Tag Archives: business

Jack Welch: The Best Boss by SMF Patrick Macdonald

Sainsbury Management Fellow, Patrick Macdonald,Chairman, School for CEOs
Sainsbury Management Fellow, Patrick Macdonald,Chairman, School for CEOs

Patrick Macdonald, a Chartered Engineer, won a Sainsbury Management Fellowship to support his MBA at INSEAD in 1992. While at business school, several of his professors cited General Electric (GE) as the exemplar of US, and indeed global, business leadership. Patrick seized the opportunity to move to the USA and work at GE a few years later. Jack Welch, GE’s legendary boss, put a huge emphasis on developing business leaders. Jack, who has just died, had a profound impact on Patrick’s career. Amongst other roles, he’s now Chairman of the School for CEOs, a business dedicated to help the next generation of leaders succeed.

In this blog article, Patrick reflects on Jack’s exceptional leadership and legacy.

I was lucky enough to work for Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, at the height of his powers. Sadly, Jack died this week. Thousands of words were written about him during his 20 years at the head of General Electric and thousands have been written since. He has gone through a familiar cycle of huge admiration and praise at first – ‘Manager of the Century’ according to Fortune magazine – followed by a slow trashing of his reputation since. GE’s performance and profile suffered badly under his successor, Jeff Immelt. Jack recently gave himself an A for his leadership of GE and an F for his choice of successor, Jeff Immelt. I’d agree with that assessment. Indeed, I’d give Jack an A++ for his leadership. He was the most complete boss I’ve worked for, a fantastic leader. Like most of his team, I would have run through walls for him.

Let’s take his leadership first. Sure, Jack could be incredibly tough. Sure, he took some potentially good ideas beyond the point where they made sense (such as ‘rank and yank’, firing your lowest 10% performers every year, year after year). But he took the slow, unwieldy, bureaucratic GE he inherited – already the most admired company in America – and turned into a nimble, agile, exciting business whose value he grew by 29x to $410bn. Many of the concepts he espoused – be #1 or #2, fix/close/sell, 6 sigma – have been widely copied and are now part of the business lexicon. He ruled GE like a tidal wave. It was astonishing how much he knew about the most obscure corner of the business, and equally astonishing how quickly he got a 300,000-person organisation to respond to his ideas. GE was built around the idea that Jack was right, and the only issue was how quickly you got it. Fortunately, Jack usually was right – and was good at course corrections when he was wrong – and life was good.

But the weakness in this model, of course, was its reliance on that one exceptional leader. It was vulnerable to a successor who wasn’t right as often as Jack. The enormous resources of GE would follow the boss in the wrong direction just as readily as the right one, and that vulnerability came home to roost under Immelt’s leadership. Unfortunately, Jeff’s judgement turned out not to be as sound as Jack’s. He churned through GE’s multifarious businesses, becoming the first person in history to buy and sell $100bn of assets, paying nearly $1.7bn in fees along the way. The businesses he bought often did not endure. Pricing discipline was lost and execution lacked focus. Disaster loomed, with GE’s valuation dropping 90% from its 2000 peak. Jeff left in 2017.

It’s fashionable now to lay the blame for GE’s subsequent problems at Jack’s door. As I said above, Jack took full responsibility for picking his successor. But it seems unfair to hammer him for mistakes made more than a decade later. With that logic, the successes you’re racking up today are not down to you at all – they’re down to your predecessor and whoever picked you. I don’t think life works that way. Jack built the most valuable company on the planet and changed the way we all do business. That’s enough for me.

 

Keep Your Early-Stage Company on Track

New ideas are thrilling. So many of us are great at starting things; the genesis of an idea, the moment the lightning strikes, that flash of inspiration is pure joy. Taking your first steps into a start-up business are some of the most exciting steps. You are moving at break-neck speed to set up your platform for success.

But, as with all the greatest success stories, eventually, a wall is hit. Nothing worth having ever comes easy, and when it comes to start-up businesses, that struggle often comes in the form of early stagnation. The vision is in your head, the picture of the palace you are going to build is set firmly in your mind’s eye; now you have to go through the potential mundanity of building it brick by brick.

The unfortunate fact is, the majority of new businesses fail within their first year of trading. These failed start-ups are usually victims of common mistakes and misconceptions. Here we have some tips on how to ensure that your early-stage company becomes the success it deserves to be.

Track Your Metrics
On the face of it, this seems like an obvious thing to mention. However, new businesses, especially when low on cashflow, tend to focus mainly on profits and revenue. These are hugely important of course, but there are other data that you should be paying close attention to in order to get a rounded view of performance. Keeping an eye on the following will also ensure that you catch potential pitfalls before they happen…

Customer Acquisition Cost: How much does each new customer cost you? This can be easily assessed by dividing your total marketing and sales costs by the number of customers you have had within a specified time period. How do those figures look against your projections and business plan?

Customer Retention: Retained customers are vital for reputation and cashflow. How good are you at retaining business? Is there anything you could be doing to improve customer experience?

Return on Advertising Spending: Is the revenue you gain as a direct result of advertising sufficient for your investment? Advertising is not cheap and is always a gamble. Divide total sales by advertising spend in order to see what kind of return this investment generates.

