The CEO Forum Group recently awarded David Nelms, right before he retired as CEO, The Transformative CEO Award for his work in completely reinventing the credit card industry. As I consider what David has done, I think there are so many leadership lessons that you can use as CEOs transforming your own industry. For the record here is my definition: “A Transformative CEO creates new value that reinvigorates a company, reinvents an industry, or reboots society.”
When David Nelms became Discover CEO in 2004 he drove a strategy to build everything based on what customers would want — even if that meant losing money in the short term. Examples are: being first with a no annual fee card; the first cash back rewards card; free FICO scores; free protections like checking your social security number on the dark web; and even an on / off switch so customers can freeze their account.
When I asked David about these innovations he said, “Discover has pioneered a number of innovations in the credit card industry, and almost all are built around our customer service model.”
I then dug further asking about the characteristics of a Transformative CEO, and David summed it up. “You need to be humble and you need to be willing to change,” Nelms said. “What’s right for one situation is not right for another situation.”