Posts tagged ‘management’


Peter Hanenberger’s unintended post mortem of Holden

19.02.2020


The 2009 Chevrolet Caprice SS, sold in the Middle East but made in Australia.

I came across a 2017 interview with former Holden chairman Peter Hanenberger, who was in charge when the company had its last number-one sales’ position in Australia. His words are prescient and everything he said then still applies today.
   He spent over four and a half decades at GM so he knows the company better than most. Since he departed in 2003 he had seven successors at the time of the interview; and I believe there have been a couple more since.
   A few interesting quotes.

‘It’s [now] a very short-sighted company.’
It feels like it. The sort of retreating it’s done, the dismantling of global operations, and the failure to see how global platforms can achieve economies of scale is something only a company beholden to quarterly stock price results will do. And it doesn’t help its longevity.
   Even Holden, which looked like it was going to simply depart the passenger-car sector at the end of last year before a full withdrawal now, tells us that there doesn’t appear to be a long-term plan in place that the US management is committed to. Not long ago they were going on about the two dozen models they planned to launch to field a competitive line-up.

‘For me General Motors was a global player. Today General Motors is shrinking to an American company with no foresight, which is in very bad shape, which has missed the market.’
Remember Hanenberger said this in 2017, when it still had presences in many Asian countries. In 2020 it very much looks like GM will be in the Americas (where it still fields reasonably complete line-ups, although God knows if they have anything in the pipeline to replace the existing models) and China. Russia, India, Australia, New Zealand and Thailand are gone or going, and western Europe went in 2017 before the interview.

‘Maybe it fits into the vision of Trump; America first. But how the world is going to work also in the future is not because of America first and America only. It’s global. I think there will be no GM in the near-future.’
Everyone else is desperate to do tie-ups while GM retreats. I think GM will still be around but it’ll be a Chinese firm.

‘I couldn’t give a shit what they thought in America.’
I don’t mean this as an anti-American quote, but I see it as a dig against bean counters (whatever their nationality) fixated on the short term and not motorheads who know their sector well.

‘For me Holden didn’t have enough product, and the second one [priority] was I wanted to get these cars they had into export. For me it was very clear the products they had could be exported and they should go on to export.’
You saw the failure of this in the early 2010s when Holden failed to keep its Middle Eastern deals, and the US models returned. It could have been so different, though I realize GM was very cash-strapped when they needed the US taxpayer to bail them out.
   Bruce Newton, who wrote the piece, says that the Middle East was worth up to 40,000 units per annum, with A$10,000 profit per car. It cost Holden A$20 million to develop them for left-hand drive. I’d have held on to that sort of opportunity for dear life.

‘There was nothing going on that was creative towards the future of Holden as in Australia, New Zealand and toward the export market. They just neglected this whole thing.’
That was Hanenberger when he visited his old workplace in 2006. With product development cycles the way they are, it’s no wonder they were so ill placed when the Middle Eastern markets lost interest in the VE Commodore and WM Caprice (as the Chevrolet Lumina and Caprice), and China in the Buick Park Avenue.
   It’s an interesting interview and perhaps one of the best post mortems for Holden, even if it wasn’t intended to be so three years ago.

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Posted in business, cars, China, leadership, USA | 1 Comment »


