The Profit Zone: How Strategic Business Design Will Lead You to Tomorrow's Profitsby Adrian J. Slywotzky, Bob Andelman, David J. Morrison
Why do some companies create sustained, superior profits year after year? Why are they always far ahead of their competitors in discovering the ever-changing profit zones of their industry? Why do others languish as their traditional way of doing business
The book that answers the most fundamental question in business: Where Will I Make a Profit Tomorrow?
Why do some companies create sustained, superior profits year after year? Why are they always far ahead of their competitors in discovering the ever-changing profit zones of their industry? Why do others languish as their traditional way of doing business turns into a no-profit zone? The Profit Zone provides the answers. It is a brilliant, original, and practical explanation of how and why high profit happens.
-- Steven Silkunas, SEPTA, Philadelphia
“The Profit Zone is so insightful that most managers will pray that their competitors never read it.”—Richard D’Aveni, Amos Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College, and author of Hypercompetition
“The Profit Zone could safely come with a guarantee that it would increase a company’s profit if management read it and acted on it.” —Philip Kotler, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University
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Read an Excerpt
Market share is Dead
The number one problem in business today is profitability. Where will you be allowed to make a profit in your industry? Where is the profit zone today? Where will it be tomorrow?
The profit zone is the area of your economic neighborhood where you are allowed to earn a profit. To reach and operate in the profit zone is the goal of every company.
You've been told how to get there. "Get high market share and the profit will follow." "Get high growth and your profits will expand." As a manager, you were schooled in how the pursuit of market share and growth automatically places you on a direct route to business success.
However, these formerly direct roads have become mazes riddled with traps, wrong turns, and dead ends. Many large companies, after taking the turn toward market share and volume growth, have only hit a profitless wall.
* * *
Market share was the grand old metric, the guiding light, the compass of the product-centric age. Companies focused on improving their product and building economies of scale. This product-centric thinking led to the battle cry: "Get more market share and the profit will follow."
In the past decade, some disturbing examples began to subvert the widespread faith in market share as the ultimate goal and guarantor of business success. Consider the experience of IBM, DEC, GM, Ford, United Airlines, US Steel, Kodak, Sears, and Kmart. All achieved leading market share positions: number one or number two in their industries. Yet all these market share leaders saw their profitability begin to erode during the 1980s. Their dominantshare positions did not protect them. As profitability began to be detached from market share, shareholders began to suffer. Despite their strong market position, these market share leaders significantly underperformed the S&P 500 from 1985 to 1995.
Several of these companies have recently initiated radical changes in their business design. Their new focus on profit, not just market share, has led to dramatic rebounds in value. As a result, many other traditional market share leaders have been encouraged to reconsider the assumptions on which their business design is built.
As you think about your own business, ask yourself: Am I managing for market share, or for profit? Is the market share I own profitable and alive, or is it profitless and dead?
There are countless businesses with high market share but low profitability and low shareholder value. The Japanese have a lock on the memory chip market. USAir once dominated air travel in the eastern United States. Philips is a leader in consumer electronics. None of these companies has experienced significant value growth.
Nor are these isolated cases. The list goes on:
* A&P had a high share of grocery sales.
* Intel had a high share of memory chips.
* WordPerfect had a high share of word processor software.
* DEC had a high share of minicomputers.
* Kmart had a high share of the urban discount business.
Each company was a market share triumph and a profitability disaster. In a broad cross-section of high market share situations, the right economic response has been: "So what?"
Many companies simply hoped that profitability would return. Some managers inside the companies suspected that it would not, but were hesitant to bring that suspicion to the surface and open up a debate. How could they possibly argue against a high market share position?
Other managers, in their private, honest moments, knew that the profit would never come back but were hesitant to confront the issue openly, fearing that the organization's morale would plummet.
Intel was an exception. It was the one company on the above list that confronted the issue head-on. It had high market share in memory chips in 1985, but Intel's managers recognized that its market share was dead, valueless, and profitless. The 1980s game was over; it was time to build the company's next business design.
Companies like Intel force us to think harder about-or to completely rethink-market share as a predictor of profitability.
Am I Managing for Volume Growth or Value Growth?
