Over the past 50 years which business leaders have changed the management landscape more than others? Sandra Kessel picks just a few of the individuals who have turned the leadership rule book upside down


In 1964 Peter Drucker’s book Managing for Results laid out a vision of the corporation as a social institution – indeed, a social network – in which the capacity and potential of everyone involved were to be respected. Out with the vocabulary (and mind-set) of ‘boss’, ‘foreman’, and ‘worker’; in with ‘manager’ and ‘employee’. If Drucker didn’t invent the idea of ‘management’, he did more than anyone else to introduce the ‘m’ word and all its iterations into how we think about running organisations. (Source)

Wally Olins was one half of the Wolff Olins brand consultancy, founded in 1965.

Throughout his life Olins, who died in 2014, was sought out by global business and political leaders – the most notable of whom was Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India since May 2014. Wolff Olins is credited with altering the face and approach of many corporations worldwide. Few companies would expect to survive five decades without refreshing their logos (Rolex being a notable exception). Wolff Olins helped them understand how.

Akio Morita Sony


One of the earliest executives to kick-start his company with branding on a global scale, Akio Morita co-founded the Japanese giant Sony. Not only did Morita decide to target new products at affluent markets – specifically those in the US – he also advocated changing his company’s name from Totsuko to the Sony Corporation in a nod to the Latin word for sound and because it was close to the friendly word “Sonny”.

A charismatic leader, Morita promoted the idea that managers and employees were all in a business together and moved to America in order to better understand the consumers he was targeting. He said: “American business organisations must play down this traditional role of bureaucratic management and replace it with a sense of inspirational and visionary leadership; a democratic leadership that stresses inclusive structures, open communications channels, ethics and integrity.”


Steve Jobs, who co-founded Apple in 1976, once said: “Recruiting is hard. It’s just finding the needles in the haystack. We do it ourselves and we spend a lot of time at it. I’ve participated in the hiring of maybe 5,000-plus people in my life. So I take it very seriously. You can’t know enough in a one-hour interview. So, in the end, it’s ultimately based on your gut. How do I feel about this person? What are they like when they’re challenged? Why are they here? I ask everybody that: ‘Why are you here?’ The answers themselves are not what you’re looking for. It’s the meta-data.”

Bill Gates co-founded Microsoft in 1975; he once said: “This is a fantastic time to be entering the business world, because business is going to change more in the next 10 years than it has in the last 50.”

Andy Grove

In 1971 when Intel’s first programmable microprocessor, the Intel 4004, hit the market, Intel’s innovative CEO, President and Chairman Andy Grove adopted an egalitarian environment in the workplace. Grove took the company forward by mixing position-power people with knowledge-power people – a lead followed by executives such as Meg Whitman (see the 2000s). In one example of égalité Grove introduced a signing-in sheet for late employees no matter what their pay scale, a move said to have been targeting well-remunerated engineers who casually drifted in and out in a manner he considered unfair to those lower down the corporate hierarchy who were sanctioned if they had three late marks recorded against their name.

Grove, who died in 2016, decided to forgo his status confirming executive suite in favour of working alongside colleagues. Latterly, media and tech firms including Pixar, Google and Facebook have introduced workstations and break-out spaces with pods, slides and even hammocks for their workforce, discarding the barriers between different sectors of a company and promoting the interaction once found solely at the water-cooler and canteen.


In 1982 two McKinsey consultants, Tom Peters and Bob Waterman, published In Search of Excellence. It was a paean to the importance of culture in organisations, an attack on strategy as a merely quantitative exercise, and a celebration of the human element in making companies successful. “Soft is hard,” Peters observed. The book sold more than six million copies, astonishing its authors and alerting the publishing industry to the existence of a huge audience for books on managerial wisdom. (Source)

Donald Peterson of Ford Motor Company, COO from 1980, CEO from 1985-1990.

Lee Iacocca, president and CEO of the Chrysler Corporation and chairman from 1979-1992, who once said: “We at Chrysler borrow money the old-fashioned way. We pay it back.”

