The implications, opportunities and challenges of increased longevity are beginning to dawn on many companies, as our Silver Economy series is revealing. But here is one that I don’t believe chief executives have yet focused on: the increased risk that your predecessor, and possibly his predecessor’s predecessor, will still be around to snipe at your strategy.
PwC/Booz's new 'amper-brand'…
Cesare Mainardi, chief executive of Booz & Company, has a ready explanation for the consultancy’s rebranding as “Strategy&”, now Booz’s takeover by PwC is complete:
It invites a discussion about what we’re about and what we’re thinking and how we can help our clients transform.
True enough. Unfortunately, the initial discussion of the new “amper-brand” – pronounced “strategy and” – is likely to start with “What were they thinking?”. People still remember PwC’s ill-fated attempt to rename its consulting arm as “Monday” in 2002, a misstep that had plenty of critics humming the Boomtown Rats’ hit “I don’t like Mondays”. (Luckily for the professional services firm, roughly by Tuesday, IBM had bought the consulting business and PwC never had to live with the consequences.)
Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca’s new chief executive, has just laid out a new strategy to “focus, accelerate and transform” the pharmaceutical company. Mark Thompson, newly arrived at the helm of The New York Times Company, has promised to “concentrate [the group’s] strategic focus” on the core business, putting The Boston Globe up for sale and rebranding the venerable International Herald Tribune.
As elusive as Bigfoot, as addictive as a Big Mac, as sinister as Big Brother: the lure of “big data” is perfect bait for fee-hungry experts hunting new business. It also poses untold risks to companies that fail to read the trend, or the data, correctly.
The euphoria at Nasa over the successful landing of Curiosity on Mars is infectious. The public seems to have joined the scientists’ celebrations with a fervour similar to that shown by the British for their Olympic team’s successes. As one wag posted on Twitter: “Gold medal for Nasa in the 563 billion metres.”
Be careful, though, in extrapolating from either the Mars mission or the Olympic triumphs the easy conclusion that “aiming high” gets results. As I’ve written, the achievement of even quite small steps can have measurably positive effects on a team’s performance and morale. Similarly, missing the big goal might prove a crushing blow – I watch some of those heart-rending interviews with athletes that fell short of their and their countries’ expectations at the Olympics and wonder how they will start to recover.
Companies are woeful at strategy. How can they get better? And who should be helping them do so?
These are important questions, which Kim Warren, who has taught strategy at London Business School for 20 years, addresses in a pungent new e-book The Trouble with Strategy, published by his strategy training company. It contains a strong call to arms to the big management consultants which, he says, “have been strangely absent from the discussion of what needs to be done”. Why is that?
My favourite bon mot from Richard Rumelt, the UCLA strategy expert whose interview fuelled my column this week, was his comment that in any boardroom discussion of strategic options, acquisitions should be “guilty until proven innocent”.
Prof Rumelt’s new book Good Strategy/Bad Strategy makes clear he is no fan of M&A. “The problem with engineering growth by acquisition,” he writes, “is that when you buy a company, especially a public company, you usually pay too much.”