The last few years have wrought major changes in the nature of business and are redefining the criteria for successful business leadership. Leaders are not only more visible, but their perceived value has escalated dramatically. Once faceless bureaucrats, chief executive officers (CEOs) are now media personalities. No longer are CEOs' comments restricted to a select few; today, CNBC, CNN and a multitude of Web sites carry their comments live and provide instant analysis. This can be a double-edged sword as George Shaheen (late of Webvan) and Alex Mandl (late of Teligent) can surely testify. Along with the heightened profile comes a series of management challenges that redefine the role of the CEO in the wired economy. A brief review of industrial history helps to put the role of the CEO into context.

Much of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century were characterized by the transformation from a largely rural, agrarian economy and business model to an urban, factory-based model from which was born the discipline of management and ultimately the role of CEO. The separation of the ownership and management roles within the organization heralded a new era.

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