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Friday, October 02, 2009

Applied Materials CEO's best advice: 'The Buck Stops Here'

Mike Splinter, CEO of the Santa Clara, Calif.-based Applied Materials, recalls the best advice he ever got in the following interview ( see -


'Before I joined Applied Materials, I worked at Intel for two decades. I recall a session with Andy Grove. It was 1984, and Grove was talking about Intel culture to a group of new employees who were coming in at a senior level. I was running Fab 1, a Santa Clara factory that made chips.

In his talk Grove advised us to always assume it's your responsibility. By that he meant to take on a job, even if it wasn't yours. That's a general thought, but it creates specific action and works across almost any situation, from picking up garbage on the floor to a new product idea.

If you automatically assume it's your responsibility and do something about it, that makes the company better. Those who can recognize that are the ones who end up being more successful.'

Mike's greatest tips:

Engage your audience. When talking to a group, give the audience a challenge or an objective. It makes the presentation much more memorable.

Stay connected. I read every one of my e-mails. There are a lot of mechanisms to isolate you as CEO. You have to ensure you're finding out what's really going on with employees.

Get others involved early. People are a lot more motivated to execute the things they have to do if they're part of the planning and strategy. Execution is often grinding and hard, so make employees part of the process.

Recognize good work. If I think someone has really done a good job, I'll send a personal note to say it's appreciated. It doesn't matter to me what layer in the company they are.

Know why you're meeting. You need everyone to understand what they're trying to accomplish in a meeting. Is the meeting a communication meeting, or a decision-making meeting? Those things ought to be clear upfront.

Streamline your schedule. Prioritize every day. I focus on three things: financial goals, new-product goals, and people goals.

Balance your risk. You want to encourage people to be willing to take risks. Since I consider myself a risk taker, I like to have a CFO who's much more conservative than I am. We have a good balance.

Ten Principles for Leadership Communication

Here are 10 principles every great leader should know:


And most important of all - choose front line managers for their communication skills. Front line managers have the greatest influence over an employee's engagement. Managers who are good communicators get more from their direct reports than managers whose strong skills lie elsewhere. Managers who are good communicators are the insurance policy for keeping the best workers happy.

Engagement is Not Enough - The Passion Pyramid

Is your passion towards your organisation, the people you work with, and the job you perform as high as it could be?

Your attitudes will be at their highest when the needs that are most important to you are being fully satisfied by your organisation, manager, or team.  For the opportunity to self evaluate, see -


Conversations with Global Leaders

Here is an extract from a fascinating interview with Dan Vasella, the ceo of Novartis:

Q: What do you think are the most significant lessons you’ve learned about managing, and particularly managing change and adapting? And what do you think are some of the advances, if there have been any, in the art and science of management that really register for you?

Dan Vasella: I would say: number one, you never can do it alone. So you’re also dependent on many others. But at the same time, you should not be shy about standing for what you believe. And in the long term, one of the conclusions I have drawn is you may not please all the time. But the fact that people say, “What he says he really believes,” I think is very important. And I believe you have to be first of all very respectful of people and, I would say, the broader environment too. The respect means one needs to be also very direct and tough when appropriate, because it’s an expression of respect. And it’s often not done because people are afraid. They are afraid. It’s not that they want to be particularly nice or care so much about the feelings of the other. It’s much more that they are afraid to confront with the other realities and then the response of it.

So you have to be able to be very tough and very supportive, if supportive is needed. And you have to give others room. But that doesn’t mean you abdicate authority, because you have been entrusted with authority if you lead something and then you have to exert it. You can not do as if you would not be in charge.

And some people will tell you, “Don’t get involved in this,” or, “This is too detailed,” and I think that’s wrong. You should understand what you are managing and what you’re leading. You should know the key facts. And you should know the people and then know when you let them totally do [it] and you can go to bed, close both eyes, and sleep deeply and well, and you know things are being really done extremely well—and maybe better than you could do it. And when do you have to say, “No. This is not sounding right. It’s not smelling right. And here, I want to understand. And I go deep in detail.”

And I think these give a certain tension also in the organization because they don’t exactly know when is he going to go deep or not. And some people will say, “Well, that’s unpredictability.” And that’s very negative. You should be predictable. And if unpredictability is predicable, it’s also a kind of a pattern which people will know.

If you’re fair and fact based when you intervene, it’s not a problem, because it’s all something which you will elaborate then maybe debate—because, very often, there’s not one right answer but two or three, and you have to choose. And I enjoy choosing together, after having had a kind of a discussion.

Q: Are there tools that you have found that have made this easier than it was 10 or 15 years ago? Or is pretty much the same tough thing?

Dan Vasella: No. My evolution and learnings have been that, in the beginning, I have tried to read, listen, assimilate massively, and then really to practice, and over time to internalize certain things. And others you forget. And so with the approach we have taken, continuous learning is crucial. We have also, with Harvard Business School, regular seminars where the top team goes—I go too. I sit in on the bench and go through the course.
And the question is, when do you become idiosyncratic? How do you get new ideas? How to rejuvenate? And at the same time, it’s a fact of life that you get older. And you have young people. And they are again with more energy, more skills, different skills. Then you need to give them room, and you need to enjoy seeing others grow.

So I think what you do [at age] 40 is different than what you do with [at age] 50 or 60. And so the styles also evolve. You asked about new management techniques, and I would say I have rather the opposite reaction. I go back and I read more in Peter Drucker’s books than on the newest kind of monolithic theme, because what we have watched and observed—and I know you know this in and out—we regularly have one theme which is blown up to a book, a new paradigm. But, frankly, it is just one element which has been specifically well investigated and then, you know, exposed and sold, but it always has been present. So if you go back to the roots, I think you see that most has been said and written.

For the full interview, see -


Why Smart Chief Executives Make Strange Decisions

Business decisions break down when they're based on aspirations and not market conditions.

Here is an excellent article which should make every ceo stop and think again about the process he or she goes through when making key business decisions:


Cassel has spent years preparing for leading role

Here is a great example of how important it is to persevere on the path to leadership. It concerns Matt Cassel, an American football quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League.

Cassel was drafted by the New England Patriots in the seventh round of the 2005 NFL Draft. He became the Patriots' starting quarterback in Week 1 of the 2008 season after then reigning NFL MVP Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury. According to ESPN research, he is the only known quarterback in NFL history to start an NFL game as quarterback without ever starting at quarterback at college. In his first season as a starter, Cassel became only the fifth NFL quarterback to have passed for more than 400 yards in consecutive games, and the first since the NFL-AFL merger with 60 rushing yards in the same game.

In February 2009, the Patriots used their franchise tag on Cassel, extending him a one-year contract worth over $14 million, the largest one-year contract for an offensive player in NFL history. Later that offseason, the Patriots made a trade which sent Cassel to the Chiefs, who signed him to a six-year, $63 million contract in July 2009.

For more on this amazing story of determination and perseverance to succeed see:


Controlling the Controllables When Under Pressure

As the IOC decides today on the host city for the 2016 Olympics, here are some pearls of wisdom from some of the USA's greatest athletes that can be applied to peak performance in everyday business:


The approach — prepare relentlessly, concentrate on what you can control, stick to your routine, don't get sucked into surrounding hoopla, and focus on what you are doing in the moment rather than on the outcome — will serve you well in the most important moments of your career.