Ruthless Execution: What Business Leaders Do When Their Companies Hit the Wall

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Ruthless Execution focuses on today's #1 business leadership challenge: managing adversity while preparing your company for a rebirth of success. Amir Hartman identifies the central ingredients that help companies get beyond the wall to thrive--and demonstrates exactly how to instill these ingredients in your organization.

You'll learn when and how to strategically recalibrate and balance performance and growth; new ways to promote accountability; how to use performance metrics ...

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Overview

Ruthless Execution focuses on today's #1 business leadership challenge: managing adversity while preparing your company for a rebirth of success. Amir Hartman identifies the central ingredients that help companies get beyond the wall to thrive--and demonstrates exactly how to instill these ingredients in your organization.

You'll learn when and how to strategically recalibrate and balance performance and growth; new ways to promote accountability; how to use performance metrics without burying your people in trivia; and how to promote real discipline without creating bureaucracy. You'll also discover which critical capabilities are keys to performance breakthroughs.

Along the way, the author presents case studies of leading companies that have used these strategies to overcome stalled performance. Baxter, Novartis, Honeywell, IBM, Cisco, and more--all different, yet all unified by one common element: ruthless execution.

  • What to do when you "hit the wall"--Beyond "rude awakenings" to effective action--and new success
  • Seeing the realities for what they are--Accurate, objective assessments of your enterprise and your marketplace
  • Breaking through to new growth: three core strategies--Strategies based on productivity, talent management, and M & As
  • Ruthless execution at work--Leadership, strategy, cost control, governance, and more
  • Cisco: Surviving catastrophe and trying to come back stronger--Retaining market dominance through the dot.com/telecom collapse
  • Mass layoffs and other sure-to-fail strategies--What doesn't work--and what to do instead

Using adversity to lay thegroundwork for breakthrough success

  • What to do when growth slows, innovation stalls, and times get tough
  • Coping with rude awakenings: strategic recalibration and tactical excellence
  • New insights from IBM, Cisco, Honeywell, GE, Novartis, Baxter, and beyond
  • By Amir Hartman, author of the global business bestseller Net Ready

What happens when yesterday's growth strategies and business models stop working?

Most companies that "hit the wall" never get past it. But a rare few have discovered the secrets of recharging growth and innovation. Ruthless Execution shows how to apply the lessons they've learned to engineer your own resurgence.

It's about taking stock of where you really stand, choosing the best strategy for renewal, and executing on that strategy with unprecedented clarity and tenacity.

It's about leadership, values, and governance. It's about cost control, productivity, and priorities. Above all, it's about doing what great companies like IBM, Novartis, Baxter and Cisco have already done or are in the midst of doing again: getting beyond adversity to breakthrough success.

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Editorial Reviews

Soundview Executive Book Summaries
What to do When Your Company Hits the Wall
When an organization's growth strategies and business models are no longer working and the business seems to have "hit the wall," business expert Amir Hartman has a plan that can help companies move beyond adversity and prepare for a rebirth of success. To share the lessons of recharging growth and innovation he learned while working with companies like IBM, Novartis and Cisco, Hartman describes the ways leadership, values, governance, cost control, productivity and priorities can make a difference when planning a resurgence.

To help stalled companies choose the best strategy for renewal, and execute that strategy with clarity and tenacity, Hartman presents a plan of action that rebalances performance and growth, promotes accountability, optimizes metrics, and promotes discipline without creating bureaucracy.

Hartman begins his book by defining ruthless execution as the method and strategies that business leaders employ to break through performance walls. The tough times and business reversals that comprise these walls accompany the sad fact that, according to Hartman, "Companies no longer can assume a steadily upward pattern of growth." He explains that 257 public companies, with a total of $258 billion in assets, declared bankruptcy in 2001, which is far more than the 176 companies with $95 billion in assets that declared bankruptcy just one year before.