Profit Margin: Profit is everything in the end. You must keep a very close eye on the bottom line.

Traction and Momentum
Getting things moving is widely regarded as one of the hardest things to do; getting noticed, getting talked about and getting a great reputation out there. It is a grind, but you have to keep the faith; keep pushing forward. You might have to take it one customer at a time, but, as Mother Teresa once said, “the ocean is made up of drops.” Keep pedalling and the breakthrough will come.

Momentum and passion are tough things to keep hold of on your own. Make sure you have other people around you who are happy for you to bounce ideas off them, and who will inspire fresh ideas and enthusiasm. When you are grafting away on your own, it is vital to have input from people who understand the difficulties of the process.

Delegation
As your business develops, so will your workload. You need to recognise when this workload is too much for you on your own. There is no use in running yourself into the ground before your venture has even left it! To avoid this, take a look at the workings of your business and break them down into separate roles. This could be delegated to interns, or even employees if you are in a position to afford them.

Invest Effort in Talent
When a fresh venture is your baby it is really hard to take parts of it out of your hands and into the hands of others. But this transition must be made in good time. It is essential to invest real time and planning into hiring the right people. Do not wait until it is too late and get into a situation where you have to hire fast; this way you will most likely end up with employees that are the wrong fit for your company.  Make hiring the right talent a priority well ahead of when they are required so that you can put the focus, but not stress, into the task.

Under Promise and Over Deliver
This is a good rule of business in general. This rule not only helps you to gain a great reputation but also takes a little pressure off. An example of this is always promising a later completion date on some work than you intend to deliver so that when you do deliver, earlier than quoted, the customer is happy. This also buys you time if the demands of a start-up slow down a project or task for some reason.

Self-Promotion
Don’t work in secret. Many new companies fail because they are too timid, self-deprecating or fear apparent over-confidence in their product or service. With social media being in its heyday, self-promotion is easier than ever, go for it! Also, if you are planning a publicity event or advertising campaign, don’t be afraid to ask for things. Perhaps you can get a free venue for your launch if you promise to promote the venue. The worst thing they can say is ‘no’!

The bottom line is ‘make some noise’. You might have invented the greatest thing known to man, but all you will hear is crickets if the only living thing that knows about it is your cat!

Don’t Overwork Yourself
This is so easy to do. You have to relax a little; tension has never benefitted anyone or anything. We are told from a young age that the harder you work, the bigger and better the results. This just isn’t the case. It is an attitude that will grind away at you over time, extinguishing the flame that once was your initial idea. Many studies over the past decade have proven that sleep, rest and a healthy work/life balance are essential to wellbeing and success. Take breaks, delegate, keep to sensible working hours, eat properly and keep fit.

In conclusion, perhaps the most important thing to do to keep your business on track is to look after yourself first. Keep that positive vision in your head by keeping yourself healthy, happy and inspired.

AI: A threat or opportunity for UK businesses?


SMF President, David Falzani,  explores the challenge AI poses to business and wider society.

The hypothetical outcomes of AI for business have ranged from utopian to hysterical among commentators, with many focusing in particular on the implications of AI and automation for work – and the risk of redundancies. The Bank of England estimates that 48% of human workers will eventually be replaced by robotics and software automation.  ArkInvest meanwhile predicts that 76 million US jobs will disappear in the next two decades.

Daniel J. Arbess, writing for Fortune magazine, goes as far as to argue that “the accelerating penetration of job-displacing software presents maybe the most serious (and still underappreciated) socio-economic challenge to market economies in generations, both in our own country and abroad.” Jobs, it seems, are the biggest worry. “Applied software technology reduces costs and prices, taking fewer consumption dollars a longer way. We’re starting to hear a lot about this, because entrepreneurs, investors and shareholders of companies will be enjoying epic financial rewards from the AI economy–but what about everyone else?  People still need jobs.”

Meanwhile, Professor Stephen Hawking raised the stakes somewhat in 2014 saying “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” whilst Elon Musk warned that AI is “our biggest existential threat”.

AI is, then, conveyed as a threat to business, employment, and even existence, sometimes by people who don’t understand how the technology is currently being used, sometimes by the science and technology community. At the same time, it’s floated as the basis for a universal basic income and the new Industrial Revolution, as well as massively increased efficiencies across all industries. So is AI a threat or an opportunity for UK businesses?

Blake Irving, the CEO of GoDaddy, a global web hosting company, explains that “the AI that’s real today is known as ‘Narrow AI’.” Rather than worrying about super intelligent Skynets wiping humanity off the face of the earth, Blake argues we should instead focus on narrow AI as “what’s actually changing everything.” Citing Rand Hindi, who defines narrow AI as “the ability for a machine to reproduce a specific human behaviour, without consciousness… a powerful tool to automate narrow tasks, like an algorithm would”, Irving argues that narrow AI will replace or transform any job where information gathering and pattern recognition drive a volume business. “That’s not just labourers. That’s accountants, traders, estate agents, lawyers, software developers, and on and on.”

