Former Honeywell CEO David Cote just wrote one of the best guides ever on how to lead a company

by Sutton Emmy

Dave Cote just delivered the War and Peace of books on corporate leadership. The former Honeywell CEO’s Winning Now, Winning Later is such a rich, unusual entry in the genre because instead of running through his favorite management maxims, Cote provides a gripping, on-the-scene account of how he deployed a series of bedrock principles to transform a flailing conglomerate. The lessons come to life because the reader witnesses Cote, over 16 years ending in 2018, relentlessly putting them into practice to meet the biggest challenge in corporate America: balancing the short-term success demanded by investors with sowing the seeds for rewards that will only be harvested years hence, but are essential to achieving greatness.

Current and aspiring CEOs should pay close attention, because for Cote, many of America’s big companies are wrestling with how to invest for the future while still generating the quarterly results shareholders expect. “Businesses are little more than a collection of processes,” he says in the book. “And in most companies, the processes can go a long way towards becoming more efficient and effective.” For Cote, remaking those processes to get maximum results from people and assets requires achieving two seemingly conflicting things at the same time. It’s that 3D thinking that brought the big breakthroughs at Honeywell.

It’s fulfilling these “we can do both” imperatives that lifts enterprises to their full potential. And the most important is simultaneously achieving what many managers find vexing if not impossible, “making the numbers” while at the same time making the daring bets to ensure those numbers will be far higher five years from now. As his book’s title suggests, Cote swears the idea that CEOs must choose between winning now and winning later is wrong: They must find a way to do both. Thinking short- and long-term works in concert since you need today’s profits to fund tomorrow’s hits. He shows how Honeywell succeeded in constantly improving its most lucrative existing products, from airline components to gas detection devices, to increase quarterly earnings, while simultaneously plowing billions into next-generation projects that took five or six years to harvest, then paid off big.

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