Recovering From Rude Awakenings
Hartman argues that there are controllable ways to cause reversals of unfortunate downturns. He explains that an inability to focus and execute is usually at the heart of stagnation, and there is a way to keep companies in dire straits from laying off thousands of people and canceling plans for future growth. Ruthless Execution provides instructive guidelines on how organizations can recover from rude awakenings by studying the actions of the business leaders who have pulled themselves through tough times.

Hartman explains that there are specific ways leaders have overcome their struggles with declines in fortune. After three years of research into uncovering these elements of successful turnarounds, he developed his theory of ruthless execution as a framework for guiding business leaders through the reversals that inevitably and frequently occur. By studying companies from a diverse set of industries, company documents, research reports, financial data, and interviewing key business leaders, Hartman developed case studies that advance his ruthless execution theory. He writes that he discovered that in times of uncertainty, "business leaders who have succeeded in breaking through various walls have outperformed their peer groups with respect to relative market share growth and stock price performance."

Hartman writes that engaging in ruthless execution means business leaders have the time and opportunity to investigate issues, and act on them. Business leaders who have broken through walls, he explains, have tended to be very fact-based and analytical in their approach to problem solving. This has required them to be patient when making decisions in tough times.

Strategic Recalibration
To describe the strategies that make up ruthless execution, Hartman has framed them in three distinct categories: leadership, governance, and critical capabilities. He explains that no single strategy will automatically help a leader break through a wall, but leaders can validate the direction and focus a company is going to take. Hartman helps them identify and focus on key places where resources can be realigned so the company can more effectively balance between performance-oriented and growth-oriented efforts. He writes that those who engage in this "strategic recalibration" must rearrange their portfolios of business initiatives and set a course for the direction their companies should take.

Hartman argues that leaders in stalled companies must devise a well defined business philosophy that captures employees and keeps the company on the right course. Devising a guiding business philosophy, like Jack Welch did as CEO of GE, can help a leader offer guidance on what a company is all about at a given moment.

To frame the rules for recalibrating a business, Hartman writes that leaders must operate within the governance framework, with accountability, performance management and discipline as the primary strategic drivers for determining how to make the recalibration process work. Once they have implemented the necessary strategies, he explains that leaders must put in place a number of critical capabilities, including productivity management, talent management, and focused corporate transactions.

Why We Like This Book
Throughout Ruthless Execution, Hartman describes not only the strategies that can help leaders cope with business slumps, but he also provides numerous case studies that show how a company used one or more ruthless execution strategies in a real-world setting. Helpful bulleted points and an easily accessible design make his book a helpful addition to any challenged organization's essential supply of ideas for rising above tough times. Copyright © 2004 Soundview Executive Book Summaries

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780131018846
  • Publisher: FT Press
  • Publication date: 7/10/2003
  • Pages: 223
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Meet the Author

AMIR HARTMAN (Los Gatos, CA) is co-founder and managing director of Mainstay Partners, a Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School, and a leading global authority on the business value of technology. A frequent speaker to forums of senior executives, his books include Net Ready: Strategies for Success in the E-conomy and Search for Digital Excellence.

CRAIG LEGRANDE (Burlingame, CA) is co-founder and managing director of Mainstay Partners, and has served as senior advisor to leading companies in the automotive, retail and high technology industries, helping them identify new market opportunities and develop effective capital investment strategies.

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Read an Excerpt

Preface

Ruthless execution is the method and strategies that businessleaders employ to break through performance walls. My friend and formerpartner, John Sifonis, and I first employed this term in 1996 when wewere doing work for Hewlett-Packard (HP). Subsequently, the phraseappeared prominently in our book Net Ready (McGraw-Hill, 2000) as a wayto sum up the actions key to getting a company "Internet-ready." Duringthe research process for this book, and in searching for a way to"package" my findings, it became clear to me that the same term capturedthe essence of the strategies that business leaders execute to overcometough times.

Few books exist on tough times and how to deal with them. Books onAmerican corporate life have tended to proffer advice on how to steer abusiness to success and glory. For the past two or three decades, as thestock market drove skyward, as the economy went from strength tostrength, as business theorists argued that growth was good, businessleaders craved roadmaps that assured them of the same success thatothers were enjoying.

