I often write and talk about the imperative to lead, re-imagine and reinvent the 21st-century enterprise to drive growth and create value. I focus on those goals because they are absolutely critical to success in our hyper-competitive global economy. They are, in fact, essential for achieving continuous improvement, innovation and disruption in rapidly evolving markets.
I believe strongly in those principles and I consider them a necessary part of every modern company's mission. Usually, we assume that "lead, re-imagine and reinvent" refer to processes and technologies. But that's not always the case.
Tesla, for example, has chosen Robyn Denholm, as its new chairperson. Denholm is currently Chief Financial Officer and Head of Strategy at Telstra, an Australian telecommunications company. She has a reputation for being tough, rational, smart and careful.
Tesla is hoping the appointment of Denholm will reinvent its relationship with investors and regulators, which soured after CEO Elon Musk tweeted about taking the company private.
"Ceding the role of chairman was a condition of the accord Musk reached with the SEC in September to settle fraud charges related to his tweets on taking the company private," writes Dana Hull of Bloomberg. "In addition to a three-year ban from serving in the job, Musk and Tesla agreed that the company would add two new independent directors to the board by late December. Tesla is actively searching to fill those posts."
The immediate problem, however, is that Denholm has been a Tesla director since 2014, so she's hardly an outsider. Critics are already asking if she's got the strength, independence and tenacity necessary for reining in Musk.
I mention the Tesla situation because it highlights the many ways in which companies can reinvent themselves. Often, it's a matter of leadership. Bringing in new executives and new directors can reinvigorate an ailing company, or refocus a company that's lost its edge.
But leading, re-imaging and reinventing a high-flying company like Tesla will probably require more than bringing in a new chairperson with solid business management skills. I question whether Denholm is the kind of leader that a truly visionary company like Tesla really needs.
During World War II, the United States created the Manhattan Project, a top-secret effort to develop the first atomic bomb. The legendary project had two leaders: J. Robert Oppenheimer and Gen. Leslie Groves. Oppenheimer was scientific, philosophical and imaginative. Groves was rough, abusive and demanding. Oppenheimer provided creativity and insight, while Groves provided focus and energy. Together, they succeeded and invented the age of nuclear warfare.
From my perspective, Tesla needs a pair of leaders like Oppenheimer and Groves. Both were brilliant, but in completely different ways. Their strengths proved complementary and they got the job done.
All companies and organizations can learn a lesson from the Manhattan Project. In most cases, you need more than great technology and superior processes to succeed. You need great leaders who are brave, creative and audacious. Does your enterprise have leaders who are ready to re-imagine and reinvent the business to drive growth and create value? In today's markets, the genuinely great companies will be the ones with the best and most courageous leaders.