Understanding the Invisible, Intangible Duties of a CEO

Arthur R. McFerrin, Author, The Executioner: Implementing Intangible, Elusive Success Principles

Understanding the Invisible, Intangible Duties of a CEO

Despite the depth of talent one might possess, very few CEOs know much of what the high performance, intangible and non-urgent duties of a CEO actually are.  As a 40+ year CEO I can assure you that I didn’t know what my duties were the first 28 years in my own business.  After 25 years as a true entrepreneur I became very wealthy, but struggled with the businesses as my growth began to slow. Even though I had been searching diligently for my entire career, I didn’t understand the most effective, intangible duties of a CEO.

When I joined Vistage - a 19,000 member CEO organization dedicated to growing CEOs from good to great, I elected to get a one hour audio from our Vistage speaker, Walt Sutton, on the Duties of a CEO. When I listened to the audio I instantly knew it was pure gold. Here are four of the nuggets of wisdom that I gleaned from it:

  1. Management duties are toxic to a CEO. What a relief that was, since I wasn’t a good manager, and hated management work! My effectiveness skyrocketed when I stopped doing management duties.
  2. Your job isn’t to include “everything.” This mindset relieved me of much more of my low performance duties that could be done better by others. Again, my results skyrocketed!
  3. CEOs are the captain of the ship, in charge of navigating down the rivers of profit. Sutton used a lot of nautical analogies in his audio. I had to plan for new boats and discover more profitable rivers for the future as the current one will eventually dry up or hit rapids. I learned that I couldn’t let sales and various managers steer my ship when it’s only the CEO that really understands the business well enough to do so. This CEO duty can NOT be delegated. My profits increased even more!
  4. It is the CEO’s duty to understand the secret of what the business does that customers value most. Nearly all businesses have unique strengths that they do better than their competitors. It’s the CEO’s duty to define and develop this secret strength. Others will never have the insight of the CEO to be able to do this well. Just getting these few duties (and my mindset) right allowed me to grow faster, double and redouble my profits and make my job a thousand percent better.  

I listened to the audio over and over - enough to make it a part of my thinking. Intellectual knowledge of the duties isn’t enough to implement these duties. In the past 16+ years, Vistage has continued to help develop me as a CEO with their mastermind group. The expert speakers help develop each of us in key areas of our businesses. As helpful as Vistage is, and continues to be, nothing helped me as much as Walt Sutton’s Duties of a CEO. That, to this day, remains a secret to nearly all CEOs. The reason? These duties are so invisible, intangible and non-urgent that we can’t see CEOs doing them, and the CEOs that do them can’t explain them.

About the Author

Arthur R. (Artie) McFerrin is an entrepreneur who has owned and operated several specialty chemical-manufacturing businesses serving global automotive, petroleum and industrial enterprises for over forty years. McFerrin earned his BS in 1965 and a MS in 1969, both in Chemical Engineering from Texas A&M University. In 1975, he founded KMCO, a chemical processing and manufacturing company. McFerrin has served Texas A&M as Chairman of the Chemical Engineering Advisory Council, Dwight Look School of Engineering Advisory Council, President’s Corps of Cadets Board of Visitors, and as a Chairman of the 12th Man Foundation. McFerrin has two children, Jeffrey and Jennifer and four grandchildren.