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Personal Growth

What Happens When Business Legends Leave?

The founder of a successful corporation steps down. Then what? At Ford and Walt Disney, long periods of stagnation or decline, followed by renewal. Now it’s Apple’s turn. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Steve Jobs is the latest in a long list of captains of American industry to resign including Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Sam Walton and Bill Gates. Companies often struggle to cope with new challenges absent their fearless leaders. Disney, for example, clung to its founder’s vision, preserving his office exactly as it was and adding few new animated features. This left the company creatively dormant. “It wasn’t until the board recruited Michael Eisner from Paramount Pictures to be chairman and C.E.O. in 1984 that the company regained focus.”

What’s the Big Idea?

The huge advantages of having a visionary, charismatic leader can equally unhinge a business after that leader is gone. This happened slowly with Wal-Mart, created by the folksy and avuncular Sam Walton. “Mr. Walton handed the chief executive reins to a trusted disciple, David Glass, in 1988. Mr. Glass continued Mr. Walton’s vision and accelerated construction of ‘supercenters.’ By the end of the 1990s, Wal-Mart was the largest private employer in the world, a title it still holds.” But slowly, some executives at Wal-Mart lost sight of their ‘lowest price promise’. 


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