Professional Perspectives

The Power of an Honest Apology

Arthur D. Collins, Jr.
Managing Partner, Acorn Advisors LLC

Wise leaders understand that if a serious mistake occurs on their watch, an honest apology is in order—whether or not the leader is the one who made the mistake. Not only can an honest apology go a long way in mitigating the impact of any miscalculation, miscommunication, or outright blunder, a leader’s reputation can be enhanced if he or she owns up to failure and then takes appropriate corrective action.

Unfortunately, in spite of the fact that none of us expect any head of state or CEO to be infallible, and we know that every government and organization will err from time to time, honest apologies still tend to be the exception rather than the rule. A prominent case in point is Donald J. Trump.

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My Word Is My Bond—Or Is It

My Word Is My Bond—Or Is It?

Arthur D. Collins, Jr.
Managing Partner, Acorn Advisors LLC

After watching a recap of the week’s news, I asked myself how many of our political leaders really believe in the longstanding pledge, “my word is my bond.”

These powerful words rarely have been taken lightly since their biblical origin. Merchant traders dating back to the late-1500s knew that their words were in fact their bonds, constituting legally binding agreements. Commodity and stock traders in the pits of the CBOT and NYSE clearly understood this ironclad concept, and the London Stock Exchange has used the Latin equivalent, dictum meum pactum, as its motto since 1801.

More recently, the five words have been shorted in the lyrics of rap and hip-hop artists to “word is bond”—forcefully underscoring the importance of speaking the truth and standing by what you say. (more…)

Focus Versus Distraction

Focus Versus Distraction—Which Will Prevail in Washington?

Arthur D. Collins, Jr.
Managing Partner, Acorn Advisors LLC

After watching several of yesterday’s Sunday morning news programs, I was struck by the number of commentators and political experts who agreed that continuing distractions in Washington were defocusing the Trump Administration and Congress from getting on with the necessary work of government. I also noted that the preponderance of airtime was devoted to speculation about ongoing information leaks, alleged wiretaps, “fake” news, and inappropriate contacts with Russian officials, rather than a serious discussion of government spending priorities and the national debt, healthcare reform, federal tax code improvements, immigration policy, infrastructure enhancements, foreign policy (including trade), and other substantive issues that affect all Americans and countless others around the world.

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Succession planning and the founder’s dilemma

Five Succession Planning Steps to Overcome Founder’s Syndrome

Sophia Shaw
Managing Partner, Acorn Advisors LLC

What is your favorite neighborhood restaurant? Favorite local store? That great bed and breakfast you stayed in the last time you traveled? Chances are that the proprietor—the “founder” for the point of this post—is involved. Maybe he comes around and says hello to guests or she knows you by sight or name? In any case, that person’s vision and engagement is part of what makes the establishment special and successful. The same can also be said about founders of large companies in many markets (say, Apple, for example), and about leaders of nonprofits, including foundations. Given the importance of this visionary to the vitality of the organization, having a thoughtful succession plan in place will help the organization thrive both in the short- and long-term. But that’s easier said than done.
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Where Now, President Trump

Where Now, President Trump?

Arthur D. Collins, Jr.
Managing Partner, Acorn Advisors LLC

I was heartened by the response to my recent post, “Truth and Leadership.” Now, however, a number of people (including my wife and two daughters) have asked me, in a somewhat exasperated tone, “Why don’t you and other current and former board members and CEOs speak up and do something to help our new President make needed ‘course corrections’ now that he’s been in office for a month?”

Well, without speaking on behalf of anyone else, I’ll take a stab at applying a few leadership lessons I’ve learned over the years in order to offer President Trump a bit of unsolicited, honest, and hopefully constructive advice. (more…)

Truth and Leadership

Truth and Leadership

Arthur D. Collins, Jr.
Managing Partner, Acorn Advisors LLC

After watching the nightly news last week, I shook my head and wondered about the meaning of truth: what is it, how can it be manipulated or twisted, does it really count for much today, who are the people that really define it, and is it worth fighting for? And, by the way, what role do leaders have in speaking the truth—the unvarnished, unedited truth?

