Good CEO, Bad CEO: Leadership Lessons from InterimExecs’ RED Roundtable

Good CEO, Bad CEO: Leadership Lessons from InterimExecs’ RED Roundtable

Leadership was a prominent topic at InterimExecs’ latest Rapid Executive Deployment (RED) Roundtable event in Chicago. Panel experts discussed leadership early and often as they reflected on change initiatives, the impact of automation on executives and workforces, and the values that make great executive leaders. 

A recurring theme that cut across speakers and topics was the importance of having the right team in place, starting at the top. Executives set the tone for the entire company. Their values trickle down and play an outsized role in the organization’s success or failure. 

“The message from our perspective is that if we have the right team and the right value set, I think any company can find a position and outmaneuver the competition,” said Greg Jones, Managing Partner at the Edgewater Fund, who spoke on day two of the Roundtable with Brian Boorstein of Granite Creek Capital Partners. “I’m looking for someone who puts the organization and the values of the business ahead of their own,” added Greg. “If you don’t have that, it’s a disaster in any scenario.”

Brian also singled out selfishness as one of the least desirable executive traits. “The worst people are those that are really only concerned with themselves,” he said. “If we don’t have the right management team to start, we’re in trouble. We generally go to InterimExecs to find people to help us out.”

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A Tale of Two CEOs

Greg provided an anecdote about how confidence in a management team’s values convinced him to stick with them through tough times and eventually be validated by strong results. His firm bought a majority share in a company doing about $8 million earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA). The next year, EBITDA was down to 2 million. 

“That would be a firing event in 99% of cases for the management team,” said Greg. “But we really believed we had the right team. This team showed incredible values. The CEO was entitled to a small bonus. He refused the bonus because of the company’s performance. And we had really good indications of a fantastic value set in driving that business.”

Encouraged that they had the right leadership to succeed, Greg’s firm doubled down on their investment, which ended up being one of their best ever. Four years later, the business was doing $68 million in EBITDA. 

Compare this executive story to that of recently-ousted Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg. Under Muilenburg’s watch, Boeing’s stock has plunged nearly 20% as two deadly crashes in less than five months led to the grounding of its 737 MAX passenger airline and a production halt. Investigations have revealed airplane design flaws, missed safety warnings, and cost-cutting measures. Boeing executives, including Muilenburg, were rightfully blamed for a culture failure and called to testify before Congress over the 737 MAX debacle. The plane is still not airborne after missing a deadline to fly again at the end of 2019. 

Muilenburg’s reward? In December 2019 he resigned and was given a $26.5 million golden parachute consisting of cash and stock, in addition to an annual pension of over $807,000. 

This is a far cry from the selflessness and accountability of Greg Jones’ CEO who refused a bonus due to poor company performance. And the difference in outcomes is telling. While that business improved its financial performance by 3,300%, since the start of the 737 debacle, Boeing has lost more than $40 billion of market value. 

Screening Executives and The E4 Climb

InterimExecs has spent over eight years meticulously choosing extraordinary executives from around the world to serve on the RED Team, a select group of executives we match with organizations seeking big results.

“The heart of the matter for us is the difference between what is good or in a lot of cases mediocre leadership versus great leadership,” said Robert Jordan, InterimExecs Founder and CEO, during the RED Roundtable. “We do a lot of screening on our part to ensure we’re only working with great people.”

InterimExecs looks at many criteria when assessing who will make the cut to join our RED Team. Only the top 2% of candidates across specialties gain InterimExecs RED Team status. A few of the deciding factors form what we call the E4 Climb—Executive, Eager, Engaging, Enterprising. 

  • Executive: You show up ready and have a phenomenal track record. Your status as a rock star leader with integrity is beyond question. We want to be agent to the stars.
  • Eager: You are in the prime of your career. You’re ready to hit the ground running and do whatever it takes to succeed. If the gig requires nights and weekends, so be it. If you have to fly a redeye, you do. You know your highest and best use is to be of service.
  • Engaging: You don’t pontificate. You know the best leaders show up first as listeners and learners because the genius of the client organization is always on the shop floor and with the rank and file. Your curiosity and desire to build and improve are boundless.
  • Enterprising: Your bias for action and results has brought great results to you, your teams, stakeholders, and shareholders. You know how to speak truth to power and use your creativity to solve any challenge.

In our experience, these elements create a consistent value set that translates to doing great and inspiring work for companies around the globe. But our decisions are never unilateral. Executives interview potential clients because they aren’t going to jump into a situation where they can’t provide maximum value.