前一阵子，英国《金融时报》刊登了世界排名前50位的女首席执行官名单。我向来对此类名单兴趣浓厚，于是便在用早餐时仔细研究了一番。首先，我欣赏了雅芳首席执行官(CEO)佩戴的双排珍珠项链，莎莉公司(Sara Lee) CEO的珍珠白牙齿，以及日本临时雇员公司(Tempstaff)创始人筱原良子(Yoshiko Shinohara)完美得有些诡异的肌肤——她看上去比我年轻，但其实已经74岁了。
接着我阅读了她们的成功秘诀。排名第一的女性——百事公司(PepsiCo)的英德拉?努伊(Indra Nooyi)表示，你必须努力工作并享受乐趣。卡夫(Kraft)的艾琳?罗森菲尔德(Irene Rosenfeld)表示，你必须跟着自己的热情走。其他人则谈到了拥有一位导师、做自己、工作与生活平衡、团队协作和谦逊的重要性。
On Saturday, the FT published a list of the top 50 women chief executives in the world and, loving such lists, I settled down over breakfast to study it. First, I admired the double string of pearls worn by the CEO of Avon; the pearly white teeth of the Sara Lee chief and the spookily perfect skin of Yoshiko Shinohara, founder of Tempstaff in Japan – who looks younger than I do but turns out to be 74.
Next I read the secrets of their success. The number one woman, PepsiCo's Indra Nooyi, says you must work hard and have fun. Irene Rosenfeld of Kraft says you must follow your passion. The others talk about the importance of having a mentor, of being yourself, of work-life balance, of teamwork and of being humble.
Reading this, I felt I was sinking into a low-slung foam chair from which I couldn't get out. It wasn't that there was anything in particular to disagree with. It was that these women, all of whom have achieved exceptional things, mindlessly repeat the caring, sharing views that every modern CEO – male and female – is now required to have.
There was only one discordant note. This was sounded by Dong Mingzhu, who runs a Chinese manufacturer of air conditioners and is rated the ninth most important businesswoman in the world. “I never miss,” she says. “I never admit mistakes and I am always correct.”
I read this and laughed. It was so bracing, so shocking, so out of line that I thought it a joke. This is the management equivalent of saying one is into incest or has a lot of respect for paedophiles.
Yet Sister Dong, as she is sometimes known, has achieved results. Gree Electric Appliances has achieved total shareholder returns in the past three years of 529.5 per cent. Compare this with Avon, say, where Andrea Jung boasts that her biggest inspiration is the 6m strong sales force. Alas, it seems that listening to 6m ideas may have distracted her from the bottom line. Her return over the same period is a poor -10.5 per cent.
One might argue that the Sister-Dong- never-wrong school of management is something that only works in China, where the fondness for autocracy is considerable and theory of management is still about making money and hasn't evolved to include such soppy practices as mentoring or 360-degree feedback.
Yet last week I went to see The September Issue, a documentary about life at American Vogue, and can confirm that the Sister-Dong-never-wrong approach can work quite brilliantly in the most highly evolved and most competitive of industries: fashion.
Anna Wintour, the magazine's editor, is Sister Dong's Manhattan soulmate. In the course of the film, one of her staff comments that working for the magazine is “like belonging to a church”. Does that mean Wintour is the high priestess, she is asked. “No,” she replies. “More like the Pope.”
For 90 minutes, we see a not very personable, deeply repressed woman who never praises anyone and hardly ever smiles, getting into or out of chauffeur- driven cars and telling her underlings their work is ugly or boring. Yet for 20 years, this woman has hung on at the top of her business, while most CEOs – male and female – last four or five years before they are spat out or squashed.
Alas, Wintour did nothing as vulgar in the film as to reflect on her own success as a dictator. So I'm going to attempt to do it for her and explain how a tyrant can rule in the west.
Step one. Have a genius as number two who dares to purse their lips disapprovingly when you get out of line. Wintour's greatest asset is Grace Coddington, her flame-haired creative director, who has lasted 20 years too.
Step two. Make decisions. Most CEOs consult, dither, look over their shoulders, fret about upsetting people and change their minds. Wintour simply decides. And when she's decided, that's it.
Step three. Command respect. Watching the film makes one realise what an enormous deal respect is and how it is
not won by being nicey-nicey. One luckless underling who had been given a frosty bollocking said to the camera: “I am going to kill myself.” But the next time we saw her she was still alive and had redoubled her efforts to do better next time. Praise, it seems, is far less effective as a motivational tool than the desire to please the Pope.
Step four. Be right. Like Dong, Wintour thinks she is never wrong. But in Wintour's case the extraordinary thing is that she almost never is wrong. Partly this is because she is very clever, very experienced, very hard-working, and
minds more than seems reasonable. But it is also because she has been so right for so long that she is now right by
definition. If Anna says fur is in, it's in. If she says Sienna Miller's hair is lacklustre, then it's lacklustre.
Pulling off the same feat with air conditioning must be harder. For Sister Dong, and for all the other CEOs who run complicated, global businesses, it is terribly hard to tell if they are actually wrong or not. And in the meantime they have a choice. Either rule by fear – which still works in China and in fashion – or rule by banging on about passion and mentors and hoping that if you are wrong, no one will notice.
- 4怪异工作吸金多 盘点十大高薪不