Jack Welch

Jack Welch GE Credited with making GE the most valuable and largest company in the world, Jack Welch took on the role of CEO in 1981 and stayed in position for two decades. He had little time for bureaucracy or business practice that he deemed archaic, preferring to give his managers a free hand provided they strove to ‘do better’ and embraced change. Founded in his philosophy that treating people well ensured they would come up with the best ideas, he sought “the 4Es” – energy, energizing, edge and execution added to which he sought passion – in the people that he hired, favoring that, and the desire to get things done, to a tick-box resumé. Nicknamed ‘Neutron Jack’ for streamlining the company, he also put shareholders first, stating that a company’s main responsibility was to win. In 1999 Fortune named Welch ‘Manager of the Century’ and the Financial Times has named him one of the three most admired business leaders in the world.


John Chambers of Cisco who was promoted to the position of president and CEO in 1995, continued as CEO and became chairman of the board in 2006. He once said: “Within about four or five years [of starting at Cisco] I realized there was something that many of us do not understand when we take a leadership role: culture. Great companies have very strong and great cultures. A huge part of a leadership role is to drive the culture of the company and to reinforce it.”

Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in 1994. Bezos was one of Google’s first investors in 1998. He once said: “The common question that gets asked in business is, ‘why?’ That’s a good question, but an equally valid question is, ‘why not?’

Ratan Tata

The chairman of Tata Sons from 1991 until December 2012, Ratan Tata’s own company executives say he combined character, commitment, competence and courage with indefatigable energy.

While other 90s executives were growing profits in technology, Tata was upping the ante in manufacturing by creating India’s first indigenously made car. After an invitation to collaborate was met by the Indian and Asian automobile industry with apathy, Tata Engineering (now Tata Motors) went ahead solo. Today Tata Motors alone is a US$42bn organisation that is found in 175 countries around the world.


Oprah Winfrey, the media mogul, continues to demonstrate her business acumen by guiding double-digit growth in her own network. It also shows her passion for educating females worldwide through her support of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls.

Indra Nooyi, CEO and chairman, PepsiCo, once said: “I wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.” Forbes said of her: “She is a fun-loving executive as well – she played lead guitar for an all-women rock band in college, loved to play cricket, and is known to sing karaoke and perform at corporate gatherings to this day.”

Meg Whitman

One of the world’s most influential women executives, achieving success in the male-dominated tech business arena, Meg Whitman has been feted by Fortune magazine, the Harvard Business Review and the Financial Times. She served her early years at DreamWorks, Procter & Gamble and Hasbro, before heading eBay as president and CEO for a decade. When Whitman joined eBay in 1998 it had 30 employees generating $4m revenue; by the time she stepped down in 2008 the company was employing 15,000 people and posting annual revenues of $8bn. One of Whitman’s first actions on joining Hewlett-Packard in 2011 was to remove the fence that segregated the executives’ car park from the rest and to do away with the wood-paneled executive offices so that everyone walks in the front door with everyone else.


Jack Ma, Chairman of Alibaba. The Chinese internet mogul has spearheaded his company, Alibaba Group following its huge IPO in 2014. At the time of writing, Indonesia has asked Ma to act as adviser in the development of the Southeast Asian country’s nascent e-commerce industry.

Peter Wong Tung Shun, deputy chairman and chief executive of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation.

Rupert Murdoch

Australian-born Murdoch has been one of the top executives in the world for more than 50 years, but his leadership has been highly visible this decade. From owning a two-newspaper business 60 years ago, today the Murdoch family controls 120 newspapers in five countries, cable TV and news networks across the world, a film studio, a book publisher and a satellite TV company. Still hands-on in his eighties, at the time of writing Rupert Murdoch was reprising his role as CEO at Fox News. In the last five years Murdoch has fought off scandal at the UK tabloid News of the World by shutting down the paper completely and restructuring and dividing his empire, separating publishing businesses from entertainment. Not only is he bang up to date, he likes to stay ahead of the game and he has stated that in order to motivate employees you have to engage their minds and hearts and ensure that they feel valued.

Sandra Kessell

Sandra Kessell is a business journalist



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