CEO is the highest position in the land of corporate leadership. It’s a position that demands true executive candor when it comes to setting the course of the company. But reaching the CEO position doesn’t cement your legacy—what you do during your tenure does. Will you be the CEO that establishes a new level of industry dominance… or the one that pulls a golden parachute after a rough couple of years?
To be a successful in a way that transcends their tenure, CEOs need to own the direction of the company. They need to not only right the ship and stay the course—they need to chart a new course that’s bold, daring, brave and exemplary. And, most important, they need to see the company through to new heights, no matter how rough and rocky the seas may get.
To understand what owning a company’s direction looks like, compare your vision to some of the brightest contemporary CEOs and their achievements.
Bob Iger, Disney: Building the Empire of the Future
While Bob Iger recently transitioned out of the CEO role at Disney, he leaves behind big boots to fill for new CEO Bob Chapek. Iger was CEO from 2005 to 2020 and, for those 15 years, led some of the biggest, most instrumental IP acquisitions in the company’s long history.
Iger’s story of “owning the company’s direction” is significant. Disney was already a well-established brand before Iger took the helm, with IP like the ever-present Mickey Mouse making it one of the largest companies in the world. But Iger saw the need to expand and diversify beyond the traditional money-makers.
From the get-go, Iger spearheaded an aggressive campaign to bring more IP under the Disney umbrella. In 2009, Disney struck a deal with Stan Lee and company to acquire the right to Marvel properties, thus launching the era of superheros. Then, in 2012, Iger led Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm and the universe of Star Wars properties. Then, near the end of his tenure, Iger made a move to bring 20th Century Fox under Disney ownership.
Today, thanks to Iger’s relentless pursuit of IP acquisition, Disney holds some of the most valuable characters, stories, productions and personalities in the world. Iger’s legacy? He took a big name and made it unfathomably bigger, one acquisition at a time.
Satya Nadella, Microsoft: Renewed Focus on Talent
Named CEO in 2014, Satya Nadella took a household name and gave it star power once again. In his quest to “own the company’s direction,” Nadella made it clear that Microsoft shouldn’t be content with market share or brand awareness. Instead, the company needed to innovate. To do it, he tapped into the minds that made Microsoft tick.
In the early years of his tenure, Nadella made culture change paramount. He de-siloed the company and brought people together to work collaboratively. Almost overnight, Microsoft when from a divided, fractional, cutthroat corporate structure to a collaborative, cloud-based, innovative company that people were excited to work for again.
Today, Microsoft is one of the only billion-dollar companies in the world, largely thanks to Nadella’s growth mindset. He gave employees a voice and a chance to flex their creative muscles, and put emphasis on creation instead of profit-driven concepts. And while many might’ve seen some of his policies as counterintuitive, Nadella has long since proved them wrong with undeniable results. His legacy? Microsoft is bigger and better than ever, in the driver’s seat of transformative innovation.
Elon Musk, Tesla: Relentless Innovation
While the other CEOs on this list have taken the helm from someone before them, Tesla CEO Elon Musk is the first in what he hopes will be a long line of leaders. As the founder of the company, he’s had the privilege of shaping it in his vision: one of relentless innovation.
Musk’s personality is as loud as his enthusiasm for innovation—and together, they’ve been an unstoppable pair. Tesla is more than just a global brand for electric cars. The company is a pioneering force in battery technology, a leader in autonomous driving technology and a manufacturing powerhouse. All this, because Musk doesn’t believe in “doing things the old-fashioned way.” Instead, he’s bent on doing things his own way, and it’s driving Tesla to new heights at a quicker pace than anyone would believe.
Musk has the opportunity to “own the company direction” not only because Tesla is his company, but because his focus is on the future. He’s not relying on past inventions and innovations to build an empire: he’s looking to reinvent the wheel. Instead of relying on established tech to make Tesla a leader, Musk has built a foundation of success that’s completely unique to the brand.
Become a Pioneer for the Company
It’s easy to “stay the course” if you’re transitioning into the role of a successful previous CEO. Likewise, anything better than the norm is welcome after a bad CEO’s tenure. Regardless of the situation you’re stepping into, as a CEO, you need to aim for ownership. That means accepting the successes and failures of the company under your leadership.
There’s a reason people can’t stop talking about the likes of Bob Iger, Satya Nadella and Elon Musk. These executives do things their way, and the companies they lead are taking bold directions that set them apart from the competition. They own the company’s direction. Will you own yours?