Stephen Colbert Gets Last Laugh With Tech Execs

Why are late night shows interviewing CEOs? Here’s what I shared with Georgina Wells at The Wall Street Journal:

On late-night talk shows, stars of the silver screen are being pushed aside by innovators for the mobile screen.

Apple Inc.’s Tim Cook and Elon Musk of Tesla Motors Inc. have been grilled by Stephen Colbert in the three weeks since “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” launched. Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel is due to be in the hot seat this Thursday. The new host of “The Daily Show”, Trevor Noah, is scheduled to interview the founder of dating app Bumble, Whitney Wolfe, on Tuesday’s show.

“We love having our Hollywood people, we love having our authors on, we love our politicians,” says “The Late Show” co-executive producer Emily Lazar. “But these innovators are as powerful right now as any other person who you would have on a late-night talk show. We’re just going where the heat is.”

“It’s not like we never had tech people on the show during Jon Stewart, but we didn’t pursue it actively,” says co-executive producer of “The Daily Show” Hillary Kun. “You will see more of them going forward.”

But smarts don’t always translate well into humor.

Some of these tech guests aren’t as experienced with television appearances as their Hollywood and Washington counterparts. Mr. Colbert’s interrogation of Uber Technologies Inc. chief executive Travis Kalanick took a few turns for the awkward, and Mr. Colbert didn’t let Mr. Kalanick off easily. Mr. Colbert grilled him about UberEATS (“Where is the food? Do they make it in the car?”), surge pricing during a hypothetical terrorist attack, and if Uber really cares about its drivers when it wants to have self-driving cars.

Twenty-four percent of the comments on Twitter about Mr. Kalanick’s appearance on the show were negative, much higher than the 4% of negative tweets in the weeks leading up to the show, reported social media analytics company Crimson Hexagon.

Messrs. Cook and Musk came off better, taking part in the jokes about their technology, from Siri to Tesla’s new robotic charger.

It was another tech executive who is responsible for the Silicon Valley guests. Ms. Lazar said an interview with Brian Chesky, chief executive of Airbnb, led her to think about how much tech is impacting culture. “I was like, oh, maybe I should share my barbecue with my neighbor,” said Ms. Lazar.

Mr. Chesky is slated to appear on “The Late Show,” as is Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Ms. Lazar said, but she did not give any dates.

Still, even when Mr. Colbert gets the last laugh, appearing on late-night talk shows might not be a bad move for tech executives. The exposure gives them a chance to represent their brands on the front lines of American culture, says New York-based brand consultant Dean Crutchfield. Company share prices are not likely to suffer from a gaffe, he added.

“There is growing interest now in understanding these people more than before. These CEOs are today’s modern rock stars,” said Mr. Crutchfield.

“The Late Show’s” infatuation with tech is not about chasing a younger demographic, Ms. Lazar said. Instead, “it’s the realization that these people are making a big difference in the way we live. It acknowledges the way the world has changed.”

Purpose Driven Companies Not Driving Profits

Recent research from Deloitte reveals the ideal but arduous path facing business leaders as they face up to environmental, governmental and public pressure to BE sustainable.

As seen in WARC:

Increasing numbers of brand owners are pursuing a “societal purpose”, but most have not yet yielded a competitive advantage from doing so, a study has revealed.

Deloitte, the advisory group, and the Economist Intelligence Unit, the research provider, surveyed 390 senior executives worldwide, and found 82% of featured companies had a formal societal purpose.

In all, 73% of the panel agreed that their firm’s core activities made a valuable contribution to communities, while 11% disagreed with this view, and 16% offered no opinion on the subject.

Another 76% thought a societal purpose should be combined with corporate profits when measuring the value of a business, although 44% stated profit margins must “primarily” be used.

Respondents in Asia Pacific had particularly clear ideas about what having a purpose represents: 70% suggested such models were adopted by “mature” companies and 68% argued it was indicative of strong leadership.

By contrast, 75% of the African, Latin American and Middle Eastern sample saw this area as essential for future success, 71% described it as a strategy that was “here for the long haul” and 66% predicted it would attract both potential staff and customers.

Just 38% of North American contributors perceived societal purpose as key to their future success, 41% regarded it as “little more than window dressing” and 47% asserted that it reflected effective leadership.

In Europe, 56% of interviewees posited that embracing a social mission was an important long term objective. Less favourably, 22% reported such moves promised “high business potential”.

Barry Salzberg, global CEO of Deloitte, said: “We believe there is opportunity for this ‘societal purpose’ to be integrated into a business’s core activities, decisions, and identity. It is through this embedded purpose, in turn, that businesses can inspire positive economic, environmental, and social change.”

When assessing the qualities needed by future leaders, 45% of interviewees mentioned anticipating opportunities and challenges, 38% said managing change and 32% pointed to communicating about corporate social credentials.

At present, 75% of executives are familiar with their company’s statement of purpose, whereas a rather smaller 25% considered consumers to have a similar level of understanding in this area.

Moreover, while this mission influences culture and strategy at 51% of firms, a limited 37% of organisations believed it lent them credibility in the market, and 15% had already enjoyed a competitive advantage after following such principles.

Data sourced from Deloitte; additional content by Warc staff, 25 January 2012

Carnival Sinks Lower

After all the books, all the speeches and all the case studies on crisis management the CEO, Mickey Arison charts a course into mayhem, deciding it’s better for the parent business to shy away from the glare of publicity.

Mickey, people died. You’re the boss and leadership is about holding peoples fears. Grow up. This is not about making friends.

Meg Whitman does not have the luxury of 100-days

I recall Lou Gerstner making us laugh when we asked him about the 100-days he’s so supposedly famous for at IBM and he retorted “What 100-days? Where do you think I was in that time when the business was on fire, upstairs with my feet up saying my isn’t this is nice and toasty warm?”

Focus, commitment and energy are apparently the essential ingredients for a CEO about to work a turnaround because they’ve been hired to turn the hard into the possible. The fire already burning at HP is useful cleansing for Meg; people tend not to complain so much when there’s a cause and this one is for survival.

Meg has four immediate components to outline: what is the business to do, how is the brand to support it, what communications and
initiatives are required inside and outside the businesses and how to implement the program in a timely manner.

This is going to be like open-heart surgery – a program that will cost millions to achieve and Meg surely knows that. I’d recommend after she’s carried out a few more bodies she gather her remaining top 50 lieutenants together, get them briefed and out there in the market talking to employee groups, key customers and partners – not selling, but learning and reporting back within 8 weeks with a succinct download. This will generate an abundance of actionable insights that could move the needle and get senior management focused.

There’s also my recent Forbes blog on how a leader can learn from the kitchen table for the boardroom table:

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