Friday, December 20, 2013

Musings on the Business and Romance of Windmills

(image credit)
Last I was in The Netherlands on client business, and with meetings at Europoort in particular.  The word means gateway to Europe, and is part of the Port of Rotterdam.  En route from there to Amsterdam, I noticed wind turbines lining the highway.  My kind driver Robert noted that Rotterdam housed numerous companies in the oil and gas industry, but I inquired about these wind turbines.  Yes, they do help power these companies' operations.  Europe has impressed me as being advanced with alternative and renewable energy, much more so than the US.  Gasoline there is so expensive, so as to make it cost-prohibitive, I imagine, for many citizens and perhaps for many companies as well.

Then I stumbled onto this comic by Randall Munroe, a guy with unusual, more geeky notions of comics:
I'm just this guy, you know? I'm a CNU graduate with a degree in physics. Before starting xkcd, I worked on robots at NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia. As of June 2007 I live in Massachusetts. In my spare time I climb things, open strange doors, and go to goth clubs dressed as a frat guy so I can stand around and look terribly uncomfortable. At frat parties I do the same thing, but the other way around.
It is his allusion to Don Quixote, the legendary epitome of chivalry, courtesy of Spanish novelist, poet and playwright Miguel de Cervantes:
Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, "Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless." 
"What giants?" asked Sancho Panza. 
"Those you see over there," replied his master, "with their long arms. Some of them have arms well nigh two leagues in length." 
"Take care, sir," cried Sancho. "Those over there are not giants but windmills. Those things that seem to be their arms are sails which, when they are whirled around by the wind, turn the millstone."
`Tilting at windmills has a decidedly negative connotation.  But in Don Quixote's world, it means the persistence of nobility and the romance of imagination.  So if the things we fear are merely illusory, as psychologists and would-be psychologists quickly lead us to believe, then who better else can we entreat to defend our comfort and peace than Don Quixote?

(image credit)
I've been to Amsterdam numerous times, en route back-and-forth the US and the Middle East, especially when I was working for an international consulting firm.  The images I associate most were of windmills and tulips.
The evidence at present is that the earliest type of European windmill was the post mill, so named because of the large upright post on which the mill's main structure (the "body" or "buck") is balanced. By mounting the body this way, the mill is able to rotate to face the wind direction; an essential requirement for windmills to operate economically in north-western Europe, where wind directions are variable. The body contains all the milling machinery. The first post mills were of the sunken type, where the post was buried in an earth mound to support it. Later, a wooden support was developed called the trestle. This was often covered over or surrounded by a roundhouse to protect the trestle from the weather and to provide storage space. This type of windmill was the most common in Europe until the nineteenth century, when more powerful tower and smock mills replaced them.
There is great ingenuity in humankind, and windmills are among its longstanding example.  There was little aesthetics to those wind turbines I saw between Rotterdam and Amsterdam, none of the romance, nobility and imagination of windmills of old and chivalry of Don Quixote.  But business often calls far louder for utility and efficiency, instead.  

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Is Jonathan Ive the Real Genius Behind Apple?

Leander Kahney gives us an insight into the challenges of writing a biography on Jonathan Ive.  He didn't interview the design guru directly, but worked diligently to get the views of others - colleagues, teachers and friends - who saw behind the veil.  He comes away with the belief that Apple is more secretive than the National Security Agency.  In an era that is markedly transparent, Apple must be an anachronism.  But persistence pays off for Kahney.

(image credit)
Apple was flying high at the time, but soon got into trouble after the release of Microsoft's Windows 95, which dramatically reshaped the PC market. Suddenly Apple's relatively expensive machines couldn't compete. The company nearly went out of business until Steve Jobs returned to save it. 
Ive, now in charge of the industrial design group, was about to quit and return to London. Jobs convinced him to stay with a promise that great design would be central to Apple's comeback. It seemed like wishful thinking, but the two embarked on a collaboration that is unparalleled in modern corporate history. Jobs empowered Ive and his design group, turning them into the primary inventors within the company, shaping not just how the products looked, but also how they worked.

Jobs and Ive overturned Apple's engineering culture and made it design centric. Working in an ultra-secret design lab at the heart of Apple's HQ, Ive's design group churned out a string of smash hit products one after the other. The first was the see-through iMac, a candy-coloured machine that launched a thousand lookalike electronics. It was followed by sleek Titanium notebooks and powerful aluminium towers, but it was the iPod that transformed the company. In a few short years, the iPod turned Apple from a small computer company into a huge consumer electronics company.

The more I read about it, the more incredible it was of Steve Jobs to have found the right talent to complement his own, to realize his vision, and to enable his business model.  Perhaps at the end of the day, Jobs was more visionary and influential, than he was innovative or technological.  In particular, Ive strikes me as introverted, perhaps quite willing to conceive and create behind the scenes.  Quite literally behind that thick veil of secrecy that covers Apple.  Another design genius who clamored for the spotlight wouldn't have permitted Jobs to grab it all by his lonesome.

Further still, the more I read about it, the more I think Apple has every opportunity to sustain to renown with which it took the world by storm in the first decade of the century.  When Jobs died two years ago, I expected Apple to keep flying for the foreseeable future, which it did, rising up to the highest market valuated company in the world.  Then it would decline gradually over time, which it also did, judging by its stock performance over the past year or so.  

But if the real genius behind Apple is Ive, then the company that Jobs founded in the 1970s is very much pulsing and breathing.  

Jonathan (`Jony) Ive
Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Monday, December 16, 2013

Dyson Innovation, Failures and Parallels

A colleague on Google+ once posted about celebrating failure. I disagreed vehemently with this notion, but wisely tempered my reaction in a comment. We can learn from failure, we can accept the inevitability of it, and we can tolerate the disconcerting experience of it. But celebrate it? I don't think so.