The death of Holden

17.02.2020

GM pulled out of Russia and India, so with hindsight, those of us Down Under, with a far smaller total population, shouldn’t have thought we were particularly special.
   Even where GM remains, such as South Korea, there’s a broken model range, with a big gap where the Cruze used to be.
   It’s becoming apparent that GM, with no more right-hand-drive markets to cater for, will be a company that only offers full lines in China and the Americas.
   Some GM-watchers have been calling for the demise of Holden for years, just as they had called for the deaths of Oldsmobile and Pontiac years before. But as I argued in a letter published in the (also-defunct) Condé Nast Portfolio, each brand occupies unique territory, and, had they not been diluted, could still appeal to certain buyers that more mainstream ones, e.g. Chevrolet, cannot reach.
   Holden was always a tough case in Australia, where we noted it was very tied to nationalism. Once local manufacture finished, its sales plummeted.
   It wasn’t the case in New Zealand, where all cars had been imported for decades and we never had the sense that Holden was our ‘own car’. However, GM New Zealand (as it then was) had created a handful of Holdens unique to this market that the Australians never saw. Once upon a time, it was a more independent beast.
   When Holden ceased Australian manufacture, sales didn’t drop the same way in this country. With Kiwis loving entries in the CD market, the Commodore isn’t an uncommon sight, and remains the choice of the police.
   But the same argument of economies of scale applies to New Zealand, a country with a population of five million: GM had no desire to allow this country much wiggle room compared with Australia. Whatever happened there would necessarily happen here.
   Those 600 jobs that are going include redundancies in New Zealand.
   Over the years it had seemed Holden was on life support. There was a golden age where the HQ series and its derivatives flew the Holden flag high, but after the oil crises, there was a real possibility the company could have bit the dust in the mid-1980s, becoming an import-only operation.
   A plan circulated within GM to replace the top Holdens with Cadillacs, while the rest of the range would be made up of cars from around the GM empire—which, in those days, included Opel and Isuzu.
   But the Australians won the day and the VN Commodore got the green light. By the end of the 1990s, Holden was in great shape, including an export programme for cars based off the VT Commodore.
   You could say history repeated itself with the global financial crisis in the late 2000s—where GM, keen to continue, asked for US$50,000 million from the US taxpayer. But perhaps more importantly, it sold the controlling stake in its venture with SAIC of China to its Chinese partner for a mere US$85 million. That was one deal that allowed GM to raise funds elsewhere, but it also saw the beginning of a technological transfer to China. Even after GM bought back the share, SAIC would get control of the JV’s sales’ company.
   Numerous SAIC cars were built on GM platforms—the Roewe 950, for example. Cars made by GM ventures began appearing with SAIC-owned brands—the MG Hector in India, a rebadged Baojun 530, for one; it also appears as the second-generation Chevrolet Captiva in some other markets. Once upon a time GM might have earned a royalty for any car built on its tech, but it’s unlikely here as the two companies share in the profits.
   While SAIC hasn’t succeeded with MG Down Under, you notice more of a push these days, and it has already made an impact in New Zealand with the Maxus commercial line-up, rebadged LDV. Export sales aren’t a big deal for the Chinese giant, but with the Chinese economy slowing, they could be eyeing up more international markets.
   With SAIC keen to get more of the action for themselves, GM’s operations in many of its outposts became irrelevant.
   Holden held on for dear life and arguably had one of its more competitive ranges for years—but in this context, GM might not have had much choice.
   It has little to do with the consolidation of markets and all to do with much higher-level strategic decisions. After all, hardly anyone in China will have grown up with idea of Holden being Australia’s own car.

This post also appears in Drivetribe and Lucire Men.

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Posted in business, cars, China, New Zealand, USA | 2 Comments »


Bypassing the media, Carlos Ghosn tells it as it is

10.04.2019

I haven’t blogged much about Carlos Ghosn, though I’ve Tweeted aplenty since his arrest last November. Earlier this week, his lawyers released a video of Ghosn stating his position, and it echoes much of what I had Tweeted. He couldn’t make a personal appearance at a press conference himself, thanks to some conveniently timed (for Nissan) evidence that prompted another arrest by the Japanese authorities.
   The way the original exposé was done and the way the Japanese mainstream media lapped up the one-sided story and propagated it verbatim told me immediately that something was rotten inside Nissan. A lack of investigation should always tell you that not all is what it seems.

   While it’s true that Nissan is worth more than Renault now, we can’t forget what a terrible shape it was in at the time the alliance was forged. While Nissan could have declared the Japanese equivalent of Chapter 11, it’s interesting to speculate how it would have emerged: would it have saved face or would consumers have lost confidence, as they have with Mitsubishi? And in the wake of Ghosn’s arrest, stories in the western media began appearing: Nissan’s performance was faltering (‘mediocre,’ says Ghosn). It had had a recent scandal and a major recall. More likely than not, it meant that certain heads were going to roll. To save themselves, they rolled their leader instead.
   We’ll see if there has been financial impropriety as things proceed, but to me there’s an element of xenophobia in the way the story has developed; and it was a surprise to learn at how ill-balanced the Japanese legal system is.
   I’ve been vocal elsewhere on how poorly I think elements of both companies have been run, but Ghosn does have a valid point in his video when he says that leadership can’t be based solely on consensus, as it’s not a way to propel a company forward.
   I’m keeping an open mind and, unlike some of the reporting that has gone on, maintaining that Ghosn is innocent till proved guilty. It’s dangerous to hop on to a bandwagon. It’s why I was a rare voice saying the Porsche Cayenne would succeed when the conventional wisdom among the press was that it would fail; and why I said Google Plus would fail when the tech press said it was a ‘Facebook-killer’. Ghosn deserves to be heard.

