Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Chairman Bill Ford on CEO Succession Planning

Alan Mulally became President and CEO of Ford Motor Company in 2006, and now, at age 68, he is closer yet to handing over the reins to the next guy.  Executive Chairman Bill Ford is personable but diplomatic about Mulally's exit - that is, he doesn't say much - but that is not surprising.  But in a sort of zen irony, by not saying much, he reveals a good amount.

Succession planning is arguably the most sensitive, complicated aspect of talent management.  More than 10 years ago, Jack Welsh engineered the hand over to Jeffrey Immelt, but the lead-up to it must've been years in the making and clearly highly classified.  Communications to external parties, like the media, must be exceedingly discreet, and so must communications within the company be as well.
But there’s something deeper at work here: the paradox of succession planning. It makes perfect business sense to any CEO to preserve leadership continuity, but laying the groundwork for a successor is an admission of one’s corporate mortality—a rude reminder for men and women whose egos, let’s just say, are not small. They won’t come right out and say it, but I’ve felt these dynamics at play during many conversations I’ve had with CEOs nearing retirement.
Reference: Ford to CEO: Nothing Lasts Forever.

It is not corporate mortality we're talking about here, of course.  It's personal mortality.  Although it's rather daunting, companies can last well past any human lifetime.  That reference is from a year ago, and writer Chuck Wardell's speculation was that the transition at Ford could happen by late 2013 (unlikely, at this point) but probably at the end of 2014 (let's see).

How does an elderly CEO hand over the reins, when letting go is essentially, deep in their unconscious, an acknowledgment that death is in the offing?  How does the Chairman himself engineer such a hand over, when his psyche, too, may be plagued by the elemental fear of the end?  

Steve Jobs was highly secretive about his medical condition, and concomitant leave of absences, not to mention the CEO succession plan.  His illness effectively forced him to reveal his secrets on both counts.  At least from what Ford shares in the above Bloomberg interview, there are efforts and plans within the company to succeed Mulally.  So, then, nature will not have to force much on any of the parties involved.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Privacy, Spying and the Quandary for Leaders

Bloomberg Contributing Editor Richard Falkenrath and John Borthwick, CEO at Betaworks, discuss the revelation of NSA spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, how the U.S. may respond and the level of overall surveillance of data by the U.S. government. They speak on Bloomberg Television's "Bloomberg Surveillance."
There must be loads more detail on this matter that the media, and therefore all of us, are yet not privy to.  So we must proceed cautiously, for the purpose of this short article, which is to draw lessons learned for leaders.  Obviously how President Barack Obama responds matters a great deal in crisis management, damage control, and US-German relations.

For one, weighing benefits versus risks, as Falkenrath emphasizes, is well and good.  It's a pragmatic exercise that leaders have to engage in, as part of making decisions.  But this sort reasonable approach operates in an ethical or moral vacuum, which leaders must never put themselves and their people in.  Instead, they must consider ethics and morals as an integral part of decision-making.  

For another, Falkenrath doesn't answer the question of why the US may have even spied on an international ally and arguably a friend.  To say that it's a mistake doesn't say much of anything. But leaders must probe into those underlying reasons, and if they actually know them already, then they must acknowledge them, publicly in a case that has certainly become public.  There are too many people, from leaders, to athletes, to celebrities - at least those in the US - whose knee-jerk response is one of defensiveness and denial.

Finally, as a global society, living amid rapidly evolving technology and quickly shifting boundaries, we must reflect on and talk about privacy and what I see as the ensuing ennui-cum-alarm about it.  Just because a segment of us has become blase about loss of privacy, for example, in social media, or conversely another segment of us are vehemently vocal about it, ought not diminish the fact that this is a serious, disturbing matter.  Courageous leaders willingly facilitate such conversations.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Scott Adams Talks Dilbert and Success

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There is quite bit of wisdom, some off-handed, and humor, some wry, in Scott Adams' advice for people.  For example, as cartoonist par excellence, he says, don't take advice from a cartoonist.  But he's not offering advice, he clarifies, but simply offering information.  We can take that information, however we please.

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This is a brilliant formula (i.e., algorithm).  He admits to having a collection of just mediocre skills, that is, in drawing, writing and joking.  But only the sum of these, along with his business knowledge, make his offering valuable.

