BACK TO BASICS: Nuts and Bolts CEOs

Arising tide lifts all egos.

Arising tide lifts all egos.

By Michael Carroll
February 2003
Institutional Investor Magazine

In the 1990s it was easy to confuse the performance of great companies with the activities of great men and women. We were offered many types: dot-com autodidacts, virtuous visionaries and no end of imperious, know-it-all CEOs.

Such is euphoria.

Today, postbubble, other kinds of executives are picking up the pieces. Often from outside the mainstream of their companies, they tend to focus on the nuts and bolts of their businesses. In this issue you can read about two such CEOs, Mark Whiston, the newly minted head of Janus Capital Corp. (“The New Look of Janus,” page 52), and Chris Davis, who runs McLeodUSA (“Command Performance,” page 45).

It’s hard to think of any organization that symbolizes the mania of the past decade better than Janus. The Denver-based mutual fund giant soared along with the growth stock companies it bet on. From less than $1 billion in assets under management in 1989, Janus was running $330 billion by early 2000. Today assets are down to $138 billion, revenues have been halved, and profits are off by two thirds.


Whiston, a marketer, is determined to improve performance by reining in once-powerful stock pickers and pushing the growth-obsessed firm into offering value funds while exploiting underutilized distribution channels like brokers and financial planners. Such moves were neglected or derided in Janus’s glory days.

“The most important issue for Janus right now is delivering better returns. If they can, their other problems will be manageable. If they can’t, broader distribution isn’t going to matter much,” says Staff Writer Rich Blake, who wrote this month’s cover story.

McLeod, too, embodies the euphoria of the 1990s. One of several phone companies set up to take advantage of telecommunications deregulation in 1996, McLeod briefly soared before running into problems and declaring bankruptcy last year. LBO maven Teddy Forstmann, who owned a stake, brought in Davis, who’d helped him make Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. one of the great turnaround stories of recent years.

Whiston and Davis are indefatigable, no-nonsense executives who have their work cut out for them. Chances are you’re not familiar with their names. But that’s the point.