Why do CEOs admire Winston Churchill so much?

The Global CEO Survey from PwC revealed a lot of interesting attitudes among corporate chiefs but what caught our attention was the political leaders they said inspired them the most. Top of the list was Winston Churchill – war-time Prime Minister of the United Kingdom as it faced the threat of invasion. As CTN’s chairman, Lord Watson, is the Life Patron of the Churchill Archives at Churchill College, Cambridge we have more than an academic interest in this big thumbs up for Winston from the world’s CEOs.

So why did the 1,300 executives in 30 countries surveyed like the former PM so much?  One has to conclude that companies see this as a tough and challenging period of history for the global economy. What they admire in Churchill is the quality he was most famous for – dogged persistence. One of his quotes might give us a clue to his popularity.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.

But there’s another side to Winston that we prefer to accentuate and that’s his flair for communication. The style was a bit dated even for the time but his genius was to unpack the key messages in a way that appealed to both his audience’s head and heart. He could inform and educate while also stirring the radio listener to action.

Within government, he streamlined the communications process so that all three branches of the armed forces spoke with one voice. That hadn’t been the case previously – particularly in the First World War, which Churchill had been politically active in. Winston created the Ministry of Defence with himself as its first minister giving a strong political lead to military matters.

Churchill’s career also had distinct ups and downs.  He was an MP as early as 1900 and a government minister (as a Liberal) in the First World War. His handling of the Galipoli campaign in that war was viewed as disastrous and with the loss of British lives would have felled a lesser man’s political career.  He left the Liberals for the Conservatives in the 1920s, served as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1924 but then lost his seat.

For most of the 1930s, he took a back seat in politics. But those years were spent writing and making speeches – keeping his mind active and political instincts razor sharp.  Many wrote Churchill off as yesterday’s man – an old warhorse out of touch with the public mood. Then with the fall of Chamberlain as Prime Minister over Nazi appeasement, Churchill – a firm anti-appeaser – was appointed PM.

A thick skin and a strong viewpoint had seen Churchill climb back from political doom to become Britain’s great war leader. It’s little wonder that a career like that inspires many of today’s CEOs.


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