It seems a simple enough question. To determine if you’re ready for AI, all you need do is look back to the dawn of the Internet era for the answer. Back then, most retailers were of the mistaken belief that if they created a website that somehow made them an Internet company.
It did not.
Internet Killed The Retail Store
So buh-by Borders, Circuit City, and Tower Records. Remember them? These days, investors are keeping lists companies they think might be next on the retail business scrapheap — all because they failed to recognize the opportunity that the Internet presented as well as the threat posed by the world’s leading Internet retailer Amazon.
So how do you tell if your company is ready for AI? If you take a lesson from the Internet era example, a better question to ask might be, “How could your company not be ready for AI?”
AI Is Here, For Real
Clearly, we are now in the AI era where artificial intelligence is being harnessed for competitive advantage. Many experts are of the belief that companies that fail to embrace the AI opportunity may face similar demise. AI thought leader Andrew Ng compares the Internet Era to the AI Era.
Andrew Ng worked at Google, where he founded and led the Google Brain Deep Learning Project. He moved on to found Coursera to offer free online courses for everyone. Next, he joined, he joined Baidu as Chief Scientist where he has continued his work in big data and A.I. He left in 2017 and has just announced he is raising a $150 million AI venture capital fund. He distilled becoming an AI Company into one simple equation.
Andrew Ng maintains you’re not really ready to be an AI company until you make strategic data acquisitions and gather up all your data into a centralized data warehouse. In other words, data science and analytics are closely related. You can’t really have one without the other.
Quora’s Director of Data Science Paul King put it thusly:
Data science is the use of statistical methods to find patterns in data.
Statistical machine learning uses the same math as data science, but integrates it into algorithms that get better on their own.
Artificial intelligence is the general field of “intelligent-seeming algorithms” of which machine learning is the leading frontier at the moment.
To put it another way, the path to AI is through Data Science. In an article entitled, “How AI Fits into Your Data Science Team“, Hilary Mason explained the nuances in a conversation she had with Harvard Business Review senior editor Walter Frick. She is the founder of Fast Forward Labs, a machine intelligence research firm. Simply tacking on machine learning does transform an organization into an AI company.
Getting Ready for AI Starts with Data
How do you tell if your company is ready for AI? You are ready for AI if you have a Chief Data Officer, a Data Science team, strategic data acquisitions, and a centralized data warehouse. At that point, you can start getting serious about AI.
As Founder and CEO of the retained executive search firm The Good Search, a firm that specializes in data analytics and AI, I have witnessed some of the leading technology companies transform themselves into AI Companies. In fact, the CEO of one such company made Artificial Intelligence a strategic imperative. All decisions since then have flowed from that commitment at the top. That happened years ago. In other words, if you’re just now starting to think about hiring AI leadership talent and building out a team, you’re late to the party. But maybe those intelligence machines can figure out a way to play catch up.
Executives who’d like to learn more about AI should check out Andrew Ng’s Coursera class “Machine Learning“, which is starting October 30th. Or Linear Algebra is required. (To brush up, you may want to check out Khan Academy’s lessons on Linear Algebra.) Alternatively, you can check out the online course called “Artificial Intelligence: Implications for Business Strategy“. It is being offered by the MIT Sloan School of Management in partnership with the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, known as CSAIL. (The neat thing about the study of AI is that we’ll all be the wiser for it.)
I look forward to your thoughts (and to the thoughts of your intelligent machines.)
The Executive Search for U.S. President and the Reckoning
During the Presidential Campaign, I posed a question. “Politics aside, what candidate would we hire in a hypothetical executive search for U.S. President?” The question is meant to viewed through a business lens, not partisan politics. It asks each of us to imagine being tasked with selecting the next President based on actual qualifications.
SInce then, We, the People, elected a candidate who, by any objective business measure, is wholly unqualified for the job. (See below.) I don’t know of a single CEO or board member who would ever have considered hiring Donald Trump into any executive-level role, much less that of Chief Executive of the United States. Not a one.
Seasoned CEOs know full well that the cost of a bad executive hire is profound. Companies lose opportunities as they ignore mounting threats. Morale plummets. Employees jump ship (something American citizens cannot do). Revenues and profitability spiral downward until ultimately the underperforming leader is shown the door.
