First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Passing the Baton – One Woman at a Time

Cheryl offers: October’s HBR article “Why Succession Shouldn’t Be a Horse Race” describes how Xerox’s former CEO Anne Mulcahy successfully identified, developed and eventually passed the CEO baton to Ursula Burns, the first African American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company while also marking the first ever woman-to-woman succession. What was most interesting was how Anne deliberately worked to avoid Jack Welch’s famous departure when two of the three top candidates left with him once they learned Jeff Immelt had gotten the job. She said “I don’t believe in having people face off against each other for the CEO job in a classic horse race.” Kudos to her on two fronts: first for recognizing that losing valuable talent in this day and age is not good business and secondly for seeing collaboration is better for the business than competition when putting the best person in the job. GE lost 3 very talented employees when Jack left. Anne managed to retain her 3 top contenders after Ursula was named CEO, although one has since retired.  This article reinforced a message I read in Women and Leadership by Barbara Kellerman and Deborah Rhode.  In chapter 9 written by Marie C. Wilson, she notes “We need to fuel each other’s ambition, to give women the encouragement they need, and the courage embedded in that word. With our help, they can and will step forward and say, “I’m here. I can do this, and I want to lead.” This was written in 2007, just about the time Anne and Ursula were starting to write business history.  Those who support the laws of natural attraction would say, “Of course!”

Monday, September 27, 2010 Posted by | Cheryl's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Interview: Ursula Burns (Xerox)

Ursula Burns

Here is an excerpt from Geoff Colvin’s interview of Ursula Burns that appears in the May 3, 2010, issue of Fortune magazine. Burns has been CEO of Xerox since last July and will succeed former CEO Anne Mulcahy as chairman this May. She is the first African-American woman to run a Fortune 500 company. Colvin is a senior editor at large and the author of several books, including Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else.

Here is a link to the complete interview:

Colvin: In a nonstop infotech revolution, Xerox’s long-term strategy is a really interesting issue. So let me ask you Peter Drucker’s famous question: What business are you in?

Burns: We’re in the business of enabling our clients to focus on their real business while we take care of their document-intensive business processes behind the scenes. I’ll use Fortune as an example. You’re not in the business of printing a magazine. What we see about Fortune is the printed magazine.

Geoff Colvin

Colvin: That’s right — we don’t own any printing presses.

Burns: But without someone who could supply you with that solution, Fortune would be less than it could be. What we do is manage document-intensive business processes for our clients around the world so that they can focus on what they really do.

We do that by applying technology. We do it in a global way, so that if you have locations around the world and you want to communicate with your people in a fairly consistent way, I can do that for you. It will look the same, feel the same, be delivered in the same time and the same format. All the information you want present will be there; anything you want redacted will be gone. You shouldn’t have to worry about that.

Colvin: That leads to the deal you recently closed: your acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services. Wall Street initially didn’t like it. What did you find so compelling?

Burns: It was all about extending our capabilities, expanding our reach. Xerox is a technology company that’s global and has an amazing brand. ACS is a business-process outsourcing company that knows business processes and how to manage them to be significantly more efficient. Business processes are all around documents, containers of information.

Colvin: So a document doesn’t have to be a piece of paper.

Very often it’s not. At the end phase, many documents end up on paper. But in the beginning they are digital files, photographic images, phone calls, voice data. All of that is key to having a business process work.

Xerox is really good at managing documents, and we’re definitely good at managing through a process. So what’s close to our core that we’re really great at, that we can extend by utilizing the things we have that are differentiators — technology, brand, global reach?

Business process was what we settled on. In ACS we saw a great company that was already diversified. It needed a brand. It needed technology to make this work more efficient, more automated. And it needed global reach. And we have all three.

* * *

Here is a link to the complete interview:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The “Top Ten” from the McKinsey Quarterly

Here are the ten most popular articles that have appeared in the McKinsey Quarterly in 2010.


Building organizational capabilities: McKinsey Global Survey results

Building organizational capabilities, such as leadership development or lean operations, is a top priority for most companies. However, many of them have not yet figured out how to do so effectively. The odds improve at companies where senior leaders are more involved.