A good example of this ‘narrow AI’ can be seen in eBay’s introduction of personalised homepages and a ‘ShopBot’ for its users. “Using structured data – a transformative step to drive discoverability of our vast inventory, insights into supply and demand, pricing trends, among other things – and artificial intelligence, we’re creating a shopping experience that is tailored to each eBay user’s interests, passions and shopping history,” CEO Devin Weing explains. “With more than one billion items … we’re making shopping on eBay all about you, instead of a one-size-fits-all approach.” This is massively increasing sales conversions for the company and its traders.

Irving goes on to examine three categories of ‘AI insulated jobs’: those which require meaningful creative interactions with other people; those that won’t be replaced due to the limitations of robotics but will be transformed side-by-side with Narrow AI tools; finally, entrepreneurial roles, which can encompass such a diversity of work as to be difficult to automate. Irving uses these categories to argue that the ‘end result’ of AI displacing jobs will be the need for a population better educated to manage or interface with AI. It will, in other words, incentivise skills-based specialist technology education and ultimately spur a demand for creative thinking and skills, the things that narrow AI cannot provide.

The structuring of data that narrow AI affords us isn’t so much abolishing old skills and roles, then, as it is creating a demand for integrating new capabilities into the modern business plan. If anything, it is actually increasing the demand for creative entrepreneurs, whose skill sets are more valuable than ever while productivity and efficiency shoots up across the board thanks to AI. A similar increase in productivity was seen in the 1990s due to the implementation of MRP and MRP2 that saw skilled and semi skilled roles replaced with algorithms.

It might be worth considering that every threat is an opportunity because it forces change. The exploding volume of literature on the so-called AI revolution suggests that these technological developments may offer massive efficiency improvements, and radical changes to how businesses get things done. Are you able and willing to turn AI into an opportunity to radically overhaul skill sets and workplace practices to keep ahead of the curve, or are you not in a position to invest in this fledgling technology yet, and at risk of falling behind? The answer depends largely on the kind of organisation you run, to what extent it has information gathering and pattern recognition centred tasks, and how open it is to change, as well as how well you grapple with the reality of AI technology as it currently stands.

Does ‘Fake News’ Impact on British Business?

Fake news image 2

It’s official! ‘The internet has been named the most important human invention of all time.’  Easy to believe, isn’t it?  It’s hard to remember what we did before the worldwide web existed and what we’d do without it.

But is this true? Is this really a fact? If you ‘Google it’ you can see this ‘fact’ confirmed but further research shows that it is just a blogger’s personal view.  Fake news on a small scale maybe, but proof that we should always take what we read online with at least a small pinch of salt.

But not all fake news is as innocuous. Many articles have raised concerns about the high level of consumer trust in Google search responses given that its algorithm can and does deliver wrong and misleading ‘facts’ from third-party sites when we ask more complex questions, for example, around political issues.  Furthermore, the increasing use of internet-connected voice-activated assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home will offer an even narrower set of responses as people come to rely on a robotic voice to deliver answers to their questions, rather than conduct internet research themselves.

In a relatively short space of time, the internet has completely revolutionised the way we receive our information, news, and views, and is the quickest research resource imaginable.  This is especially useful for those in business to have all the most useful information instantly available at their fingertips. Companies can read about market predictions online, establish the financial status of other companies before they choose to deal with them, quickly check on their reliability, read reviews about their products and services and pinpoint their physical address.  Business is now digitally driven and all the better for it.

All well and good but what happens when our trust of this information breaks down?  What are the real consequences for business when we cannot automatically believe what we read when we are faced with ‘fake news’?

Fake news has existed long before now, but became a global phenomenon in 2016 with the election of US President Donald Trump and the Brexit vote which will see the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.  With these controversial events, which both have considerable consequences for the business world, fake news has arisen from a hidden corner in the online world to reveal itself: bigger, bolder, and more scandalous than ever on mainstream media platforms.  Fake news is so predominant today that it has substantially affected the way people trust mass media.

So how do British businesses view what they read online?  Do companies view the culture of fake news/post-truth as potentially damaging to business? And how will the new rise of fake news affect their business decision-making?

A recent business poll (February 2017) undertaken by the Sainsbury Management Fellows’ research panel showed that the British business community takes the emergence of fake news very seriously and are working hard to counter it.

Asked, do business leaders have a responsibility to ensure that their senior managers separate fake and factual news when making business decisions?

  • 69.39% said yes, they do. Managers must not be swayed by headlines and ensure that decisions are based on evidence/facts (eg through research, due diligence)
  • 18.37% said yes, they have a responsibility, however, their business decisions are not influenced by media or social media headlines
  • 10.20% said no, it is a manager’s sole responsibility to ensure his/her decision is based on correct information

SMF research panellist, Nick Laird commented: “Good business decisions are always a blend of fact and judgement. The two need to be separated, but both need consideration. Subtle opinion-driven issues can change the context within which a business operates, and thereby change the objective facts: and impact the best decision to take. Leadership is about uncovering and separating the most relevant fact, balancing their value(s) and weight(s), and then adding a layer of judgement on top”.

Raivat Luthra, another panel member warned about the rise of fake news: “It’s one of the biggest issues being faced by business leaders in recent times. Fake/unreliable news is influencing the decision-making abilities of employees in (mostly) a negative way. Perhaps this is something which needs to be tackled via education”.

