When I was at the GM Pension Fund investing in venture funds, we always pushed hard on trying to raise the bar on our due diligence. We talked to a lot of CEOs to try and figure out which venture funds were worth their names and, at the end of the day, I'm not really sure we really ever learned anything about what makes success.
Here's the issue.... what makes a company ultimately successful is a combination of factors.... environment, product, competition, etc... and on top of that... tracing decisions to one particular person, be it on the board, the CEO, the VC, etc... is often impossible, because ideas are iterative. For example, we have a key part of Voki that you'll see develop post launch that started out as a meeting called by the CEO to "kick the tires" and just imagine the worst things that could happen to the product. At first, I thought it was a little late for that, but out of that meeting came a really fantastic idea that we're all really happy with. Who's idea was it? Well... we both sort of came up with it... and its been iterated upon by others in the company. I don't think it's really traceable to one person.
I was thinking that when we sat at our board meeting looking at our marketing strategy yesterday. Does it all stop with the CEO? The head of marketing? There are ideas in there that trickled up from our new Social Media Instigator.... which ones, I can't even remember... but one of them may be the key to the product, and at the end of the day, ask seven different people who came up with an idea and you'll probably get seven different answers... because the truth is, we all did... and even if one person came up with it, feedback and inspiration from others goes a long way to hatching an idea.
Who's idea was it to do sponsored search terms at Google? Who decided to allow pasting css and html in MySpace?