There are excellent leaders, and then there are leaders who get a lot of attention. The Venn diagram of these two sets shows limited overlap. Today, please observe three business bosses whose companies have been in the news and who are in the first group but not the second.
-CBS reports earnings after today’s market close, but chief Les Moonves was already in the news for being named the company’s executive chairman last week, succeeding the 92-year-old controlling shareholder, Sumner Redstone. We won’t try to summarize the messy business drama of the Redstones; suffice to say that Sumner and his daughter Shari Redstone, the two of whom have fought bitterly, seem to agree in their esteem for Moonves, who has run CBS since 2003; Shari nominated Moonves to succeed her father as executive chairman.
Over the years, trendy non-CBS shows like Breaking Bad (AMC) and Game of Thrones (HBO) have received more media attention than the entire CBS lineup, so you’d be forgiven for never guessing that the most watched network in America year after year is CBS. The most watched show in the world today is NCIS; before that it was CSI. They’re both CBS programs. Moonves keeps the machine turning, and if he cares that the TV critics don’t swoon, he doesn’t show it.
-With oil prices down 70% in the past 18 months, the oil business is in the tank and oil stocks are doomed for the foreseeable future, or so holds the conventional wisdom. Certainly all the giant oil companies are suffering, but not equally. Merrill Lynch recently cut its dividend outlook for all the oil stocks it covers, except for two, and only one of those is a super-major. It’s Exxon Mobil, run for the past ten years by Rex Tillerson, who doesn’t get any media attention and doesn’t want any. Oil is not a widely popular business these days. But Tillerson has run the company extremely well, placing a big bet on natural gas in 2009 and nurturing the chemical business. The stock is even one of Merrill’s top ten picks for 2016 because the company “consistently has demonstrated disciplined investing, operational excellence, and technological innovation.” Those virtues are all classic Exxon priorities, and Tillerson has maintained them.
–Alan Hassenfeld is no longer CEO of Hasbro – he handed that job to Brian Goldner in 2008 – but he remains chairman, and we still see his influence when we study an excellent earnings report as we did the other day; the company beat Wall Street estimates thanks to huge revenues from Star Wars merchandise in the fourth quarter. Hassenfeld, a member of the founding family who became CEO in 1989, elevated the company into another universe when he made his Transformers toys the stars of a big-budget movie that has produced three sequels with more scheduled. Hasbro has thus become a character- and story-based business, not just a toy-based business. The stock has returned about 13% a year compounded from when he became CEO until today.
If the past is any guide, you may not read much about these leaders for a while. They’re a reminder to keep an eye out for great performance that doesn’t shout from the headlines.
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What We're Reading Today
FBI surrounds Oregon protesters
The six-week protest over public land use appears near an end as the FBI has surrounded the wildlife refuge that houses the four remaining holdouts. After an all-night stand-off, which the ranchers streamed live via phone to YouTube, they said they will turn themselves in. As the theatrics unfolded, federal authorities also arrested Cliven Bundy, father of Ammon Bundy, who led the initial occupation of the wildlife building before his arrest a couple of weeks ago. It’s unclear why the patriarch was arrested, though he had announced he was headed to the site.
Fiorina and Christie suspend campaigns
Carly Fiorina attracted only 4% of the New Hampshire GOP vote. In her parting speech, the former H-P CEO said that women don’t have to vote for other women, a clear reference to Hillary Clinton. Chris Christie, who got 7% of the vote, returns to New Jersey, where critics have said he has ignored his job as governor while campaigning.
HSBC reverses bonus plans
Less than two weeks after the British bank announced a pay freeze, CEO Stuart Gulliver reversed his decision. Trying to cut costs significantly, the bank had announced a pay and hiring freeze for this year. But Gulliver now says the bank will proceed with planned pay increases for this year by tapping a bonus pool meant for 2017. The hiring freeze will remain.
Justice Dept. sues Ferguson, Missouri
Attorney General Loretta Lynch claims the city’s law enforcement practices are unconstitutional by disproportionally targeting African-Americans for traffic stops and jail sentences. The two sides had negotiated a reform plan, but the city council voted on Tuesday to change it.
Building a Better Leader
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Company recruiters look for five characteristics, including boldness, ability to move fast, and liking open floor plans.
An alternative to entrepreneurship for young workers…
…has become intrapreneurship, or building a successful business within the company they work for.
Hiring like Oracle chief Larry Ellison or former NFL coach Bill Walsh…
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Twitter can say it has a vision
While users didn’t increase and revenue fell 3% in the fourth quarter, the one thing Jack Dorsey provided Twitter investors during its earnings release yesterday was a vision for a way forward. In the call, Dorsey spoke about the importance of live events. That could mean that Periscope, the company’s video streaming service, could gain prominence. Absence of a clear vision for Twitter’s future has dogged the company since former CEO Dick Costolo‘s efforts in 2014. Now it comes down to execution.
Walgreens threatens to end relationship with Theranos
The biggest Theranos customer says that Elizabeth Holmes‘s company has 30 days to fix the issues in its California lab that U.S. regulators outlined recently, or Walgreens will end the contract. Forty “wellness centers” at Walgreens across Arizona account for the majority of Theranos’ revenues. Holmes has until Friday to provide a plan to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to fix its blood testing lab, which the agency found had major violations that put patients in “jeopardy.”
Whole Foods has found a secret weapon: Cheaper food
After struggling over the past year, and the stock falling by half, the company has cut prices to draw younger shoppers. In a nine-point plan outlined by co-CEO John Mackey in November, the company committed to increasing perceived value. The strategy seems to be working, with sales increasing 3% last quarter. Up next: digital coupons.
Up or Out
Fortune Reads and Videos
Tesla admits struggles with Model X production
But Elon Musk still expects a big jump in cars made this year and says the Model 3 remains on track.
JetBlue launches venture capital arm
The unit will invest in travel and hospitality startups.
Amazon announces $5-billion stock buyback plan
Investors liked the news, moving the stock price up 2%.
Prosecutors arrest race car driver Scott Tucker…
…for a $2-billion payday lending scheme.