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Posted in business, cars, culture, France, leadership, media | No Comments »


Slides and a podcast: my MMBA 505 lecture and Access Granted, episode 45

23.04.2015

As promised to the MMBA 505 class at Victoria University of Wellington last night, here are my slides. My thanks to Dr Kala Retna for inviting me along as the guest speaker. To the students: thank you for attending at such a late hour. MBAs are hard work.
   I just realized I used to have a whole page of downloadable slides, which I believe we removed when we redid the site for the 2013 Wellington mayoral election. It might be time to reinstate the page with the presentations I’ve been doing here and abroad.
   Thoughts on Leadership is probably self-explanatory as a title, with my main five points being:

1. Be the first.
2. Prove something can be done when conventional wisdom says it can’t be.
3. Change the world for the better.
4. Break glass ceilings wherever you can find them.
5. Find the people who understand your vision.

The first four tend to be the “rules” that have guided me, while the fifth is one I had to learn the hard way some years ago, and can retitled: ‘Find the people who understand your vision and don’t get suckered by those who spout buzzwords.’ As a firm we tend to be a bit more of a closed shop than we used to be, and like any other, we get our share of fakes trying to ride off our coat-tails. Lucire seems to attract quite a few, in particular, which is what the fifth point addresses in some part.
   For a bit of levity after the academic stuff, there’s always this great podcast by Mike Riversdale and Raj Khushal, published today with me as their guest, as part of their ongoing Access Granted series. Only a little bit has been cut for commercial sensitivity, and the rest is a bit of light-hearted banter—the sort you’d have between mates, and I have known Mike and Raj for many years—with no hair-pulling.

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Posted in business, humour, internet, leadership, media, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


