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If You're in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!: Strategies for Long-Term Growth

If You're in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!: Strategies for Long-Term Growth

by Leonard Sherman

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Businesses often find themselves trapped in a competitive dogfight, scratching and clawing for market share with products consumers view as largely undifferentiated. Conventional wisdom suggests that dogfights are to be expected as marketplaces mature, giving rise to the notion that there are "bad" industries where it is unlikely that any company can succeed.


Businesses often find themselves trapped in a competitive dogfight, scratching and clawing for market share with products consumers view as largely undifferentiated. Conventional wisdom suggests that dogfights are to be expected as marketplaces mature, giving rise to the notion that there are "bad" industries where it is unlikely that any company can succeed.

But there are notable exceptions in which enlightened executives have changed the rules to grasp the holy grail of business: long-term profitable growth. Rather than joining the dogfights raging within their industry, companies such as Apple, FedEx, and Starbucks have chosen to become metaphorical cats, continuously renewing their distinctive strategies to compete on their own terms.

In If You're in a Dogfight, Become a Cat, Leonard Sherman draws on four decades of experience in management consulting, venture capital, and teaching business strategy at Columbia Business School to share practical advice on two of the most vexing issues facing business executives: why is it so hard to achieve long-term profitable growth, and what can companies do to break away from the pack?

Sherman takes the reader on a provocative journey through the building blocks of business strategy by challenging conventional wisdom on a number of questions that will redefine management best practices:

• What should be the overarching purpose of your business?• Do you really know what your strategy is?• Is there such a thing as a bad industry?• Where do great ideas come from and how do I find them?• What makes products meaningfully different?• What makes and breaks great brands?• How and when should I disrupt my own company?• What are the imperatives to achieving long-term profitable growth?

Filled with dozens of illustrative examples of inspiring successes and dispiriting falls from grace, this book provides deep insights on how to become the cat in a dogfight, whether you are a CEO, mid-level manager, aspiring business school student, or curious observer interested in achieving sustained profitable growth.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A cutesy title isn’t enough to differentiate a familiar take on gaining the competitive advantage in this strategy guide from Sherman, who boasts over three decades of experience in management consulting. Now a teacher at Columbia Business School, Sherman reports discovering over the course of his career that most companies simply can’t sustain success; one study found that, over the last 50 years, only 13% of Fortune 100 companies showed as much as 2% real revenue growth annually from one decade to another. Here, he seeks to explain how businesses can create and maintain lasting growth. He distinguishes between “dogfights,” in which strength pays off in the short term but the fighters eventually get weary, and “catfights,” which use innovation. He urges readers to pick the latter, further suggesting taking up the three “strategic imperatives” of continuous innovation, meaningful product differentiation, and business alignment. Insisting there are no unwinnable industries, Sherman cites those companies that beat the odds and generate long-term profitable growth, including Netflix, Apple, Yellow Tail Wine, and Costco. The case studies are interesting, and M.B.A. students looking to grasp the subject may find this useful, but the titular metaphor isn’t enough to help this one stand out from the pack. (Jan.)
Alex Taylor
With an incisive writing style rarely seen in studies of business strategy, Sherman neatly reevaluates some corporate reputations that have failed the test of time and elevates more lasting examples from his own research. The result is that all-too-rare combination for books on management: advice that is as valuable as it is readable.

John Czepiel
A wonderfully comprehensive view of competition and competitive strategy and illustrating it well with contemporary examples and citing of the scholarly literature and linking that to action oriented techniques.

Sydney Finkelstein
Sherman takes a machete to standard thinking in strategy, offering up a common sense but deeply insightful—and sometimes surprising—recipe for what it takes to win in business.

Martin Wolf
In this important book, Leonard Sherman takes on dangerous shibboleths of business strategy. Foremost among them is the purported priority of maximising shareholder value. Too often, this goal has led to manipulating short-term earnings and stock prices, in the interests of maximising gains to management from stock-related pay. Maximising rewards to shareholders is the outcome of a good business strategy; it is not itself a business strategy at all.

Paul F. Nunes
A thorough study of strategy and how it needs to be done today. The author's ability to put new strategy concepts in the context of fifty plus years of management science is a real gift. Detailed, rigorous, but never boring, this book gives every executive everything they need to know to run a business in today's fast changing world. A rare book that combines the right elements of marketing strategy with business strategy to come up with real winning business solutions.

Stephen Denning
If You're in A Dogfight, Become A Cat! not only offers a devastating critique of the biggest and worst idea in business—maximizing shareholder value—it also offers a coherent and practical guide to the strategy of innovation that should replace it.

William Deutsch
Insightful, thought-provoking, and practical. Len Sherman takes us on an enjoyable journey through five decades of some of the most influential written works on business management and strategy and shows how history has judged these various concepts. He translates these observations into a framework that prompts you to drive clarity in how you can fulfill your company's core mission behind the execution of three strategic imperatives, and ultimately find sustained long-term profitable growth. The book is filled with case studies that will inspire you to think critically about how these concepts apply to your own business. Sherman offers insights that would be of value to all levels of business leaders who have an interest in sharpening their strategies.

William Lazonick
Leonard Sherman's book If You're in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!, based on his decades of business management experience, provides a much-needed approach to sustaining an innovative enterprise. It should be read by everyone concerned about business from MBA candidates to their professors to incumbent executives. This book makes the company rather than the industry the focus of analysis, confronts the erroneous and damaging ideology that companies should be run to 'maximize shareholder value,' and offers executives a new set of principles for strategizing about how an enterprise can be innovative. The many real-life examples that Sherman provides should stimulate plenty of informed discussion about what an innovative enterprise is really about.

Marty St. George
This book provides countless concrete examples of how businesses can create real value and continuously renew competitive advantage. It's a must-read, as relevant to senior executives as to MBA students aspiring to become next generation business leaders.

Niraj Dawar
This book integrates key ideas from the most influential strategy thinking of the last forty years with Len Sherman's extensive practical business experience to present a convincing and practical case for the three strategic imperatives that drive sustained profitable growth. Be a cat and pounce on this book!

Product Details

Columbia University Press
Publication date:
Columbia Business School Publishing Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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Meet the Author

Leonard Sherman is an executive in residence and adjunct professor of marketing and management at the Columbia Business School. He has worked as a senior partner at Accenture, as a managing partner of J.D. Power and Associates, and as a partner at Booz, Allen & Hamilton.

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