Authors of business books have focused on the strategies and thekinds of culture a business needs to do well. They have largely skippedover the topic of how to cope with business reversals. As long as theeconomy prospered, no one cared to write about—or read about—the morbidsubject of business reversals.

That has all changed now.

With the advent of a turbulent economy, with the increasingrealization that business resembles a roller coaster more than a rocketship, with more and more companies plummeting from their peaks, a new,painful fact of life in business has become clear: Companies no longercan assume a steadily upward pattern of growth. Invariably, companiesare going to get into trouble from time to time, enough trouble for theups and downs to become a consistent pattern. Accordingly, books onbusiness subjects must deal honestly and realistically with thesereversals and offer some practical ways to overcome these setbacks. Thatis precisely what Ruthless Execution: What Business Leaders Do WhenTheir Companies Hit the Wall does.

To be clear, this book is not about fixing companies in crisis.Crises such as fraud or bankruptcy often require a slash-and-burnapproach and intense media management. This book is about gettingstalled companies performing again. Companies are going to get intotrouble for all sorts of reasons, scandal being just one of them. Theplain truth is that most large corporations—over 90 percent of allpublic companies—suffer rude awakenings from time to time; indeed,setbacks happen to these large enterprises frequently. Large,established companies can become compla-cent; they may become toobureaucratic to innovate; innovative enterprises may favor hyper-growthat the expense of discipline and rigor. When companies find themselvesstagnating, it becomes time for their leaders to engage in ruthlessexecution.

What is meant by ruthless execution? It means the way leaders andtheir teams behave, or in other words, the strategies they must adopt tobreak through the wall.

The strategies of ruthless execution are framed in three distinctcategories that are already part and parcel of every executive's dailylife: leadership, governance, and critical capabilities. Within each ofthese categories, a number of practices will be elaborated on throughoutthe book. There is no suggestion that engaging successfully in any oneof these strategies automatically allows you to break through a wall.The idea is to point out the common ingredients (or practices) thatbusiness leaders who have figured out how to break through the wallshare.

Leadership frames the specific actions that drive strategicformulations, and to a degree, the characteristics that business leadersneed to overcome business reversals. The focus in the leadershipcategory is on strategic formulation.

Governance spells out the rules of the game; it deals with issuessuch as the way decisions get made and the discipline that leadersimpose on their teams.

Critical Capabilities are the specific actions that executives driveto break through the wall. Critical capabilities are veryaction-oriented. They are the critical skills and delivery capabilitieswith which business leaders need to be equipped.

Throughout this book, case studies will be used to illustrate aparticular ruthless execution strategy. The introduction of each casestudy is framed around a moment of time when the subject company hassuffered a reversal. These studies show how the company in question usedone or more of the strategies to cope. You can benefit by employing onestrategy or another in your own efforts to emerge successfully from areversal.

Lastly, in Chapter 12, I introduce a Ruthless Execution Index. Thisindex can serve as "sign posts" for business leaders who want tounderstand where they can improve their Ruthless Execution. I encourageyou to revisit these practices on a regular basis.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Foreword
Pt. I Managing Through Tough Times 1
Ch. 1 Introduction 3
Pt. II Leadership: Dealing with Rude Awakenings 25
Ch. 2 Leadership: Strategic Recalibration and the Business Philosophy 27
Ch. 3 The Competitor: Jack Welch's Burning Platform 53
Ch. 4 The Recalibrator: John Chambers Maneuvers the Cisco Growth Engine Through Stormy Times 71
Pt. III How to Play the Game 93
Ch. 5 Governance: Tough Rules for Tough Times 95
Ch. 6 The Executioner: Lou Gerstner Imposes a New Discipline at IBM 113
Ch. 7 The Importance of Consistency: Harry Kraemer Aligning the New Baxter 131
Pt. IV Breaking Through the Wall 143
Ch. 8 Critical Capabilities: Actions That Make a Difference 145
Ch. 9 The Acquisitive Man: The Steve Kaufman Case 165
Ch. 10 The Merger Man: Dan Vasella Brings Novartis to Great Success 177
Ch. 11 Mr. Productivity: Larry Bossidy Uses Information Technology to Mold a New Honeywell 193
Pt. V What It All Means 203
Ch. 12 Final Thoughts 205
Index 217
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Preface

