone who knows that success is always shared with the executive team, and failures never can be. So where do you find someone like this? Not necessarily in your industry!