"Be in high-growth markets." In the old economic order, in the age of market share, volume growth was a guarantor of success. Growth was what we were taught to pursue. It created higher profits for all, including market share laggards, companies with poor business designs, and companies that were poorly managed. A rising tide raised all boats. One manager articulated the classic view: "There are no management problems that volume growth can't solve. Even if we manage poorly, rising revenue helps cover the mistakes we made."
This maxim, too, has been shaken. Industry growth and a company's value (stock price) growth no longer have a one-to-one correlation. Fast-growing industries such as PC manufacturing, consumer electronics, telecommunications, and software have each produced scores of terminally unprofitable companies. By contrast, no-growth or low-growth industries have produced some of the most successful companies in the world. Coca-Cola achieved significant value growth in the low-growth beverage industry, as did General Electric (GE) in a collection of low-growth manufacturing industries, and Swatch in the low-growth watchmaking industry.
The two most valuable ideas in the old economic order, market share and growth, have become the two most dangerous ideas in the new order. To apply these ideas appropriately (and safely), you must understand the rise of no-profit zones in the economy.
Companies used to be able to command a premium price by simply showing up. There were relatively few players in any competitive arena, and customers held little power. Over the past two decades, however, advances in industrial technology, innovation in business design, increases in global competition, and tremendous improvements in information technology have altered the game. In the face of intense competition, companies in many industries have leveraged efficiency gains and competed for market share by lowering price.
Simultaneously, information has become more accessible to customers, allowing them to conveniently shop for the best deals and the best prices. This forces all contenders to match price reductions or lose customers to a lower-priced competitor. It creates no-profit zones. In the old world, the rule was: Every industry makes money, and the market share leaders make the most money. There have always been one or two exceptions, such as agriculture or passenger rail travel, but they were few and far between.
In the past decade, the rule was broken. Today, no-profit zones are everywhere, and they are growing. The map of the economy is covered with more and larger patches of unprofitability. No-profit zones come in various forms. They can be a part of the value chain (e.g., distribution in computing); they can be a customer segment (e.g., the Medicaid segment in healthcare, or the grocery segment in carbonated beverages); they can be an entire industry (e.g., environmental remediation); they can be individual customers (e.g., Wal-Mart or other large, powerful buyers); or they can be entire business models (e.g., hub-and-spoke airlines, or integrated steel mills).
No-profit zones are the black holes of the business universe. In a physical black hole, light waves go in, but never come back out. In an economic black hole, investment dollars go in, but the profit dollars never come back out.
Paradoxically, the devout pursuit of market share may be the single greatest creator of no-profit zones in the economy.
Imagine an industry with ten competitors. By definition, their market shares add up to 100 percent. Read their strategic plans. They all plan to increase market share. Not by a little, but by a lot.
Add up the 5-year market share objectives, and you get a number that adds up to 150 to 170 percent of market share.
This, of course, cannot happen. It doesn't make sense; but even as you read this, it is going on around you-perhaps in your own industry or in your own company.
The vigorous pursuit of market share and the rise in customer power have driven profit from many activities and products, and even from entire industries. More and more no-profit zones have been created. Still, many companies continue to pursue a market share and volume growth strategy, trying to get a bigger piece of a pie that is losing all of its value.
A senior manager at an equipment manufacturer captured perfectly the spirit of market share myopia that dominated the thought processes, and the business press, in the age of market share:
We are all focused on market share, on units, units, units. Units sold vs. competitors'. Units sold this quarter vs. same quarter last year. We focus on every single point, or fraction of a point, of market share gained, or lost.
And it's not just our management team. It's our competitors' management teams. And it's the periodicals that follow our industry. The market share tables come out and we all follow them as closely as NBA standings.
All too often, the vigorous pursuit of market share is done at the expense of business design innovation. However, market share leadership in a no-profit zone, or high market share with the wrong business design, is more of a curse than a blessing.
Growth, with the Wrong Business Design, Destroys Value Faster
It is easy to understand the trap of market share and growth in a no-profit zone. It is more difficult to understand how growth in a thriving industry can be dangerous. Growth is important, but how growth is achieved is much more important.
There are three curses of growth. First, high growth with a bad business design destroys value faster. Witness the value destruction occurring in so many high-tech, high-growth industries today. Growth is attractive, but growth carries high risk, especially when the business design is wrong.