Technically, We, the People, cannot fire President Trump. Consequently, the list of all the horrible things he’s donesince becoming President continues to grow. Yet his popularity is waning. Business leaders who once supported him are speaking out. There are signs that the reckoning has begun.
Presidential Job Requirements
The must-have requirements for U.S. President are mandated in Article II of the U.S. Constitution:
No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
The U.S. Constitution establishes citizenship and age requirements for the role of U.S. President. But that’s it. That means virtually any adult American with designs on the U.S. Presidency — including a convicted felon — can run for the highest office in the land. No college degree, no public service experience, and no leadership abilities are required.
A position description for a corporate CEO would never set the bar so low. Yet that low threshold is precisely how Donald J. Trump became President. Had this been treated like an executive search for U.S. President, we would not be in this pickle. The executive recruiter would have written a candidate specification describing the ideal Presidential candidate. The candidate specification would be based on the work experience of former U.S. Presidents.
Presidential Work Experience
Of our Country’s 44 Presidents before Donald Trump:
26 Presidents have been lawyers
22 Presidents had military experience; 9 were Generals in the US Army
18 Presidents previously served as U.S. Representatives
17 Presidents previously served as state Governors
16 Presidents previously served as U.S. Senators
14 Presidents previously served as Vice-President
8 Presidents previously served as Cabinet Secretaries; 6 as Secretary of State
7 Presidents had previous experience in foreign service.
Presidential Candidate Specification
Every single President has had a track record of experience in civil service or the military. In addition to building knowledge and competency, public service experience demonstrates that the candidate is actually interested in doing that kind of work. For those reasons, public service should be a requirement in an executive search for U.S. President.
College Educated, Juris Doctor Preferred
The critical thinking and analytical abilities cultivated by higher education are essential competencies in our increasingly complex world.A Bachelor’s degree should be a minimum requirement in an executive search for U.S. President. Because most of Presidents have been lawyers, a Juris Doctor (J.D.) would be preferred.
Character, Values, and Integrity
The content of a candidate’s character would matter in an executive search for U.S. President. Recruiters seek leaders with exceptional character, values, and integrity. That is why executive recruiters verify credentials, check references, and eliminate any candidate who lies on a resume or is otherwise dishonest.
Executive search partners develop performance profiles to determine what the executive would need to do to be considered a success. During the election, the one issue that concerned Americans the most was the Economy. In an executive search for U.S. Presidency, a candidate must have demonstrated fiscal competency.
Foreign Affairs Expertise Preferred
As Commander-in-Chief and as the externally-facing leader for our Nation to the rest of the world, foreign affairs expertise is preferred. It is not a must-have qualification because the majority of U.S. Presidents to date have not had foreign service experience.
We Would Not Have Recruited Donald Trump
If the Presidential campaign were an executive search and if American voters were, in turn, executive recruiters, we would have eliminated Republican Donald Trump for failing to meet minimum qualifications mentioned above.
No Public Office Experience
Lack of Character, Values, and Integrity
No Foreign Affairs Expertise
Unlike every other U.S. President in the history of our Great Nation, Mr. Trump never served in public office until he was elected President. His life-long lack of interest in civil service has not only made Donald Trump unqualified for the role of U.S. President. It has made him incredibly unhappy in the role of President.
Donald Trump did have the required college education — a Bachelor’s Degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, no less. Trump’s supporters have pointed to his business expertise as proof he of his fiscal competency. Yet, Trump drove his business into bankruptcy not once, but four separate times, a fact Trump does not dispute.
If the above shortcomings were not disqualifying enough, Donald Trump would never have passed the most cursory background check in an executive search for U.S. President. His many scandals and his constant lyingwould disqualify him as a candidate for any executive job, not the least of which is that of President of the United States. John Oliver does a brilliant job deconstructing Trump’s lies.
Though Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton offered the most impressive resume, she might not have made the cut either. She lacked an essential leadership skill of inspiring others to follow — something Democratic opponent Bernie Sanders had in spades. In other words, if we were tasked with recruiting the most qualified candidate for the job of U.S. President, we would have chosen someone better than the President we collectively elected: Donald J. Trump. As the latest Newsweek cover below suggests, public support of the President has hit a nadir.
