Friday, April 27, 2007

Is the AARP guilty of age discrimination?

The AARP recently posted a VP, Marketing position which called for "10-15 years experience." This is frequently code for someone under 40. Whether or not the AARP meant this, it is surprising that it was not more sensitive to the issue. Given the job description, it was clear that while someone with this level might be able to do the job, someone with 25 years experience would probably be better qualified. So why did the AARP eliminate someone like that, perhaps a youth of 50?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Is Google going the way of Wal-Mart?

I recently took a look at a few Google job descriptions. They looked as though they had been written by children. The job description for a Product Manager had nothing in it about understanding the consumer or customer. The very clear impression was that they wanted a bunch of smart, creative kids who would run about and create new products without any sense of process. This was the way in which Google and many successful new businesses are started. The success of Silicon Valley is based on the thousands of businesses which do not succeed. However, the founders do not see them in the context of the thousands of businesses which fail miserably. So when they grow their business, they do not understand that within a corporation, throwing ideas against a wall to see what sticks is incredibly inefficient. While I do believe that top management at Google have a clear vision, I see that this is not understood at lower levels. Most of the people in Google, seeing the company' s success, have come to believe that it is easy. When a company comes to believe that it is so smart that they do not even have to understand what made it successful, nor have a process to replicate it, then the company is getting into trouble, much as Wal-Mart did.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Can't see the wood for the trees - buried in data?

With the enormous growth in computing power over the past 25 years, businesses have many magnitudes more data than they used to. Yet, human brain power has not changed. So management is faced with more data than it can process to make decisions. As a result, many decisions may be worse than they used to be. Companies have not spent enough time on improving human analysis and decision-making vs. on IT and data collection.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Don't be ahead of your time

There are many risks in being ahead of your time. In 1945 Arthur C. Clarke proposed the geostationary satellite. A satellite at an orbit of a bit more than 42,000 km from the center of the earth will remain stationary with respect to the earth. However, in 1945, the rocket technology did not exist, and would not for another 20 years, so there was no way that he could patent the idea. There are many other ideas such as heavier than air flight, solar energy, television, which were "invented" before the technology existed to produce them. Of course, this is what people have thought for years about many products such as the videophone or fresh prepared meals, so they keep being introduced and keep on failing. Sometimes an idea is just ahead of its time, but sometimes, they are just flawed.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Wilful ignorance

It is one thing when you are ignorant when you are ignorant because you never had the opportunity to know better. Someone who grew up with no education may not know how a jet plane or the Stock market works. This is no reflection on intelligence or personality. However, if someone has the information presented, but ignores it because it does not agree with preconceptions, demonstrates something clear about intelligence and personality. Few things are as difficult as preserving an open mind and curiosity.

Yet more great inspirations - Amos Hostetter and Frank Perdue

For a long time I advised Perdue Farms. During most of this time, Frank Perdue was the CEO. Frank had some very important attributes. Among these were:
  • Fanatical focus on the customer - he really was interested in hearing what they had to say.
  • Belief that if he gave the customer the best that he could, he would make money.
  • Passionate conviction that however good the product, the consumer had to know about it.
Amos Hostetter was the founder of Continental Cablevision. His strengths were a fundamental integrity, a humanity towards all and a belief that as a successful business man he had obligations to others.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Ignoring data does not make the situation go away.

It disturbs me when I see people ignoring data because they do not agree with preconceptions or ideology. This happens with global warming, evolution, health care, and many other key issues. It occurs in business, in academia and in government. I am at a loss to understand whether the individuals involved genuinely do not understand or believe the data, or whether they simply reject it because it goes against a deeply held belief. This behavior can lead to major, as well as many minor, disasters. This is the kind of thing which leads to the collapse of bridge as well as the launch of a product which consumer research has shown than no one likes!

Exhorting people to have respect for facts seems to make little difference. Few people seem to be prepared to put data over wishful thinking.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Pricing - the least professional element in marketing?

While Phil Kotler in 1970 identified pricing as one of the four "P's" of marketing, it has probably received less imaginative attention than any of the others. While some work has been done on the passive management of pricing of products and services, very little has been done on changing all the moving parts to optimize price. The reality is that quite often, some "added value" can justify a higher price. Sometimes the added value even saves the company money. In the early days of touch tone dialing, the consumer would happily pay an extra $ per month for it, even though it saved the phone company money by reducing the load on the network. Dell computer's "build to order" process provided the consumer with a more modern computer, faster while saving the company huge inventory costs. Of course, now with the shift away from desk tops to lap tops, ergonomics are more important and consumers want to handle and try out a machine before buying, so the value mix has changed. When rice is parboiled it becomes less sticky, easier to cook, but also more resistant to infestation and with fewer broken grains after hulling and milling, so yields are higher. We have seen many apparently commodity products which have succeeded in taking prices up by providing added value to the customer.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

More great bosses - John Coady and Dave Allen

As I consider what made any one boss great, I have concluded that instead of simply issuing orders and telling people what to do, they were all patient and exceptional at asking questions. Recognizing that ownership of an idea is critical for great execution, and that the first good solution may not be the best, they probed and challenged. John Coady, former Group-President at Mars, who sadly died in his sixties, was outstanding at doing this. He would listen, never show anger or impatience, and then ask just the right question.

Another who was wonderful at this was Dave Allen, who also died in his sixties. Dave, at Marketing Corporation of America, was superb at getting people to work together to come up with the best solution. He avoided giving any shoot form the hip answers himself, but helped others to achieve their best.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Criticized for sharing the credit

One of the most important elements in successful management of people is to share the credit. I once had a boss who stunned me by telling me that I should not share the credit with subordinates, and he expected me to take the credit for anything they did for myself. Sadly, this was more of a reflection on him than on me. He felt so insecure that he would not allow his direct reports to meet without him being present. He assumed that all his subordinates were out to get him, and that the mark of a good manager was to suppress all their subordinates so they could never threaten.

He used to do anything he could to divide and conquer. For example, he used to tell each manager that the others disliked them, and he was their only protector. As I discuss good bosses, I will also flag such dangerous behavior.

The Best Bosses and Business Role Models I have had

As I look back upon great bosses and role models I have had, I realize that they have certain characteristics in common. The biggest single one is that instead of issuing orders from on high, they asked smart questions. From John Coady, for whom I worked at Mars, Inc. to Dave Allen at Marketing Corporation of America, they encouraged me to stretch by asking me the right questions. From Don Campbell at Procter & Gamble and Heinz Ivo at Mars, to Frank Perdue, they made sure I did worry about the details. A great plan, poorly executed may be worse than a poor plan.

For every weak boss I have ever met, I have had several good ones, and a few great ones. I will go into more detail one by one in later posts.