Second, besides being riskier, high growth is much harder to manage. The euphoria of being in a high-growth environment blocks out the reality that growth creates a much higher management challenge.
An aerospace industry executive explained:
Managing in a downturn is hard, but managing high growth intelligently is much harder. You're tempted to overbuild capacity, add infrastructure, headcount, lots of fixed cost. Then when the growth waters recede, you're stuck in a no-profit zone with lots of resources and lots of red ink. It's a great way to destroy shareholder value. Businesses do it all the time.
The third curse of growth arises when a business grows by stretching its business design to serve customers that the business design was not intended to serve. To make up for the mismatch, the company is forced to lower prices or expand its scope into areas where it is not operationally efficient. Both of these actions depress profitability. Once again, the end result is a no-profit zone.
No-profit zones are emerging every day. Activities that were once valuable turn profitless. Value migrates toward activities that are more important to customers-activities where profit is possible.
Yesterday's profit zones are becoming, with increasing frequency, today's no-profit zones.
In the past decade, several business leaders have emerged who have figured out, or intuitively understood, how the rules of the game have changed. Their record of value growth is all the more remarkable when compared to the growth prospects of their industries and the lagging value performance of the market share leaders.
These reinventors think differently; they see things differently; they act differently. They start with the customer and work their way back. They start with the profit question ("Where will I be allowed to make a profit?") and work their way back. They are constantly focused on how the profit zone is shifting. Where is it today? Where will it be tomorrow?
A decade ahead of their peers, the reinventors saw the move from the old product-centric, market share world to the new customer-centric and profit-centric environment. They were not alone; the investment community also understood that the sands were shifting. It downgraded the "old order" market share stocks and reallocated its investment dollars to the "new order" reinventor companies. The old order companies concentrated on market share and yesterday's profit zone. The new order companies reinvented their business design every five years to stay relevant to customers and to move into new profit zones. Several hundred billions of dollars of value shifted from companies that had dominated yesterday's profit zone to those that were finding or creating the profit zones of tomorrow.
Long Live Market Share
Ironically, the reinventors all created high market share for their companies, but their way of thinking about market share was diametrically opposed to the logic of the conventional approach.
The sequence of the conventional approach was:
1. Gain market share.
2. Profitability will follow.
The reinventors' logic was:
1. What's most important to the customer?
2. Where can we make a profit?
3. How can we gain market share in that space?
This difference in sequence reflects two very different ways of thinking. The conventional approach was market share-centric. The reinventors' approach is customer-centric and profit-centric.
Reading about how the reinventors created a record of sustained value growth can help you to learn a different way of thinking. You will gain an expanded repertoire of strategic and tactical moves that you can use to create the next profit zone in your industry. The reinventors' experience can help you to understand:
* What specific business design moves can manufacturers with disappearing margins adapt from GE's business design in order to reestablish a path of profit growth?
* What principles of business design did Nicholas Hayek apply to build a 20 percent profit growth business for Swatch in what appeared to be a terminal no-profit zone?
* What are the three changes in its business design that allowed Coca-Cola to grow its value from $10 billion to $150 billion?
* What two specific profit models did Disney use to grow the company's profit from $100 million to $3 billion in less than a decade?
* How did Intel repeatedly change its business design to grow its value from $3 billion to $100 billion in the past 20 years?
Part Two of this book answers these questions and provides insight into how these and other reinventors systematically built customer-centric and profit-centric business designs to create value for shareholders. Each example highlights the strategic and organizational challenges that each leader faced and the innovative moves that were made in response. Like many innovators in other arenas, the reinventors have been able to see things that others couldn't (or wouldn't) see. You can learn to see those things by studying their success.
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
ADRIAN J. SLYWOTZKY is the author of Value Migration and the coauthor of The Profit Zone and Profit Patterns. Mr. Slywotzky is a graduate of Harvard College and has an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is vice president of Mercer Management Consulting and was recently selected by Industry Week as one of the six most influential people in management.
DAVID J. MORRISON is the coauthor of The Profit Zone and Profit Patterns. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he also holds an engineering degree from Princeton and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. Mr. Morrison is vice chairman of Mercer Management Consulting and head of MercerDigital, the firm's e-commerce practice.
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