RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — So, what do you believe is the state of corporate leadership in these tough times following on the heels of Wall Street scandal and the continuing payment of tremendous salaries to c-level execs?

As more leaders run their companies into ditches, try to cut their way to prosperity, and still demand big pay (Remember American Airlines?), should we have confidence that the guys and gals in the corporate suites will deliver success before bailing out?

You might want to read Deloitte & Touche’s just out “Technology Fast 500” CEO survey. It’s riveting reading, offering great insight into what’s happening in many of the nation’s future-best firms.

“It’s a time of transition and uncertainty — a new reality for North American businesses,” the authors say, “particularly fast-growing technology companies.”


Hubris and success

If these companies succeed, watch out for the egos.

One fact I found interesting: Responses to the question, “To what do you attribute your personal success?”

First, ask yourself: How would you answer?

Honestly, now.

Did hubris rear its ugly head?

Seventy-five percent of the CEOs said “sheer determination to succeed.”

Sixty-eight percent said “entrepreneurial spirit.”

Thirty-nine percent cited their upbringing.

Thirty-eight percent said “luck — being in the right place at the right time.”

Thirty-seven percent said “educational experiences.”

Thirty-two percent said “personal relationships.”

Only 17 percent cited a mentor.

A mere 16 percent cited “Other”, which included good employees, business skills, risk-taking, patience and honesty/integrity.

(CEOs could pick more than one answer, thus the percentages not adding up to 100.)

What do those responses add up to you?

Truth in commercials

I love the new UPS commercial where the corporate chieftain prepares for a shareholder’s meeting by talking about mixing growth and productivity.

“You remember profits, don’t you,” he says to the camera as the fictional shareholders applaud.

I just wish he would say, “You remember how to mix vision and profits, don’t you?”

The fictional guy has his feet on the ground and balances growth against spending. UPS is part of his “team.”

Then there are more of the wonderful IBM commercials following on the “Pixie Dust” and “Yes Man” truth detector hits — the exec bailing water, another exec debating what to else to cut loose from his fast-falling balloon, including his trusted toady. (Is there a not-so-subtle reference to golden parachutes in that balloon shot?)

Leadership quotes

I read through the D&T report and pulled out many of the quotes the authors included then assembled the remarks in order just to get a snapshot of what the c-execs are thinking these days. Bear in mind who was surveyed — CEOs of the fastest-growing technology companies as identified by D&T. Forty percent of them responded.

“CEO after CEO is in agreement that this industry’s new reality has a ‘survivor of the fittest’ tenor,” the authors say.

“Optimism is down from last year, even among this group of spectacular-growth companies,” the report adds.

Here are the quotes:

“With the current economic slowdown, being disciplined is more important now than ever. At Nextel, our attention to growing the customer base by delivering valuable products has paid off with a break-through year in which the company became cash flow positive for the first time in our history.” — Tim Donahue, Nextel president and CEO

“The biggest change is the increased attention on productivity, resource management and cash flow issues. There does not appear to be a recovery on the horizon. I would bet that a recovery does not occur before 2004.” — Ehud Dor, TMA Resources CEO

“Day-to-day we look at spending decisions as investments. With the cost of capital so high, we must limit the number of new initiatives we pursue, always with profitability in mind.” — Victor Otley, Intellicare CEO

“We have been extremely focused not only on growing our existing business, but also on being much more disciplined with our budgets.” — Joel Ronning, Digital River CEO

“Cash is King! We’ve reduced our expenditures and are doing what it takes to move towards profitability.” — Jane Shaw, Aerogen CEO

“Our focus is on solving critical business issues for our customers. This helps us concentrate on customer acquisition and retention, which need to be the top priorities for companies to succeed in today’s uncertain economy.” — JoMei Chang, Vitria CEO

“Decreased confidence in equity markets has made raising capital substantially more difficult.” — Ryan McDonald, Impact Blue CEO

So, how well will you sleep tonight?

Fast 500 Survey:

Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire; send comments to