The Rongotai years

05.02.2014

This came up today at Victoria University where an old client of ours asked about my 2013 campaign. I remembered there was something about education that I wanted to address at the time.
   One of the stranger emails during 2013 came from a former classmate of mine at Rongotai College. A brilliant guy at his sporting code, and from memory, a fair dinkum bloke. Unfortunately, he gave a fake return address, so I was unable to get my email to him (even though I wrote one of those ‘Hey, great to hear from you after all these years’ replies). He’s not on Facebook, either.
   His message went along the lines of why I never mention Rongotai College in my biographies, and criticized me of snobbery and being ashamed of the place.
   Those who know me know that I have little time for snobbery.
   It was odd since in my publicity during both elections, Rongotai College is mentioned—no more and no less than the two private schools I attended. You only had to go as far as the third line in the bullet points in my bio to find Rongotai there. That was the case with all my 2010 brochures and in my 2013 Vote.co.nz profile. (My 2013 fliers had less room and my schooling—anywhere—was omitted.) And it regularly came up in speeches, especially at my fund-raisers, which were held at Soi, co-owned by an old boy.
   I admit that sometimes I say, in conversation, that I was ‘Dux at St Mark’s and Proxime Accessit at Scots,’ simply because ‘School Certificate at Rongotai’ doesn’t say a heck of a lot about me. It’s normal just to talk about where you finished each stage of your education.
   For the same reason, I skip my Bachelor of Commerce degree since I did honours and then a Master of Commerce and Administration. I also skip Man Kee Kindergarten in Kowloon, Hong Kong, where I won the tidiness award at age three.
   I’m sure I wouldn’t find his fifth form sporting achievements on his CV.
   I assume he didn’t check the footer to this website, under ‘Connected organizations’, since he didn’t make it to the third line in my bio. There, I only mention St Mark’s and Scots—for the simple reason that these are schools I still work with: I serve on the alumni associations of both. My hands are full now with two upcoming centenaries, but: Rongotai College has simply never asked me.
   I’m wondering whether the writer himself has a bit of a chip on his shoulder about the place. Might he have reason to believe it was inferior if the other two were “élite”?
   Rongotai College did, let’s face it, have some issues in those days.
   On the plus side, the sporting record is decent. The fact that opera singer Ben Makisi came out of there during that time is another proud moment.
   Rongotai College showed me the importance of being my own man, and understanding peer pressure, to which it is unnecessary to succumb. I never did.
   The first guys to help me out in business were my mates at Rongotai, such as Matthew Breen and Andrew Bridge—and Andrew and I have stayed in touch.
   Rongotai College also showed that for every racist dickwad there was a rugby-playing Samoan or Tongan student capable of metering out justice.
   However, and I hate to say this, it also demonstrated leadership dysfunction in those days. There were serious senior management problems that filtered down to the rest of the place, which I witnessed, though some teachers thankfully remained steadfast.
   During that era, Rongotai was less than nurturing despite the best efforts of some of its teachers, such as Will Meehan (who helped shape my writing style in my fifth form when I began thinking about working in media, and endured my extra practice in my exercise books) and Dave Reynolds.
   So when I was offered a half-scholarship on the strength of my School Certificate marks, I took it.
   However, the élitist tag, for either St Mark’s or Scots, is inaccurate.
   While I enjoyed St Mark’s and Scots more than my time at Rongotai, it’s daft to call either élite. There were many parents, who did not come from money, who worked hard to send us there. At any of the private schools I attended, none of my contemporaries felt they were above the others. I did, interestingly, encounter this behaviour at Rongotai, where being in the A-stream went to a few lads’ heads.
   My time at Scots was better for me, since there was a culture where each student should seek out his own path and excel at the things they loved the most. That’s not a function of money, it’s a function of leadership and education. There was also greater camaraderie,.
   Headmaster Keith Laws may have his critics—he hinted as much at the leavers’ assembly to me—but these aspects of Scots remained firm. Perhaps it was cultural, or perhaps he engendered them. Regardless, I thank him for his decision—the buck stopped at the head’s office—for granting me that scholarship.
   Finally, if I was trying to bury my Rongotai connection, I certainly wouldn’t have been seeking out a lot of the lads on social networks over the years. Or attended the funeral of the father of one of the old boys in 2013.
   So, for the record, no, I’m not ashamed of my past.

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A fresher Lucire (the web edition) for 2013