In posting their interview above with James Dyson, Bloomberg takes a nearly similar tact as my colleague in the title - Failure is Better than Success. No, it is not, and Dyson doesn't say it is. Instead, he says that he and his team are used to failure and that failure is fascinating and much more interesting than success.

Dyson is the inventor, designer and businessman behind the company that bears his name. He strikes me as a curious and dissatisfied, patient and persistent, perhaps exacting man. For example, he realized years ago that the vacuum cleaner lost suction over time, as dirt collected in the bag. I often do the vacuuming in our household, and I know to monitor how well the cleaner is actually working and to check the bag periodically.

But what about a cyclone mechanism, instead?

Dyson managed to resize an industrial cyclone, used for collecting sawdust, to a much smaller one for a vacuum cleaner. The idea was straight out of Isaac Newton's laws of motion: An object in motion stayed in motion, and in a certain direction, unless acted upon by another force. Specifically, centrifugal force threw dirt against the wall of the cyclone, from which it fell and collected below. An initial test using a cardboard cyclone worked better than a conventional bag.

The challenge for Steve Wozniak, at the behest of one Steve Jobs, was to design a computer fit for a personal desktop. No small task, I imagine, as the computer in the 1970s worked off mainframes that seemed to dominate any room. Jobs was the business and marketing genius, alongside Wozniak's technical prowess, and the Apple I they arrived at revolutionized computing.

Dyson and Apple were the manifest of two crucial innovative efforts: Their founders dared to take industrial technology, (a) size it down considerably, and (b) make it useful for the everyday, common needs of people.

Dyson demures to specify how many prototypes he and his team created from the initial idea, but apparently it was 5127 between 1979 and 1984. Staggering. During what must've been lean years of inventing, he and his wife lived off her salary as an art teacher. Similarly, as I work at my Theory of Algorithms and The Core Algorithm, and the tough go of making my management consulting firm fly, my wife works two to three jobs to support our daughter and me. I am deeply confident, and more encouraged, that we will be wealthy, as the Dyson family clearly has become.

(c) Patient and persistence, and the inevitable failures, are part-and-parcel of meaningful innovation. Even then, there is no guarantee of success. So this requires an abiding faith, perhaps foolish confidence that success will come, in time. No matter how many failures one has endured, success may be just one step, one prototype, one tweak away.

But (d) such arduous process also requires some sustenance for life or some platform for funds. It is the innovator's dilemma that Clayton Christensen wrote about: Companies are reluctant to invest in anything that they know will fail repeatedly, before it ever becomes a success story. So in the absence of sustenance and platform, innovation simply does not happen. Thank God, then, for women like Mrs. Dyson and my wife! Neither Dyson 30 years ago, nor I in 2013, have the prospects of company backing in the thick of our inventing.

(e) A business model is de rigueur, nevertheless. Dyson managed to persuade the Japanese company Apex to license his vacuum cleaner innovation in 1983. But not only that, it sold rather well in the Japanese market, won a design prize in 1991, and became a status symbol there. Funds gradually allowed Dyson to launch his company and a research center and factory in 1993.

I imagine he hasn't sat on his laurels, and no doubt has kept himself curious, kept at tinkering, and kept drawing fascinating lessons from failure. Failure and success may be the integral yin-and-yang of innovation, but it is the latter we celebrate.

Me, I am mindful of business models, and even in the early stages of work on Theory of Algorithms and The Core Algorithm, I saw how crucial it was to generate revenues from such a heady conceptual framework and a laborious practical application. Right now, I am very grateful to have Kuwait Petroleum Corporation as a consulting client, and perhaps, God willing, they may be, to me, what Apex was to Dyson.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Wise Scott Adams on Senior Management

December 8th 2013
Hard work and ongoing learning aren't just foreign concepts to some top leaders, but also deer-in-the-headlights, dreaded notions.  Dogbert wisely shifts course for the Boss and CEO.  As a management consultant I do not judge leadership appointments or promotions.  There are all sorts of savory and unsavory reasons for these.  Instead, when engaged, I encourage them to work hard and learn as much as they can about the business, people and culture.  So while they may be under-competent now, they can take every opportunity to grow ably into the role.  

December 9th 2013
I remember the former CEO of a company I used to work for, being constantly under stress, it seemed.  In the elevator one time, for example, he looked rather distressed and his eyes downcast, and there was no hello for me.  There were no hellos for quite a few people apparently.  Arrogance and discrimination may have been part of his demeanor, just as with the CEO vis-a-vis Asok.  But I acknowledge the high pressures of top leadership as an underpinning of my former CEO's dismissive habit.

December 10th 2013
Dilbert creator Scott Adams is masterful at capturing the hilarious ironies but unfortunate truths of the workplace.  Do you ever wonder why some companies have difficulty at innovation?  Brainstorming there may actually be a forum for criticizing, dismissing or constraining ideas.  So characters like Dilbert end up tripping over their own shoelaces, in their efforts to do, or not do, what they're told.  

December 11th 2013
Dilbert is plugged-in with the Boss.  Like the Fool in Shakespeare, who is given not just formal license to amuse the King, but also informal license to speak truthfully to him.  In either case, Dilbert knows how to play along: Exactly is an outward validation that his peers are wrong about the Boss, plus a more subtle, inward validation that the Boss is indeed incompetent and annoying.  Because the Boss is exactly that, Dilbert knows that he isn't going to pick up the latter.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Great Leaders Change the Mold!

(image credit)
I stumble onto this on Forbes - The Best Performing CEOs in the World [Infographic] - and I react with a mixture of curiosity and befuddlement.  On the one hand, the scholarly, geeky part of me wants to say: This speaks to the difference between descriptive and inferential statistics.  Above is an example of the first kind, and an example of how accurate but meaningless some descriptive statistics can be.  Inferential statistics probes more deeply into any phenomenon, and works at shedding meaningful light on it, if only imperfectly or incompletely.

