Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Judith Rodin’s Required Reading

by Theodore Kinni
strategy+business, April 27, 2016
 In August 2005, a few months after Judith Rodin was named the first female president of the Rockefeller Foundation, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the U.S. Gulf Coast. In the days, months, and years that followed, the critical importance of resilience — the ability to prepare for systemic disruptions, survive them, and transform them into opportunities for growth — became evident.
Since then, Rodin, an academic by training and a nonprofit leader by profession, has adopted the concept of resilience as a core focus of the Rockefeller Foundation. She is deploying the philanthropic organization’s US$4.2 billion in assets to promote and develop the resilience of cities, organizations, and communities. A prolific writer with 15 books to her credit, Rodin also wrote a book on the topic to help spread the word, The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong in a World Where Things Go Wrong (PublicAffairs, 2014).
Prior to joining the Rockefeller Foundation, Rodin was president of the University of Pennsylvania. The first woman to head an Ivy League school, she led the university for a decade — a period in which research funding doubled and the endowment tripled. Before that, Rodin served as provost and a named professor at Yale, where she conducted pioneering research in behavioral medicine and health psychology.
Since disruption is an issue that applies to business as much as society at large, I asked Rodin to share the books that have most influenced her thinking on the subject, ones that she thinks business leaders should read to understand and nurture the resilience of their organizations. She responded with the following three titles.
The Resilient Enterprise: Overcoming Vulnerability for Competitive Advantage, by Yossi Sheffi (MIT Press, 2005). Professor Sheffi highlights the fact that the businesses that do best after an unforeseeable disaster are the ones that make the right decisions before a crisis ever strikes. He explores how companies can build, and bolster, their resilience by making their supply chains more flexible, baking critical redundancies into their organizational design and collaborating more closely with partners who can help reinforce their safety, come what may. The book includes instructive stories from organizations as diverse as Southwest Airlines, Zara, Johnson & Johnson, and the U.S. Navy.”
Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, by Sheri Fink (Crown, 2013). “I’m a huge fan of Fink’s stark and comprehensive story of how things came apart at one hospital in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The Rockefeller Foundation was invited into New Orleans after the storm to help the city rebuild in a unified way, and while I saw the aftermath firsthand, this prize-winning journalistic account of the real-time decision making needed under such dire circumstances within a single institution is both harrowing and humbling. The book is incredibly well-researched, revealing the tangle of issues — race, class, geography, and an inescapable history — that contributed to the horror in New Orleans. Fink artfully illustrates just how ill-prepared New Orleans’s Memorial Medical Center — and, by extension, the city’s entire civic machinery — was for a crisis of this magnitude. The most important lesson for leaders in a world where crisis is the new normal: Despite the crisis plans Memorial had in place, management’s lack of situational awareness crippled its response.”
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, by Rebecca Solnit (Viking, 2009). “This book provides a vivid and inspiring portrait of several communities brought together by the crucible of disaster: San Francisco after the earthquake and fires of 1906; the 1917 maritime disaster in Halifax, Nova Scotia; Mexico City after its 1985 earthquake; and the more recent crises of 9/11 and Katrina. Solnit’s wonderful, paradigm-shifting observation is that, somehow, crisis brought out the best in these communities, individually and collectively. She describes the emotion brought on by tragedy as ‘graver than happiness but deeply positive,’ lending confirmation to the oft-referenced idea that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. This wide-ranging investigation of human nature and how we manage to rise to the most unthinkable occasions offers incredible insight into the ways in which people and communities — and, one imagines, corporations, too — can build back stronger than ever.”