A marketer’s guide to behavioral economics

Marketers have been applying behavioral economics—often unknowingly—for years. A more systematic approach can unlock significant value.


The Internet of Things

More objects are becoming embedded with sensors and gaining the ability to communicate. The resulting information networks promise to create new business models, improve business processes, and reduce costs and risks. Includes:


How we do it: Three executives reflect on strategic decision making

Sir Martin Sorrell, Randy Komisar, and Anne Mulcahy describe how they balance the importance of timely action with the need for thorough, unbiased decision processes.


The five attributes of enduring family businesses

The keys to long-term success are professional management and keeping the family committed to and capable of carrying on as the owner.


Making game theory work for managers

A new model, rejecting solutions optimal only for a single precisely defined future, generates answers representing the best compromise between risks and opportunities in all likely futures.
(Premium Membership required)


The path to successful new products

Businesses with the best product-development track records stand apart from their less-successful peers in three crucial ways.


What’s next for global banks

Banking giants in emerging markets will probably do well in any likely economic scenario. Other banks face a more challenging future.


Making the emotional case for change: An interview with Chip Heath

In conversation and in excerpts from his recent book, a leading expert on organizational behavior explains why change often stalls and how top executives can use psychology to keep it going.


The business opportunity in water conservation

For many companies, water efficiency is a long-term requirement for staying in business, a big commercial opportunity, or both. Includes:
(Premium Membership required)

To read 1-5 and 7-9, please visit:

The #6 and #10 are accessible only to those who have purchased a Premium subscription. However, you can sign up for a free subscription that creates access to dozens (hundreds?) of invaluable resources. Please click here.

Friday, April 2, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Valuable material from the McKinsey Quarterly

Once again I highly recommend signing up for a free subscription to the online version of the McKinsey Quarterly. In the latest e-mail alert, the following information was provided:

How we do it: Three executives reflect on strategic decision making

Sir Martin Sorrell, Randy Komisar, and Anne Mulcahy describe how they balance the importance of timely action with the need for thorough, unbiased decision processes.

Also in this package

This article is the second in a new McKinsey Quarterly package on improving strategic decision making. Other features include the following:

The case for behavioral strategy

Left unchecked, subconscious biases will undermine strategic decision making. Here’s how to counter them and improve corporate performance. [includes interactive]

When can you trust your gut?

Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and psychologist Gary Klein debate the power and perils of intuition for senior executives. (available late March)

Taking the bias out of meetings

The biases that undermine strategic decision making often operate in meetings. Learn how to manage them in a way that will mitigate the impact of those biases. (available early April)

To check out this material and sign up for a free subscription or to subscribe to the Premium version, please visit:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Past time to retire, Jack Welch

Cheryl’s view: It seems Jack Welch should play more golf and resist the temptation of making speeches. On July 21 the Wall Street Journal reported he delivered what I’m sure he thought was “straight talk” like he thinks he did in his book, Straight from the Gut. He told a convention of HR executives women had to choose between raising a family and having the corner office. Which rock have you been hiding under Jack? Maybe he forgot that last year’s CEO of the year as elected by peer CEOs, was Anne Mulcahy, CEO of Xerox, and mother of two sons. And I supposed he also hasn’t noticed Mulcahy passed the reins to the first Afro-American woman to lead an S&P 100 company, Ursula Burns, and (Oh, gasp Jack!) also happens to have a daughter and stepson.  When Jack Welch entered the workforce and even possibly when he led General Electric, this might have been a “norm”, possibly his own stereotype at work. This is no longer the case.  Jack might also want to start reading the stats on graduating MBAs; women in 2009 will surpass men in all categories: associate, bachelor, graduate and professional. By the way, the gap between men and women has been widening since 1982, the last year men exceeded women in acquiring degrees, in college degrees and is projected to continue until 2017, which is only as far as the projection goes. So, where will the most talented, experienced, and well educated people in the company come from, the future CEOs? My money is on the next generation of women, who, by the way, believe the wisdom of his other book’s title “Control Your Own Destiny, or Someone Else Will.” Thanks for the advice, Jack, now go play golf.