On the other hand, the abiding skeptic in me wonders why a respected publication like Forbes would put forth crap like this.  The conclusion at the bottom of the infographic is actually a good one, and is quite well-stated, except why, for goodness sake, is it in fine print?  Perhaps it serves amusement purposes, and in this regard, it is fine, I suppose.  But I worry that more naive managers end up taking such crap to heart.  

Mikal Belicove, writer of the Forbes article, does report on an important study published in Harvard Business Review this year.  I appreciate the fact that the researchers measured only actual performance data, including shareholder returns.  While it is unfortunate that their report cannot be accessed without an HBR subscription, Yahoo! Finance summarizes it nicely - Harvard Business Review Publishes List of the 100 Best CEOs in the World.

What is a CEO to do, in view of this study, this infographic, and these articles?

Besides smiling demurely or laughing heartily, the CEO ought to study conscientiously and reflect regularly on whatever material makes the most sense for him or her.  But the critical part is (a) to think about this material critically, (b) to adapt it accordingly vis-a-vis purpose, style and situation; and (c) to apply it thoughtfully and monitor it carefully.

Any research study, or popular infographic, is just the beginning.  They are trends and aggregates, which must be translated into, or understood according to, what is inevitably unique about each CEO.  Which make that conclusion, in fine print above, all the more compelling:
Great leaders don't worry about fitting into a mold - they just do what they do best and change the mold!
Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Monday, December 9, 2013

US Presidents Speak About Nelson Mandela

Screen shots from US Presidents on Nelson Mandela.
Earth, receive an honoured guest:
[Nelson Mandela] is laid to rest.
Let the [African] vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.
Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and the innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,
Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet. 
Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well. 
In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of [the world] bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate; 
Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye. 
Follow, [father], follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice. 
With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress. 
In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountains start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.
From In Memory of WB Yeats, by WH Auden, with apologies for my modifications [in brackets].

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Core Algorithm of Innovation

(image credit)
We are not at a loss for ideas, methods or concepts on innovation, and yet many top leaders still seem to struggle to make it work for their companies.  The following are recent examples of sound, thoughtful advice:

In this interview, Matt Kingdon suggests:
  • Reverse course, and do something different
  • Ask questions that others aren't asking
  • Make your ideas real and practical
  • Battle the corporate machine

Brainstorming vs. Braincalming
In what he describes as braincalming, Mitch Ditkoff suggests that innovative ideas come best during down time: for example, when we're about to sleep or wake up, or when we drive or shower.

Hacking Creativity: Four Ways to Stay Innovative On Your Day-to-Day Grind
Charles Best offers these up:
  • Find a catcher's mitt for great ideas across the organization
  • Study other companies with great ideas
  • Empower the Nerds
  • Expose your team to great thinkers

Which of these, or other ideas, will actually work best for you and your organization?

It's trite to say, but only you and your organization can decide that:  No writer, adviser or guru can do so for you.  So what I offer here is not more innovative ideas, but rather a process for determining and deciding what will actually work for you and your organization.  

Some CEOs may ask a consultant for successful case studies or proof that his or her method works.  I argue that this is the wrong question to ask:  That case or method may have been wildly successful in 10/10 situations, but there is no telling ahead of time that that track record will advance into 11/11 for your particular situation.  Consultants exploit the wrong question by marketing their stuff as:  proven method, scientifically tested, or doctor recommended.  These do not answer the question of:  Will it work for you and your organization?   

So what to do?

Step 1. Begin with the end in mind, and clarify your purpose.

What are you trying to accomplish in your organization?  What are your priorities and objectives, strategies and plans, along with your vision and mission?  Innovation is not an end in itself, but a means to an end.  Be sure to keep this distinction clear.  Call it mindset, culture or concept, innovation is simply a way to fulfill your purpose as an organization.  That purpose may be as critical and practical as gaining a competitive edge, or as lofty and ambitious as that of Steve Jobs: Make a dent in the universe.  

Step 2. Walk backwards from there and then, and map the pathways to where you are here and now.

In what I call a complete sweep, What are all the things that you and your organization need to do to realize that end in mind?  In the best possible effort, you must leave no stone unturned.  These factors fall in the following broad categories:
  1. Individual (i.e., you yourself as the CEO)
  2. Organizational (i.e., everything and everyone within your company)
  3. External (i.e., all that is outside your company)
This step is about being honest, true and realistic with yourself and others, particularly in determining what will actually work.  It can be a very difficult step indeed.  If it suits you, by all means read, and watch, and learn from what others have to say, such as those whom I mentioned earlier.  But such reading, watching and learning are not about drawing their lessons learned or even adopting their best practices.  Rather, it's more about considering, weighing, and teasing out what will actually work for your and your organization vis-a-vis your end in mind.

It's possible you will have to modify whatever you learn, that is, to a smaller or a larger extent.  Alternatively, you may decide to dismiss others' ideas, methods or concepts, because, let's say, to your benefit, these things prompted you to come up with your own ideas, methods or concepts.  Moreover, your walk backwards, complete sweep may tell you that tried-and-true, more conventional solutions work perfectly to reach your aims.  In this case, you can keep your thinking mainly inside the box.   

In short, then, any, or all, or none of the above, may work for you.  You arrive at this determination, again, by thinking about and reflecting on these things, in relation to your purpose.  

Step 3. Walk these pathways, and do what you have to do to realize your end in mind.

This final step is obviously about execution, which for many organizations is easier said than done.  So many things have to happen, in order for goals to be achieved, results to be produced, and problems to be solved.  But the success of such an effort hinges, I argue, on well-conducted first and second steps above.  (1) To the extent that you and your organization are crystal clear on what you're all trying to accomplish, and you're on the same page in such clarity; and (2) to the extent you've effectively done the good, hard work of laying the pathways between where you are trying to be and where you are now; (3) then, relatively speaking, you are on easier road with your execution efforts.

