What he gets wrong here is the idea only CEOs can exercise a specific type of creativity or ‘meaningful’ as he puts it. Can you imagine telling your boss that what you did today was “interpreting the meaningful outside”? Lafley appears to summarize his position and value to the company as someone who doesn’t actually do or have any responsibility for anything while also holding more power than anyone else in the organization.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re not saying CEOs are useless – far from it. Purely that the salary doesn’t necessarily match the work output and that there is an unnecessary and even unfair sense of superiority surrounding the title. To paint the picture further, David Zaslav, the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, has been a major part of the reason that the Hollywood strikes have gone on for months. Zaslav — who made $39 million last year — along with the other members of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have helped suck as much as $5 billion out of the California economy (and the entertainment industry). And it’s not as if his business decision-making at his own company is earning high marks with investors either: Since the merger of Warner Bros. and Discovery in 2022, the company’s combined market capitalization has dropped by $20 billion.

Don’t get me wrong — a company does, generally, need a figurehead, and you need someone with a company wide perspective who can guide an organization and make decisions. You need someone who defines the mission and then holds the company to that mission. 

But if the executive’s only role is to make these decisions with no other contribution to or accountability for the results, the role loses much of its value. Chief executives have become the Final Managers — disconnected “ideas guys” like Elon Musk who get credit for every major success without being fired for a single major failure. Without connecting their outsize pay to the results of their decisions, there is no reason to have a CEO. If the job of a chief executive is simply to take data and regurgitate extrapolations that deliver “efficiency,” I can think of no role more appropriate for AI replacement.

A CEO should be someone who has an active role in the profit generation of the business, either through actively building the company or through closing the deals and partnerships that will generate said revenue. Said chief executives must also be held directly accountable to real metrics and have their pay tied directly to the success of the business, the happiness of the business’ customers, and the happiness of their employees. 

The solution? Define what a CEO is, set the terms of their success, and then hold them accountable. If you can’t do that, you don’t need a CEO. Or perhaps your CEO needs to make a more modest income. Or perhaps the chief executives need to be far more afraid of losing their jobs to equally capable robots.

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