The tone at the top of the article is apparent when writer Alan Murray starts by noting that the boards of Pfizer and Home Depot turned to lawyers to “clean up the mess” left by the prior CEO:
The folks at Pfizer insist Jeffrey Kindler’s law degree (Harvard, ’80) had little to do with his selection as the company’s new CEO. At Home Depot, where the top job went to Frank Blake (Columbia, ’76) — a friend and former General Electric colleague of Mr. Kindler — a spokesman says there’s a difference “between having a law degree and being a lawyer. Basically, since 1998, Frank’s been out of the lawyer mode.”
Mr. Murray also examines the challenges faced by Citigroup CEO Charles Prince.
I addressed this before in response to an earlier article also written by Mr. Murray; here’s the salient part:
But most lawyers (and any GC) has to love the characterization of Mr. Kindlerâ€™s prior Pfizer job history as having â€œfunctioned only as general counsel.â€
Somehow when US CEOs for decades came from finance or marketing or engineering, those disciplines were seen as good seasoning.
So can MBAs and CPAs be good CEOs?
I think we are entering a phase in business when boards are looking closely at skill sets as well as experience when choosing a CEO. Some executives-with-law-degrees have superior skill sets, and two of them are undoubtedly Messrs. Kindler and Blake. Few such executives have the requisite experience outside the legal discipline. But these two did. And I’d venture a guess that more will be ready for board consideration in the coming years.
Can lawyers make good CEOs? Sure, just give qualified ones a shot and hold them accountable for results.
At the end of the day, it’s sort of like asking whether economists can make good journalists. I’d say definitely yes.