Sara adds:  Jack, in the words of James Copeland, former Chairman and CEO of Deloitte & Touche worldwide in True Leaders (Bette Price and George Ritchesche),  “Don’t breath your own exhaust.”    Your pronouncement in the Journal is contemptible (a carefully chosen word from Merriam Webster’s online dictionary…  “contemptible may imply any quality provoking scorn or a low standing in any scale of value.” The italics are mine).  I believe your comments to be contemptible; having a low standing in any scale of value on a couple of levels.  First level, you single out women leaders.  Besides being transparently biased your idea begs the question, why shouldn’t ALL leaders, men and women, have the opportunity to have a life as well as incredibly successful careers?   Then there’s the next level.  It’s about BUSINESS RESULTS, Jack, not about appearances or sacrifice.  By even uttering that comment I wonder if you’ve lost focus on the prize here.   Jack, you should read  a new Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership (Richard Boyatzis and Daniel Goleman).  It stands your antiquated version of leadership on its ear.  In the article you will read about the negative impact a leader’s stressed lifestyle has on the success of the company they lead.  The authors also provide a pathway to leadership that is healthy, balanced and produces great (get that, Jack, GREAT)  business results.  I wonder what heights GE could have climbed if YOU had been a different kind of leader.

Friday, July 24, 2009 Posted by | Cheryl's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Q #126: How to “trouble shoot” your way to business recovery?

In this series, Bob Morris poses a key question and then responds to it with material from one or more of the business books he has reviewed for Amazon and Borders.

First, some definitions: Genchi genbutsu, or trouble shooting, is a practice prescribed in “lean thinking” — an approach to productivity that marries two complementary concepts: improvement and learning. The part of lean that involves trouble-shooting is something that every manager can put into practice as a means of not simply delivering continuous improvement, but of finding out what’s working and what’s not.

Years ago, soon after being selected as president and CEO of Xerox, Anne Mulcahy said the best advice she received was in the form of three rules:

1. Get the ox out of the ditch.
2. Find out how the ox got into the ditch.
3. Make sure that it never happens again.

John Baldoni is a leadership consultant, coach, and speaker. His work centers on how leaders can use their authority, communications and presence to build trust and drive results. He is the author of six books on leadership, including Lead By Example: 50 Ways Great Leaders Inspire Results.  In response to the question, here is his advice:

“Recessions are a prime time to practice trouble shooting for two reasons. One, managers are challenged to do more with less; two, managers may have more time due to the economic slowdown. Most especially, trouble shooting can be essential to optimizing execution and so for that reason it makes good sense. To implement your own form of trouble shooting, consider three questions:

1. What is the real problem? Dysfunction is often apparent. For example, a product does not perform to specification. Or a process fails to deliver a consistent outcome. Diagnosing the problem requires the discipline to find the root cause. A product failure could be because of a faulty part; a process failure could result from a missed step. You do not know until you take time to investigate.

2. How do we fix it? Sometimes, as with product recalls, the fix can be costly. Other times it can be solved by a simple product or process redesign. Judging what it required takes an experienced hand with strong diagnostic skills, but also savvy to understand how to make the most effective solution and do it expeditiously.

3. Who is best suited to fix it? Putting the right people on the job is essential. Not everyone is a born problem-solver. You want to have people who like asking questions but more importantly have the facility to analyze and implement solutions. You also want people with a degree of tenacity, those who are willing to stick with it until they find a solution.

An important part of implementing trouble shooting is that it puts the manager into closer contact with people doing the work. As all experienced managers know, nothing good can happen without the input and buy-in of people doing the work. And for all the emphasis that companies put on execution, too frequently they omit the human aspect of bringing initiatives to life. By talking and listening to people on the line, or in the cubicles, managers find out what is going well and what requires improvement.

Trouble shooting by itself will not generate value but without its practice, organizations will find themselves repeating mistakes and worse failing to capitalize on lessons learned. And in times of turbulence that is something that cannot be overlooked.”

Comments, questions, requests, or suggestions? Please share them. They will be most welcome and I thank you for them. Best regards, Bob

Wednesday, June 3, 2009 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , | Leave a comment



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