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Archive for May, 2010

On May 18th, 2010 my BUSN 72 students met an executive leadership panel. The panel consisted of  Tom Adamski (CEO & President at LEVEL Studios), Margaret Schmidt (VP User Experience at TiVo), and Chris Benioff (Assistant VP at Comerica Bank). One often expects to hear leaders talk about the passion they have for their work. After all, they work harder than the average employee and frequently have to make personal sacrifices to do what is best for the company.

But what is the essence of a leader? Would s/he lead regardless of what career path s/he chose?

What surprised some students was to learn that rarely does a leader stick with his or her chosen profession after college. By trade, none of the leaders that visited my class are in the same field as when s/he graduated. In fact, taking twists and turns through their careers seems to be the norm.

So what sets them apart? Leadership is more about mindset and a framework for approaching problems than it is about always knowing the right answer.

Tom mentioned that he loves design work, and his background is in design; however, he isn’t doing design work as CEO. Interestingly, he also mentioned that he finds ways to translate his love of design into creative approaches for how he runs his successful business. Margaret tried many different jobs before becoming the VP of User Expeirece at TiVo and she she never stuck with something that wasn’t professionally satisfying. As her career progressed, she learned that  user experience design work was what she really loved. It was at this point that her career progressed into what it is today. Chris knew he wasn’t satisfied with a career in engineering after college, even though he knew he was good at it. Chris knew he needed to make a change into banking, so he went back to school to obtain the skills necessary for a career change. By being introspective about what he truly enjoyed doing and not fearing change, Chris has found the right career.

What is the common formula among these executives?

They have an uncompromising attitude when it comes to pursuing the right career. The bottom line is that they are passionate about it. When they found the work they loved, they threw themselves into it. Leadership has a lot to do with working in a field you’re passionate about and being decisive, which is exactly what BUSN 72 proposes to teach.

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PieIs the competition making you feel a bit crowded? Are too many competitors providing a similar offering, but for a lower price? Is your quarterly forecast based on the hope that your competitors will soon misstep?

If so, it is time to shift your focus from improving your execution and time to look at your market position. Instead of fighting for a bigger slice of the existing pie, it is time to find a new position – one that doesn’t force your product and marketing teams to decide between a differentiated market position or a low cost leadership position.

What if you could provide value and cost leadership to your customers?

Southwest Airlines does it every day. They are a low cost provider, and yet they boast some of the highest customer satisfaction ratings in the airline industry. They were able to create uncontested market space and exploit it. The competition has been trying to take a bite out of their pie for decades.

What about a more recent example, you might ask?

You don’t have to look hard for examples, such as Microsoft’s recent announcement of the upcoming release of Office 2010. The main focus of this new software release is to help Microsoft Office maintain relevance in the face of low cost online alternatives, such as the one from Google. As most disruptive innovations start out, Google Docs made its appearance without a clear market position back in 2006. Questions like “Can I trust Google with my documents?” abounded. Now fast-forward to 2010, where large and small corporations are switching over to Google Docs, because Google has earned trust and relevance in the marketplace. Whether Google will be able to sustain a long-term advantage over Microsoft is hard to see at this point. If one thing is true, it is that Microsoft throws everything they have at the competition when it sees a threat.

The point is that both Google and Southwest didn’t do anything particularly brilliant. They simply took advantage of new market positions that their competitors were unable or slow to address. By doing this, they were better off than taking the competition head on, while gaining a first mover advantage. Most importantly, sharing the same pie can mean you end up with a very small portion. These examples illustrate that sometimes you have to go back and bake a whole new pie – one that people are willing to line up to eat.

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