Gutsy Leader or Just Another MBA?

Courtesy: Thunderbird School of Global Management
Courtesy: Thunderbird School of Global Management

This week’s Global Issues Forum series served up quite an amazing serving of Robert Herbold. Mr. Herbold, now heading his own consulting business, was formerly the COO at Microsoft & prior to that spent 26 years at P&G, rising to the rank of senior VP. If Tbirds needed to learn from a strong leader, we needn’t look much further.

Mr. Herbold gave us an interesting style of learning by throwing up on screen 4 companies with 4 varying challenges: RIM (aka the Blackberry bosses), HJ Heinz (who doesn’t love ketchup?), Apple (anyone heard of them?) and the video giants Blockbuster (with a niggling problem called Netflix).

With the 4 companies came 4 key learnings:

In the example of RIM’s failure to capitalize on their core strengths, getting drowned in the cell phone market and being led by dual CEOs for ages, Mr. Herbold stressed on the need for a ‘Change in Culture’. The question good leaders and companies need to be asking is whether their world has changed & what can be done to face reality, regenerate and develop a well thought out solution.

Looking at HJ Heinz had Mr. Herbold relating the acquisition of HJ Heinz by Warren Buffet & 3G, which led to the installation of new CEO Bernardo Hees in June 2013. It also led to the infamous firing of 11 top executives when they sat down with the CEO but couldn’t verbalize what they had done for the company, its sales and generate suggestions for improvement. The takeaway here was ‘Staffing for Success’, with a shock to the system sometimes necessary in order for progress to occur and a constant push for success to be sustained.

Next up was crowd favourite Apple. With the company close to bankruptcy in 1997 and Steve Jobs needing to borrow money from Microsoft, Jobs was quietly brewing for success in the company. Unbeknownst, even within Apple, Jobs had assembled a small team of  top performers with stellar track records – but making sure to limit their ideas. This skill of being ‘Beware of Consensus Decision Making’, led to one of the biggest successes in Apple’s history – the iPod.

Rounding off the list was erstwhile video behemoth, Blockbuster, that had a strong business of video rentals. Along came an upstart called Netflix, with it’s own DVD mailing service and looking to be bought out for a mere $50 million in 2000. At that crucial juncture, Blockbuster was unable to realize that they were ‘Missing an Inflection Point’ and failed to jump ahead. Fast forward a decade and Blockbuster had filed for bankruptcy, with Netflix laughing all the way to the bank with its solid video streaming service.

Mr. Herbold definitely had the crowd in his grasp and handled questions and thoughts from the audience with aplomb. All in all, a session that provided much food for thought.

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