Preface

Ruthless execution is the method and strategies that business leaders employ to break through performance walls. My friend and former partner, John Sifonis, and I first employed this term in 1996 when we were doing work for Hewlett-Packard (HP). Subsequently, the phrase appeared prominently in our book Net Ready (McGraw-Hill, 2000) as a way to sum up the actions key to getting a company "Internet-ready." During the research process for this book, and in searching for a way to "package" my findings, it became clear to me that the same term captured the essence of the strategies that business leaders execute to overcome tough times.

Few books exist on tough times and how to deal with them. Books on American corporate life have tended to proffer advice on how to steer a business to success and glory. For the past two or three decades, as the stock market drove skyward, as the economy went from strength to strength, as business theorists argued that growth was good, business leaders craved roadmaps that assured them of the same success that others were enjoying.

Authors of business books have focused on the strategies and the kinds of culture a business needs to do well. They have largely skipped over the topic of how to cope with business reversals. As long as the economy prospered, no one cared to write about--or read about--the morbid subject of business reversals.

That has all changed now.

With the advent of a turbulent economy, with the increasing realization that business resembles a roller coaster more than a rocketship, with more and more companies plummeting from their peaks, a new, painful fact of life in businesshas become clear: Companies no longer can assume a steadily upward pattern of growth. Invariably, companies are going to get into trouble from time to time, enough trouble for the ups and downs to become a consistent pattern. Accordingly, books on business subjects must deal honestly and realistically with these reversals and offer some practical ways to overcome these setbacks. That is precisely what Ruthless Execution: What Business Leaders Do When Their Companies Hit the Wall does.

To be clear, this book is not about fixing companies in crisis. Crises such as fraud or bankruptcy often require a slash-and-burn approach and intense media management. This book is about getting stalled companies performing again. Companies are going to get into trouble for all sorts of reasons, scandal being just one of them. The plain truth is that most large corporations--over 90 percent of all public companies--suffer rude awakenings from time to time; indeed, setbacks happen to these large enterprises frequently. Large, established companies can become complacent; they may become too bureaucratic to innovate; innovative enterprises may favor hyper-growth at the expense of discipline and rigor. When companies find themselves stagnating, it becomes time for their leaders to engage in ruthless execution.

What is meant by ruthless execution? It means the way leaders and their teams behave, or in other words, the strategies they must adopt to break through the wall.

The strategies of ruthless execution are framed in three distinct categories that are already part and parcel of every executive's daily life: leadership, governance, and critical capabilities. Within each of these categories, a number of practices will be elaborated on throughout the book. There is no suggestion that engaging successfully in any one of these strategies automatically allows you to break through a wall. The idea is to point out the common ingredients (or practices) that business leaders who have figured out how to break through the wall share.

Leadership frames the specific actions that drive strategic formulations, and to a degree, the characteristics that business leaders need to overcome business reversals. The focus in the leadership category is on strategic formulation.

Governance spells out the rules of the game; it deals with issues such as the way decisions get made and the discipline that leaders impose on their teams.

Critical Capabilities are the specific actions that executives drive to break through the wall. Critical capabilities are very action-oriented. They are the critical skills and delivery capabilities with which business leaders need to be equipped.

Throughout this book, case studies will be used to illustrate a particular ruthless execution strategy. The introduction of each case study is framed around a moment of time when the subject company has suffered a reversal. These studies show how the company in question used one or more of the strategies to cope. You can benefit by employing one strategy or another in your own efforts to emerge successfully from a reversal.

Lastly, in Chapter 12, I introduce a Ruthless Execution Index. This index can serve as "sign posts" for business leaders who want to understand where they can improve their Ruthless Execution. I encourage you to revisit these practices on a regular basis.

Read More Show Less

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