December is a great time to look back at the good, bad and not particularly attractive things of the preceding year. Because the negative is so much fun, we often forget the positive. To correct that, I’d like to list the executives and employees who stood out last year. These are people who went beyond their jobs to do something powerful and amazing -- or just have a job that I doubt anyone else could do.
I understand that Apple isn’t doing that well, but being the guy that came after Steve Jobs was never going to be a picnic. The facts that Apple is still profitable (immensely so), is holding on to both quality and customer satisfaction and hasn’t started to crater like the last time Jobs left is impressive. The effort is akin to keeping the Titanic afloat until it reaches port while being criticized that the waterskiing stinks. My hat is off to Cook as he is doing what should have been an impossible job.
Speaking of impossible jobs, Weisler has one of the toughest. Stuck with a massive amount of debt, a printing unit striped of its iconic leadership and a market in sharp decline, Weisler faces deep challenges. Apparently no one told him that, however, as he is out there making things happen. His firm is doing solid marketing, seeding and executing. I’ve seen firms come back from worse, so he has a shot. But without his energy and belief, that wouldn’t be true.
Jeff has the unenviable job of explaining why Dell is still in the PC business after HP and IBM exited. And he does it exceptionally well. He is the strongest voice for the continued life of the PC, and he has been executing impressively with sales that make it clear that he intentionally missed the bogus memo about PCs being dead. With products like the XPS 13 and XPS 15 showcasing that you can build a great PC and a willingness to dust it up if anyone dares to mistakenly suggest his task is impossible, he stands out as an executive with a mission. I’ve never seen the guy phone it in. If he doesn’t like the questions he is asked, he’ll even ask and answer better ones.
Lenovo is an interesting case as they are now the only tech company that goes from smartphones to servers. If they can show synergy between these units, there may be no other firm on the planet that can touch them. Getting there is mostly Peter’s job. He’s also the guy that gets to apologize when someone else messes up. He has more projects in the air than any other executive but one that I know, and he keeps them all in the air for the most part. When you have put as many different things together as quickly has Lenovo has, you need someone with a superpower to make it all make sense, and Peter apparently has that power.
Musk pretty much makes all other CEOs look like they are semi-retired. While others struggle running one company, Musk seems underutilized running four. And none of these companies are safe firms; every one of them is on the cutting edge of some technology that hasn’t really mainstreamed yet, including Tesla. His car is the best that Consumer Reports has ever tested, his rockets better than NASA built, his train potentially could put airlines out of business and his AI project could save the human race. One thing Musk isn’t is an underachiever.
BlackBerry seemed effectively dead three years ago. John Chen not only brought it back to life, he found a way to use Android to create what has become my favorite phone this year—the Blackberry PRIV. The company is now making $557M a quarter with $163M in software as the firm transitions to their new model. They bought AtHoc and Good Technology, improving their software portfolio and turning their biggest competitor in U.S. government accounts into an asset. Given how many turnarounds aren’t working at the moment and what happened to Palm, this is impressive work.
Kathleen Hall does the advertising for Windows and Microsoft hardware. She uses hard statistics to focus and target her efforts, and she remains one of the strongest marketing executives in tech. Her work on the Surface Pro product is particularly impressive. In a world where most technology vendors have either stripped or forgotten marketing while complaining about poor sales, Kathleen is one of the few that stepped up and did something to fix the problem.
At IBM it isn’t unusual to be given an impossible job, and Tom Rosamilia was given the job to make infrastructure matter — and he did. This is like having the job of making folks care about the plumbing in their house. The only time you care is if it is broken, and that’s not a good thing. Tom successfully pointed out that every cool technology out there requires infrastructure to work, and that without it, cool isn’t cool, it is broken. Tom embraced the impossible job of making us care about something we didn’t care about. And a bunch of us care about it now. We likely always should have.
I don’t know who you are, but there are clearly folks at Yahoo that, despite missteps from their board and executive team, get up every morning fired up to get the job done. It would be incredibly easy to just put in time. But the fact that Yahoo is still operating and that the Yahoo services I’m using still work great is a testimonial to the unsung heroes at Yahoo who are keeping the lights on. If Yahoo is around in 2020, it will be due to these unsung heroes who kept fighting.
My list isn’t comprehensive, but if you fought against impossible odds and did an excellent job in 2015, this column is for you, too. Your boss may not appreciate you, your coworkers may think you are making them look bad and some executive may have stolen the credit, but you kept fighting. Folks like you are my heroes. Even if no one else appreciates your efforts I do. Keep doing what you are doing because, in the end, all the cars, perks, luxuries, and false praise will mean nothing against the knowledge that when it was time to stand up, you heroically did.
Semper Fi people, Semper Fi.
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