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The Strategist: Be the Leader Your Business Needs Hardcover – May 8, 2012
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Based on an acclaimed professor's legendary strategy course at Harvard Business School, The Strategist offers a radically new perspective on a leader's most vital role.
"Are you a strategist?" That's the first question Cynthia Montgomery asks the business owners and senior executives from all over the world who participate in her highly regarded executive education course. It's not a question they anticipate or care much about on opening day. But by the time the program ends, they cannot imagine leading their companies to success without beingand living the role ofa strategist.
Over a series of weeks and months, Montgomery puts these accomplished executives through their paces. Using case discussions, after-hours talks, and participants' own strategy dilemmas, she illuminates what strategy is, why it's important, and what it takes to lead the effort. En route, she equips them to confront the most essential question facing every business leader: Does this company truly matter? In doing so, she shows that strategy is not just a tool for outwitting the competition; it is the most powerful means a leader has for shaping a company itself.
The Strategist exposes all business leaders whether they run a global enterprise or a small businessto the invaluable insights Montgomery shares with these privileged executives. By distilling the experiences and insights gleaned in the classroom, Montgomery helps leaders develop the skills and sensibilities they need to become strategists themselves. It is a difficult role, but little else one does as a leader is likely to matter more.
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Professor Cynthia Montgomery teaches strategy on a course titled the Entrepreneur, Owner, President (EOP) program. If you are a successful entrepreneur, owner or chief executive this book will allow you to participate in that programme from the comfort of your favourite reading chair and derive much of the benefit. What is missing is only the opportunity to interact with other successful executives.
The book aims to simulate the personal development aspect of this Harvard experience.
Montgomery’s approach presumes that you know what strategy is and have participated in and possibly even led the company’s strategy initiatives.
Her starting point is that strategy has devolved into a mechanical activity. Overtime it has becoming a ritual that focuses on formulation rather than implementation. The focus is on getting the analysis right and recording the plan. The plan is then submitted the board, and the process is complete.
The role of the Chief Executive as the leader of the strategy has faded. Divisional heads are charged with the execution and the Chief Executive gets back to the multitude of other burning issues.
While there is definitely value in engaging a professional strategy facilitator to manage the process, it is the Chief Executive how must own the strategy. It is he, or she, who must approve or disapprove the strategy. Failing to take personal ownership of the strategy is an abrogation of the duty expected of a Chief Executive.
The signoff of the strategy document is cannot be the end. Strategy never unfolds successfully without the will and commitment of the Chief Executive. The process requires constant guidance in the unfolding, and firm decision-making at critical points along the way.
What is wrong with the strategy process is the disconnection between the role of the Chief Executive and the person in the position of the Chief Executive. Strategy needs to be something deeper and more meaningful to you, the Chief Executive, she believes.
What makes this book unusually valuable is the focus on the person and personality of the Chief Executive in the strategy process. This is not a “nice to have” soft issue, it has material and financial consequences on the business that are generally overlooked.
In the first exercise described in the book, EOP participants consider an investment decision.
A highly successful, second generation hardware manufacturer Masco is sitting on a huge amount of cash. They consider investing heavily into the furniture industry where returns are typically low and the industry is relatively unsophisticated. Masco has a superb management capability that has led to great financial success. In their industry, they have taken unsophisticated products and turned them into valuable brands.
The investment Masco will need to make is in the order of $2b. What would you do?
After much consideration the majority view of the participants, (a view repeated in every EOP programme,) is to invest in the furniture industry. EOP participants are smart, bold, and courageous people, confident of their ability to deal with tough problems successfully.
Montgomery then reveals Masco’s decision. They decided to invest in the dull furniture business confident in their ability to turn it around.
However, the result of the decision was the destruction of shareholder wealth with their furniture businesses eventually sold for a mere $650m. There was significant damage to the reputations of Masco’s leadership and a loss of confidence in their ability.
What went wrong? The confidence every good strategist needs can so easily mutate into overconfidence.
Warren Buffet puts it succinctly: “When a management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact.”
Further into the book, Montgomery ask the question, “Does your company matter?” What would happen if you closed today? Would your customers suffer any real loss? How long would it take them, and how difficult would it really be, for them to find another company that could meet those needs as well as you did?
Then she presents an example of a company in the furniture industry that does matter, that would be missed if it disappeared, IKEA. This low priced, high value furniture retailer has added, and continues to add meaningfully to the lives of millions of middle class families. It affords an unrivalled style at prices they can afford that is unparalleled by any other supplier. They would be missed if they closed, they matter.
Are you the leader your company needs? “My goal in this book,” writes Montgomery, “is to help you develop the skills and sensibilities this role (of chief executive) demands, and to encourage you to answer the question for yourself.”
This is what a Harvard Professor can teach experienced and successful business leaders - to ask these hard questions.
Readability Light --+-- Serious
Insights High -+--- Low
Practical High -+--- Low
Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy
Her book will help inspire professionals, business leaders to sharpen his/her ideas to develop his own strategies for their companies. For leaders trying to find their way out of a complex situation, it will bring a lot of value and clarity of thought.
The key meaning and value of being a strategist are significant. Without an effective strategist to fare robustly the formulation and implementation of strategic directions, the business could lose its key differentiation in which its diminishing impact on customers and markets as against other direct rivals further weaken its competitiveness.
According to Professor Montgomery, a strategist have to possess certain unique criteria. He or she has to understand the industry as well as his or her company. The bold belief widely-adopted by aggressive business leaders that they can utilize best management practices to add value for an acquired company when headwinds are more than tailwinds in the industry might result to unexpected financial fiascos. Moreover, an effective strategist has to identify a purpose for his/her business to answer different thorny but realistic questions such as why it matters to customers in the marketplace. Without a detailed plan to mobilize resources in the value chain with strong leadership skills to generate full employee commitment, the strategist would encounter mounting execution challenges.
This book encompasses nuts-and-bolts strategy tools (Five-Force Model, P.27; Strategy Wheel, P.91; SWOT Analysis, P.152) and a useful reference list (Pp.159-163) highlighting all important books and articles on strategy. Professor Montgomery illustrates success and failure of different strategies through different business cases. For example, Masco and IKEA are both furniture players but the former underestimated the competitive forces in the industry and the latter invented a viable purpose to build its difference in capturing big share of the pie. Domenico De Sole (Former CEO) was more successful than Maurizio Gucci in adopting turnaround strategy for Gucci because he could fill the gap between lofty ideas and action to create a system of value with employee's full commitment. Jobs took nonstop responsibility to lead Apple to launch "creative destruction" products (iTunes, iPod, iPad, iPhone).
Nowadays business leaders are expected to cope with the changing and turbulent business landscape. They have to penetrate the "uncertainty of veiled situations to evaluate facts, to clarify the unknown, to make decision rapidly, and then to carry them out with strengths and constancy" (P.139). These ongoing tasks become a prerequisite and foundation of all business leaders to get their businesses right. This book is highly recommended to readers who are interested in having a better understanding of how to be an effective strategist.
Pros are that it was a quick read and it might be worthwhile as a partial introduction to strategy but by no means does it touch on all pertinent areas.
If this is the content that companies pay tens of thousands of dollars for their owners/execs to discover via Harvard's "EOP" program, then the true value of that program must be coming from the in-person networking, otherwise....yikes!