While many publications at this time of year remind us of what happened in 2009, I would just as soon consider the past year as a "year-of-personal-development" and move on. As an independent business owner and writer, I can honestly say that the past 12 months as been as brutal as any I've ever seen. While I don't believe we can change the situation for the future simply by wishing it to be different, I do believe that much of our success in 2010 will be driven by our attitude as leaders. As Lyndon Johnson said, "We can draw lessons for the past but we cannot live in it." To that I say Hallelujah! I conducted a survey of CEOs to see if corporate leaders were more prone to see 2010 as a continuation of 2009, or if they too would decide to draw lessons from the past and move on. More than 75 CEOs responded to my question, which was simply, "What are your personal 'New Year's Resolutions' for 2010?" I expected a few to be focused on survival. For example, having survived 2009, perhaps their focus would be on surviving through 2010. Or, having started more serious cost-cutting and efficiency programs in 2009, they might continue to focus on profitability by cutting back even more. Following are a sample of the responses. If you would like to see what everybody has to say, send me an email at email@example.com, and I'll be glad to send you a free copy of "CEO Resolutions 2010." Just place the words "Street Offer" in the subject line and I'll get you the full report right away.
What I found instead was an overall sense of optimism and opportunity. It appears that the focus is less on reducing costs and more on developing new operating procedures that take advantage of current opportunities to grow. For example, Allison O'Kelly, formerly of KPMG and Toys "R" Us, but now CEO of Mom Corps stated her plan to "review our processes and improve them to set us up for growth over the next five years as we go from six franchisees to over 100." While CEOs in the survey were still focused on internal processes, in almost all cases the focus was on growth, not just survival. Of course the processes on which they focus says a lot about the mindset of the CEOs. 2009 was a year of redesign to do more with less. In 2010, the internal operational issues seem more to do with re-establishing a corporate culture of success rather than one of fear. Using his experience from Metromedia Restaurant Group, YUM! Brands ( YUM) and Pepsico ( PEP), Subway Franchisee Advertising Fund Trust (SFAFT) CEO Jeff Moody said it's time to spend more time on developing employees. "Too often, restructuring brings us to focus on what people don't do well versus their strengths," said Moody. "Putting people now in jobs where they can thrive will be the key to establishing the culture of risk-taking and successful alignment in 2010." Moody is not the only one focusing more on the employee in 2010. Kurt Schneider, CEO of Harlem Globetrotters International, feels it is time to re-establish the belief in employees that what they do makes a difference. Schneider has seen the importance of employee engagement in prior roles with Walt Disney ( DIS) and and Fox Sports Net and has decided that 2010 is a time to refocus on having "every employee want to come to work every morning feeling like they can make a positive impact on the business every day."
Employees are not the only ones who may have been ignored over the last few months as a corporate strategy of downsizing and eliminating services often has a negative impact on the perception of the customers. Franz Reiner, CEO of Daimler Financial Services Americas, sees himself in 2010 as not only helping rebuild the economy through strong business offerings and practice but in also continuing to grow the DFS reputation for community involvement. Gary Stockman, CEO of Porter Novelli, feels that although he is a bona-fide "tech geek," it will be his job to turn the tide of "over-technology" to a direction that provides the right technology at the right time while also encouraging customers and employees to make situational awareness a part of their daily life. In other words, he's talking about the need to become more aware of the external context while at the same time stepping back from the rush of development to think about what the company stands for and what the customer truly needs. Finally, as they warn us continuously on any airline flight before takeoff, it is important to first put "on your own mask before attempting to help others." Many of the CEOs that responded to my question recognized that the past year has drawn them away from consideration of their own health and personal concerns. Amy Stanton, Founder and CEO of Stanton & Company combines her experience at Omnimedia's ( MSO) Martha Stewart Living network with what she has learned as a company CEO in challenging times. "My New Year's resolution is to strike more of a work/life balance. While as...CEO I will always be focused on growing the business and am very personally invested in the outcome, I also realize the importance of living a full life outside of work which will ultimately come full circle and make me better AT my work."
On the other hand, Riggs Eckelberry, CEO of Origin Oil ( OOIL), sees the coming year as a time to spend more time with family, including watching his son George over take his own abilities as a skier. By remembering that these are the really significant moments in life, CEOs can establish a more realistic and inspiring approach to operating their companies and organizations. Of course some personal resolutions can be quite simple. Dave Brandon, CEO of Dominos Pizza ( DPZ) has resolved to "sleep more and eat less (except for Domino's pizza)." At least he's being honest! Of course for some, the resolutions for 2010 extend beyond the personal control of the CEO. For example, Mollie Shields-Uehling, formerly of Bristol-Myers Squibb ( BMY) and Wyeth ( WYE) and now president of Safe-bioPharma Association, sees 2010 as an opportunity to lead the pharmaceutical industry to improving its bottom line through reducing the tremendous use of paper within the industry. At the same time, Kenneth Purcell, CEO of iSeatz, which handles online reservations for companies like Delta ( DAL) and MasterCard ( MA), hopes to fulfill two burning desires: first, "continue to expand iSeatz internationally (creating jobs) and bringing global attention to my hometown of New Orleans." Perhaps more challenging, Purcell also would like to "do everything possible to help the Saints win the Super Bowl." His strategy for the Saints? "Hope, pray and cheer as loud as possible." In no case did the CEOs who responded to my inquiry show any sort of unrealistic expectations as to what they might accomplish in 2010. At the same time, what they did show was a great deal of courage and action-orientation to make the business of the coming decade different than it has been in the past. Priorities around developing people, establishing customer relationships, and maintaining a balance between work and health are almost always more successful in the long-run than immediate actions of cutting back and creating an environment of scarcity. I wish these leaders and many others great success in focusing on the people in the business rather than just the processes. If they do, then 2010 might be a year of recovery that inspires us all.