05.01.2013

When Lilith-Fynn Herrmann, Tania Naidu, Julia Chu, Tanya Sooksombatisatian and I redesigned Lucire in 2012, we went for a very clean look, taking a leaf from Miguel Kirjon’s work at Twinpalms Lucire in Thailand. I’m really proud of the results, and it makes you happy to work on the magazine—and just pick up the finished article and gaze at it.
   But the website—where it all began 15 years ago—was looking a bit dreary. After getting Autocade to 2,000 models, and updating various listings to reflect the 2013 model year, it was time we turned our attention to Lucire.
   Like all of these things, the mood has to hit you right, and we needed a quiet news day—of which there are plenty at this time of the year. We knew where things were with the web: because of improved screen resolutions, type had to be larger. There may be—and this is something we don’t have any research on yet—people who are familiar with on-screen reading that some of the rules about line length might apply less. And some of the successful publications have multiple sharing—in fact, there are so many links to like or Tweet or pin something on each page that you can be left wondering just which one you press.
   The last big overhaul of the Lucire look online was in 2009, and the updates have been relatively minor since then. But it was looking messy. We had to add icons for new things that were creeping up. One Facebook “like” button wasn’t enough: what about people who wanted to become Facebook fans? Surely we should capture them? Maybe we should put up a Pinterest link? That went up during 2012. We had 160-pixel-wide ads for years—so we kept them. The result was tolerable, and it served us reasonably well, but did people still browse Lucire for fun? Or was it just a site where you got the information you needed and left again? Bounce rates suggested the latter.
   While some of these things were noted subconsciously, we didn’t have a firm brief initially. We simply decided to do one page with a new look, to see how it would go. We had the print editions in mind. We knew we wanted clean—but we still had to eat, so advertising still had to take up some of the page. We also knew that the lead image should be 640 pixels wide, and that that would have to be reflected on the news pages.
   I’m glad to say we got lucky. The first page done—a redesign of Sarah MacKenzie’s BMW X1 first drive, which originally went up with the old look on January 1—worked. It had all the features we wanted, even if it meant abandoning some things we had had for a long time, such as the skyscraper ads. The callouts could go. In fact, we could remove the central column altogether. And the ‘Related articles’ could be moved to the bottom, where they used to be. And we stuck up plenty of sharing tools, even if good design says they introduce clutter, so we could capture users at the start and the end of an article—but we used different templates for each one. All the social networking pages we had could go to the top of the page in a row with ‘Follow us’.
   The trick was then to repeat the look on other pages.
   The ‘Volante’ index page is the only one so far to be brought into line with the new template, just to try some different layouts. I don’t think it’s quite there yet, though fashion ed. Sopheak Seng believes it’s clean enough. Practically, it is where it should be, but I want some visual drama in there. We’ll see—I think Sopheak might be right given the function of the index page, and it is heaps cleaner than how it used to look.
   The home page, of course, is the biggie, and I’m very proud to note that there’s been some great DIY there. While the slider and Tweets appear courtesy of programming that its authors have distributed freely, it’s a nice feeling to be able to say that they are on there because of in-house work, using Jquery (which we last used internally at JY&A Consulting’s website), and not a convenient WordPress plug-in. Time will tell whether it will prove to be more practical to manage but I think it already is.
   I’ve summarized in Lucire some of the features, but there were just sensible things like getting rid of the QR code (what’s it doing on the website, anyway?), the Digg link (yes, really), the Nokia Ovi link (not far from now, kids will be asking what Nokia was). We have removed three of the six news headlines and grouped the remaining ones in a more prominent fashion—which might mean people will need to scroll down to see them, so I can foresee them being moved up somehow. But, overall, the effect is, as Sopheak notes, so much closer to the print title.
   The slider has solved some problems with Google News picking up the wrong headline, too. I realize the big omission is not doing a proper mobile-optimized version but we need to do a bit more learning internally to deliver that properly. The news pages, which are on WordPress, have the default Jetpack skin. We have made some concessions to mobile devices and Sopheak tells me it is more browseable on his Samsung.
   And today, the look went on to all the news pages.
   I mentioned to him today that it was very 2002–3. That period, too, saw Lucire get a redesign, standardizing things, making the pages cleaner, and in line with a print style (although at that point, the print edition had not been launched—though when it did, we adapted some of the look from the site). That look lasted us into 2006, perhaps longer than it should have been, given that we had some internal issues in that period.
   It’s only natural that some clutter will be reintroduced as the years wear on—in Facebook’s case, it only takes a few months—but, for now, we’re hoping that bounce rate goes down, that the team, as a whole, feel far prouder of the work that appears online where it’s seen by more people, and that we have future-proofed a little.
   So what were the lessons? (a) You need to keep on top of developments, and, even if you’re not the richest company in the world, you need to have someone thinking about how you look to the public. If smaller companies can manage teams more effectively, then they need to ensure there’s strong loyalty—and that the feedback about things like the website are collated, either online or kept with one team member who champions the change. When a redesign happens, you’ll need to solve a lot of problems in one go. (b) There is no substitute for doing—and even getting it wrong on occasion. What we’ve done is to phase things in—just so we can learn from any bugs. (c) And after the job is done, take some time to enjoy it.
   There’s probably no surprise when I say that this site is next. I know, it has links to different blog readers. It looks very mid-2000s. Which is no surprise, considering when it was designed …

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Volkswagen is a case for critical thinking, not blind following

