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When it comes to manufacturing, DAVID COTE stands in a league of his own. The most successful leader of a Fortune 100 industrial conglomerate of his era, Cote joined Honeywell after a 25-year-career at GE. Under his leadership, Honeywell’s market capitalization climbed about an astonishing 100 billion dollars. Rather than fixating on either long-term strategies or quarterly results, Cote empowered his organization to pursue both simultaneously. In talks, he shows how leaders can sustain long-term investment, even when pressures to deliver in the present are at their most intense.
“David Cote is the most successful leader of a major industrial manufacturing company of his era. Of course, there have been some extraordinary high-tech successes with CEOS who are deservedly rock stars. But in the manufacturing area, David Cote stands alone.”
— Henry M. Paulson Jr., Former US Secretary of the Treasury
When David Cote became the CEO of industrial conglomerate Honeywell, he was taking on a “chronically underperforming” company plagued with environmental issues, a lacking pension, and unhealthy, aggressive accounting practices. By the time he retired, he had pulled off one of the biggest turn-arounds the industry had ever seen. The company’s capitalization soared from about $20 billion to approximately $120 billion, generating returns of about 800%—two and a half times the S&P 500. Today, Honeywell is ranked one of the world’s most reputable companies for corporate responsibility by Forbes. So how did he do it? Cote’s incredible success was due in part to a strategy that considered both the long- and short-term implications at the same time.
Despite the known benefits of long-term thinking, when push comes to shove, most executives focus on their current-year numbers to appease their shareholders and bosses. But long- and short-term goals are more tightly intertwined than we might think, says Cote, and it is possible to accomplish both simultaneously—even when they appear to conflict. In his new book Winning Now, Winning Later, as well as in his dynamic leadership keynotes, Cote reveals that more than any one strategy, policy, or process, the secret to achieving today’s profits and tomorrow’s vision lies in developing an intellectually rigorous mindset. How can we, as leaders, demand more of ourselves? Of our teams? Our organizations? Winning Now, Winning Later uses Cote’s time at Honeywell as a case study to teach us to think harder, probe deeper, and actively challenge the status quo. A review in Fortune Magazine dubbed it “the War and Peace of books on corporate leadership.”
Today, Cote serves as chairman and CEO of GS Acquisition Holding, a SPAC company formed with Goldman Sachs and listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Previously, he has served as a Class B Director to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and a Vice Chair of the Business Roundtable. During his presidency, Barack Obama tapped Cote to serve on the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (popularly known as the Simpson-Bowles Comission), as well as co-chair the US-India CEO Forum. Cote holds a degree in Business Administration from the University of New Hampshire, well as honorary degrees from the Beihang University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Pepperdine University Graziadio School of Business and Management. He returned to the University of New Hampshire as a commencement speaker, where he gave a speech so well-received, it was rated one of the best commencement speeches ever by NPR.
Managers and executives today are facing a high-stakes dilemma: should they focus on making their quarterly numbers, or should they prioritize their company’s long-term goals? For David Cote, the former Chairman and CEO of Honeywell, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. There is a way to achieve targets without compromising the company’s future health or vision.
When Cote inherited Honeywell, the company was barely holding it together. He immediately began redesigning the company’s internal processes, starting by reinvesting its profits, overhauling its business portfolio, and transforming its corporate culture with a mix of policy updates and leadership techniques—all while generating the short-term results expected by investors. The result was an industry-defining turn-around. Honeywell’s profits soared, satisfying shareholder demands, while Honeywell simultaneously became a nimbler, more efficient, and more innovative organization. In this talk, Cote distills the insights from his experience at Honeywell—also featured in his upcoming book—showing us how to make leadership decisions that will benefit today and tomorrow.