Annual CEO Summit Focuses on the Role of Business Leaders

A diverse group of executives, government officials, investors, and academics explored the challenges faced by business leaders at the 72nd Yale School of Management CEO Summit in New York City on June 5 and 6.

The day-long discussion was titled "Can CEOs  Be Superheroes? Do We Expect too Much from the Boss?" and was led by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, Yale SOM's senior associate dean for executive programs and the founder and president of the Chief Executive Leadership Institute at Yale SOM. Participants included Sir James Wolfensohn, former president of the World Bank Group and the recipient of the summit's Legend in Leadership Award; William Donaldson, the 27th chairman of the SEC; John Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group; Jed Rakoff, United States District Judge, Southern District of New York; Kelly Evans, co-anchor of CNBC's Squawk on the Street; Tom Horton, chairman and CEO, American Airlines; and Robert Diamond Jr., former president and CEO, Barclays.

The assembled business leaders discussed how they evaluate business opportunities in the United States and elsewhere around the world. They agreed that despite slow economic growth in the U.S., underlying fundamentals make it worthwhile to invest there. Some leaders saw opportunities in Europe and Asia, but others cited challenges with inflexible unions and governments in Europe and intellectual property issues in China.

The participants expressed frustration with some U.S. government policies and discussed what leaders can do to make their voices heard in Washington. They stressed the importance of educating legislators and policymakers about the issues facing their industries.

Other areas of discussion included the role of companies in strengthening education in the United States; the role of the corporate boards and the pros and cons of splitting the chairman and CEO roles; and the relative advantages of being privately or publicly held.

Finally, participants discussed the theme of CEO as "superheroes." One participant emphasized the self-sacrifice that is typical of successful CEOs. "Super humble" may be a better description for such leaders than "superhero," he suggested.