Agile Companies


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Underwriter of Agile Companies--ALH Capital, Inc.

Index of Agile Companies Entries:
1-25 26-50 51-75 76-100 101-125 126-150 Current Entries


50.  Grid Kills
You've heard it before: we need more out-of-the-box thinking.  But if you look deeply, most everything you see and hear is always in boxes.  Photographers see most of their best images ruined by very static grid designers.  In an intriguing interview of Peter Greenaway, "Against the Tyranny of Cinema," by Hugh Aldersey-Williams, Graphis, number 326, March/April 2000, pp. 96-103, the all-powerful box is shown to control our modern visual experience.  "We always look at live action drama through the wretched triangle....  Cinema, of course, in early days, copied that notion, and television has then copied that."  If we are going to get out of the box, we need to stare at the heavens or get out on the ocean.   Then we can clear our heads enough to think expansively.

49.  Space Capsule
For 30 years, we have been looking at how one's office affects creativity, productivity, health, happiness, and business effectiveness.  We are astounded that even now in the whole high-technology community in our part of the country, we have found exactly one company that has housed itself in an imaginative way.  Is it any wonder that talent does not flood here: neither the workspaces nor the landscaping look innovative.

As we visit corporate campuses in Plano, or lower Connecticut, out in New Jersey, beyond O'Hare, we find that they have enclosed their employees in tight capsules that are one color and have one sound.  They are hard to navigate despite the modular expensive furniture in black and gray that comes in from four or five scientific mid-western furniture makers.

We think interesting business people do pay attention to their environments.  In this vein, we refer you to "Beyond Vanities: Making the Office Less Officious," and "The Bottom Line: A Checklist for the CEO and His Office," both of which appeared in our publication First and Last in Spring 1988. 

48.  Principled Capitalism
Leon Sullivan has restated his Sullivan Principles in global form. (See http://www.chevron.com/newsvs/pressrel/1999/sullivanprinciples.html.)   If, indeed, our foreign policy can assume that trade and foreign investment will assist the spread of democracy, then it is important for multinationals to proclaim their belief in fairness.  Trade alone probably will not spread anything.  Projecting a sense of values is also very helpful in achieving growth in an international setting.

47.  Alliances Abound
See "What's That Noise on the Internet?  The Sound of Alliances Being Forged," New York Times, June 7, 2000, E-Commerce, Part 2, p. 25.   In our Annual Report 2000 on Annual Reports, we said that the hallmark of corporate strategy for 2000 and succeeding years will be the capacity to forge and manage alliances.  Performance measures will have to be created to gauge how you succeed at creating value through entities that are not part of your company.  We have yet to see anything in the accounting world to measure how value is really created now.

46.  Higgins Had It
Just so you don't think agility is an invention of management gurus and lean manufacturing exports, we refer you to Andrew Higgins.  See "'The Man Who Won World War II' Is Remembered, at Long Last," International Herald Tribune, Wednesday, June 7, 2000, p. 2.  This Nebraska native (why did all the sailors come from land-locked states?), over the objections of the U.S. Navy, conceived, designed, and built a LCM (Landing Craft-Mechanized) in 61 hours.  (Eat your heart out, Toyota).   In 1943, he had built 12, 964 of the Navy's 14,072 vessels, 8,865 of which were constructed in New Orleans.  By the end of World War II, he had built more than 20,000 boats for the U.S.

45.  Honesty is Agility
3M has pulled Scotchgard off the market, because its perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOs) ingredient is showing up in everything and everybody and  may be a health hazard.  3M acted on its own, without a push from the E.P.A.  While troubling data has been coming in for 30 years, harder data has now been coming in for 3 years, and 3M has acted with commendable dispatch.  It did not stonewall the problem but came to terms in a hurry with a tough decision.  Indeed, a tendency to do the right thing can lead a company to act fast and flexibly in its own best interests.  See "3M's Big Cleanup," Business Week, June 5, 2000, pp. 96-98.

44.  Alliance for Alliances
The Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals (A.S.A.P.) started up in May 1999.  Full of heavies who are striving to be light of foot, it numbers Lucent, Siemens, Hewlett-Packard, 3M amongst its members.  In the year of the Internet, naturally its may conference in San Francisco is an "E-Business Alliance Summit."  See more at www.strategic-alliances.org.

43. Frankfurt, the Financial Capital
Today, maybe the most innovative financial exchange in Europe -- perhaps in the world -- is located in Frankfurt.  This should not surprise us, because its history as a financial center dates back to the Middle Ages.  Today it is the home of the European Central Bank.  If you read German, learn more about Frankfurt as a rising star in Carl-Ludwig Holtfrerich's Frankfurt as a Financial Centre (Munich: C.H. Beck Verlag, 1999).  Also see The Economist, March 18, 2000, p. 9.