If you have a choice, success is better than failure.  But, he goes on, life is messy, and we're all bound to fail at some point.  Then he suggests something that is at the heart of Theory of Algorithms and The Core Algorithm: Focus on tasks or challenges, where, no matter what the outcome, you can learn some key things and build some skills.  In which case, there is no failure.  Just good positioning for an eventual success.

In communication, less is more.  So many of us in the workplace feel the need to run down every detail of an idea, concept or lesson.  I have certainly seen PowerPoint presentations that have so much content that there is no way an audience can pick it all up in a matter of seconds, especially when you have a conference room full of people where it's more difficult for anyone of them to concentrate and absorb.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

US Economic Policy Amid Stormy Seas

I have often spoken about how tectonic the first decade of the 21st century was.  Not just the economic turmoil, but also game-changing innovation (e.g., from the iPhone and iPad, to Facebook and YouTube).  

But it's also clear that the 2nd decade is shaping up to be more radical than the first.  The political fray in the Middle East and Northern Africa has been breathtaking for its revolutionary change and at the same time heartbreaking for its scores of suffering and death.  

Moreover it ought to embarrass US officials, up to President Barack Obama, that arguably the most powerful, sophisticated country in the world is grappling with a government shutdown.  The seeds of this were apparent in 2011, with the Debt Ceiling Dispute raising policy uncertainty to an unprecedented level.  

But what drops like a lead balloon is the fact that this current shutdown is on par with the Gulf Wars in adverse impact on economic policy.  The uncertainty may be on the rise, yet.  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

INSEAD Laurence Capron on Thinking Growth

In Theory of Algorithms - Part 2 - Every Problem Has a Solution - I relate how some people, even organizations, jump to solutions, methods or advice, without having much of a grasp of the problem.  Laurence Capron, with INSEAD, echoes this very point on the issue of corporate leaders vis-a-vis growth imperatives:
Business leaders often jump to their favorite mode of growth, instead of thinking very carefully how they should grow their organization.
It's often difficult for leaders to modify or shift their thinking, because (1) they have their personal biases; (2) some organizational factions are very powerful and have particular vested interests, too; and (3) they get trapped in their established processes and best practices.  Result: They rely on the same mode of growth, regardless of circumstance.

The options for growth are: (a) organic or internal development, (b) merger and acquisition, and (c) alliance and partnerships.  There are pluses and minuses to each, but these are meaningless, I'd say, unless leaders have reviewed their purpose and aims clearly and have taken a serious, honest look at the reality of their circumstances.

Capron rightfully accommodates executive students' interests and needs, for example, in grasping the mechanics of acquisitions.  But she also engenders that crucial reflectiveness among them, that is, to think more openly and carefully about how to make growth actually.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Union Pacific Delivers Smart Results

Union Pacific is well-positioned to compete with freight transportation that draws on the highway system, because it has access to an infrastructure network (i.e., rail) that it invests in regularly to upkeep.  So there are no paralyzing squabbles about finances or politics.  

It manages its operations effectively and efficiently, by interfacing old electronics and protocol with the internet and engaging engineers on staff to design such interface.  That set, they install sensors - for example, Automatic ID Reader - that monitors the movement of trains and coordinates what must be quite a complex schedule.

Sensors also monitor the wheels, analyze their condition, and prompt their replacement at the right time.  So technology overcomes human limits and error concerning safety.  The machinery that replaces worn or defective used to take 11 days to do so.  Now it's 15 minutes.  We can discern the impact on freight delivery and customer satisfaction, when downtown time is so radically reduced.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Martha Stewart under the Spotlight

How did Martha Stewart become the queen of domesticity?  Bloomberg's Stephanie Ruhle profiles the owner of the Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia [MSO] empire from her humble beginnings as a working class girl from New Jersey to her carefully built status as America's household name.

Ralph Lauren and Macy's, along with Home Depot and Amazon, are among the companies Martha Stewart admires, which speak to her sense of style and her pulse on good, affordable products.  

Terry Lundgren is the CEO of Macy's, and the context of what Stephanie Ruhle raises is this:  Macy's is suing MSO for striking up a deal with JC Penney's, after Lundgren and Stewart apparently agreed on an exclusive relationship.  

Stewart is none too pleased, clearly, with bloggers.  I'm sure she is referring to particular ones, but in any case it is probably best that she doesn't indict bloggers in general.  En masse they can sway opinions, and consequently behavior, and are a veritable source of knowledge.  If she hasn't yet, she may choose to build a coalition, instead, with select ones who understand and appreciate her brand.  

