Being the meek, humble creatures that we are, we sat down with author Mathew Hayward to discuss his book Ego Check: Why Executive Hubris Is Wrecking Companies and Careers and How to Avoid the Trap (Kaplan Publishing, $25). We’re confident that American Way will never fall victim.

By Chris Tucker


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So confidence is good, but hubris is bad?
Yes. [While] I don’t think we should check our ego at the door, as some say, it’s very easy, as you become more confident and powerful, to spill over into hubris — which I define as an out-of-control ego. But how do you know when you or someone close to you is nearing that edge? And if there is a problem, what can you do about it? That’s what the book is about.

This isn’t just a problem in business, is it?
No. There’s overconfidence [throughout] society. We often see hubris in people’s investing styles. Look at the way grade inflation has made so many students overconfident about what they know.

What can we learn from Steve Jobs of Apple?
Don’t think that [having achieved] excellence in one area means you’re great at everything. He’s a genius when it comes to designing, developing, and launching consumer products. But he’s gotten in trouble trying to be a high-tech visionary, as he did with NeXT Computer in the 1980s. It was a classic case of overreaching. Will he become a victim of hubris again?

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According to your book, all leaders need a reliable foil, a sounding board to tell them the truth.
Yes. That’s what has saved Larry Ellison and his company, Oracle. He relies on Safra Catz, [president and] CFO. Warren Buffett never makes a major investment decision without running it by [vice-chairman] Charlie Munger.

And you suggest that Carly Fiorina, previously at Hewlett-Packard, needed a foil.
It was the emperor’s new clothes. She had an autocratic style, and that just left her more and more isolated.

Is Dean Kamen, creator of the Segway, a candidate for Mr. Hubris?
He told Time magazine that he was going to sell six million Segways a year, [and] he set up a manufacturing facility with the capacity to build 40,000 units a month. … Recently, the company disclosed that within its five-year lifetime it had sold 23,500 units. A classic example of hubris.

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Fall Guys
Steve Jobs, (1980s version)
Carly Fiorina,  former HP chairman and CEO
Dean Kamen, Segway creator
Jeffrey Skilling, former Enron CEO

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Egos in Check
Warren Buffett, superinvestor
Meg Whitman, eBay honcho
Jack Welch, former GE head