Your ability, motivation and energy as a CEO figure prominently, of course, in leading this execution.  In parallel to these, people in your organization  must possess the requisite capabilities and engagement, structure and resources, belief and mission to undertake all the necessary walk-these-pathways efforts.  

The foregoing three steps are that of The Core Algorithm, and Part 4: Achieving Organizational Aims (video narration) offers more details.  I invite you to contact me at, if you'd like to talk about this model vis-a-vis your particular situation.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Golden Nuggets of Wisdom from CEO Richard Bracken

CEO Richard Bracken
The Chairman and retiring CEO of Hospital Corporation of America offers up quite a lot of golden nuggets of wisdom in this interview with McKinsey - Leading in the 21st century: An interview with HCA CEO Richard Bracken.  Let's highlight four of those nuggets as essential ones for leaders across sectors.

A View to the Horizon

(image credit)
For Bracken, the leadership challenge comes down to getting the balance right between performing in the short term and taking the necessary steps to position his company to cope successfully under multiple possible scenarios in the future.
Wall Street values the company that has a bright future.  Yet, when we get down to brass tacks, Wall Street seems to reward mostly those companies that adopt a short-term focus on results.  For years, Jeff Bezos fought off pressures for Amazon to become profitable, because he was positioning the pioneering online retailer for a strong future.  So while the CEO may feel consigned to walk about the weeds, head down, he or she must keep the distant horizon firmly in view.  

A Small `Umbrella Perspective

Strategic Job and Career Management
Stay focused on delivering in your current position; many otherwise highly capable people are too quick to be thinking about the next promotion. No one likes a team member who is focused on the next opportunity.
I have trained and advised on strategic career management, and echo Bracken's emphasis here.  Managers and professionals see the importance of looking at their careers along a timeline.  More than likely, they will change jobs, and assume a series of them that, I suggested, ought to raise the bar: that is, in terms of responsibilities, knowledge and skills, and of course salary scale.  Yet, I also emphasize that if they don't perform well in their current job, and the build the right relationships now, they won't get to that future they envision.  The small `umbrella perspective, in other words, is just as crucial for strategic career management as the big `umbrella perspective.  

A `No to Yes Men and Women

(image credit)
It’s common for CEOs to feel surrounded by people who filter negative information. To get unfiltered information, I’ve found that you must spend significant and quality time in the operations environment. I have an advantage that others may lack. Having been with this company for over 30 years, I know a lot of people across the organization. I get important intelligence directly from them. I can assure you I get very candid input. It is these relationships that can drive a better understanding of a new initiative or identify flaws early in the process.
Word was, former CEO of Compaq Eckhard Pfeiffer, well before the acquisition by Hewlett-Packard, increasingly shuttered himself from the rank-and-file and mostly surrounded himself with the sort of people whom Bracken cautioned against.  Similarly I knew of a General Manager who dreaded negative feedback so much that he publicly refused it, and privately hid from it, and left the rest of his staff in a bit of quandary when problems with his leadership arose.  It takes courage, for sure, but a CEO must have at least a segment of his or her leadership team who isn't afraid to say `No and he or she must face the music of something potentially dreadful.  

A Go at the Pivot

Effective leaders ensure that the right team, with the right values, is in place to execute the plan and can pivot appropriately when factors change.
Athletes cannot possibly script or control what a game will demand of them.  So they must train, prepare and strategize to go full-bore in any one direction, and perhaps alter that direction in a matter of split seconds.  It's what they call the ability to `turn on a dime.  Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls seriously injured his right knee, after a serious injury to his left knee, largely because the force he puts on these hallowed joints from explosive moves is large indeed.  It takes serious management conditioning for a CEO to make such pivot, again and again, as necessary.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Disconcerting Disconnect Between HR and Staff

(image credit)

Kenexa is an IBM company, and as part of their annual Compensation Outlook Survey they asked about HR perceptions on a range of matters affecting people.  Then they compared these perceptions with those of visitors to their consumer website and to world norms in their Employee Engagement database.  The captions for each of the findings in the infographic above are as follow:
  1. 69% of HR professionals thought staff were engaged, while 34% of staff themselves admitted to being engaged.
  2. 81% of HR professionals expected staff to recommend the company to a friend, while 38% of staff actually would.  
  3. 71% of HR professionals felt company benefits were fair, but 48% of staff agreed.  
  4. The numbers on benefits were mirrored on compensation: 53% and 30%.
  5. Finally, 83% of HR professionals surmised that staff planned to say at least another year, and 41% of staff agreed.
These findings are disconcerting, to the say the least.  Kenexa reasoned that poor manager communications were the culprit for the disconnect between HR and staff.  To the extent that they are the key liaison between HR and their staff, then this reasoning makes sense.  

But I wonder about organizational priority and culture: Does senior management view, and thus deploy, HR as its proxy vis-a-vis the staff?  I have had HR colleagues who insist they they represent the staff, but have been reprimanded to say otherwise.  How well regarded is HR to begin with, that is, across sectors of people in the company?  One senior manager pointed out in a group meeting that HR was not a profession and by implication its people were not classified as professionals.  

I wonder, too, how much and well HR takes initiative to understand people, to forge relationships, and to safeguard communication lines.  These findings suggest that they take relatively little and if they do they aren't so effective at it.
This disconnect in the data between HR professionals and employees is not a sign that HR doesn’t fully grasp the effects of decisions on populations or the criticality of thoughtful programs for employees. What we find in this disconnect is that HR has become too distanced from the employee population, leading to a misunderstanding of where the employee mindset is. Consistent communication with employees, in any form that is appropriate for that employee population, is key. Ultimate success lies in proper manager training.  Managers need to be prepared to discuss and promote programs, as well as collect feedback for HR on how
those programs are perceived.
Reference: Employee Attitudes and Engagement.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Tough Leadership Lessons from ex-CEO Joe Moglia

After succeeding in business, Joe Moglia is living his dream as head coach at Coastal Carolina.
Since high school, Joe Moglia wanted to be a college football head coach.  He was certainly en route to becoming one, when he was offered a job in 1983 as a defensive assistant coach for the University of Miami.  But he determined that the paltry $33,000 salary was not going to be enough to support  his ex-wife and four children, so he turned it down.
He quit football. He decided, somewhat improbably, to go to Wall Street (he was 34 years old and had no experience in finance). The man who hired him for an entry-level position at Merrill Lynch said that Moglia was "a complete lunatic. But his intensity was incredible."
Reference: Former CEO Joe Moglia proving coaching chops at Coastal Carolina (emphasis, added).