I'll own up to this personal take of Stewart in this interview, but she struck me as wistful.  She had undergone quite a lot of legal issues, personal embarrassment, and brand assault in the last decade.  So if my sense is halfway accurate, then it is understandable that she'd long for the heyday of the 1990s.

In The Martha Stewart Courtroom Drama Is About More than the Legalities, Allen Adamson steers away from the legal details of Macy's versus MSO and JC Penney, but looks at the impact of this latest courtroom shenanigans on the MSO brand.
Let’s face it. Her Martha Stewart Show was cancelled last year due to low ratings. Her effort to star in an Apprentice-style spin-off of the “the Donald’s” show was not a star turn. And her media empire is fast failing, the result of its own lack of vision as well as the state of the media business, in general.
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Wall Street clearly has declining confidence in MSO, as this 3-year stock performance from Market Watch shows.  It under girds what Adamson cites as a failing empire.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

If you were to die, how would you die?

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From "The Great Gatsby," by F Scott Fitzgerald
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Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, by Dylan Thomas

From "In Memory of Steve Jobs," by Ron Villejo

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Common Sense Business from Sean "Diddy" Combs

Forbes' J.J. Colao sits down with Sean "Diddy" Combs to talk about his work with the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and his advice for budding business moguls.
Diddy offers plenty of practical, straightforward wisdom in this short interview:
  • Bring your knowledge and instincts to bear on a business. 
  • Don't be afraid to close your eyes, and dream.  But then open them, and see.
  • If it doesn't make dollars, it doesn't make sense.
  • Common sense is the secret of his success.  
  • Be an actual consumer.
His last point is worth elaborating, as it requires leaders and entrepreneurs alike to step outside of themselves and look at things from the point of view of customers.

Diddy asks, What would you want?  How would you want to be serviced?  What do you think is missing in your community, which you can bring?  As paperboy, for example, he knew that homeowners didn't want their newspaper tossed on the lawn.  So he put them between the screen and the door, instead.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Success Rules from Billionaire Chris Burch

I often eschew tips from others that are so personalized and specific, that you're bound to have difficulty, even failure, if you apply them in your situation.  Either people have to fashion tips from a broader perspective and-or you have to distill their essence and adapt them accordingly to your purpose.  

So what I really like about these rules from Chris Burch, billionaire investor and fashion entrepreneur, is that they actually speak from a broader perspective and already distill the essence of how we can be successful, that is, not just in the retail space of C. Wonder but also in other business endeavors.  In the language of my Theory of Algorithms and The Core Algorithm, Burch has extracted algorithms for success.

The following are screenshots of rules from the Bloomberg interview above:

Step outside yourself, discern what and how others think

Women make buying decisions, so recognize them and praise them

Always think about what you see, learn about things, do things better

"Deep intuition, quick intuition, every decision"

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Characteristics of Three Major Generations

The very different work traits of hoodies, old fogies, and everyone in between.
You may be a senior manager, a marketing director, or a staff professional.  In the spirit of seeking first to understand, before being understood - thanks to Stephen Covey, and his seven habits of highly effective people - I suggest watching this highly engaging, informative video from The Economist.

Keep in mind that these are aggregated findings, so you are bound to possess some characteristics that do not fit the profile for your generation.  The drawback of any empirical study is loss of granular insight into individual differences.  Nevertheless, these broad strokes of understanding give us a frame of reference for communicating, interacting, and collaborating effectively with people across generations.  This very process of communicating, interacting and collaborating, then, allows us to get at those unique traits in each other and thereby forge meaningful relationships.

Friday, October 4, 2013

How Would You Spend $1 Billion

A few years ago, some business friends and I half-bemoaned, half-laughed at the realization that $1 million isn't what it used to be:  You just can't buy as much with it.

So now we might say, $1 billion is the new $1 million.  Not only have the costs of things gone up, but also the range of things to buy has widened.

Whether it's a cup of Starbucks iced coffee or a Chick-fil-A sandwich for every single American, we can definitely be entertained by this video and get an everyday perspective on what $1 billion can buy.


I'd spend that money getting whatever I needed to earn money from that money:
  • Acquire the information, resources and talent needed to run and sustain successful (i.e., profitable) businesses
  • Engage the right advisers, experts and managers to invest in the right funds or vehicles (i.e., with healthy returns)
  • Implement my concepts and strategies for philanthropy, which is driven by a want to do good and by a need to under gird it with a business model 
How would you spend $1 billion?