The U.S. President That We, The People, Recruited
Perhaps because Americans vote more with their hearts than their heads, Americans elected Donald J. Trump as President. Yet now it appears that We, the People, are learning a valuable lesson: the folly of hiring someone who is wholly unqualified for the job. The popularity of President Trump has plummetted since taking office.
In Rasmussen’s Daily Presidential Tracking Poll, you can see our collective buyer’s remorse. We, the People, are experiencing the same kind of regret as the board of Apple after it made John Skully its CEO; as the board of HP after it selected Carly Fiorina (HP’s stock price dropped by 52 percent during her near six-year tenure as CEO); or as the board of Enron, which imploded under the leadership of Kenneth Lay (the CEO was later convicted of fraud and conspiracy in the giant energy company’s collapse).
The Reckoning Has Begun
Donald Trump is perhaps best known for uttering the reality TV phrase, “You’re fired”. Yet his ineptitude is, in the minds of a growing number of business leaders, grounds for dismissal.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Disney CEO Bob Iger quit as outside advisers following President Trump’s rejection of the Paris climate accords. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, GE CEO Jeff Immelt, Apple CEO Tim Cook, and other tech titans also have criticized the Paris decision. All told, more than 300 U.S. companies sent an open letter to President-elect Donald Trump urging him not to abandon the Paris climate agreement. The list includes Dannon, DuPont, eBay, Gap, General Mills, Hewlett Packard, Hilton, Intel, Kellogg, Levi Strauss, Mars, Monsanto, Nike, Patagonia, Staples, Starbucks, The Hartford, Tiffany and Vail Resorts and more. Yet President Trump did exactly the opposite.
Trump’s immigrant ban has also alienated business leaders. Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon blasted Trump’s edict barring refugees from Syria and travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Other businesses including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Netflix, Nike, Lyft, and Starbucks pushed back as well. Netflix CEO tweeted that the ban was un-American.
Mark Zuckerberg pointed out his grandparents were immigrants and his wife’s parents were refugees.
“every week, it seems, some new development emerges that, alone or in concert with the rest, would get a CEO fired.”
However, unlike corporate America, we can’t fire the President we elect. He must either determined to be unfit for office or Congress much impeach him for “Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors”. Until there is such a reckoning, we have to live with the leader that We, the People, elected. Still, Ms. Marcus makes the case for his removal,
“Trump is proud to be a businessman. So let’s treat him like one and part company.”
Executive recruiters deliver star executives so that our clients can be more successful. We recruit the human capital that venture-capital-backed startups and Fortune 100 companies need to win. Yet to recruit well, one must learn how to recognize top performers. We focus on gifted executives because, as the Harvard Business Review reports, the best of the best leaders have a way of getting even better. They use the competition to hone their skills, and they constantly reinvent themselves to stay ahead of the pack.
“Star players focus on what they can control and forget the rest. They’re masters of compartmentalization.”
Executive athletes use the competition to inspire themselves to new heights. They love pressure. And all that pressure comes with a release value. You see, champions aren’t all about the work. They are also about the play. Big time.
“The elite know how to party. They also know that celebrations without victory are meaningless.”
The Best of The Best Get Even Better
I understand that mindset having been married to a world-renowned saxophonist who has toured with the Rolling Stones. To get to that level, you woodshed (practice) harder than your competitors. But the drive is intrinsic. You wake up that way. Every day you find a way to do what you do better.
Michael Jordan was known for practicing ridiculous hours every day. Before regular practice started, Jordan would even practice at his house. Eventually, his work ethic rubbed off on his teammates, making the Chicago Bulls one of the best NBA teams in history.
Champions put in the time to perfect their craft that so that when it comes time to walk on stage (or onto the court), you deliver your best performance. The music just flows. You nail three-pointers. Swish. You lay that groundwork so that when the time comes, you slay.
Understanding the Championship Mindset
No matter what you do for a living, it takes three things to be a champion. It takes talent. It takes passion. And it takes heart. Case in point: last night’s Beyoncé concert. Despite torrential rains, Beyoncé packed a stadium in Philadelphia during her Formation tour.
Beyoncé lit up social media. Twitter. Instagram. Periscope streaming live. There were no haters. Beyoncé is a champion through sheer force of will. While growing up, her father trained her by having her run and sing at the same time so she wouldn’t get winded performing. After every show, she reviews the video recordings to up her performance and gives feedback notes to her team
Beyoncé makes it look so damn easy. But it never is. To be a champion, yes, you need talent and some luck but, more than anything else, you have to want it, bad.