Moglia strikes me as a tenacious man, who clearly has what it takes to transition from one arena to another, then back again.  What is his stuff?  Let me draw some working lessons for his story.

He has to have (a) the elemental smarts to learn, and thus acquire the knowledge he needs to succeed in football and business.  But knowledge in itself is not sufficient to be as successful as Moglia clearly was in business. Clearly he also has (b) the smarts to size up a situation and make sound decisions about it.
Moglia quickly became the top salesman at Merrill, and eventually worked his way up the corporate ladder to just a few rungs from the very top. In 2001 he made a risky jump, becoming the CEO of what was then known as Ameritrade, the online trader that looked, at the time, like a crisp cinder falling back to earth after the fireworks of the dot-com bubble bust. What later became known as TD Ameritrade grew from a $700 million company to one worth $10 billion in just seven years under Moglia's leadership. Perhaps most impressively, Moglia -- despite much pressure from investors -- refused to deal in subprime mortgages, which caused the bubble that nearly led the world off the financial cliff. In those dark days in 2008, when competitor E-Trade lost $1.3 billion and Moglia's former employer, Merrill Lynch, lost $28 billion, TD Ameritrade actually made a profit of $800 million.
Even then, it's even more than sound judgment: He has (c) the courage to make tough decisions, while under duress and against convention.
Moglia's ultimate goal upon leaving TD Ameritrade was to land a college head coaching job. After some understandable trepidation from athletic directors, he took a job as an unpaid coach for the Nebraska, where he was hamstrung by NCAA regulations. Essentially barred from performing any on-field instruction, he still spent long hours with the coaching staff studying film and soaking up everything he could from head coach Bo Pellini and the rest of his staff. After two years with the Cornhuskers where he remained unable to attract any college head coaching offers, he got the Nighthawks head job. Initially recruited for his managerial expertise as someone who could save the cash-strapped team and league (from financial ruin, Moglia eventually demonstrated that he would make a capable coach for the team. Moglia treats his stint with the Nighthawks as one of his final opportunities to prove that he is worthy of a college head coaching job.
That meant everything came down to one job: Coastal Carolina, the 9,300-student school located in Conway, S.C., just a few miles inland from Myrtle Beach. (The school was once affiliated with the University of South Carolina, thus its unusual mascot: The Chanticleer was a clever rooster in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales). The fact that there was an opening at the school was a bit of a surprise. David Bennett had been the coach at Coastal since the football program's beginning in 2003 and had a record of 63-39. But earlier in 2011 he'd become better known for his wacky "We need more dogs!" video that went viral. To the president of the university, David DeCenzo, it was just another sign of a program that had gone adrift. He'd had enough.
After a blowout (70-10) loss to South Carolina this afternoon, Moglia's Coastal Carolina is now 15-7 under this wing.  It's a remarkable record for a man who spent nearly 30 years away from football and who basically slummed it before realizing his high school dream as head coach.

Needless to say, (d) drive for results was a key thread that wove through the fabric of his personality and thus football and business as well.  There are many well-intentioned, tenacious people out there, but they do not succeed unless they can produce the goods, so to speak.  

Finally, it takes (e) considerable people leadership skills to persuade others to do what one needs them to do: Not just his previous employers and managers, but also his players and staff.  No doubt, he had the football acumen to win the head coach job with Coastal Carolina.  But it is imperative to have influencing, engaging and teaching skills to have such a successful run.

Congratulations to Joe Moglia, indeed.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Successful Business Women on Helping Women

Christy Turlington Burns has been modeling since forever, it seems, and it's great to hear that she takes care of her health and to see that she takes care of her looks, too.  Every year she feels more comfortable as a woman, and lives a fuller life, she relates.  But more than the profession she is best known for, Turlington is also a philanthropist.  In 2010, for example, she launched Every Mother Counts, which helps to prevent deaths from pregnancy and childbirth.  She relishes having new audiences to speak to, and appreciates being asked for her fresh perspectives among policy makers and advocates.  She challenges herself to do a range of things - such as making a movie, writing a book - and dislikes relegating herself, or being relegated, to a box or label.  Her advice to herself of 20 years ago?  Keep company with people you aspire to become.  

Tory Burch has literally fashioned her name into an iconic brand, and has apparently broken the threshold of $1 billion in net worth.  Best entrepreneurial advice she's received?  Buckle up, embrace it. Have tenacity, have vision.  Like Turlington, she speaks to motherhood, when she relates she's most proud of her sons.  She adds, Success is feeling good about what you’re contributing. It’s about happiness.  Moira Forbes is one of the best interviewers I know.  After offering the preface that Burch is one of the most accomplished, powerful, self-made women in the world, for example, she asks her to define power.  It's the ability to effect change and to give back.