16.12.2012

Here’s an article from Autoblog that combines several of the themes I enjoy writing about: cars, leadership, management and education.
   I’ve already hinted at this on my Facebook fan page, where I seem to post some of the pithy things these days. I sometimes try to avoid blogging about the same thing—a lot of what you see here are ideas that haven’t changed, especially a lot of the posts about social responsibility and branding.
   I don’t want to dissuade anyone from getting higher education but one has to remember: education, especially tertiary education, is meant to open your mind to other possibilities and to get you thinking about them critically. It’s why I enjoyed papers at law school like public law and jurisprudence: both had lecturers (Prof Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Assoc Prof Ian Macduff) who enjoyed a well reasoned argument, even when it didn’t agree with their own thinking. It’s also why I didn’t appreciate banking law, or several other papers, where you had to agree 100 per cent with the lecturer, and to hell with independent thinking.
   The MBA, then, can be a blessing and a curse. A blessing for those who treat it as it should be: a skill set, providing a framework, from which to analyse things. A curse for those who believe that certain case studies must be followed religiously, failing to take into account the conditions of their own organizations. Which brings us neatly to the Volkswagen case.
   It may be a bit of a simplification to say that MBA thinking killed GM, and Volkswagen has eschewed that to become one of the world’s greatest car manufacturers, but it’s not too far from the truth. If you read period American books on management—or even one of my favourites, Lee Iacocca’s autobiography—there is this idea of what ‘efficiency’ is, usually with a lot of outsourcing, finding cheaper and cheaper bases of manufacture, with another eye on how to raise the share price for the quarter. Not the best way to run a firm, especially when visions need to be set for years, decades or quarter-centuries. I’ve written about that aspect before.
   But the way John McElroy puts it in his article, ‘efficiency’ means an absence of overlap and vertical integration, yet with them, Volkswagen AG is the world’s largest car company ‘if you measure it by revenue and profits. Its revenue of $200 billion is greater than every other OEM. Last year’s operating profit of $14 billion is the kind of performance you expect from Big Oil companies, not automakers.’ Yet:

   Any efficiency expert would tell you that VW is too vertically integrated, has too much overlap and duplication, and has way too many brands. VW, meanwhile, keeps growing bigger, stronger and more profitable …
   Efficiency experts will tell you that on an employee-per-vehicle basis, Volkswagen looks hopelessly inefficient. Financial analysts will tell you that the company woefully trails its competitors on a revenue-per-employee basis. But VW will tell you that it makes more money than any other automaker—by far.

In fact, McElroy goes on to say that Volkswagen looks a lot like the General Motors of Alfred P. Sloan—before the MBAs got hold of it.
   The idea of ‘efficiency’ is often a misnomer. Most of British industry was dismantled with the mantra of efficiency, essentially giving it up to globalist, technocratic forces, helped along by the Slater Walkers and the governments of the time. Those decades, too, were driven by “experts”—and what resulted was neither efficient nor productive. The decline of British Leyland is perhaps one of the most telling examples of period thinking applied disastrously to the British motor industry, its skilled workers now happily picked up by the Japanese, Germans and Indians.
   By all means, if real savings can be had and long-term goals achieved, then efficiency is a wonderful thing. There are areas where technology should aid productivity. But watch out for that word efficiency. It doesn’t always mean what the experts say it means—and if revenue and profit decline as a result of it, and corporate culture is harmed, then you may be better off heeding the lessons that Volkswagen’s management has. Use that MBA as a framework, not as a playbook.

PS.: I took the same stance when arguing over how to save General Motors, as published as a reader letter in Condé Nast Portfolio magazine when it was still running. Naturally, GM followed the downsizing, brand-stripping route because it’s more efficient. Time will tell.

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Posted in business, cars, culture, leadership, media, politics, USA | 6 Comments »


Leaders need to be humble if co-creation is to be effective

22.08.2012

I’d been meaning to refer readers to this for a few weeks (it has appeared on my Facebook pages, including the “fan” page—a good place to go if you prefer my musings filtered, without the minutiæ and without clogging up your feeds). My friend and colleague, Dr Nicholas Ind, has been writing about leadership and the need for leaders to show humility—not divisiveness—in an age when we expect co-creation to bring out the best in organizations.
   Nicholas begins, ‘So in spite of the rise of participation in the workplace and the appreciation of emotional intelligence as a virtue, the prevailing way of leading is still more Fordist than Googleist.’ And yet, he argues, it shouldn’t be. We’ve often looked at how responsive flat start-ups are, and how larger organizations seek to capture that sort of energy—and the simple answer lies, often, in their creativity. But those leaders that try to push certain agenda, or a cult of personality, without respecting the capability or mix of their teams, suffer in the 2010s, because the organizations cease to be creative. Layers emerge, sycophants congregate, and institutionalization sets in. Much like in politics.
   Ideally, the best ideas should surface to the top, given the opportunity, and given the right sort of structure. And that the input cannot come exclusively from within the organization: co-creation must involve audiences, notably customers—in politics, it must involve citizens and voters.
   Back to Nick:

The newer argument is that innovation matters more and more. The issue has, therefore, become not only how to engage employees, but also how to get closer to customers and involve them in the development of brands … The upside of involving customers is the creativity and cognitive diversity of the very people who will be buying and using what the company produces. The downside is the threat to the certainty of leadership and the sanctity of the leader.