Only then, can you slay.
“You just might be a black Bill Gates in the making, cause I slay
I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making”
When you have stadiums full of fans waiting for you to appear, there are no sick days. (Of course, it certainly helps when you travel with a trainer, nutritionist, masseuse, and a physician.) You show up. You keep on showing up and, eventually, you rise. Once you achieve stardom, you surround yourself with others who slay.
That’s a rockstar’s playbook and the playbook for CEOs of every innovative company out there. You slay or you get eliminated. So, ladies (and gentlemen), let’s get in formation.
I see it, I want it
I stunt, yeah, yellow bone it
I dream it, I work hard
I grind ’til I own it
I twirl on them haters
El Camino with the seat low
Sippin’ Cuervo with no chaser
Sometimes I go off, I go off
I go hard, I go hard
Get what’s mine, take what’s mine
I’m a star, I’m a star
Cause I slay, slay . . .
Okay ladies, now let’s get in formation, I slay
Okay ladies, now let’s get in formation
You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation
Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper
To Recruit “Rock Stars”, It Helps to Know Them
A lot of executive recruiters talk about recruiting rock stars when actually they haven’t been backstage or witnessed what it takes to be the best of the best firsthand. Seriously. Some recruiters may talk a good game, but deep down you have to have lived it to recognize true talent.
So the next time a recruiter tells you they recruit rock stars, ask him what actual rock stars or famous athletes they been fortunate enough to get to know. If they return a blank stare, they don’t get it. They never will.
The Wildabeast dancers get it. They bring their championship mindset to Beyoncé’s Formation. A little inspiration with which to begin the week. . . Enjoy!
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If executive recruiters were searching for our next U.S. President, they would not make the same choices as We, the People. Our latest video explains why. Politics aside, if you assessed the current Presidential candidates, what candidate would you eliminate for being unqualified to serve as President of the United States of America.
You be the judge. In the upper-right hand corner of our video on the executive search for U.S. President, click on the circle-i icon and cast your vote in our poll. Tell us whether you think Republican Presidential nominee is qualified.
If executive recruiters were picking our next President of the United States, would they select the same candidates as We, the American People? We, the People choose our candidates very differently. We vote with our hearts. Executive recruiters try to apply a little bit of brain power. We apply objective criteria. We look at a candidate’s experiences and skills and qualifications. So with the in mind, let’s take a look at our current presidential contenders. Let’s start with the Republican nominee Donald Trump. He does have a “Pro” going for him. He is college-educated. But there is a laundry list of “Cons”. He has no public office experience. He has demonstrated uninspirational leadership. He has been a divider, not a uniter. He has demonstrated a lack of character, values, and integrity. He lies regularly, every day, multiple times a day. He has proven fiscal incompetency. He is not the great businessman that he claims to be. He has driven his businesses into bankruptcy not once, not twice, not three times, but a whopping four times. And he has no foreign affairs experience, which for the leader of the free world is a pretty important requirement. Unlike every other U.S. President in the history of our great Nation, Mr. Trump has never served in public office or the military. Every other candidate that is currently running — Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Libertarian Gary Johnson — they’ve all run for office and served in public office. But Donald Trump has shown absolutely no interest in public service. And executive recruiters would look at that as a minimum requirement for the role of President of the United States. And for that reason, executive recruiters would say, “Donald Trump, you’re fired.”
The film Steve Jobs by director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin speaks the truth in a way no other film before it has — about Steve Jobs and about the adoption experience for adult adoptees.
This weekend, I went to a local movie theater to view Steve Jobs at the suggestion of my friend venture capitalist Stewart Alsop, who is mentioned in the film. I was born a stone’s throw away from the Apple founder. Like Jobs, I was adopted. My first computer was an Apple IIe. My second a Mac, then a Palm Pilot and every iteration since. iMac. Macbook. iPod. iPhone. iPad. (Add to that the PC/ Windows platform iterations as well . . . I am a woman of many tech gadgets.)