The panel was also asked about Brexit and recent media coverage:

Are the media headlines/emotions around Brexit affecting your business more than the underlying trading essentials?

  • 50.88% said no – despite the media headlines and lack of clarity about the form Brexit will take, they are continuing with business as usual.
  • 36.48% said yes – feeling that conflicting media headlines causes uncertainty, making them less confident about pushing ahead with trading decisions.

Panellist David Bell commented on the rise of talking points in media coverage: “Post-truth is a direct emotional appeal, where usual arguments based on facts and data are discarded in favour of talking points seemingly immune to factual rebuttal. These talking points can shift the debate on key issues for businesses, such as Brexit, through a combination of media false balance, the 24-hour news cycle, and filter bubbles created by social media. Rebuttals to post-truth arguments are commonly rejected as smears or scaremongering, without qualification, thus making regular debate more challenging”.

The overall answers showed that most UK businesspeople felt that they can continue their business despite the abundance of fake news, but the margin between those who think fake news impedes business decision-making and those who think the opposite is small.

It’s certainly a business issue we are all too aware of now that fake news has hit the headlines. Panellist Eric Duclos puts things into perspective: “Fake information, or simply wrong information, is nothing new. Any business must take careful account of sources and methodology before using any data for decision-making”.

Some, like panellist Philippe Mandangi, believe there is a positive side to the discussion: “The abundance of news, fake or truth, is a good thing for business so long as business managers take the trouble to analyse each bit of information that goes through their desks in the process of decision making. Gut feeling is not scientifically proven, but a lot of managers still use it to make business decisions”.

The final word on the topic goes to SMF Chris Ambler, who makes this shrewd observation: “Separating fact from assumption is critical to making good business decisions. If you evidence your position, fake news should not become an issue.”

if you are a business professional and would like to join our business survey panel, email askus@fortunepr.co.uk.

Understanding the ingenuity process

Vector set of conceptual flat line illustrations on following themes - creativity and inspiration, idea and imagination, innovation and discovery, think outside the box

David Falzani, SMF President and honorary professor of entrepreneurship at Nottingham University Business School (NUBS) takes us through NUBS’ ingenuity process which is at the heart of its entrepreneurship module.

Ingenuity, inventiveness, originality – all these are at the heart of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs, after all, are fundamentally problem solvers that offer creative, innovative solutions and responses to problems – gaps – in organisational or market-oriented thinking.

However, creative solutions don’t just materialise out of thin air. They emerge from lateral thinking processes and problem-solving approaches which attempt to grapple with not just the problem itself, but the factors leading to the problem, the consequences of the various solutions potentially available to us, and the possibility of new, unique ideas which can be mobilised into a concrete plan of action. In other words, ingenuity is not innate. Whether we’re talking about products that fill a particular gap in the market or internal changes to a business, ingenuity is a problem-solving process that taps into a natural human capacity for creative solutions.

They say that quick decisions are not always the best decisions. That’s why the ingenuity process demands organisational time and respect to get the best results – that is, after all, why we talk about it as a ‘process’. It represents a progressive working-through of the obstacles and issues in question. So, what might this process look like?

Defining the problem
If you’re looking for creative solutions, you must already be aware that there is a problem or obstacle. The ingenuity process firstly seeks to understand the problem in its entirety by asking questions such as, but not limited to:

      • Whose problem is this?
      • How urgent is the problem?
      • How might we break the problem down into manageable parts?

In other words, ingenuity first requires a comprehensive, concrete analysis and explanation of the issue at hand—as this will form the basis of the next step, ie your strategy. Knowing the component parts of the problem should give you a clearer idea of the various objectives required to solve each element of the issue individually.

It will also allow you to test your potential strategy against the problem itself by making clear the various implications and impacts of your solution on the different factors leading to the problem in the first place. Defining the problem in this way may even solve the problem immediately by making clear the various blind spots in the organisation’s relationship with the issue thus far. To come up with an original, ingenious solution, however, requires you to document the problem – and your strategy – in its entirety. There is no single answer to a problem, and that’s why all possible avenues must be explored before action is taken.

Documenting the ingenuity process
Documentation is vital in any organisational context, as it will form the basis of any concrete, problem-solving proposal to your colleagues, shareholders, or fellow management team. It enables you to communicate the gravity of the problem and all its complexities in a way that creates a case for taking action and moving forward.

You’ve hopefully thought about the problem in depth, measuring its impacts, causes, and implications of your proposed strategy. You need to communicate this creative thinking in clear, concise terms – not only to justify your strategy but also to hit the nail on the head, so to speak. So, write a statement describing the predicament which addresses:

      • The processes involved
      • The facts as they are and why they demand action
      • The consequences of not solving the problem

This should form the basis of a concise justification as to why your strategy is not only a good potential course of action but an imperative one too. Supplementing this statement with a comprehensive analysis of root causes, a map of the different processes leading to and from the issue, and arranging different considerations according to priority, will provide a solid basis for moving forward and generating real solutions and ideas with your colleagues.

