Fortune, featured in this post, does a poor job of promoting its enterprise journalism, so allow me to do it for them.Some standout stories in the past 12 months:
“Inside Facebook” by Miguel Helft and Jessi Hempel
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has been lionized in the mainstream business press as Facebook’s “grownup” and savior; Bloomberg Businessweek a year ago ran a cover story declaring “Why Facebook needs Sheryl Sandberg,” portraying her as a compassionate and sensitive executive who admits to even crying at work. Sandberg has honed her public image as being a modern day wonder woman, a mover and shaker by day who always leaves the office by 5:30 so that she can have dinner with her family.
I’ve never bought Sandberg’s media narrative. Her background is in federal politics, and people who make it in Washington tend to be brass-knuckled individuals who frequently engage in all sorts of underhanded tactics, like maligning their rivals with anonymous media leaks. Facebook already has been caught engaging in one such campaign (see here), and Fortune is one of the few publications to suggest that Sandberg is as highly political as one would expect from someone with her background.
“There’s a term spoken quietly around Facebook to describe a cadre of elites who have assumed powerful positions under the leadership of Zuckerberg’s chief operating officer: They’re FOSS, or friends of Sheryl Sandberg. Many have followed her there after studying with her at the Harvard Business School or working with her at the U.S. Treasury Department or Google. Several middle and senior executives who have left the company say that Sandberg has put friends in powerful positions, sometimes even when they were less qualified than other Facebook employees, and once there they enjoy special status. ‘You can’t really cross a FOSS,’ says one former senior manager.”
“How Hewlett-Packard Lost Its Way” by James Bandler and Doris Burke
Fortune has a rather colorful history covering Hewlett-Packard. Admittedly, it was one of Carly Fiorina’s biggest cheerleaders when she first was named CEO of the company, but Carol Loomis’ impressive 2005 take down, a story I regard as one of the best explanatory narratives ever written, more than made up for the misplaced enthusiasm. Fortune also deserves a lot of credit for Adam Lashinsky’s 2009 story questioning Mark Hurd’s leadership, a story that recently proved to be remarkably prescient in the wake of HP’s recent $8 million writedown of EDS, a company acquired under Hurd’s watch.
Bandler and Burke explain in copious and vivid detail how HP ended up with CEOs that were in well over the heads. You might think that a Silicon Valley-based company with historic ties to Stanford University would be overseen by the best and brightest of corporate directors, but reading Bandler and Burke’s article will quickly convince you otherwise.
“Nike’s New Marketing Mojo” by Scott Cendrowski
Like many in the PR and reputation management business, I spend a considerable amount of time these days thinking about how social media best fits into the strategic mix. While I instinctively know that at least half of what I read is a bunch of crap, my challenge, to quote legendary ad man David Ogilvy, is that I’m not sure which half.
But when it comes to big-name brands, Nike certainly seems to be among the ones to watch, and Cendrowski makes clear that Nike’s marketing folks are on the cutting-edge of “customer engagement” (the almighty buzzword in PR and marketing circles these days). The story contains a fascinating stat: Nike’s spending on TV and print advertising in the U.S. has dropped by 40 percent in three years, yet the company’s total marketing budget last year was a record $2.4 billion. This jargon free article makes a stunning business case for the power of social media when properly leveraged.
“The Fight of Richard Rainwater’s Life” by Peter Elkin and Patricia Sellers, with Doris Burke
This article about legendary billionaire dealmaker Richard Rainwater’s battle with “progressive supranuclear palsy” serves as a harsh reminder that diseases don’t care who you are or how much you have in the bank. This well-told, yet sad-to-read human interest tale about a larger-than-life personality rendered incapacitated by this degenerative disease is sobering indeed. The story, incredibly rich in detail and color, also touches on Rainwater’s rather unconventional marriage with financier Darla Moore, who, along with Condoleezza Rice, was one of the first women admitted to the Augusta National Golf Club.
”J.P. Morgan’s Hunt for Afghan Gold” by James Bandler
When I was in college, I took a course from a radical European professor who insisted that all wars were driven by economics. While I never bought into that view at the time, after reading this article I can’t help but think that my professor might have been on to something. Bandler profiles a swashbuckling J.P. Morgan banker who, with the help of the Pentagon, is seeking to tap the supposedly $1 trillion in minerals buried in Afghanistan’s rugged soil. The story reads like an action thriller and features an almost unbelievable cast of characters.