I have always seen Job’s unique persona as one that is inextricably interwoven with his adopted-ness. Though his being adopted has been well-reported, no one seemed to recognize how it, in so many ways, made him who he was. No one ever seemed to put that together until this film. This first scene — the first in a triptych of scenes between Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs and Jeff Daniels as former PepsiCo-turned-Apple CEO John Sculley — laid me bare.
It’s having no control. You find out you were out of the loop when the most crucial events of your life were set in motion. As long as you have control . . . I don’t understand people who give it up.” — Steve Jobs (Aaron Sorkin)
In his book Steve Jobs, biographer Walter Isaacson reported that “Jobs confided to close friends that he was driven by the pain he was feeling about being put up for adoption and not knowing about his birth parents.” That drive led him to create an extraordinary persona for himself. He was, in effect, his own creation. A good many adult adoptees do that because we are not the reflections of our adopted parents. Few understood the nuances of Steve Jobs’ inner life as well as Jonathan Ive, Apple’s Chief of Design.
“So much has been written about Steve, and I don’t recognize my friend in much of it. Yes, he had a surgically precise opinion. Yes, it could sting. Yes, he constantly questioned. ‘Is this good enough? Is this right?’ but he was so clever. His ideas were bold and magnificent. They could suck the air from the room. And when the ideas didn’t come, he decided to believe we would eventually make something great. And, oh, the joy of getting there!”
As an adult adopted person, I grew up not knowing who my birth parents were. My adoption records were sealed and remain sealed to this day. My birth certificate was amended and my adoptive parents names are listed as though they gave birth to me. Like Steve Jobs, I realized I was given up or, in coarser terms, “rejected” by my family of origin. Like Jobs, my adopted parents told me that while I wasn’t expected, I was selected.
Being chosen is a story that many well-meaning adopted parents tell their adopted children. In fact, many parents read The Chosen Baby to explain how we came to be adopted and, therefore, special.
However, the chosen baby construct isn’t entirely honest. We were never selected. Rarely, if ever, are adopted parents given the opportunity to “choose” their child from an array of multiple babies. We do not come in litters. Adopted children put that together pretty quickly. On Amazon.com, one adopted adult reviewer of the book adopted a child and was warned not use the book. The reviewer states:
I still had the original book so I re-read it and soon understood the problem. In this book the social worker is telling the prospective parent that they would find just the right baby for her, and not to worry if they didn’t feel that baby was what she wanted, they would find her another one. My mother, whom I loved dearly, used to tell me that she had sent a baby back. She said she had a big head. I’m sure from her perspective she was trying to make me feel special, but did it?
As you view the life of Steve Jobs and other adoptees, know that there’s a flip side to being told one was chosen: the underlying fear that one may be sent back from whence we came if we are not special enough. Clearly, those of us who have gone on to achieve great things do so for a whole host of reasons. For many adult adoptees, adoption provides a compelling reason for achievement.
Venture capitalists are all about the money. I say this in a good way: they do the math. So when the founder of the boston venture capital firm OpenView Scott Maxwell lays his bets on a working mother — a story reported by Dylan Martin of BostInno — I pay attention.
Boston VC Scott Maxwell is known for the Maxwell Curve. It depicts how how Scrum team productivity actually decreases as teams work longer hours in a given week. Clearly, Maxwell is a guy who obsesses about the relationship between productivity and profitability. It makes total sense when you examine his actions supporting a woman partner at his firm.
Graphic by Jeff Sutherland
OpenView Partner Devon McDonald sits on the Investment Committee that decides what B2B software companies to invest in, explains BostInno. She earned that right after serving as the firm’s director of growth for five years.
Here’s where it gets interesting . . .
Right smack dab in the middle Devon’s second maternity — about the time many working mothers at the partner level feel unrelenting pressure to cut their family leave short — founder Scott Maxwell advised her to stay the course. He pointed out that she had an opportunity to “be the example” for the other women in her wake. Devon McDonald remembers him saying:
You have to be the example and show that family comes first . . . so that future women who have babies here don’t feel the pressure that they can completely kill themselves, particularly when they’re adjusting to this major life change.”
I’ve never met Scott. After this, I’d enjoy having a conversation about his decision to invest in Devon in this way. The Maxwell Curve tells me he is not simply doing it to be a nice guy. He’s doing it because he believes he’ll enjoy a significant return on his investment.
