What Happens When You Get 100+ CEOs in One Room

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the CEO2CEO Leadership Summit at the New York Stock Exchange, organized by Chief Executive. Aside from networking with mid-market CEOs, the event was a terrific opportunity to gain insights from luminary CEOs on leadership, innovation and transformation. The line-up of speakers included among many others:

  • Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman and CEO, General Electric
  • George Barrett, Chairman and Chief Executive, Cardinal Health
  • David Cote, Chairman and Chief Executive, Honeywell
  • Bob Nardelli, CEO, XLR8 (former CEO of Home Depot and Chrysler)
  • Larry Freed, President and CEO, ForeSee
  • Ed Heffernan, President and CEO, Alliance Data

Here are some of the notable quotes from the event.

On Employee Engagement and Communication

“You have to use EVERY tool in the book to try and get alignment between employees and the organization” – George Barrett

“A huge insight was the power of simply telling employees the truth. If things aren’t going well, tell them.” – David Cote

“People are smart. They know exactly what’s happening in your organization. And they’re just waiting to see if you know it too.” – George Barrett

“Never ask people to do something that you’re not willing to do.” – Bob Nardelli (on traveling to 10 Home Depot stores on Easter Sunday)

“Have a relentless commitment to consistency of message. It might be the 15th time you’ve given the speech, but some people may never have heard it. Or, some people may have heard it four times but it’s the first time they’ve internalized it.” – David Cote

On Leadership and Trust

“As CEO, it’s more important to be right at the end of the meeting then at the beginning of the meeting. We made better decisions when people didn’t know where I was coming from.” (re: how essential it is to learn facts about what you don’t know) – David Cote

“You have to resist the temptation to think you have all the answers.” – George Barrett

On Diversity

“We looked at every opportunity employees had to move the needle on diversity– new hires, promotions etc. We measured people on the availability and opportunities to have an impact on diversity of employees. It’s amazing what happens when you simplify things. (If you want) anything done in an organization, make it disciplined and strategic and put the right people around it. Diversity and other HR programs need to be treated like any other strategic initiative…with metrics, measurement and course correction. It can’t be done silently.” — David Cote

On Digital Disruption and Big Data

(On GE’s Industrial Internet initiative which captures data on equipment operations to improve and optimize performance) “We’re putting sensors in everything from gas turbines to engines….if we squeeze 1% more efficiency out of operations that serve a large market we can save $2 to $3 billion in costs for customers.” – – Jeffrey Immelt

“With Big Data, be prepared to write a big check.  You have to go all in.  It’s not something you dabble in.” — Ed Heffernan

“You need to measure the right things.  You need a system of metrics that cover the things that really matter.  Behavioral data, attitudinal data and transactional data are all part of the equation.” — Larry Freed

The event also featured discussions on issues ranging from leveraging intangible assets, supply chains and logistics, organizational purpose and more.

In a closed door session sponsored by Chief Executive Network, CEO attendees also discussed some critical, current issues in a confidential setting. This was a moderated session where CEOs gained peer-to-peer insights and shared best practices. It seemed like a cathartic experience, almost therapeutic, for some attendees. One of the them said to me afterwards “It’s clear what I have to do now. The current situation just isn’t working. This really helped and brought me some clarity.”  Peer-to-peer feedback goes a long way, even at the CEO level.

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