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from Equals:

Davos still hasn’t solved its woman problem

In 2011, the organizers of the World Economic Forum announced they wanted to do something about the lack of women at their annual January gathering in Davos, Switzerland. They informed their leading corporate sponsors that one of out every five people they were sending were sending to the annual conference in the Swiss Alps would need to be a woman. In prior years, that number had hovered around 15-17%.

Since then, the percentage of women attending WEF’s gathering of business and political elites hasn’t changed much at all: in 2013 it was 17%. This year it’s 15%.

Those corporations just didn’t want to play along, apparently. Instead of pushing the point, the organizers of Davos have decided to pander to the biases of the more than 2,600 movers and shakers whose employers pay approximately $40,000 per head to attend the get-together. WEF spokesman Adrian Monck told Quartz this week, “We’re on the front line of reflecting the world as it is, not how we want it to be.”

A person needs to be what is considered “significant” to receive the Davos nod, but traditional power structures are still too unbalanced to give the holders of the coveted Davos invites many women to choose from. The companies that make up the Fortune 500 have 23 female CEOs between them. Less than 20% of the United States Congress are women, and the United Kingdom is little better, at 23%. Even Barack Obama has come under fire for the relative paucity of the second sex in his inner circle of advisers. This year, 23% of the US government delegation at Davos are women, a group which includes newly appointed Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

from Felix Salmon:

Is Marissa Mayer the right CEO for Yahoo?

Nicholas Carlson, Joe Weisenthal, and Henry Blodget deserve many congratulations on Carlson's monster 22,500-word profile of Marissa Mayer. It features the kind of deep reporting one normally only finds in books, and it sheds a lot of light on what is going on at Yahoo -- both at the senior executive level and at board level. What's more, Carlson was fortunate enough to get just the right amount of access to Mayer -- enough to be able to fill in the necessary details, get lovely bits of color, and ask her the questions he needed to ask, but not so much that he became captured. (In general, with very few exceptions, the more time that a journalist spends with his subject, the more favorable the resulting profile will be.)

After reading Carlson's piece, it's clear that Mayer has genuinely changed Yahoo for the better, over the course of the year that she's been running it. What's not clear, yet, is whether Yahoo's board made the right choice in picking Mayer over the alternative choice, Ross Levinsohn. Especially since the choice of Mayer was pushed through by two men -- Dan Loeb and Michael Wolf -- who aren't even on the board any more.

from Nicholas Wapshott:

Can Republicans tell the truth to themselves?

To understand how far the republic founded by the famously truthful George Washington has become a mendacious nation, you need look only as far as the Weather Channel. According to a report, the meteorologists there deliberately and routinely tell untruths about the prospect of rain so that when it turns out to be sunny the network’s viewers feel unexpectedly happy. The practice, it seems, is widespread among weather forecasters. Joe Sobel, a meteorologist for Accuweather, tells his audience it will rain when he knows the likelihood is small because “when the forecast is for good weather and it’s bad, I certainly will get more grief than if the forecast is for bad weather and it’s good.”

When the accuracy of even weather forecasting, a once factual, rigorous, scientifically determined service relied upon by everyone from farmers to sailors, is compromised for fear of causing offense, America has reached a state of quotidian deceit even George Orwell did not reckon on. Lying over the weather is not the compulsive lying of Richard Nixon: “People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook.” Or the visceral lying of Lance Armstrong, who even lied when he confessed to Oprah Winfrey, using the lying words, “I can’t lie to you ...” and “I’m not going to lie to you or to the public ...” Nor is it even the crooked lies of the price-fixing bankers who misled the markets and cost us all a pretty penny when they concocted the Libor lending rate to suit themselves.

from Ian Bremmer:

Are state-led economies better?

This piece originally appeared in Reuters Magazine.

As Europe’s leaders struggle to restore confidence in the single currency and America’s economy limps ahead at a painfully slow pace, China’s economy continues to power forward at its now characteristically strong clip. For the past three decades, China has been the world’s fastest growing economy—and within the next several years, the People’s Republic will overtake the United States as the world’s largest. Some economists have even argued that, measured by purchasing-power parity, China has already pulled ahead. Such prognostications, accurate or not, have led to dire warnings that liberal capitalism’s best days are behind it, that the future lies with authoritarian market managers who are able to relocate populations and move mountains by decree. For the moment, at least, state-managed capitalism appears to be triumphant.

Such appearances, however, are misleading. The appeal of state capitalism lies in its ability to withstand the occasional crises that afflict market systems, thus shielding the general population from politically inconvenient disruptions. It is a system in which the state uses state-owned enterprises, national champion firms, sovereign wealth funds, and politically loyal banks to dominate the process of domestic wealth creation. To be sure, this is not communism; significant segments of state capitalist economies are in private hands. But the state plays the largest role in ensuring that market forces serve political ends—by ensuring that, profitable or not, businesses invest in projects that bolster social stability and protect the ruling elite’s political control.

from Lucy P. Marcus:

Whack ‘em with a board!

Boardrooms around the world are going through an extraordinary transition. There is a greater understanding of the power and responsibility of boards, and they no longer operate in a black box. The message from investors now is: We’re watching you!

The Shareholder Spring, as the recent period of shareholder activism has been dubbed, shows that investors, stakeholders, regulatory bodies, governments, and the general public are taking a greater interest in what goes on behind closed corporate doors. Ignoring this new call for transparency is futile, and will lead to accusations of being out of touch—tone-deaf in a soundproof room.

from MediaFile:

Killing them softly

This piece originally appeared in Reuters Magazine.