ROI in the venture capital world is not your average ROI. The yield is massive. It involves a lot of zeros. In fact, when unicorn investments pay off, they return so much ROI it is redundant. It gives select VCs entrée into 3 comma club — a club described in the hit HBO series Silicon Valley by a fictional VC investor Russ Hanneman who learned he is no longer a member.
So how might an investment in a working mother yield billions in ROI, one might ask? Any VC partner who is adept at choosing the right portfolio company could total do that. Devon could totally do that. If I had to guess, she would not obsess quite so much about the car.
The newly launched newsletter was founded by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner who write, direct and produce HBO’s hit series, Girls. The newsletter already had captured the nation’s attention by publishing an essay written by actor Jennifer Lawrence about unequal pay for female actors in Hollywood. (News flash: it isn’t equal.)
Then Bradley Cooper weighed in.
The American actor and producer has been nominated for four Academy Awards, three for acting and one for producing. He has a Tony Award. People magazine has named him the “Sexiest Man Alive”, rounding out his collection of honors. What makes him sexy to women is that he gets us. He sees us for who we really are. Better, he knows our true value.
LennyLetter has reported the following:
To support Lawrence’s efforts—and those of all his female co-stars—Cooper is planning to take preemptive action by leveraging his own salary in favor of theirs for all films he’s considering. According to Reuters, the actor “has begun teaming up with female co-stars to negotiate salaries before any film he is interested in working on goes into production.”
In other words, Cooper did to Hollywood’s male-dominant status quo what he did to Christian Bale’s comb-over in American Hustle.
Will senior executives (who happen to be men) support their colleagues (who happen to be women) in similar fashion? Women certainly don’t need permission to stand up for equal pay for themselves. But allies like Cooper do help. Yet in order for men to help us, first we must help ourselves. Women must know their true value before men can recognize it and advocate for it.
In this particular case, first Sony was hacked, leaking internal documents that revealed the wage disparity between Jennifer Lawrence and her male co-stars. (You can review the Sony hacks documents yourself on WikiLeaks.) Sony hacks was Jennifer’s wake-up call:
When the Sony hack happened and I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with dicks, I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself.”
In her LennyLetter essay entitled Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co‑Stars?, Jennifer reveals she had to come to terms with standing up for herself. She believes she failed as a negotiator because she gave up too early. The reason? She wanted to be liked.
I didn’t want to seem “difficult” or “spoiled.” At the time, that seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the Internet and realized every man I was working with definitely didn’t worry about being “difficult” or “spoiled.”
Jennifer’s worries are not unfounded. She suspects her male co-stars were likely “commended for being fierce and tactical”, while she was “busy worrying about coming across as a brat”. In fact, there is evidence men and women are viewed differently at the bargaining table.
Again, this might have NOTHING to do with my vagina, but I wasn’t completely wrong when another leaked Sony email revealed a producer referring to a fellow lead actress in a negotiation as a “spoiled brat.” For some reason, I just can’t picture someone saying that about a man.”
I bet she also didn’t picture a man like Bradley Cooper stepping up to champion her equal pay cause. But he has. In doing so, he has made it okay to advocate for being fair. Bestill my heart.
Best Buy has learned that the best man for a job is a woman times three. Financial Officer Sharon McCollam, President eCommerce Mary Lou Kelley, and US Retail President Shari Ballard have architected the turnaround of Best Buy under the leadership of Chief Executive Officer Hubert Joly. They serve as three shining examples of women leadership that saved the day by saving Best Buy — when turnarounds are not for the faint of heart. Fortune Magazine tells the story and it is a good read.
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Sharon McCollam, Best Buy CFO
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Mary Lou Kelley Best Buy President eCommerce
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Shari Ballard Best Buy President US Retail
What did the triptych of women leaders manage to pull off? Fortune Magazine puts it this way:
The largest consumer-electronics retailer in the world (No. 72 on the Fortune500) and the only surviving U.S. nationwide chain, Best Buy has redesigned most of its 1,433 U.S. stores, put its retail employees through retraining boot camp, become a force in e-commerce, and excised $1 billion in annual costs.”
