April 10, 2015

686 words 4 mins read

The SEAL, the Race, and the CEO

In its entire history, who was the safest CEO for Apple?

In other words, if you were a corporate recruiter hired by Apple’s board to find a chief executive, whom would hire?

I’ll answer this later, but first here’s why I’m asking.

Who Would You Recruit?

In response to yesterday’s post on Brunner vs. Greitens, someone asked me a similar question about Eric Greitens. The inquisitor seems to question my judgment for preferring Greitens over John Brunner. I’m sure he thought this was a killer question–one that would shatter my confidence in Greitens:

“If you were a corporate recruiter, would you hire Greitens to run a major corporation?”

The question is meaningless and misleading.

The answer is “no,” by the way. Corporate recruiters look for the safest candidate, not the best candidate. For a major corporation, recruiters begin with MBAs from a handful of business schools: Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg, etc. They also look at directors on other companies' boards.

Eric Greitens isn’t an MBA. He’s a mere PhD and Rhodes Scholar and humanitarian and SEAL who might put people’s lives before profits. (God forbid.)

No corporate recruiter would have hired Steve Jobs to run Apple, Bill Gates to run Microsoft, or Mark Zuckerberg to run an ant farm. They’re all quirky and cocky. They’re all college dropouts. Not an MBA between them.

Apple’s Safest Hire Ever

Apple fired Steve Jobs, then hired the safest possible CEO–the CEO of Pepsi who had taken that company to the lead in soft drinks. Steve Scully had a remarkable track record at running Fortune 500 companies, and he understood consumer marketing. He was a safe a choice as safe can be, and every executive search firm in America slept well the night Scully’s selection was announced. Safe and sound.

Steve Scully was, hands down, the safest choice for Apple.

But Steve Scully wasn’t the best choice for Apple. He wasn’t even a good choice. Scully was a disaster who nearly put Apple out of business before the company had a chance to give us the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, iTunes, Keynote, Garage Band, iMovie. Safe but awful.

Steve Jobs was never the safe bet for Apple or any other company. Jobs was a wildcard and a maverick. He could be stubborn, mean, and insulting. He went weeks without bathing, ate nothing but apricots, and wore the same outfit every day.

But Steve Jobs saved Apple from bankruptcy. The board took him back after the safe Scully’s miserable performance. The Apple board re-hired a man they’d fired just a few years earlier.

Steve Jobs was the best choice for Apple because Steve Jobs was great on  a scale executive recruiters cannot fathom.

Under Jobs, Apple became the most valuable company in American history. And, still, no corporate recruiter would even consider him to run a major corporation. Jobs wasn’t the safest choice; he was the best choice.

Does Missouri Need Safe or Best?

Every candidate in the race for Missouri Governor is a safer choice than Eric Greitens. But I’m not willing to settle for safest in 2016:** I want the best**. Safe got us where we are. Safe was John McCain and Mitt Romney and Dave Spence and, yes, Jay Nixon.

I will never tell you that a Rhodes Scholar, champion boxer, Navy SEAL, charity founder, humanitarian, and Most Influential Person and Greatest Leader is a safe choice. People like Greitens are out to change things, and change is always risky. But “safe” can be disastrous.


As C.S. Lewis wrote of the great lion Alsan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:

Then, of course, Susan and Lucy ask if this lion is safe — to which Beaver answers with his memorable line, “Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. "

I’m not a corporate recruiter, and I’m not choosing a safe CEO for some company. I am a Missourian, and I expect inspirational greatness from our next governor. Or at least a fighting chance at greatness

In 2016, I’m voting for the best, and the best is Eric Greitens.