Since I started this column seven months ago, I’ve tried to talk to local business chiefs about the key strategies they’ve used to overcome a specific challenge.
Now, as the new year approaches, I thought it would be a good idea to repeat some of the suggestions they had:
Stabilizing a shaky company: Former Coke Chairman Neville Isdell said he did three essential things to turn around the mess on North Avenue earlier this decade. When he returned to the company after retiring to the golf courses of Barbados, he traveled the globe, listening to employees, managers, bottlers and retailers. He avoided making public comments for 90 days.
Secondly, he parked his ego, so he and about 150 top managers could come up with a new strategy. Finally, he said he found a No. 2 exec, Muhtar Kent, who was both compatible and complementary to his skill set. Kent now leads the company.
Maintaining excellence after achieving success: Braves President John Schuerholz, who has overseen an unprecedented 14 Major League Baseball division titles, has a two-prong formula. First, he said, it’s important to have a well-organized system to acquire and train new talent. In the business world, that translates into having world-class research and development, even during tough times.
Secondly, that youthful core needs to be combined with hiring veteran employees with a track record for winning.
Branding: Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks, talked about his “Three Ps” for branding, which needs to be consistent. First, he positions the networks in viewers’ minds. TNT’s tag line, for example, is “We know drama.”
Then, he programs to the positioning, such as with “The Closer.” Lastly, he promotes the programming and positioning to viewers, advertisers and anyone else who’ll listen.
Surving the commercial real-estate collapse: While half his business was getting clobbered, Bob Peterson, chief of Atlanta-based Carter, was trying to develop the other half. With his “transaction business” of selling and leasing property in the tank, he focused on going after new business niches by forming strategic alliances or hiring experts in other fields. Those niches included opportunities in health care, data and financial industries.
Peterson also is trying to turn a negative into a future positive by investing in foreclosed properties that will be worth more in a few years.
Motivating employees who remain after major layoffs: Home Depot CEO Frank Blake relies heavily on financial incentives. For example, he does not believe in freezing employee salaries to keep more workers on the payroll. Instead, he said, you should structure your company for the business that’s there. He prefers “80 pleased and confident” workers to “100 moderately disgruntled ones.”
Blake also lowered the threshold for a bonus program for hourly workers and some supervisors. And he resumed giving restricted stock grants to assistant store managers.
But many companies in this economy are not in a position to sweeten financial incentives. They’re just struggling to survive, as are families battling joblessness, foreclosure and bankruptcy.
With that in mind, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish for a turnaround next year — a real one that helps real people.
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