42. Omnicom and Innovation
Obviously advertising agencies should sponsor creativity and innovation, but rarely do.  Omnicom has lots of parts and has let them pretty much go their own way, with hefty returns for shareholders.   (See "An Empire of Happy Fiefdoms," Business Week, April 3, 2000, pp. 68-70.)  Yes, innovation does happen in small units.  Yes, professional service businesses still do not gain profitability from scale, functioning better as small tribes.

41. Real Options
In a previous entry, we pointed out that Level 3 Communications had come up with honest options. They peg rewards to real performance, and they are included in the company's accounting statements, as should be the case with all options.  Learn yet more about this in The Wall Street Journal, April 6, 2000, p. R8.  James Q. Crowe talks turkey here with Joann S. Lublin about the whole option question.

40. How Big Ideas Seize the Stage
My friend Howard Austin put me onto Bruno Latour's The Pasteurization of France.  With Malcolm Gladwell (see our item in Big Ideas) we explored how fads become faddish -- turning into this season's hit on Broadway or 7th Avenue.  Latour deals with a wider landscape -- how the big ideas become the stuff of everyman's life.  In this book we see how Pasteur's talent and ideas joined with the social mosaic of his century to infiltrate lives throughout the Western World.  Since we need more titanic innovations in business, church, and especially government, it is to Latour and company to whom we must look for a perspective on how to get big things done.   Other Latour books are:

 

39. Mark Mr. O'Connor
Most of us think we need agile companies because we have entered a new economy (digital possibilities plus the Internet) and a global world where everybody is eating everybody's lunch with low-cost labor (China), miniaturization (Japan), cartelization (Saudi Arabia et al.), and hot money (sometimes called the global financial system).   We would contend that these are only symptoms of a larger tectonic shift in world economics where our political arrangements are vastly out of accord with the forces that make for general prosperity.

While we talk of agile practices, we rarely talk of the agile kind of people who operate well in this ambiguous economic context.  Look to Mark O'Connor.  While not part of the business world, he is certainly an analogue of the agile man. (See The New York Times, "Fiddling While the Old Barriers Burn," AR 37 & 48, April 2, 2000.)   From Seattle, his father was an alcoholic, his mother an invalid. Taking up the fiddle at 13, he won an Idaho fiddling contest at 17 -- the country's most significant fiddling event.  Successively, he worked his way to the top of the heap of jazz rockers, then onto Nashville to become Country Musician of the Year for 1990 through 1995.   Next to classical.  And now a composer, combining classical with fiddling in "The Fiddle Concerto."

The agile practitioner in this new economy comes from nowhere, travels through everywhere, and is rapidly on his or her way to somewhere -- but no one knows where.  He is a learner -- but unlike all that stuff we talk of in knowledge management, his learning becomes progressively more cosmic, and it gets to places yet unexplored by anybody.

Agility, we must be clear, is just not a matter of organizational forms or business practices.  It requires agile people who are often a bit at odds with the way things are.  This presents a terribly interesting quandary for human resources practitioners who largely train people to adapt to what is, not to create what is not.

38. Pay-As-You-Go Management Training
Siemens management education tackles real company problems, saving the company more than $11 million in 1999, putting together teams from different parts of the company to cut telephone bills or bid more effectively on possible projects.  By forcing managers from different divisions to work together, the program also helps conquer the stovepipe mentality that afflicts the $65 billion company (see Business Week, November 15, 1999, pp. 281-82).

37. On the Level
Jim Crowe of Level 3 believes in linking options to a company's market performance and, importantly, in currently accounting for the options awarded as compensation (see Forbes, March 20, 2000, p. 74).  Almost every American corporation fails to account for the cost of options as they are awarded, which effectively means you cannot rely on their financial statements.  Recording real costs as they occur and rewarding executives for street performance based on real results lies at the heart of long-term corporate performance. 

36. Anatomy of a Culture
Rarely have we seen an annual report that works as hard as Charter One Financial 1999 in Cleveland to demonstrate that a company is agile.  It even has a two-page spread called "Jack Be Nimble," detailing how it has moved fast on new products as well on acquisition.  Click here for Charter One's website

35. Brand Power Does Count
Corporate Branding of Stamford, Connecticut, reports a significant drop in "brand power" scores for the first time in the 10-year history of its survey (see The Wall Street Journal, March 21, 2000, p. B8).  The companies with the highest ratings dropped about 8%; the second tier -- the next hundred or so -- plummeted 11%.  There are some commentators who say brands no longer count in the New Economy, but e-commerce companies don't believe it.  They are spending massive amounts of dollars in rather traditional ways to gain brand recognition.  We think that brand deterioration is actualy much worse than this survey shows, and we will be commenting further about massive brand deterioration among major companies. By and large, one can say that loss of brand power truly indicates loss of agility.

