Saks CEO Shares His Leadership Approach

I read an interesting interview with Stephen Sadove, chairman and chief executive of Saks, who discussed his approach to management. Here’s an excerpt:

I have a very simple model to run a company. It starts with leadership at the top, which drives a culture. Culture drives innovation and whatever else you’re trying to drive within a company — innovation, execution, whatever it’s going to be. And that then drives results.

My take: Sadove’s approach is spot-on; and can be simplified to:

Leadership => Culture => Operational effectiveness => Business results

Sadove seems to understand what many executives lost sight of over the past decade, which is well stated by Jack Welch: “On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world. Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy.” Rather than focusing on profits, he recognizes that profits are the outcome of a chain of events that starts with good leadership.

Sadove’s comments also line up nicely with several of the 6 New Management Imperatives that I outlined last year:

  1. Invest in culture as a corporate asset
  2. Make listening an enterprisewide skill
  3. Turn innovation into a continuous process
  4. Provide a clear and compelling purpose
  5. Extend and enhance the digital fabric
  6. Practice good social citizenship

The bottom line: Execs that want results need to focus more on people

Written by 

I am an experience management transformist, helping organizations improve business results by engaging the hearts and minds of their customers, employees, and partners. My "job" is Head of the Qualtrics XM Institute. The Institute is still being established, but our goal is to help organizations around the world thrive by mastering Experience Management (XM). As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. Prior to joining Qualtrics, I was managing partner of Temkin Group (leading CX research, advisory, and training firm), co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (, and a VP at Forrester Research. I'm a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Check out my LinkedIn profile:

6 thoughts on “Saks CEO Shares His Leadership Approach”

  1. Reading the quote, am reminded of Managing in the Next Society. “Establishing a new corporate persona calls for a change in the corporation’s values. And that may well be the most important task for top management.”

  2. When a business CEO invests in good culture and good social characteristics, they will succeed. These are the most essential part of leadership. Interact with the people from any level – whether they are higher or lower level from you.

  3. I think this is fantastic.

    I propose Sadove and other execs take this one step further and invest in the entire organizational environment. Leaders need to consciously shape and cultivate their organizations examining 7 key elements that determine the state of your corporate environment. They are foundation, communication, culture, community, transparency, awareness and values.

    I have drafted a Corporate Diagnostic Chart ( as a tool to help leaders evaluate the health of their corporate environment. It provides the typical problems with each element as well as what to do to address the problems and why it works.

    Thanks for sharing Bruce.

  4. The “culture” of an organization is too often disregarded as incidental and idealistic, and a good many companies pay lip-service to it because it’s good for p.r., but dismiss it as hogwash internally.

    The CEO and/or the media handlers talk a good game, but that’s superficial. If you really want a sense of a corporation’s culture, ask a mid-level manager what his performance objectives are, and you can sense what the real culture of the organization is, regardless of the message from the top happens to be.

    Or better still, just do business with the company: assess the quality of the product, and the service you receive from the front-line employees. That’s where customers get a feel for the organization’s culture – and it’s rare that the culture preached at the top has “soaked through” to the bottom layer.

    But in those rare cases when it has … when a company is permeated, top-to-bottom with a culture that recognizes the importance of customer experience … what you have is a gem. And these are the companies that customers love, and recommend, and stay with for the long run.

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