Sara Blakely didn't expect to focus her business so much on women's butts. Spanx is an apparel company, which affords women a slim, shapely appearance. Like Burch, she tips the scale at $1 billion in net worth, and at age 42, is the youngest self-made billionaire woman in the world. In such rarefied air, really, she has joined Warren Buffet and Bill Gates on the Giving Pledge. How does she want her contribution earmarked? Solve inequality, elevate women, fulfill their potential. In yet another fortunate meeting, Nelson Mandela advised her: If you want to change the world, help the women. One person can change the world.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Monday, November 18, 2013

Steve Blank Rethinks Entrepreneurship

The following are my notes and {thoughts}

From The Four Steps to the Epiphany, to The Startup Owner's Manual. What we learned in business school in the last 40 years is wrong vis-à-vis startups. Startups aren’t small versions of big companies. Big companies execute their business models. Startups are searching for their business models, that is, something that is repeatable and scalable {cf. Paul Graham, who advised entrepreneurs to do something that doesn't scale}. They’re searching for a lot of things. Business plans à la investors are a hallucination. A series of declarative paragraphs and spreadsheets. If you’re blessed enough to get funded, then you have to do what you said you were going to do. But the reality is no business plan survives the first iteration. Entrepreneurs come up with an idea, instead, and try it out, and fundamentally go from failure to failure. Startups don’t execute a business plan, but search for success and learn by going from failure to failure. Eric Ries calls failures pivots. Testing our hypothesis. What should entrepreneurs look for in a business book? Biographies of Steve Jobs offer little or no actionable items for entrepreneurs. You cannot live his biography. {True, you have to extract the algorithms, that is, you have to distill the essence of what he did and what he said.}  

Before you do the business plan, you have to go out and rub elbows with customers. What is the role of the VC? It depends on where you are, and what they fund (e.g., pivoting or growing).

Steve Jobs’ product instinct was unparalleled (cf. Edward Land, Walt Disney). He was the intersection of art and science. Jobs would go to an Apple store. He would answer a customer e-mail a month. He was intimately connected with what was going around him. Not talking to customers was about new markets.  (a) Startups → existing markets, with something better or faster. (b) Startups → existing markets, with segmented strategy rather than head-to-head with big players. (c) Startups → non-existent markets, with a new vision. What will change in their lives? What will happen, if I change the ecosystem? What is it I can develop that no one else can? iPod, iPhone, iPad. That’s special. The intersection of art and science.

Computing has become a utility {cf. electricity, water and gas}.  Amazon now offers web services. The laptop is the local machine. We no longer need the big mainframe or the big machine with fan belts. Amazon has transformed our ability to launch 1000s of startups.

The issue today is the volume of information, but you lack a roadmap. Advice can be had everywhere. Students get all the technical answers they want and need, but they don’t know what it all means. It’s not an experiential answer. Business schools are now teaching students differently. Business plans competition is for professors who don’t know entrepreneurship. Business model competition matters, though, because they match what you see. It's fatal to think about entrepreneurship as a job. Startup is a calling. It's a passion. Working 24/7 for peanuts. The odds of success are infinitely low. McKinsey is a great job. You get a nice office, you get an expense account, you get to wear a suit. Normal people work for McKinsey. But you have to certifiably insane to be an entrepreneur. It's very hard. Being entrepreneur is like being an artist. You cannot get it out of your system.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Abiding Creativity Inside Childhood

(image credit)

I really enjoy Grant Snider's Incidental Comics.  His `strips are at once whimsical and funny as well as curious and philosophical.  He draws ideas from research and from life, for example, as a parent with a one-year old daughter:
While researching the history of modern art, I noticed some parallels between the early-20th-century Dada art movement and the reckless enthusiasm of childhood. My daughter is not yet old enough to recreate the art of Marcel Duchamp, but in the next few years this comic may become a reality.

In this TED Talk, Catherine Courage cited an IBM study of CEOs, and their most critical factor for future success is creativity.  Like Snider, she draws on childhood to emphasize open environments, to explore and experiment, and to use stories.

(screen shot)
In particular, Courage relates a story of a GE Healthcare executive who saw how frightened a young boy was, prior to an MRI procedure.  Some children are so upset by it that they have to be medicated.  So moved by this discovery, then, he and his staff created the Adventure Series of Scanners, such as the "Cozy Camp Experience."

Catherine Courage
Forbes profiled Courage in Next Gen Movers: 10 Rising Stars At The World's Most Innovative Companies:
“Creativity,” says Catherine Courage, “is a birthright available to all, but used by few.” Courage, 38, is senior vice president of customer experience at Citrix, the company responsible for GoToMeeting and other digital connectivity products. In a TEDxKyoto presentation last year, Courage advocated looking to childhood as a way to make workplaces more inspired. Imagine if offices were more like preschool classrooms: open, specialized and colorful. In Citrix’s Santa Clara, California headquarters she brings this ideal to life with a 2,000 square foot design lab. Wheeled furniture and whiteboards allow for task specific spaces and simple tools like pipe cleaners encourage hands-on-innovation.
Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cautious Optimism in the US Automotive Industry

Executives' confidence on consumer uptake of alternative powertrains is flagging
The future is solid for cars that are powered by electricity and natural gas.  But Booz & Co. found that alternative powertrains remain a tough sell for consumers, that is, financially speaking.  Government support, in the form of subsidies and infrastructure, is key for companies and consumers alike.

Original Equipment Makers (OEMs) and suppliers have shored up their operating models
Evidently OEMs' confidence is grounded on the hard work they've done in their operations: specifically, in labor agreements, environment footprint, manufacturing capacity, and dealer network.  They've put their house in order.  On the suppliers' side, confidence comes from a greater focus on what OEMs need, as opposed to the previous be-jack-of-all-trades strategy.  Moreover, they are reaping the benefits of a more disciplined management of finances and operations.

The answer is yes, definitely
I'm not so sure how Booz & Co., or automobile executives in particular, came to view the industry as a zero-sum game.  Perhaps for the foreseeable future, it is, if in fact the US market is saturated.  But all products have a shelf life, and consumers will buy more to replace what they have and sample the latest fare.  Moreover, globally there are growing populations, especially among Millennials, in such regions as the Middle East.

That said, executives see a return to industry norms in terms of growth and a dog-eat-dog competitive landscape.  If Booz & Co. is right, then they will have to do whatever it takes to eke out an advantage and grab market share away from competitors.  Marketing, pricing, innovation and consolidation are, no doubt, among their options.

