Successful entrepreneurs and top corporate executives typically are blessed with energy, drive, intelligence, and an exceptional ability to lead. But they can be so successful that they begin to believe they have all the answers. This so-called "ceo disease" has been the downfall of too many executives--and sometimes their companies. For example, former Abbott Laboratories ceo Robert A. Schoellhorn was fired by the board in part because he refused to groom a potential successor. William C. Norris, founder of Control Data Corp., wouldn't relinquish the reins even as the company crumbled around him. The result: a once mighty computer power reduced to an also-ran.
This is the kind of problem that The Gap, the hugely successful clothing retailer, has avoided. It was founded in 1969 as a blue jeans store by Donald G. Fisher, who rode the wave of denim's popularity in the 1970s. A real estate and operations whiz, Fisher knew little about merchandising--and never pretended he did. With the company headed for trouble in the early 1980s, he brought in Millard S. "Mickey" Drexler from Ann Taylor Stores, made him president, and gave him carte blanche to turn the company around and create a whole new image for The Gap.
The result is a company that's the envy of the retail industry, and one that has produced a fortune worth $2.7 billion in equities to the Fisher family. Drexler has drawn the lion's share of credit for the dramatic makeover, as well he should. But Fisher, who remains chairman and ceo and whose family still owns 37.9% of the company, made it happen by recognizing his limitations and not letting ego get in the way.