Discovering creative solutions
So, you’ve analysed the problem in its entirety, demonstrated the importance of solving the problem, and hopefully proposed a basic strategy for moving past the issue. Everyone agrees creative solutions are needed, and there are clear ideas about where the problems lie and where action needs to be taken.

If these steps represent an objective, concrete approach to a problem, one that attempts to quantify the issues at hand, then it is from here that real creativity comes into play. You need to designate a time and a place for non-judgmental idea generation.

Exercises such as looking for analogies in other markets or previous experience can be helpful in illustrating where other solutions have fallen short and what needs to be done differently. Take an example from another company, perhaps, and try to generate a set of hypothetical solutions for the problems they faced – it will give you a much-needed detached perspective while providing a focal point for new ideas. Get to the root of your current problem-solving processes. What organisational assumptions are underlying them? How might you change those assumptions to move beyond paradigmatic thinking?

Brainstorm, argue, debate, deconstruct – and ultimately, generate as many ideas as possible in response to the problem at hand. Many of these ideas might not solve the problem in its entirety, but they might solve it partially – and if not, the point is that they open up new space for alternative, lateral solutions. This is the most important element of creative idea generation – allowing yourself to be wrong, questioning your assumptions, and making the box small enough that thinking outside of it becomes second nature.

Determine your course of action
This is the hardest part of the ingenuity process, and the part most burdened with the kind of risks entrepreneurs must take on. Firstly, you need to step back from the idea generation stage. Getting sucked into individual ideas and potential responses can mean losing sight of the bigger picture. You now need to consider all your ideas in their entirety and as a collective whole, asking yourself:

      • What kind of underlying logic characterises the different groups of ideas generated?
      • What solution does this logic point towards? Does it sufficiently address the problem?
      • Have all derivative ideas or combinations of ideas been seriously considered?

It’s time to collate your ideas and think hard about the nature of the problems they’re speaking to. The ingenuity process is then not so much about idea generation as it is about critical self-reflection on the logic and norms governing ‘business as usual’. It’s only by questioning your assumptions and considering your ideas in relation to these assumptions that a truly original, creative solution can emerge. Here, the ingenuity process transforms: it is no longer just about thinking outside of the box; it is about questioning how you ended up inside it in the first place.

Image: vasabii

Would uSwitch your chief executive?

Would you switch your CEO2Tired of paying over-the-top rates for poor service, bad communication, and a total lack of market strategy? It might be time to switch—your chief executive, that is.

Today, thanks to ‘switching’ providers like uSwitch or comparethemarket, consumers have more power than ever when it comes to comparing and selecting utility or insurance providers. All it takes are a few clicks through these streamlined services to find, and switch to, a better deal.

If only such a service existed for selecting better chief executives. CEOs wield such a large amount of responsibility that a bad CEO could damage, if not devastate, your company in every conceivable way – even permanently, as the recent case of Phillip Green and BHS attests.

By looking at common shortcomings CEOs often face and ‘comparing the market’, so to speak, this article will hopefully outline some of the areas in which chief executives can improve.

A self-critical approach
As Ben Horowitz points out, there’s no one else to blame when you’re CEO – chief executives are ultimately responsible for every major decision within the organisation. The blame for a bad hire or a failed initiative will ultimately find its way back to chief executives as they are the ones who OK such decisions.

For this reason, better CEOs need to take a generally more self-critical approach to their position and their relationship with the company. Firstly, this should manifest in an ability to recognise one’s own weaknesses. If a chief executive is unwilling to admit that they can sometimes lack communication skills, or that their excess of ego is having a negative effect on the company, then this demonstrates stubbornness. If you ask a prospective new CEO what their greatest weakness is and their answer does not pertain to an actual weakness (e.g. “I am too detail-oriented” or “I am too friendly”), it can be a red flag for someone who has not faced up to their own limitations and is not focused on self-improvement.

This can become fatal to a company in times of strife, and this vital self-critical approach must be evident in a chief executive’s actions. If, for example, the organisation is feeling the financial squeeze and the CEO is still accepting large bonuses at the company’s expense, then this demonstrates a lack of critical reflection and a detachment from their responsibility to employees and stakeholders.

Goal-oriented strategic thinking
Companies inevitably run into a myriad of obstacles over their lifespan, and as both a figurehead and leader in practice, it is down to the chief executive to ensure the organisation weathers the storm.

No matter what industry you’re involved in, there will doubtless come a time when your company will be presented with a near-fatal obstacle or challenge. Getting bogged down in the details of these obstacles or allowing them to dominate you psychologically can make you lose sight of the path ahead. This calls for strategic, long-term thinking, rather than short-termism.

Chief executives need to be conscious of the many shifting trends in their industry and conduct a risk assessment of how these might change the landscape in which the organisation is operating in the future. This means understanding the historically unique consumer trends and new technologies emerging as potential opportunities with a place in long-term strategy, but it also requires an ability and willingness to determine which of these trends will have a contingent impact on the company’s vision and which of them are simply short-term fads. Put simply, good chief executives need to have a clear head, balancing risk against short-term challenges in order to retain a clear long-term vision and strategy for the company. Those who are susceptible to getting sucked in by the minutiae of short-term issues simply don’t cut the mustard.