But, he rightly notes, good leaders should never fear that threat. The best know their weaknesses, and seek help on them through listening to the organization’s audiences—and have good systems through which they can. ‘Leaders can still exercise influence and judgement,’ he writes, ‘but the decision-making process becomes more collective.’ If one has risen to a leadership position, one should have a fairly developed sense of self-awareness. And, one would hope, a sense of dignity and decorum that ties well with humility.
   There’s more in Nicholas’s latest book, written with Clare Fuller and Charles Trevail, Brand Together: How Co-Creation Generates Innovation and Re-energizes Brands, which I’ll be getting once I finish The Organic Organisation.

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A triumphant Olympics was helped by a well organized Olympic Delivery Authority—lessons for business

12.08.2012

I’m glad to see that the third Foundation Forum’s notes (originally sent to me by Medinge life member Patrick Harris) are now public, which means I can refer to them. The latest one is on the Olympics, at a forum held in June, where the speakers were Olympic medallist Steve Williams, Dr Pete Bonfield, CEO of BRE, and Simon Scott, a former Royal Marine who coaches and advises Olympians and business leaders.
   The triumph of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) was delivering us a successful Games, which illustrated how an organization of 20 ramped up to 10,000, while maintaining an innovative culture and an ideal of collective purpose. An organization that could have been hampered by politics—as the satire Twenty Twelve showed could be possible—and actually achieved its goals at £500 million under its £9,000 million budget.
   Its lessons are relevant to New Zealand, not just because we are a sporting nation whose teams have succeeded because of collective purpose, but that they remind us that it’s possible to take these ideas into business and even politics. Simon Caulkin at the Foundation summarized the main points as follows:

  • Whether on the track or in the office, Olympic performance requires a whole systems approach in which all the parts are focused on a clear and single aim
  • With science and determination, nurture can trump nature: only ‘deliberate practice’ can hone raw material into sustained performance, as in the Marines
  • What goes on ‘outside the boat’ is as important as what goes on inside. Values are part of performance

but one might go a bit further. The Foundation expands upon them, but what I take away from the session’s notes are:

  • with the right leadership, and a strategy shared at every level, Olympian tasks can be achieved—but it shows that that leadership needs to have the right attitude, charisma and empathy to understand how to make it beneficial to all parties, and all audiences;
  • in sport, that collective purpose is easier to define; in business and in politics, it’s not. The trick is to put everyone on the same side—the One-ness that Stefan Engeseth wrote about in his book and which I cite regularly in my speeches and in my consulting work—so that a business, organizational or political objective is felt strongly by all;
  • that realistic milestones need to be set—which goes without saying in management;
  • and that the vision must be meaningful to all audiences, internal and external—the importance of “outside the boat”.

   The London Games have been a success so far, and the next major event for the general public will be the closing ceremony. While my wish that a Benny Hill tribute with ‘Yakety Sax’ played to complete the London Games with an appropriate level of British culture might not be realized, I have faith in how it will be pulled off. The right ingredients seem to be present in the ODA, and I’m confident that the Organising Committee was similarly inspired.

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Global experience trumps education—Anna Tavis, Brown Brothers Harriman

05.07.2012

Every now and then, the Harvard Business Review comes up with some gems. This video, from Anna Tavis, head of talent and development at Brown Brothers Harriman, says that global experience is more important than education if you wish to be successful in business.
   She also hints at the importance of differentiation, which I often apply to brands. Since many of us have created personal brands to some degree or another, in a world where MBAs are a dime a dozen, what extra attribute do you offer? What is your differentiating factor?
   Leadership, too, comes from having that international edge: if you have an understanding across cultures, you are more open to best practices from all sources, rather than relying on insular thinking. Too many organizations slip on this front: they see their main competitor as the next biggest city in their own country, for instance, when there’s not much excuse, in an interconnected world, to not set (or exceed) a benchmark with the best in the world.

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