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Breakthrough Imperative, The
The Two Keys to Breakthrough Results
You only have to do a very few things right . . . so long as you don't do too many things wrong.
Gary DiCamillo took over Polaroid Corporation in 1995.
It was his first job as CEO, but he was hardly inexperienced. He had gone to Harvard Business School and built a successful career. Before coming to Polaroid he was a high-ranking executive at Black & Decker, charged with turning around the company's power tool division. Though trained as a chemical engineer, he described himself as a "consumer products guy." The press portrayed him as smart, likable, and decisive.
Polaroid's board knew that the company faced some strategic challenges. Its signature instant cameras weren't the big hit that they had once been. Digital photography was coming down the pike fast, threatening traditional film-based cameras. But the right CEO with the right strategy, the board believed, could turn things around and lead the company into a profitable digital future. After all, Polaroid had been conducting intensive research and development on digital imaging for nearly fifteen years. Its image-sensor technology and image-compression algorithms were highly advanced, and were protected by several key patents. It even had a professional-grade digital camera, the PDC-2000, ready for production. When the camera came out in March 1996, it won rave reviews from analysts and photography experts.
But though Polaroid seemed to know where its future lay, it wasn't able to get there. The reason is clear in hindsight: though the company had great R&D, it didn't have the other capabilities required to execute a winning digital strategy. Five years later, Polaroid's business was a shambles, and the company filed for the protection of bankruptcy court. Its digital cameras were doing poorly in the marketplace. Its instant camera and film sales were continuing to decline. Polaroid was eventually acquired by a Midwestern holding company, Petters Group Worldwide, which owns a variety of consumer brands.
In late 2002, Warren Knowlton took over a company called Morgan Crucible, a 150-year-old UK-based manufacturer of carbon, ceramics, and other industrial components. Like DiCamillo, Knowlton was assuming the role of CEO for the first time. And he, too, was an experienced executive. He had spent twenty years with Owens Corning and five with Pilkington, the big international glass manufacturer. Morgan in late 2002 was in far worse shape than Polaroid in 1995. Sales had declined for three straight years. Profits had vanished. Debt was high, and pension liabilities were three times the company's market capitalization. The banks were growing nervous. So were shareholders: Morgan's stock price had declined 90 percent between 1997 and 2002.
And yet, only three and a half years later, Knowlton had executed a transformation. By mid-2006, Morgan's continuing businesses had registered 5 to 6 percent revenue growth for three straight years. Operating margins were more than three times what they had been when Knowlton arrived. The company had paid down its debt and secured its pension fund. The share price had risen more than tenfold, and analysts were once more issuing "buy" recommendations.
One company that should have succeeded but didn't.
Another that seemed destined for failure but turned itself around. Two smart, experienced, and capable leaders. What accounts for the difference?
We will try to answer that question in this book, and not just for Polaroid and Morgan Crucible. Rather, we want to use these two companies and many others to dissect the challenge of improving an organization's performance. We want to highlight the lessons learned by leaders who have run the management gauntlet, who have learned to achieve results for their companies as they rose through the ranks. We hope to distill the best of their insights and experience for other CEOs, especially those new to the job, and for every up-and-coming general manager who may aspire to the corner office.
Our aim is not to convey new strategies; rather, it is to articulate a short list of business fundamentals that are essential to performance improvement, and then show how to apply them. Staying focused on the fundamentals takes enormous discipline. Whenever new leaders take over the reins of a business unit or indeed any kind of organization, they face a daunting list of tasks. They find they must spend time with other managers in the company, with key customers and suppliers, and with the company's financiers. They must simultaneously look to the future and run the day-to-day business. If the company is public, the new general manager will feel the pressure of reporting quarterly results. If it's a private company, a division of a corporation, or a nonprofit, the pressure will still be there...it will just come from investors, bosses, or donors, who will expect answers about cash flow and covenants and forecasts. Knowing what to do and in what sequence can become an overwhelming challenge, particularly since everything initially appears so urgent.
Today the pressure on managers is more intense than ever. The average price-to-earnings ratio on Wall Street and other global exchanges has generally been climbing for thirty years. Companies find that they must deliver increasing levels of growth and profitability or leave themselves vulnerable to takeover. Top executives facing this clamor for performance naturally expect quick results from everybody under them. Managers throughout the organization "have to perform or perish," said CEO John A. Challenger of the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which tracks managerial tenure. "If you don't produce immediate results, you just don't have much room to move."1
One sign of the increased pressure is that nobody gets much time to show what he or she can do. Between 1999 and 2006 the average tenure of departing chief executive officers in the United States declined from about ten years to just over eight.2 The distribution is bimodal: about 20 percent of CEOs have very long tenures (the average is twenty-three years for this segment), and about 40 percent last an average of less than two years. . . . Breakthrough Imperative, The
. Copyright © by Mark Gottfredson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.