Social responsibility
Does your CEO actively involve themselves in the community of the company, or are they rather more aloof? Do they skip staff parties, charity fundraisers, and local business gatherings? It could be a sign that they feel little affinity with their colleagues or immediate business community, and therefore lack a sense of social responsibility.

“People of my generation of leadership have fundamentally failed, in that corporate private sector has not delivered its contribution to society over the last 10 years,” argues Ronan Dunne, O2’s chief executive. Generating revenue for shareholders and stakeholders alike is obviously a priority for most businesses, but it’s important to remember that business people are part of a social contract with wider society. After all, it’s the community of consumers, producers, and other businesses that every successful organisation owes their success to.

CEOs need to take active, intentional action to not only exhibit but cement the company’s social responsibilities. Ask: how does their sense of social responsibility manifest? Boondoggle initiatives won’t cut it—they need to produce concrete results. O2’s Think Big scheme is a great example of a company getting social responsibility right, offering grants of up to £10,000 to young innovators looking to provide new and creative solutions to environmental problems. Does your CEO put their money where their mouth is? If not, it might be time for a switch!

Can unicorn startups thrive whilst ignoring regulation?

a worker asks for a transition to a patch on a piggy bank, but receives only a tease

The world of tech startups is peppered with stories of overconfident, brilliant entrepreneurs who disrupt the way business is done in traditional sectors, transforming consumer behaviour and challenging current legislative frameworks, often with detrimental outcomes to their business as in the landmark Uber employment rights case.

High profile tech innovators are sometimes branded arrogant “jerks” who try to by-pass national regulations in order to achieve success. But is the fair? Is arrogance a prerequisite to achieving a major shift in consumer economic behaviour? The new Sainsbury Management Fellows Business Survey asked business leaders/entrepreneurs for their views on the behaviour of Unicorns (billion dollar valued start-ups), with some divergent views.

Arrogant or just determined? Divided opinion
Sixty-seven of the 150 opted-in panellists took part in the survey and 37.5% agreed that Unicorns in the sharing economy are arrogant in their compliance with regulation and interestingly, over 51% of all respondents said that a degree of arrogance is actually required for new technology startups in traditional markets to beat incumbents and grow.

Arrogance of Start ups Survey Question `1

Echoing similar views among the 51% of respondents, David Bell, an engineering graduate on Rolls-Royce’s development programme said, “In order to gain advantage in the sharing economy Unicorn startups had to exploit loopholes and gaps in existing rules to rapidly develop market share before regulators can act to prevent these unforeseen practices. While no specific company was put in the spotlight, Bell said that some of the tactics include ignoring regulator warnings, claiming new technology’s exemption from old rules, asking customers to lobby on their behalf, and asking for forgiveness and paying penalties after their market position has already been established.”

Arrogance of Start ups Survey Question 2

On the flip side, just over 42% of all panellists stated that arrogance is not a prerequisite for success and startups are misunderstood and the public should not “confuse arrogance with self-confidence.” In this group’s view, such startups are simply pushing boundaries, testing new models and finding new ways of competing with incumbents.”

No place for arrogance in business
Successful serial entrepreneur Chris Martin, CEO of ADC Therapeutics SA said, “There is no room for arrogance in business – startup or not. Some Unicorns I have worked with were best in class and so may have been perceived as arrogant when they were just very, very good.”

Sinead O’Sullivan, an MBA candidate at Harvard, an aerospace engineer and entrepreneur stated that it is vital that not all startups are painted “with the ‘arrogance’ brush.” Some tech startups are being led by millennials who can appear overconfident.”

While some startups can be arrogant, most aren’t. Some simply operate with supreme “self-confidence and dogged single-mindedness,” said Phil Strong, CEO at Zymbit.

The role of arrogance in business
Asked to name a company that behaves arrogantly, unprompted 18% of respondents named seven companies, with Uber taking pole position. The others were Prowler, Theranos, Avery Dennison, Airbnb, Tesla, and Dyson.

Led by CEO Travis Kalanick, Uber develops markets and operates the mobile app which provides on-demand taxi service, connecting passengers to cab drivers at much lower costs than other services. While many deem Kalanick to be a brilliant entrepreneur and legendary CEO, he is also generally perceived to operate in an arrogant way. While this arrogance is seen by some as negative, the trait is said to be rampant in Silicon Valley, with investors rewarding supposedly callous tactics with tons of capital. The view of the Uber leadership is that it consistently acts as if the company is above the law and the ethical norm.

Sinead O’Sullivan reinforced this point saying, “While misplaced confidence can be damaging to the reputation of a company, this behaviour is encouraged by “the way the whole venture capital game works.”

Demonstrating polarity of views, one entrepreneur, Nimesh Thakrar, CEO of Banneya gave Uber kudos for changing “the status quo of how we are currently operating in that [taxi] space”, and that policies and regulations “need to change and be reflective of the modern world we live in.” However, another young entrepreneur Farid Singh argued that the way Uber has gone about doing things has become “similar to dumping free inventory” and that while “regular taxi services run out of cash and have to shut down, they [Uber] start squeezing the drivers and raising their prices”. He believes that these practices have created an “unchecked monopoly”.