34. The New Global Manager
In our newsletter First and Last (Spring 1990), we adapted a speech of Robert D. Horton's, given at the Darden School in Virginia.  Horton, once British Petroleum's chief executive, is gone, but he was unusually prescient.  We like one core idea of his: "So the international manager must be comfortable with a high degree of uncertainty."   Click here for an excerpt from "The New Global Manager."

33. Some Tips for World Beaters
In First and Last (Spring 1990), we gave some global business suggestions that still bear up pretty well.  They will still let you pull ahead of your competition.  Click for Some Down-to-Earth Tips for the International Bound.

32. Getting Through Brick Walls
In a recent interview, the pollster John Zogby (see his site) says he only gets through on 30% of his phone calls, versus 60% fifteen years ago.  This is just symbolic of the broader pattern in marketing and communications.  Invitations to large business mettings, even when confirmed on the day of the meeting, only net 30 to 50% of those who have accepted.  Either people are too busy (Zogby's thesis) or they are turned off by the relentless communication from pollsters and marketers.  This insularity has turned corporate communication and marketing upside-down for fast-moving companies.  We would suggest that it means putting all sorts of emphasis on creating palatable messages, less on the means and frequency of distribution.  Don't use network TV; don't use cable TV.  Do use Dilbert, Colin Powell, and C-SPAN to reach America.

31.  Bose Corporation
Amar Bose is the king of speakers, his company soaring to nearly $1 billion in sales over a couple of decades (see the company website).   Its R&D engineering force (now 600) and its very unconventional marketing (directly to consumers) has given it 20% of the home speaker market.  Its Wave radio, with terrific sound and mildly ugly design, provided the liftoff for this brand.  See The Economist, January 15, 2000, p. 71).

30.  PE Corporation
Obviously the "PE" really stands for "price-earnings" ratio.   Tony White, late of Baxter and now chairman of  PE, dumped the Perkin-Elmer name and, essentially, all its old businesses to become a genome research and genome equipment company.  This is what it takes to be an Internet-generation company when you are a relic: the "new" company swallows or sheds old businesses.   Other companies -- Corning, Adaptive Broadband,  etc. -- have done it, but relatively slowly.  One sign of the agile company is how fast it gets rid of old cocoons, mindsets, old-fashioned assets, etc.  See "Gene Machine," Forbes, February 21, 2000, pp. 99-104.

29. Bushware
After New Hampshire, the Bush campaign was in bad trouble.  In 24 hours, the campaign moved from "I feel for you" (compassionate conservative) to "I get things done" (the real reformer).  The ability to retool strategy and tactics on the run proves Bush a fast study, even compared with the malleable Clinton entourage.  Bush has told people not to under-estimate him, but, of course, they do.  He does have the ability to mobilize and refocus resources.  The test, of course, is whether he can reinvent himself once more as the campaign finally moves to mainstream states.

28.  Recharged Batteries
For years Rayovac (NYSE:ROV) has been the also-ran of the battery business.  No longer.   With Boston's LBO king Thomas H. Lee as a big owner, CEO David A. Jones has raised gross margins from 43% to 48% in three years, redesigning core processes and achieving major systems integration.  And using Michael Jordan as a spokesman to bolster sales, it has spiked revenues at the mega-retailers such as Wal-Mart, KMart, and Target. This is a sparkling performance in what currently amounts to a commodity market (see "A Talk With the Man Who Got Rayovac All Charged Up," Business Week, February 21, 2000, pp. 32F-32H).

27.  DoCoMo
This is a nickname, meaning "anywhere," for Japan's NTT Mobile Communication Network, Inc.  Headed by Kouji Ohboshi, first trained as a lawyer, DoCoMo has rocked the Japanese mobile-phone industry, creating explosive growth and rampant innovation.  He put $5 billion plus into a digital network in 1993-94, cut product development times from years to six months, sliced subscriber fees, and added full-powered multimedia services to the phones.  A tired unit of Japan's phone monopoly NTT, DoCoMo was spun off and immediately came to life under Ohboshi.  See The Wall Street Journal, January 27, 2000, pp. B1 and B4.

26.  Picture Power
You know you have always said that a picture is worth a thousand words.  A speech maker who can tell stories we can all see in our minds' eye will totally grab our attention.  TV and other multimedia drive our children away from the written word.    In Michael Schrage's "How Prototypes Can Change Your Business," Across the Board, January 2000, p. 43-47, we learn that model-building can drive innovation.   Schrage claims that "virtually every significant marketplace innovation in this century is a direct result of extensive prototyping and simulation . . . ."   "In the 21st century, modelshare will be recognized as a precursor to mindshare and marketshare."

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