In doing so, the women are giving Walmart and Amazon a run for their money. That’s right, Walmart and Amazon — the brick-and-mortar and eCommerce companies that ate retail. Unlike Amazon, Best Buy’s big box retail category is mature and, as a result, is more challenging to grow given its company lifecycle constraint. Yet Best Buy has set a strategy to provide the Geek Squad, a mobile tech support team to help its customers install — if not figure out how to use — the increasingly technical things that we buy in this, the era of the Internet of Things. It also has streamlined its supply chain and rearchitected the bestbuy.com website more effective and less prone to crashing. In doing so, Best Buy has become a electronic gadget toy store for grown-ups. Despite its nerdy focus, women lead the charge:
In a wrinkle that defies gadget-geek stereotypes, Best Buy’s leadership team is largely female: Women run operations accounting for 90% of its revenue. Inspired by a McKinsey colleague’s gender-diversity research—on which Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is partly based—Joly has fully committed to it at Best Buy.”
Why do I keep writing about women diversity at the senior executive level? I head an executive search (The Good Search) and recruiting research (Intellerati) firms help companies become more diverse at the board and C-level. Most companies want to be more diverse: they simply don’t know how to get there. CNNMoney reports only 14.2% of the top five leadership positions at the companies in the S&P 500 are held by women. Worse, only 24 of the CEOs are women, less than 5%. The playing field will not be officially level until that percentage hits 50.
Wanting to be more diverse is a good thing, but a simple wish is not enough to affect change. Successful diversity initiatives require that we begin with the realization that yes, women can do this. Best Buy gets that and the company has benefited mightily. CEO Joly put it this way:
If it had been Lehman Sisters instead of Lehman Brothers, maybe it would not have been the catastrophe that it was.”
Executive search is a journey. The candidate and all that that leader brings to your company is the destination. Yet one of the things that makes executive recruiting tricky is that, at the senior executive level, finalists start to resemble one another. They all are incredibly accomplished. They all have stellar reputations. And if you’re search firm is good at what it does, all have a track records of outperforming average candidates. So what’s a CEO to do? To do what has never been done before, to become truly awesome, you need to find your person.
On Finding Your Person
The secret sauce that makes magic happen is what is typically referred to as “cultural fit”. But from where I sit as head of the retained search firm The Good Search, cultural fit sets the bar too low. As CEO, you deserve more than someone who forges a connection to your company. You deserve someone who forges a real connection with you.
Steve Wozniak was Steve Jobs’ person.
Steve Ballmer was Bill Gates’ person.
Keith Richards is Mick Jagger’s person.
Finding your person is about finding an executive shares your vision and always has your back. It’s about unshakable trust. It is also about finding someone who is smart and capable enough to challenge you to make you better than we would have been had you not found your person.
In the television series (and my guilty pleasure) Grey’s Anatomy, “You are my person” becomes a refrain used to describe deep professional and personal friendship of two women surgeons Meredith Grey and Christina Yang. It starts when Christina lists Meredith as the person to call in case of an emergency. It evolves to mean so much more.
Your person is a trusted partner, a wing-man, and yin to your yang. Your person is someone who gets you. You deserve more than cultural fit or chemistry. Your person is the alchemy that enables us to get out of our own way and to transcend. As Christina Yang points out in the final scene before exiting the series, your person makes us brave.
Finding your person is easier to do in a startup than in a large corporation where challenging the CEO is usually a shortcut to being shown the door. For Fortune 100 CEOs, their person may come in the form of a consultant who is hired to say what the troops cannot. Bob Benson, the Chairman of RLBenson & Associates and Founder of Canaan Ridge put it this way,
When you start thinking about this, the person could be a lawyer or outside counsel or it could be strategy consultant from BCG — someone with prior relationship with a CEO in the advisory sense where there has been a process of challenging the CEO. It makes it safer. The consultant can tell the boss things no one can tell them from the inside.
Ultimately, your person is a brilliant truth-teller whose insights help you and your organization achieve greatness. But it is the partnership between the two that is what really matters. Apple lost its way shortly after the Woz left. Ballmer did not accomplish all that he sought to do after Gates exited. But the Rolling Stones? Though they have had their differences, Richards and Jagger continue to honor a partnership, understanding neither is replaceable. They remain each other’s person.
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you just might find
You get what you need
Enlightened leadership is spiritual if we understand spirituality not as some kind of religious dogma or ideology but as the domain of awareness where we experience values like truth, goodness, beauty, love and compassion, and also intuition, creativity, insight and focused attention. These are the ingredients of success, really.