Airbnb, the world’s fourth largest startup is criticised for its supposed arrogance by the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA). The AHLA launched several campaigns to counter Airbnb’s so-called hypocrisy and to fight for “the need to curb illegal hotels and ensure a level playing field”. As one panellist stated, startups are not always good just because they’re new, claiming that “Airbnb has damaged B&B markets.”

In the final analysis…
While some of the SMF panellists deemed Unicorn startups as arrogant, others see this arrogance as merely a change in the way business and business owners are pacing themselves. Startup owners and operators are seen as bold movers and shakers who “challenge incumbents” and are in the business of “exploring new ways of solving old problems” said one panellist. The leaders of Unicorn startups are seen as new types of entrepreneurs who emphasise the need “to strive for survival and reproduction.”

Some respondents felt that the term “arrogance” is “emotionally charged” and has “strong negative overtones” and that society should be acknowledging their achievements; focusing on how these companies are pushing boundaries, testing new models, creating change and improving services for consumers.

Sainsbury Management Fellow and venture capitalist, James Raby argued that subverting regulation can be catastrophic for long term success. “Some startups regard regulation as the enemy. Because entrepreneurs are bringing new technology to the market, they think it is a protective shield from regulation. The standard response is to disavow regulation, yet everything that’s old is not necessarily bad. Startups should embrace regulation if they are serious about long-term success. They need to recognise that to work in real markets they must cooperate in a regulated market, as I’m sure the manufacturers of driverless cars will realise.

This means startups need to employ people who understand regulatory frameworks and the detail of how they apply in different markets and cultures. Without this depth of understanding, companies side-stepping regulation will be challenged and regulation will catch up with them.”

As SMF implores startups to re-think their approach to regulation, perhaps there is also a need for the regulators to improve their understanding of technology and be quicker at managing technology shifts.

photo (c) nuvolanevicata

What are the challenges of IoT?

various smart devices and mesh network, internet of things, wireless sensor network, abstract image visual

Professionals, particularly engineers, are enthusiastic about the promise of the Internet of Things (IoT).  Everybody talked about it when it wasn’t quite here. Now that it’s here, it’s growing exponentially.

Gartner predicted last 2014 that there would be 25 billion devices integrated into the IoT.  Cisco says figures would be near 50 billion. Morgan Stanley believes it will reach around 75 billion.

This growth will get closer to reality as devices become smaller and sleeker and computing grows more powerful and becomes more streamlined.

The IoT is simply the interconnectivity of devices through the Internet.  Great innovation at first sight, but it is not without consequences.

The connectivity that drives IoT is the same that could also cause dire consequences.   For example, there have been reports of hacking of baby monitors and Wired ran a feature on the simulation of hackers taking over control of a jeep on the highway.   Even power interruptions can cause serious problems.

Compatibility
As of now, there’s still no international standard for compatibility in IoT, particularly for tagging and monitoring devices. Of all challenges, this is the one that can be most easily solved. Companies just have to agree on a standard, which already happens in different products and services. The IoT won’t be any different.

Though standardisation is an easy matter to solve, technical issues will still exist.  Even today, Bluetooth, a relatively old way of connecting, still has compatibility problems. Issues about compatibility can lead to customers buying from one company only, developing monopolies that can hurt the industry.

Complexity
Complex systems offer more chances of failure. The Internet of Things can offer massive amounts of these chances.

An example of this failure is double purchasing. Let’s say a couple receives the same note from their refrigerator saying that they need to buy a loaf of bread.  There’s a chance that they both buy one, leading to the purchase of two loaves instead of just one.

Software bugs can also send notes to an owner telling him to buy a new light bulb even when he just bought a new one.

The complexity of the IoT also gives way to more intensive management and maintenance.  How will IoT companies make sure that billions of these devices are online and running? Can takeovers and interruptions be easily handled through billions of connections? Will the IoT require every device to be registered or will it only require a certain identified ‘residence’ to represent all devices within?

IoT will also handle massively growing amounts of data.  How will companies make sure that they deliver the expected results and withstand a growing workload at the same time?  How will consumers know if their devices are able to handle intense data flow?

Privacy and security
Since the IoT is founded on transmitted data, the risk of privacy breaches gets bigger.  We are still not sure of how good data encryption will be.  Sensitive information like medical prescriptions and financial status are exposed to bigger risk.

Extra security may demand higher prices, which will either attract only a few customers or none at all.

Looking at the bigger picture, we also do not know who will be controlling the IoT.   One company controlling it can lead to a monopoly that will do consumers and other competitors no good. Multiple companies handling the system can expose private customer information to many groups, which will compromise the close relationship of the customer to a specific company he adheres to.

The fact that personal data will be exposed to the Internet once IoT gets implemented will render any consumer vulnerable to hacking, fraud, identity theft, and other crimes involving sensitive information.

The government itself, which is supposed to be the most secure entity in any state, can easily be hacked by hacker groups.  The group Anonymous has already done this to the US government.

Personal safety
What if a hacker changes your preferences for medicine, food, and other products?  Once your data is breached, this can happen.  In the IoT, consumer safety depends on how good the system can verify real information that passes through automated processes.