As the embodiment of all that is great and good about Silicon Valley, Marc Andreessen is surprisingly unassuming. He is the earnest, clean-cut Midwestern boy made good, the state school grad who built a better mousetrap—the Web browser—and saw the world beat a path to his door. If being on the cover of Time magazine at age 24 ever went to his head, he didn’t show it. Andreessen simply did what great entrepreneurs are supposed to do: start new companies, again and again. His subsequent ventures never achieved the notoriety of his first, Netscape Communications, but they put to rest any suspicions that his early triumph was a fluke.

Over the years, Andreessen has earned great respect around Silicon Valley as a true visionary who understands where the technology world is going. He sits on the board of leading companies such as Facebook, Hewlett-Packard, and eBay, and serves as a mentor to up-and-coming entrepreneurs, notably Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. And he’s a nice guy to boot, unpretentious and always excited to engage intellectually on technology, finance, company creation, and just about any other topic. What Andreessen has not done, though, is the one thing required for admission to the top tier of the Silicon Valley pantheon: build and lead a great company that defines the technology landscape for generations. Think of Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, or Microsoft, and you will also conjure up the names that head any list of great technology industry leaders: Steve Jobs, Bill Hewlett, David Packard, Bob Noyce, Andy Grove, Gordon Moore, and Bill Gates.

from The Great Debate:

Car czars

This piece originally appeared in Reuters Magazine.

Henry Ford had to fight to build the Model T, even within the company that bore his name. The Russian immigrant engineer who saved the Chevy Corvette bucked the General Motors brass to do it. Lee Iacocca and Hal Sperlich built the minivan at Chrysler only after the vehicle—and they—had been rejected at Ford.

Those three cars were not just huge commercial successes—each also placed its stamp on American life, much as the iPad has today. Two were utterly practical while the third was ostentatiously stylish, but what they all had in common is this: The people who created them overcame formidable obstacles to put them on the road. Unblinking determination is a common theme in the biggest American business success stories, such as Ray Kroc’s damn the-odds effort to build McDonalds and Steve Jobs’ audacity in reshaping Apple. Luck and timing are involved too, but they aren’t enough. The special sauce (apologies to Kroc) is a strain of determination that blends self-belief with belief in the commercial potential of a product.

from Hugo Dixon:

The revolution will be organized

This piece first appeared in Reuters Magazine.

Is it possible that rebel leaders are overrated? In the wake of the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and other populist uprisings around the world against autocracy and corruption, geopolitical analysts are asking fundamental questions about what leadership means in such struggles. What sort of leadership is needed in nonviolent uprisings? And in this digital age, do rebellions even need leaders?

The romanticized answer is that nonviolent struggles no longer require a charismatic leader – they can emerge spontaneously as oppressed people rise up and communicate through Facebook and Twitter. This lack of organization or hierarchy is said to be well suited to the goals of such movements. Where insurgents are fighting for democratic rule, it is appropriate that nobody is bossing anybody around. What’s more, this alleged lack of leadership has a side benefit in that it precludes the authorities from destroying a movement by rounding up the ringleaders. You can’t lop off the head if there is no head.

from The Great Debate:

The revolution will be organized!

This piece first appeared in Reuters Magazine.

Is it possible that rebel leaders are overrated? In the wake of the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and other populist uprisings around the world against autocracy and corruption, geopolitical analysts are asking fundamental questions about what leadership means in such struggles. What sort of leadership is needed in nonviolent uprisings? And in this digital age, do rebellions even need leaders?

The romanticized answer is that nonviolent struggles no longer require a charismatic leader – they can emerge spontaneously as oppressed people rise up and communicate through Facebook and Twitter. This lack of organization or hierarchy is said to be well suited to the goals of such movements. Where insurgents are fighting for democratic rule, it is appropriate that nobody is bossing anybody around. What’s more, this alleged lack of leadership has a side benefit in that it precludes the authorities from destroying a movement by rounding up the ringleaders. You can’t lop off the head if there is no head.

from The Great Debate:

Leadership by the book

This piece originally appeared in Reuters Magazine

Every year publishers release dozens, if not hundreds, of books about leadership. These books range from how-to books written by tenured professors of management theory at Harvard Business School to inspirational tracts generated by motivational speakers and longtime high school football coaches. While it’s evident that an eager audience exists for leadership books, how useful could they actually be? After all, if it were possible to become an effective leader simply by reading a stack of books, then presumably there would be a lot more good leaders in the world.

Assuming it’s possible to learn leadership lessons from a book, it seems even more likely that one could glean authoritative wisdom from reading biographies of great leaders, people who were not only influential but who actually succeeded in changing the world. Biographies, moreover, have the advantage of being real stories and, unlike leadership self-help books, are often composed by excellent writers. They appeal to a much broader class of reader, including the kind of people who might once have read epic poems or romances, tales of gods and heroes and their mysterious ways. If it’s true that biographies of great leaders constitute a higher form of leadership literature, several questions remain: How do the biographers deal with the subject? Do they take lessons from leadership books or leadership theory? And do they agree—as many of the how-to books maintain—that leadership lessons can be distilled and presented independently of the leaders themselves, and transferred from one field of accomplishment to another? Seeking instruction, I turned to three distinguished biographers for guidance. Here are a few lessons I learned about leadership lessons.

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