It's about doing what they've been doing well, and taking these to a higher level 
I gather that efficiency is crucial for the industry.  That is, executives must keep at optimizing costs, and re-investing savings into research and development, in order to:
  • Create cars that consumers want to own and cars that tap into their aspiration - what Booz & Co. calls continued product renaissance
  • Leverage the evolving world of media and technology, such as for smart, connected cars and perhaps even driver-less capabilities à la Google
  • Look to the global market, but take a long-term view, given the varying degrees of success among countries in Europe and emerging markets
Reference: US Automotive Industry Survey and Confidence Index, by Booz & Co. and Bloomberg.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Business Lessons from Miley Cyrus' Twerking

I do not necessarily like Miley Cyrus' music, but I do love this song.  I cycled actively when I lived in Dubai, and this song gave me wings, as it came time to ride uphill.  She's certainly come a long way - a way different way - since this 2009 piece from her Hannah Montana days.

Miley Cyrus, with Robin Thicke
You may disagree with her methods, but Miley Cyrus has ridden her twerking spectacle at the VMAs [Video Music Awards] all the way to the bank.
Reference: 3 Business Lessons from Miley Cyrus and her Infamous Twerk.

Writer Adam Toren teases out those lessons:

First, it's one thing to build a brand, and establish it so well that your target audience recognizes it everywhere.  It's quite another thing to undo an established brand that isn't just in a rut, but is rotting.  Sometimes it calls for drastic measures.

It's a critical juncture for any CEO, when company survival depends on tough choices that he or she has to make.  For the longest time, I believed in evolution: Small steps, taken consistently and patiently, lead to intended changes.  But I've also come to see the value of revolution: Jump into the deep end straightaway, and hope that whatever action planning or risk calculations you undertook will work out.    

Second, branding is a human affair, Toren wisely points out.  In fact, any endeavor any of us engages in is inevitably human.  But time and time again we seem to forget that fact.  It must not only be genuine and sincere, but it must also lay it on the line personally.  Or, in Miley Cyrus' case, it is strip down and shake it on the stage.    

Not all CEOs are comfortable in either case.  It doesn't mean that their communications, demeanor or interactions are fabricated.  Rather, they may simply be shy about it.  Of course I do not advise that they follow something along the lines of Miley Cyrus at the VMAs.  But consider Richard Branson.  Not only is he fun, personified, but also on occasion he's been known to flirt with naughtiness by surrounding himself with sexily- or scantily-clad ladies.

I do advise that a CEO, perhaps with a trusted colleague or advisor, reflect on what matters the most to him or her: for example, values, held near and dear to the heart.  Think through how that CEO can relate such a personal thing to others.

Finally, Toren suggests that although scores of people from all walks of life have now watched her infamous twerking, Miley Cyrus may have targeted just her Millennial cohorts.  This is a basic business lesson: Know who your market is, and fashion a campaign that speaks to them.  

Perhaps a meta-lesson - that is, a lesson on this lesson - is this, however.  Media is diverse and wide-ranging, and an audience in such media doesn't, and cannot, really segment itself in ways that marketers fool themselves into thinking they can.  Inevitably Miley Cyrus' twerking reaches across demographics and generations, and she and her handlers simply cannot assert 100% control over this process or our reactions.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Friday, November 8, 2013

Business Leadership for HR à la James Bond

© Ron Villejo, PhD
What can James Bond teach us about leadership?  A good amount, I'd say.  

Sixty years since Ian Fleming created the character, and 23 films in the meantime, the super suave and skilled agent is a film legend and a cultural icon.  I introduced my paradigm in some detail - Business Leadership as an HR Responsibility - but let's draw on Mr. Shaken, Not Stirred's latest to expound on this, shall we.  

Ben Whishaw as Q
Q is the Data Geek in Skyfall, who basically owns systems and analytics for the British Secret Intelligence Service - better known as MI6 (Military Intelligence, Section 6).  He thinks he knows more than he actually does, but he's a staffer who can be counted on to do what James Bond tells him to do.  In a similar vein, HR houses information, pushes metrics, and must do as the business directs them.

Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny
Eve Moneypenny is the Underrated Beauty in Skyfall, and with a name like hers we see why.  Like Q, she does what she is told.  But as the film progresses, we see that she has interpersonal savvy and seductive airs about her.  She is not a leader, but like HR, she is deployed to the field.  Over time HR recognized the need to work elbow-to-elbow with their colleagues in the business.

Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory
Gareth Mallory is the Proper Liaison between Parliament and MI6 in Skyfall.  He must contend with the proud M, as he tries to persuade her to retire.  To be sure, he has a high seat in government, yet we sense that his authority and influence are rather constrained.  Even at this level, HR struggles to shed its tactical role and must maneuver a fairly narrow bandwidth for decision-making.  Still, being a partner to the highers-up in the company is something to aspire to.

Dame Judi Dench as M
Like many aging CEOs, M is the Recalcitrant Leader who fiercely holds on to her post and draws lyrically on poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson to defend MI6's continued existence.  She knows what the game is all about, and is ruthless enough to entice then manipulate her agents to serve her purpose.  Many may argue that women have to be this tough, in order to advance to high leadership.  HR, too, has had to fight tooth and nail to rise in the organization, but it may be the rare HR professional who actually becomes a business leader.

So where does James Bond himself fit in this paradigm?
Daniel Craig as James Bond and The Vitruvian Man
James Bond is himself an aging agent in Skyfall.  He fails physical and psychological tests, but M forces him back into field anyway.  He fulfills his duties in ways a tactician does, and charms himself into the relational graces of women.  He may not be the partner that Parliament wants to admit to, but he serves his country rather well.  Then, he takes situational leadership away from M, in order to save her, the old family estate gamekeeper Kincade, and himself.

