What Do Murdoch and Obama Have in Common?

Last Updated Jul 19, 2011 12:24 PM EDT

What Do Murdoch and Obama Have in CommonThere are a couple of old curses that each and every one of you should avoid like the plague. Individually, they're problematic. Combined, they can lead you into a perfect storm of disaster:
  • May you live in interesting times.
  • May you find what you are looking for.
As guiding principles go - in life and in business - you'd be wise to head these warnings. The best performing companies and their executives do just that.

But others, for whatever reason, choose to live on the edge. More often than not, that comes back to bite them in the end.

Of course, when it comes to marketing a product or service, you need to get the word out, gain visibility and customer traction, build grassroots support, even court some controversy if that's what it takes to grow market share.

Other than that, you're better off just quietly going about your business and staying under the radar screen. Savvy business leaders all know that, at least they should. Here are a few that do know better, followed by some notable counterexamples we've been reading about lately.

Leaders that avoid the curses like the plague ...

The other day my wife, having read about Cisco's plan to lay off 6,500 employees or 9 percent of its workforce, asked me what the company does. Here's the world's leading network company, the inventor of the multiprotocol router at the heart of how we all connect to the Internet and each other, and her first brush with the company is reading about a big hairy layoff.

Not the kind of PR a company wants, that's for sure. Believe me; if Cisco CEO John Chambers could have avoided it, he would have, but this is part of a much needed restructuring.

On the flip side, there's IBM. Does anyone even know what IBM does anymore? Sure, it's a global IT product and services company that wants to build a smarter planet, but what the heck does that even mean? Does Big Blue even make computers anymore or is it just a ginormous consulting firm?

You've probably never even heard of IBM CEO Sam Palmisano. There's a very good reason for that. His job is to build shareholder value and grow a profitable business. I'm sure his shareholders and customers - whoever they are - would all agree he's doing an extraordinary job of that. That's all that really matters.

Likewise, if you've even heard of Qualcomm, chances are you don't know what this company with a $100 billion valuation does, although you probably use its technology. And you've surely never heard of company chief Paul Jacobs or his dad, founding CEO Irwin Jacobs.

Well, there was a time when Qualcomm was embroiled in all sorts of high-profile litigation with the likes of Nokia, Broadcom, and just about everyone else. It wasn't pretty. The Jacobs family knows what it's like to live in interesting times. Trust me when I tell you they want no part of it.

You know, there are very good reasons why companies avoid layoffs, litigation, and all manner of controversy like the plague. When they say a layoff or litigation is a last resort, they mean it. Sure, they're costly, but they're also the wrong kind of visibility.

... and leaders that don't
Back in the day, I was quoted saying something unflattering about a partner company - a little firm named Microsoft, maybe you've heard of it - and that put me square in some cross-hairs I really didn't want to be in. I should have just kept my big mouth shut. Lesson learned.

Maybe you remember names like Stanley McChrystal, Tony Hayward, or Anthony Weiner. So, what are those guys doing for a living these days?

Now, with those examples in mind, let's head back to the headline question: What do News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch and President Barack Obama have in common?

Obama wanted to be president, and now he's in the middle of about the biggest, most controversial mess you can think of: record unemployment, huge national debt, budget crisis, a couple of wars, the national healthcare debate, entitlement programs going bankrupt, did I forget anything?

And Murdoch built his career on breaking controversial news stories and scandal. Look who's the breaking controversial news story now?

Both these men live in interesting times. Both found what they were looking for. I hope it was worth it.

In life, as in business, you've got to take the good with the bad, play with the cards you've been dealt. But oftentimes we realize - too late, I'm afraid - that, for whatever reason, we've taken some unnecessary risks and found ourselves in hot water. And we're the ones who turned up the burners.

In other words, it didn't necessarily have to happen that way. Something to consider.

Related posts:

Follow Steve Tobak on Twitter or Facebook