The IoT is constantly growing, and even at its early stage, the whole system, as well as the dangers it faces, are already overwhelming. Data breach can affect huge sectors of the system like a disease.

At the very least, we need to easily spot where problems originate in the system.  Monitoring must be optimum so Big Data tools must be able to alert authorities when security incidents happen.  Threats must be taken care of in real time with little to no delays.  As of now, we need to know what these systems would look like and how companies can make these systems real.

Mass unemployment of unskilled labour
The demand for unskilled workers will plummet to the point of irrelevance as automation will prove itself to be more efficient.  This always happens whenever technology takes a leap and will require humans to level up its education.

This phenomenon can cause social chaos and maybe a change in how people see technology, as technology is supposed to make life easier for people, not harder.  Unemployment will also decrease consumption, which will be bad for a growing IoT industry because any new industry will need a growing market.

Since human involvement in the delivery of products and services will be minimised, the consumer expectations will increase too. Failure to meet expectations may add fuel to an already spreading fire caused by unemployment.

Over reliance on technology
It is almost certain that IoT will make humans a lot more dependent on technology to the point that it will take control of our own lives. As of now, young generations are already attached and addicted to technology for every aspect of their lives.  Do-it-yourself is now do-it-with-gadgets.

Today, information is easily searchable through Google.  People who can help you can easily be reached through social networking sites. False news can easily be spread and disproved using search engines. Writing turned into typing and typing turned into taking pictures of texts.

Society must determine how much technology must run human life.

Integrating Teams Post Acquisition for Perfect Harmony – David Falzani

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Managing your people and making sure it works
You’ve been through a successful acquisition or merger. All the legal proceedings and necessary preparation that needed to take place have been done successfully. But this is only the beginning of a long and important process of integration. A lot of post-M&As are mismanaged  and result in poor outcomes.

Too much can often take place too quickly, leading to an erosion of previous internal cultures, a loss of staff, and a dangerous loss of profitability. After the acquisition, it is the task of management to ensure that the new, combined teams are able to build a shared vision of where the firm is going. It’s time to build a new internal culture forged through cooperation and consensus.

Start while you’re ahead
The most important foundations of post-M&A integration are established during pre-deal negotiations. Setting targets for integration should be considered as much of a priority as the process of establishing key benefits and risks from the deal itself and, indeed, should be based on this evidence and analysis. That’s why it’s vital to assess the internal structure, values and culture of the other party before the deal is done, and vice versa; due diligence is key.

One way this can be achieved is through the use of a clean team. This is an independent group of individuals bound by strict confidentiality agreements who gather the necessary data for integration, which usually lies out of the reach of an acquirer’s employees pre-deal.

To enable comprehensive integration planning, many organisations have begun using clean teams to gather information, analyse scenarios, and make preliminary integration decisions prior to deal consummation.

These clean teams operate under strict protocols that enable competitive or confidential information to be aggregated and summarised in a form that helps leadership review the analysis about the future combined organisation without violating competition laws – Aon Hewitt.

Have meetings with the other party involved in the merger or acquisition and work together to collate your findings and establish the sources of risk and possible friction. Establish an integration plan together, structured around core values, will save your company a lot of pain in the long run.

Making the hard decisions manageable
A merger or acquisition can be a stressful time for everyone, but especially employees. A particular source of employees’ anxiety stems from concerns about job security. Employees and line managers alike are unsure if there is going to be a place for them after the deal. Everyone knows there could be difficult decisions ahead, and that some staff may become surplus to requirement as the new business is forged.

If not well managed, the post-acquisition/merger stage can be messy and cause grief for those taking redundancy (voluntary or compulsory) and the managers who have to implement the programme. Losing a job can trigger a lot of personal issues that can damage employees’ well-being, resulting in loss of self-worth, feelings of betrayal, and a loss of identity. It’s important to handle these situations properly – negative effects and perceptions don’t impact on outgoing staff and those staying with the company. Creating negative perceptions of management ethos will make it hard to win ‘hearts and minds’ and to take the business forward.

Managing properly not only means treating people with dignity, but providing concrete support, for example, offering outgoing employees resources and support to help them transition to another job or career. There are many outplacement and career transition services available. It’s good practice to organise such services as part of a redundancy package, or to allocate individuals funds to enable them to choose an outplacement agency themselves.

Building a new shared culture
Having identified and planned your post-acquisition or merger integration, it’s time to implement it. The problem with many integration plans is that management can fall into the trap of coming in and saying to the new team, “this is how things are going to work.” Communicating a vision is important, but workplace cultures tend to develop organically; they can’t be manufactured.

If you’ve already established what sort of culture will benefit the integrated company, it’s time to start incentivising the sort of behaviours you want to emerge, particularly for line managers. This can be achieved by getting the staff engaged in the vision for the company, involving them in decisions, listening to ideas as well as providing attractive reward and recognition schemes. As well as this, you’ll hopefully have identified key time frames for achieving your integration plan fully – 100 days is a popular and effective starting time scale. A cohesive strategy covering planning, communication, action and co-operation is the name of the game.