The Problem With Phil Condit

The part of this article that really jumped out at me was:

The story of Philip Murray Condit, 62, is the tale of a manager promoted beyond his competence and blind to his own shortcomings. The skills that made him a brilliant engineer — obsessive problem solving and an ability to envision elegant design solutions — were of less use in an executive position. Although always a bold visionary, Condit was frequently indecisive and isolated as a CEO — in stark contrast to his predecessors. Starting with founder William Boeing, the company has been led by a succession of strong, commanding leaders who enjoyed near-total autonomy, displayed unwavering devotion to a culture of engineering and manufacturing excellence, and led modest personal lives.

Countless companies, including my current employer, have this blind spot. They promote successful engineers up the management chain, assuming that because they are good engineers, they will be good managers. These are two separate skill sets. Sometimes they intersect, and sometimes people are good at both, but overall this is a poor practice that companies need to stop.

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Tech guys with business skills can make great managers, but so can managers without tech skills. It definitely helps to understand the technology driving the business, but the further removed from product development that a manager is, the less he/she needs tech skills. Lou Gerstner was not a tech guy, and he did alright at IBM.

Of course, there are bigger problems here, like the fact that Phil Condit only cared about Phil Condit, but part of the problem may have been that he was in the wrong position to start with.

Check out this old post on a similar topic – whether or not tech companies need a tech CEO.