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What Should A CEO Do With His Time?

Over the past several years, some in the British media have suggested that I should have better things to do than spend my time on Facebook or other social networking or web services.  I would certainly agree with them if this amounted to more than an hour or two a week, or occurred mostly during "work" hours.  However, I believe it is a very worthy investment of my "free" time to explore the latest interactions of media and technology, or indeed to write this blog when I feel I have something worthwhile to say.
 
It is undoubtedly the same pundits who think nothing of criticizing the music industry for having been too stupid to see the threats and opportunities presented by digital downloading, who themselves have an outdated view of what work consists of for the senior executives of an information or technology company. Reading one of their articles or even a more worthy Mckinsey report would certainly pass muster, but actual first hand experimentation is seen as a waste of time.
 
I strongly disagree.  Growth requires innovation, and, unfortunately, innovation is not a linear process.  When Columbus "discovered" the New World, he had actually set out to find a new route to India.  The much admired Google similarly did not set out to invent the dominant ad monetization engine. Too much idle experimentation in the executive suite leads to a failure to execute on any plan; however, the total absence of imagination leads to plans that lead nowhere.
 
Now it could be argued, I suppose, that imagination and experimentation should be left to more junior or younger staff, and the chief executive should only perform "serious" duties like strategy formulation and ordering people around.  I think this is a lousy and disconnected way to lead.  I believe that unless one interacts with and plays with the leading technology of the age, it is impossible to dream the big dreams, and difficult to create an environment in which creative individuals will feel at home.  This does not mean that the ceo needs to program a third-party app on Facebook, but I believe it is ultimately more useful in understanding business concepts like viral marketing, crowd-sourcing or federated development to use a live example rather than wait for the Harvard Business Review article to appear in three years time.
 
We should all feel comfortable to follow our own paths.  What counts is the results, not living-up to some outdated view of what "work" looks like in the 21st century.
Published Saturday, November 24, 2007 10:39 PM by Tom Glocer

Comments

 

robinblandford said:

Tom,

As one of your "more junior or younger staff" involved in "imagination and experimentation" it gives me massive inspiration, enthusiasm and drive to know that you talk the same language as us - that to pitch for something, we don't need to sell a new concept, just the business case.

-Robin.
November 25, 2007 11:49 AM
 

sambrook said:

Well said Tom. I get tired of people suggesting I'm somehow wasting time by indulging in some hands-on blogging or facebook-ing. But I too firmly believe you can't understand how technology is changing the world unless you get your hands dirty.
November 25, 2007 11:19 PM
 

PharmaJourno said:

Talking about what you should do with your time, I see that, as of tomorrow, you will be a member of Merck & Co's board of directors.

How would you respond to those who may think the head of one of the world's biggest media firms becoming so intimately involved with a company under intense scrutiny from journalists creates a potential conflict of interest?

Thanks

November 26, 2007 3:27 PM
 

Tom Glocer said:

In response to the comment from PharmaJourno, I don't see a conflict for me to serve on the Board of Merck even if Reuters journalists are writing about the company.  First, it is the Editor-in-Chief and never I as ceo who decides what to cover and what to say about it.  Second, Reuters Editorial even covers Reuters the company with its same values of accuracy, freedom from bias, and objectivity.

tom
December 1, 2007 5:17 PM
 

P-Air said:

Nothing makes me laugh more than when execs or politicians talk about [insert your Web 2.0 technology or social media service here] and when asked what they don't like about it they confess that they've never actually used it...doh!

The same way as the music industry found itself in the precarious situation they're in because the CEOs of those companies did not have the sort of "hands on" attitude to you raise here.  Sure, their biz has a lot of promise, but more because of the next generation of leaders there than because of the incumbent chiefs.

It's critical that as Reuters continues to establish it's on-going role in the next generation of social media, that its top brass be as engaged as you in using these platforms not simply being buzzword compliant.  Even this blog is a great way to share your thoughts and get feedback in a supportive way.  The social networks offer different angles at that that can only be understood through experience.

Don't listen to any one that tells you otherwise, as you're already doing, as it's not their butts on the line when world zigs while they zag ;)
December 7, 2007 9:28 PM
 

knackeredhack said:

Tom,

Social software will have a profound impact on all firms internally.  On information companies, like Reuters, it is fundamental to its wider economic environment.  So how could time spent examining that domain be a distraction?  Too many journalists see toys and not tools -- a criticism which probably emanates from fear of the changes that these disruptive technologies imply for the profession.  

A senior academic friend of mine recently described journalism as the last bastion of the lone scholar.  I found that a rather disturbing observation, if true.  Although my own experience does indeed mostly bear that out, I have been involved with a few notable experiments which showed some promise, provided that the journalism model is altered slightly.

I hope it's not too unfair to suggest that Reuters' celebrated decision to offshore corporate news coverage to India could have been taken some five years earlier, with the appropriate pioneering use of social software.

Tim
December 9, 2007 9:05 PM
 

millrun74 said:

Tom:
 Thanks for the town hall today, sir. You inspired confidence in the upper hierarchy of our management, which doesn't happen all the time. I have a question I didn't get to ask ... Reuters is a leading source of financial data, ranging from what might be considered a set of general data feeds to pricing of nontrading bonds. All that data is a source of potential manipulation, but even if not manipulated just knowing a competitor's data feeds or which bonds were of interest could be very lucrative intelligence. How do we manage security and avoid conflicts of interest?

mill
October 20, 2008 4:39 PM
 

Tom Glocer said:

Millrun74 recently asked what we do at Thomson Reuters to preserve the confidentiality of the specific services or instruments that clients request.  This is a very good question and one we think about a lot.  

From Swiss private banks to the M&A floors of global investment banks, many of our clients have a strong interest in preserving confidentiality.  First, the architecture of our services prevents any one member of the community from discovery what services or what content any other member uses.  Second, we take significant measures to maintain the confidentiality of administrative records and systems which might reveal specific usage. Finally, the Code of Conduct and Trust Principles that each of our employees is required to follow combined with ongoing training and certification programs helps to ensure that the human elements of preserving confidences match the technological ones.

tom

October 23, 2008 10:01 PM
 

vivifyWorld said:

Based on your reputation and position, I'm sure you have the answer to most corporate issues today. Perhaps, you are the role model to aspiring leaders.
Purely based on the title of this article , "What Should A CEO Do With His Time?"; other than the usual strategic activities that are directly linked to business, a CEO should reach out to the employees and be allow a direct channel to listen out the ideas, and more importantly the challenges and issue.
July 20, 2009 3:27 AM
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