R “Ray” Wang: An interview by Bob Morris


R “Ray” Wang is the Principal Analyst and CEO of R “Ray” Wang is the Principal Analyst and CEO of Silicon Valley- based Constellation Research. He’s also the author of the popular business strategy and technology blog, “A Software Insider’s Point of View”. The blog provides insight into how disruptive technologies and new business models impact organizations. Wang has held executive roles in product, marketing, and strategy at Forrester Research, Oracle, PeopleSoft, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and Johns Hopkins Hospital. His new book Disrupting Digital Business: Create an Authentic Experience in the Peer-to-Peer Economy, published by Harvard Business Review Press and globally available on May 5, 2015, provides insights on why – since 2000 — 52% of the Fortune 500 companies have been merged, acquired, gone bankrupt, or fallen off the list. The impact of digital disruption is very real. However, he points out that it’s not the technologies that drive this change. It’s a shift in how new business models are created.

Ray is a prominent and dynamic keynote speaker and regular contributor to Harvard Business Review. He’s well quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, CNBC TV, Reuters, and other global media outlets. Wang has thrice won the Institute of Industry Analyst Relations (IIAR) Analyst of the Year Award.

Here is an excerpt from my interview of Ray.

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Morris: Before discussing Disrupting Digital Business, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Wang: I’m the son of immigrants. Watching what my parents have done to make sacrifices for the next generation and watching them grow over the years have had a lasting influence. Their experience shows why it’s important to always invest in the next generation. The tradeoff for short-term gain at the long-term expense is not worth it if you play the long game.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Wang: I’ve had the good fortune of being surrounded by brilliant colleagues and visionaries. From the early days of Yahoo to the creation of companies such as Workday, there have always been opportunities to reach out and learn. In the midst of this, I’ve been fortunate to have good mentors. Each of these mentors, Paul Greenberg, Love Goel, John Ragsdale, and others, all bring something different to the table. Paul keeps me grounded. Love helps me think outside of the box and push the limits. John taught me the “ropes” of business.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Wang: I think the big revelation five years ago was quite shocking to me. While at Forrester, I was one of the top analysts in research, revenue, and inquiries. I was bringing in 6 to 7M of revenue to the firm, but I was definitely not compensated for that level of revenue production. I went to see the CEO George F. Colony to talk about a possible gain share if I could take my production to 10M. The answer I got was not what I was expecting. Instead of saying they would love to have me stay and grow the business, he told me to just work less hard. I would never have expected that from a founder of a company. Strange given my capitalistic view of the world. [smiles]

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Wang: I don’t think the content of what I learned was valuable. However, formal education gave me a discipline and framework to learn how to learn and then pursue my passions around technology and business model shift. What I learned most at Johns Hopkins was in the non-academic areas of leading volunteer organizations, student government, and owning a community newspaper.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you went to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Wang: I really wish I had a much better understanding of how and why companies get funded. The area around investment banking, private equity, and venture capital is an area what would have been valuable to learn.

Morris: Of all the firms that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

Wang: Personify was a web analytics startup that was set to file a week before the dot.bomb crash. While most folks know what to do during good times, the crash was instrumental in showing what core values were important to a success of a startup amidst a market failure. Customer-centricity was paramount. This meant you had to be ultra responsive or even proactive to customer requests, you also had to go back to focusing on core product as you stripped out all non-essential overhead. The old adage that, “If you are either the product or sales, then everything else is overhead,” rang true.

Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

Wang: Sun Tzu’s The Art of War still is the best at this.

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-tse’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the peopleBegin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Wang: Success requires ownership of the mission.

Morris: From Michael Porter: “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

Wang: Trust and transparency are key to working with others.

Morris: From Richard Dawkins: “Yesterday’s dangerous idea is today’s orthodoxy and tomorrow’s cliché.”

Wang: It’s all relative, from geek to chic.

Morris: From Isaac Asimov: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but ‘That’s odd….’”

Wang: Discoveries may not always appear as such upon arrival.

Morris: From Thomas Edison: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”

Wang: Hallucination without perspective is just a bad trip.

Morris: In one of Tom Davenport’s recent books, Judgment Calls, he and co-author Brooke Manville offer “an antidote for the Great Man theory of decision making and organizational performance”: organizational judgment. That is, “the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.” What do you think?

Wang: I agree. What we want to accomplish with digital is to democratize decision-making. Democratization requires empowerment of all the nodes in a P2P model.

Morris: Here’s a brief excerpt from Paul Schoemaker’s latest book, Brilliant Mistakes: “The key question companies need to address is not ‘Should we make mistakes?’ but rather ‘Which mistakes should we make in order to test our deeply held assumptions?'” Your response?

Wang: The goal should not be to fail fast but to learn fast.

Morris: In your opinion, why do so many C-level executives seem to have such a difficult time delegating work to others?

Wang: The challenge is building a team you can trust. It’s often hard given the risk-reward ratio. Most folks have hired individuals going after their job, hence the lack of trust. The folks they hired that were good enough to do the job are not good enough to trust. Unless you have total control of the board vote, you rarely feel that you can delegate work.

Morris: The greatest leaders throughout history (with rare exception) were great storytellers. What do you make of that?

Wang: There is a requirement to tell good stories but more importantly, to evangelize a vision. Today leaders at startups in Silicon Valley are cult-like. You have to have a mission and carry out that mission in an authentic manner in order to attract not only customers, but also employees who will carry out that vision.

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To read the complete interview, please click here.

Ray cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Constellation Research link

Software Insider link

Amazon link

Forbes link

Twitter link


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