Since we were very young children, we were told that it is wrong, really wrong to tell a lie. It was one of the golden rules we learned in school and while attending our church, synagogue, mosque, or just praying in the wonderment of nature. We saw this play out on our neighborhood playgrounds and playing fields where anyone who didn’t tell the truth paid the price. We learned about the virtues of truthfulness when we studied U.S. presidents like Abraham Lincoln, or when we read the words Thomas Jefferson wrote in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self evident …” We watched Pinocchio’s nose grow longer and longer when he lied. When we were young, we came to accept the fact that telling the truth was a prerequisite for becoming a leader—because how could people believe in a leader who lies? So, what happened to us as we grew older? (more…)

Fifteen Keys to Research and Development Success

Fifteen Keys to Research and Development Success

Arthur D. Collins, Jr., NUvention Medical Keynote Lecture, Northwestern University, March 9, 2016

When my friend Pete McNerney asked me to be the speaker at a recent Northwestern University NUvention event in Chicago, I gladly accepted. The luncheon was attended by about 60 students representing the schools of business, law, engineering, and medicine, together with faculty and representatives of a number of businesses and friends of Northwestern University. “What Are the Keys for Successful Research & Development (R&D) and Innovation in the Medical Technology Industry” was the topic Pete gave me.

In preparation, I grabbed a handful of index cards and decided to jot down some of the lessons learned during the more than three decades I spent at Abbott Laboratories and Medtronic, as well as a four-year stint at Booz, Allen & Hamilton early in my career. I also added a few observations from my current role as a director on the corporate boards of Alcoa, Boeing, Cargill, and US Bancorp. As I remembered one “do” and “don’t” after another, I started to run out of index cards. I finally decided to cap the list at 15.

What follows is a reasonable representation of what I said, with a few additional thoughts that came to mind after the fact. (more…)

CEO Selection and Evaluation Criteria

CEO Selection and Evaluation Criteria

Arthur D. Collins, Jr. & Sophia Shaw
Managing Partners, Acorn Advisors LLC

One of the most important responsibilities of any board of directors is to select and evaluate the CEO—and in the unfortunate situation where a CEO is not preforming adequately, to replace him or her in a timely fashion. In reviewing the efforts of many successful corporations and other institutions inside and outside the United States, it is clear that a board of directors should consider a number of important criteria when conducting a selection and evaluation process for any CEO. These efforts should be deliberate, comprehensive, and interactive. A board’s decision on the most appropriate type of individual to lead an organization, whether the CEO is already in place or is being hired from inside or outside the organization, should reflect both the current and future needs of the business (e.g., over the next decade).

The CEO position is all about leadership, and the two most important leadership criteria for a successful CEO are judgment and integrity. These two characteristics should not be considered as all-inclusive determinants of success, but rather as fundamental prerequisites that overshadow other considerations. Judgment and integrity also serve as the foundation for a number of additional leadership skills that an effective CEO must possess and continually demonstrate.

The list of 25 traits that follows is based largely on personal experience and observing many successful CEOs over several decades. (more…)

For-profit and Nonprofit Boards of Directors

For-profit and Nonprofit Boards of Directors: Similarities, Differences, and Keys to Success

Arthur D. Collins, Jr. & Sophia Shaw
Managing Partners, Acorn Advisors LLC

During a recent conversation with a friend who has served on the boards of numerous corporations, cultural institutions, and civic organizations, one of us half-jokingly remarked, “When you’ve seen one board of directors, you’ve seen ONE board of directors.” Agreeing that the “seen one, seen ‘em all” adage doesn’t apply to boards, our friend went on to add an important caveat, saying, “Yes, but selecting good directors and getting the governance right makes all the difference in the world.” While it is certainly true that each board can be considered unique, every board—whether the directors oversee a Fortune 500 corporation, another size or type of for-profit company, or a nonprofit institution—benefits from conscientiously observing sound governance.

Since some confusion persists as to the factors that distinguish for-profit and nonprofit boards, even by some people who have served on both types of boards, we decided to outline some of the similarities and differences between the two. In addition, we have included several ideas on the characteristics that distinguish successful boards from those that aren’t, regardless if they are for-profit or nonprofit. (more…)

Thank you, Chicago Botanic Garden

Thank you, Chicago Botanic Garden

Sophia Shaw, Chicago Botanic Garden
Speech May 6, 2016

I gratefully accepted the Chicago Horticultural Society Medal at a farewell dinner in my honor hosted by the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Board Chair Bob Finke, and Board of Directors. Following is an edited version my remarks in which I first recognize colleagues and family and then explain some of the long-term leadership factors that make the Garden special. (more…)