Changing Your Mind in the Executive Suite

I’ve posted before about why it’s a shame our obsession with "consistency" prevents people from changing their mind. The John Kerry flip-flop saga illuminated this obsession.

Daniel Gross has a piece on Slate about U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney and how his corporate success taught him that changing your views based on the market you’re playing in is common business practice — but it’s not necessarily smart politics:

…Such hypocrisy, which turns off voters, is something like a job requirement for CEOs. In the executive suite, abandoning deeply held attitudes and reversing positions are job requirements. How often have you seen a CEO proclaim that a struggling unit is not for sale, only to put it on the block a few months later? A CEO will praise a product to the skies one day and then cancel it the next. He’ll boast, sincerely, that his company is No. 1 in the industry and then, when he quits the next day to run a rival, claim that the new firm is tops. CEOs take their cues from Mike Damone of Fast Times at Ridgemont High: "Act like wherever you are, that’s the place to be."

These business flips are fine, because in the corporate world, people don’t confuse advocacy of a company’s strategy or products and services with personal honor or integrity. Nobody expects Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott to wear suits made at Wal-Mart, or Sears Chairman Eddie Lampert to furnish his homes with appliances from Sears, or for the gazillionaires behind Triarc to eat lunch at Arby’s.

Good CEOs don’t simply stake out public positions and stick to them for 20 years. They devise new business strategies and business plans to cope with changing market conditions. Energy-company executives who are suddenly eager to do something about global warming aren’t seen as hypocrites, they’re seen as shrewd operators. If the world changes, you don’t simply do and say the same thing. You bring in Bain & Company, commission a study, announce a restructuring, start manufacturing in China.

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