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

How to Become a Talent Magnet

by Theodore Kinni
strategy+business, April 13, 2016
A decade or so ago, Sydney Finkelstein discovered an interesting fact about Alice Waters, the legendary chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., who played a pivotal role in launching the farm-to-table movement. “Industry insiders will tell you that Waters is also known for something else: spawning the country’s best culinary talent,” explains Finkelstein, Steven Roth Professor of Management at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth University. A host of James Beard Award winners — including the late Judy Rodgers of Zuni Café, California cuisine originator Jeremiah Tower, and chef and consultant Joyce Goldstein — worked for Waters early in their careers.
Intrigued at the outsized effect Waters has had on the top talent in her industry, Finkelstein wondered if there were leaders who had played a similar role in other sectors. He found them in fashion (Ralph Lauren), finance (hedge fund magnate Julian Robertson), professional football (San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh), media (Philadelphia Inquirer editor Gene Roberts), politics (Hillary Clinton), and technology (Oracle founder Larry Ellison), to name a handful. And he’s written an intriguing and insightful book about them, Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent (Portfolio Penguin, 2016). 
Even though superbosses can have wildly varying leadership styles, they conform to a recognizable pattern in their approach to people management, writes Finkelstein: They “identify, motivate, coach, and leverage others [in ways that] are remarkably consistent, highly unconventional, and unmistakably powerful.”
The first thing they do is hire the right people. Finkelstein writes that superbosses go above and beyond the best hiring practices to find people who “get it.” They look for exceptionally smart, creative, and flexible people. They find them by taking an active hand in hiring — grabbing good people when the opportunity presents itself, spending time with candidates, conducting unusual interviews, and taking chances on promising people with unorthodox backgrounds. The first chef Alice Waters hired for Chez Panisse was a graduate student in philosophy with no culinary experience; Bill Walsh hired a high school coach for his NFL staff. Sure, superbosses take some hiring risks, but when such a risk doesn’t pay off, Finkelstein tells us, they are quick to fire.
Next, those people who get it are put to work. Superbosses expect perfection — and when they get it from someone, they pile on more challenges. Anneke Seley started working for Larry Ellison as receptionist and went on to manage customer relations and launch Oracle’s inside sales department. Though superbosses give employees lots of responsibility, they also make sure their people have a clear, compelling vision to guide them, and they provide plenty of frank feedback. Superbosses are unusually accessible, often working side by side with employees as a master would with an apprentice — Ellison himself taught Seley the SQL programming language. And they build teams of talented people — cult-like cohorts of high performers who support each other and drive results.
The superboss approach is powerful because it creates a virtuous spiral. If you’re a superboss, you hire the best people and empower them to do their best work. Some percentage of these people flourish under your tutelage and become successes in their own right. You gain a reputation for launching great careers, and the best and the brightest want to work for you. You become a talent magnet. Given the careers that superboss Lorne Michaels of Saturday Night Live has had a hand in launching — from Eddie Murphy to Tina Fey — is it any surprise that he has his pick of comedic talent?
Another result of the superboss approach, to which Finkelstein devotes a chapter, is the network effect that is created by following the superboss playbook over the long term. If you are a superboss, many of the talented people you develop and nurture are going to move on. They are going to start their own businesses; they are going to be offered great jobs in other companies. If you maintain close, supportive relationships with these people after they leave, they become valued members of your professional network. They become suppliers and customers. They refer new talent to you. They also provide you with investment opportunities. Witness how, after closing Tiger Management, Julian Robertson provided the seed money that enabled some of his most talented managers to start their own hedge funds; in 2015, reports Finkelstein, Robertson’s so-called Tiger seeds were managing US$32 billion in assets. Being a superboss pays dividends long after your protégés outgrow you.
Now, any endorsement of Superbosses — and I certainly endorse it for its enthusiastic advocacy of a hands-on approach to talent by top leaders — should include a couple of provisos. First, we need to recognize that Finkelstein’s contention that superbosses outperform other bosses is supported by anecdotal evidence only. Second, there’s no telling how much of the success that the leaders featured in the book have enjoyed is attributable to their distinct approach to talent. Third, we need to acknowledge that being a superboss is not all there is to being a boss. Almost a half-century ago, Peter Drucker wrote that leaders had three principal tasks: to achieve the purpose and mission of the organization; to make work and workers productive; and to manage the organization’s social impacts and responsibilities. A winning way with talent is not all it takes to successfully undertake these tasks.
These reservations aside, there is no question that this is an era when talent is increasingly essential to the success of organizations. That alone makesSuperbosses a useful and profitable addition to your leadership library.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Tech Savvy: Steve Case on Surfing the Internet’s Next Big Wave

by Theodore Kinni
How to beat the Ubers of tomorrow: The book that every tech titan eventually gets around to penning has been a long time coming from Steve Case. “I am writing this book today,” explains the co-founder of AOL (through which half of the traffic on the Internet once flowed) and the co-architect of its jaw-dropping merger with Time Warner (condolences, Ted Turner), “because we are living at a pivotal point in history, and I want to offer whatever perspective I can to ensure a bright future.”
The perspective that Case offers in The Third Wave (with a bow to futurist Alvin Toffler) will be particularly interesting to the leaders of large companies that are well-established in their industries. He contends that we are entering a new phase of Internet growth. The first wave was focused on creating the infrastructure of the online world; it was dominated by companies like AOL, Cisco, and Microsoft. The second wave was driven by software as a service; it was — and still is — dominated by companies like Google, Uber, and Facebook. The third wave, says Case, will be “an era when the term ‘Internet-enabled’ will start to sound as ludicrous as the term ‘electricity-enabled.’” In this phase, the Internet of Things will become the Internet of Everything.
As the Internet permeates every product and service and spreads through every industry, it will create rich opportunities for established companies, says Case. That’s because there are high barriers to entry in many industries, and creating new platforms within them will require cross-sector partnerships as well as new governmental policies and regulations. An app created in a dorm room isn’t going to be enough to commercialize self-driving cars, for instance. That’s going to take a large-scale, concerted effort — the kind of effort that requires the resources and influence of large, established companies.
That’s the setting for The Third Wave. If you’d like to read more, Case describes what companies will have to do to successfully ride the next, big wave in the excerpt below, reprinted with permission of the publisher... read the rest here