Corporate Leadership and Staying Ahead

Corporate Leadership and Staying Ahead
February 6, 2012

For the past year and a half, I have been building a sales territory in the Houston, TX area.  As you can expect, most of my prospects are in the oil/gas/energy industry – either oil companies themselves or companies providing services and products to the industry. The majority of my initial conversations with these companies include comments such as “we are old-school, most of our employees are in the field/on a rig”, “there’s not enough bandwidth to reach them” and even “but I like taking helicopters to the off-shore rigs”.  I can argue with a few of these (like enough bandwidth) but most of these objections are ideological and philosophical, not empirical. With the price of oil hovering around $100/barrel and record-breaking profits, there is little executive incentive to look for new communication techniques.

The corporate cemetery is filled with those who failed to lead their industries, to anticipate what’s coming or at least to follow the leaders quickly. These include Wang (“Open software? Nah? Proprietary is the way to go”).  I’m pretty sure anyone under 30 doesn’t even know who or what Wang was, even though they enjoyed huge market share in the 1980’s and were huge charitable benefactors in the Boston area.  Another one is Kodak (remember, they owned 90% of the photographic film market as late as the late 1990s). Of course it took them much longer to fail but they have been dying for so long we mostly forgot about them until they recently made the news (finally) for filing for bankruptcy.

In this world of fast-paced technological advances, and with the “end users” and consumers forcing IT to adapt and adopt quicker than ever to their demands, it’s corporate suicide to not be looking ahead. The “Great One” Wayne Gretsky once said,

A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.

Corporate America has to take the same approach - it’s not good enough to be operating in the “now” it must be looking for the future – where technology will be and where its users will want their brands to be. For many companies, taking the lead is difficult and may not even be critical (Microsoft always mostly followed Apple) but you can’t lag too much. Lead, follow or fail --- as I look at many of these companies I speak to on a daily basis, I want to give them this advice but alas, I think they believe they are too big to fail.  Just don’t tell that to the Wangs. Or Kodak. Or sadly, maybe even RIM.