Reporting on media’s heady transformation and coauthoring The Wright Stuff have taught me a few things.
For instance: the most savvy, well-intentioned chief executive can get in his own way. A colorful example of that was the test-of-wills meeting between General Electric chairman Jack Welch and Ted Turner in 1995 to discuss a proposed merger of NBC and Turner Broadcasting assets like CNN.
Despite his best efforts to negotiate the deal, NBC chief executive Bob Wright couldn’t control the egos in the room. As described in his leadership memoir, Wright was not able to maintain the three principles he says are needed for success. Wright took responsibility and had passion, but no control.
Most of the eclectic media moguls of the time who I interviewed extensively didn’t strike me as being that systematic. Wright and Turner were visionaries with very different management styles and personalities. Truth be told, you can never control anyone else—especially high-spirited outspoken scions like Turner and Welch.
Playing well with others—like Wright did for years as a strategic partner to Cablevision founding chairman Chuck Dolan—might well have been a fourth tenet of business success.
And it’s more important than ever given the deep integration of legacy and developing technology and business.
As underscored by a recent set of McKinsey & Co. articles, you can embrace marketplace realignment to meet unmet demand and extreme shifts in consumer behavior. You can identify the vulnerabilities and opportunities in your business in a disrupted marketplace. But none of it matters without a leader at the helm who can create a vision of change, frame it positively and enable an able team that can execute. Even as he achieved that much of the time, Wright ultimately was at the mercy of the whims and ways of his peers.