So in the end, James Bond may be an overarching figure for this HR paradigm.  Leonardo Da Vinci drew The Vitruvian Man as if to represent the ideal symmetry.  In effect, then, HR needs such a leader, who, like James Bond, can endure for decades and carry the mantle of that ideal forward.  

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Business Leadership as an HR Responsibility

The GM of an HR department lauded Dave Ulrich's HR model, and applied it, upon arriving in the company.  It was about HR partnering more closely with the business.  Specifically, there were four HR Operations Managers, and he assigned each one to a set of business units.  The main company was actually a holding group, so these business units were companies in their own right.

So what was the problem?

First, the HR Operations Managers were overburdened with the day-to-day tasks of serving their clients, that is, procedural, policy, and employee issues.  They hardly had time to engage in more strategic, business partnerships with them.  Second, they were not fully bought into this HR model.  The GM was strategic, even visionary, but neglected the people aspects of making the model happen.  Third, his expectation was that other HR functions, from Learning and Development and Performance Management, to Recruitment and Compensation and Benefits, would serve their clients' needs via those HR Operations Managers.

With nowhere near sufficient buy-in, this model created a bottleneck in serving the business units.  The HR Operations Managers didn't, or couldn't, follow through consistently with day-to-day HR contacts, never mind more major initiatives.  Those other HR functions took matters into their own hand, and liaised directly with the business units, and the business units in turn approached their favorite (i.e., most responsive) HR staff.  Unfortunately, the GM didn't help his cause in the least, when he himself turned to his favorite HR staff whom he could trust to get things done.

This was not a failure of the model per se, but a failure to adapt it for a particular company - its structure, headcount, and culture - and to manage people effectively.

This is just one case study on the challenges of HR's aspiration a partner to the business.

In this article, I will introduce a model I've developed and presented at a handful of conferences in the Middle East.  There was a buzz about this among attendees, and organizers were keen on my presenting on it when they invited me.  In a future article, I will expand on it further.

From "HR as Business Leader," by Ron Villejo, PhD
I described HR as having self-esteem issues.  Imagine entering an elevator, say, in a large office building.  It's often tight quarters inside, and people feel awkward being that close to one another and having any eye contact.  So we stand in a state of tension, making ourselves as small as possible, so as to avoid physical contact.  We bow our heads down, or at least cast our eyes down, so as to avoid looking at each other.

This, in a nutshell, is HR: awkward, small and tense, and downcast.

I conveyed the thesis of my talk, to the audience, by acting this elevator scene.  I then said that the aim for HR was this: I placed my hands on either side of my head, physically moved it from looking downcast to looking out: forward and confident.

The Evolution of HR has been a boon to the industry.  Companies know, by and large, that HR is not just a organization of tasks, policies, and documents.  It is very much a people-oriented function.  The good news in my case study is that the HR Operations Managers worked hard to build relationships with managers and staff at those business units.

The navigation between the two bottom triangles of my model is meant to be two-way.  That is, as HR understood the importance of relational, they also recognized the need to fulfill their tactical responsibilities.  In one company's case, that tactical remained so compelling that it prompted one colleague of mine to intone: Put the heart back into HR.  I added: Put the human back in Human Resources.

Needless to say, this navigation can be a challenging one.

Over the past decade or so, HR aspired to be more of a business partner.  Below is a slide from another presentation on this topic:

From "HR in the Business, for the Business, by the Business," by Ron Villejo, PhD
Being a business partner meant that HR earned a seat at the table.  In my case study, the GM of HR was very much a part of the CEO executive team.  This is a good thing, for sure.  Besides insuring buy-in, that HR leader must coach and mentor, train and develop, encourage and hold staff accountable to abide by such partnership model.  In effect, it isn't just the GM alone who has a seat at the table, but his entire staff does also.  Or at least should have.

In Becoming an HR Business Leader, I argued that while business partnership is indeed challenging, this simply was not enough for the HR organization and, even more importantly, was not enough for what the company as a whole needed in its HR organization.     

From "HR in the Business, for the Business, by the Business," by Ron Villejo, PhD
The majority of respondents expressed concern with the head of HR’s understanding of the overall business. Forty-two percent believe the head of HR is too focused on process and is not a “big picture” person, while 36 percent say he or she doesn’t understand the business well enough.
Reference: New Study Details C-Level Perceptions of Human Resources Executives in Western Europe.

This study by the Economic Intelligence Unit is telling, indeed.  Perhaps it's a matter of training and education, or interest and willing on the part of HR professionals.  Their background may be well-steeped in theory, practice and experience of their function.  Which again is well and good, and crucial.  But I wonder how much they're actually prompted, guided, and taught about business and business leadership.  This study suggests, not very much at all.

To their credit, the HR Operations Managers in my case study had really solid knowledge of their clientele's business.  Much of the rest of the staff in the HR department did not, however.  Schooling may certainly be required for them.  But it's best, I think, to tap the knowledge and resources within the company itself.  Staff across the enterprise can certainly talk about their products and services, their market and customers, the competitive landscape, trends and development, and key leaders and professionals in industry.

Again, I'll expand on these in a subsequent article, but for now, let me close with two final points: Business leadership is a responsibility for HR.  It must gain business acumen, plus exercise effective, confident leadership presence.  Not just at the table, but also throughout the enterprise.  

In addition, my triangle model suggests that these four components - tactical, relational, partner and leader - are all essential for HR organizations and leaders.  So the evolution is not akin to the kind of metamorphosis a butterfly undergoes, which prevents it from becoming a caterpillar again.  Rather, this evolution is more about expansion, extension, and growth.  Partner, in particular, is at the center of the model, because it represents the evolution and aspiration of HR.  Plus, partner is also at the basis of HR leadership.

January 18th 2014

Lead With Giants holds a Tweetchat every Monday at 7 PM (ET), and this coming Monday, January 20th 2014, I will co-host on this topic - HR as Business Leader.  Please join us!

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD