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Review: A Not-So-Annoying CEO Advice Book

June 22nd, 2009 · No Comments

By Garland Pollard

Wiley, Start With the Answer: And other Wisdom for Aspiring Leaders, by Bob Seelert, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken. $24.95

CEO autobiographies and the like are often out of touch, filled with overly obvious advice that would only be useful if you are the CEO. After reading one, you just feel inadequate.

I approached Start With the Answer the same way. Seelert is Chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, and his income and his book is filled with sections like “The Importance of a Great Executive Assistant” and lines like:

“I was called by an executive recruiter from Spencer Stuart, the leading privately held global executive search firm who, lo and behold, wanted to talk with me about my potential interest in taking the job…”

Would that it were so for anyone these days?

Reading it carefully, however, it seems that Seelert might the last of the old school breed. Coming up through Harvard Business School and then General Foods, his perspective is slightly antique, and that is good.

For instance, he says you should never use the words “never” or “always.” That needs no explanation. And he also reminds that your clothes speak about you, and advises to dress on the side of formality. He also says that with email, that you should set aside only two small periods a day to answer them. And in a new consumer product, he says that companies that are first out, often do best. His prescription for success includes accepting failure, something he put into practice at the Birds Eye division of General Foods. He spoke of the RASCI management technique used at Saatchi. It means that every team has someone who is Responsible, and others who Approve, Support, Consult and Inform.

My favorite? He also puts forth the idea of “Breakfast with Bob,” an idea where he took everyone at the headquarters of his company, Kayser-Roth, to breakfast seven at a time. Simple conversation broke down boundaries.

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