Great Advice from Two Long-Term CEOs

This past week I read an interesting article about the longevity of America’s CEOs. According to a Booz Allen Hamilton research study, less than ½ of all CEOs hired to run the country’s 2500 largest companies are still in the job eight years later (I knew the prospects for Fortune 500 CEOs were bleak, but it’s telling that even mid-sized and small company CEOs aren’t long for the job).

All of which makes what Joseph Neubauer and Ed Rust have done pretty impressive. Mr. Neubauer has been the CEO of Aramark for 27 years, and is the only Fortune 500 non-founding CEO to make it to his silver anniversary. Mr. Rust is the CEO of State Farm Insurance, and should join Neubauer in the exclusive 25-year club in August, 2010. What are some of their secrets?

Neubauer says: “you have to put the right people in the right places for growth, and you have to be candid with everyone, from the Board of Directors to front-line employees.” He adds:“it helps to like the job.” In other words, you have to focus on people, lead with integrity, and have a passion for the role (judging from his tenure, he’s done a nice job of all three on his leadership journey).

Rust added that you have to “never take yourself too seriously, but take your responsibilities very seriously“. “You also have to pursue honest feedback even to the point of being uncomfortable.” So humility and seeking regular feedback are some of Rust’s keys to success.

It’s nice to see the qualities and leadership behaviors that we espouse in this column endorsed and validated by these successful CEOs. Something to emulate, perhaps, if you’re in a leadership position, especially if you’d like to be around awhile!