Opinion

Jack and Suzy Welch

What Apple (and maybe you, too) can learn from the NFL fumble

Jack and Suzy Welch
Sep 28, 2012 15:22 UTC

That hooting-and-hollering you heard Thursday morning? Yep, that was us, celebrating the end of the NFL strike. Or maybe you didn’t hear it…over your own ruckus.

And why shouldn’t we all be thrilled the National Football League is back in action? Pro football is the ultimate viewing experience – edge-of-seat good, heart-thumping good, and as the season comes to its climax, epic-entertainment good. Frankly, over the past decade or so, the NFL has designed the perfect product, thanks to the leveling effects of the player draft and the distribution of TV revenue.

It’s inimitable.

And that’s exactly why the NFL strike shouldn’t become the sports trivia factoid it’s destined to become starting, oh, as soon as next week, when a full schedule of well-refereed games puts the whole debacle behind us. Because the NFL strike offers a great business lesson. Not for the NFL, actually, but for every company with high market share, like, say, Apple, Google, Facebook, and most important, maybe for you.

Look, the NFL strike occurred, very simply, because pro football has become a virtual monopoly. When you need your football fix, there is no other serious major-league option. And as much as we love baseball, basketball and ice hockey, none of them offers the same superhuman theatrics, downright dazzle and consistent wow factor. That reality is a testament to the acumen of the NFL team owners and management, who have earned their dominant market share with years of continual innovation and exceptional execution.

But monopolies, and more to the point here, most companies approaching monopoly status because of sustained success, almost invariably become breeding grounds for arrogance, complacency and my-way-or-the-highway mindsets. That has to be what happened with the NFL’s ordinarily smart and savvy owners, who successfully settled their differences with the players in 2011 and later that same year signed TV deals worth some $27 billion through 2022. Otherwise, there’s no explanation for why the commish, Roger Goodell, and the owners to whom he reports took on the refs without a viable game plan, i.e., without a cadre of proven replacements.

(Business) haters gonna hate – but who gets hurt?

Jack and Suzy Welch
Sep 14, 2012 11:59 UTC

“You didn’t build that.”

“Corporations aren’t people.”

With the first, a revealing gaffe, and the second, a wildly cheered campaign refrain, one party has certainly made it clear how it feels about American business these days.

It ain’t good.

Well, big surprise, we don’t agree. We consider entrepreneurs American heroes and, as we’ve opined recently, we think many corporations brim with humanity. Business can’t operate unfettered, of course, without any form of oversight or control. But our view, essentially, is that business is a source of great good for society, with the power to create hope and opportunity like no other institution going.

Indeed, the positives so outweigh the negatives that lately we’ve been trying to identify why some people hate business so fervently. After all, the risks of this movement’s efforts to demonize business are frighteningly high.

Picking the right one to run with Romney

Jack and Suzy Welch
Jul 3, 2012 14:09 UTC

Several months ago, we met a CEO who had one main complaint about his job. It wasn’t foreign competition or fickle consumers. No, it was loneliness. “I make every decision by myself,” he moaned.

“That’s nuts!” was our immediate reply. “You can’t run the place that way!”

Every leader needs a team, and every leader benefits enormously from having a wingman, a partner who can be counted on to counsel, goad, provoke, listen, and on and on. It’s true in business, and it’s true in politics. A great person in the No. 2 spot can make the person at No. 1 decidedly stronger, smarter and more effective.

Dear Summer Intern: This is an audition for your future

Jack and Suzy Welch
Jun 14, 2012 12:54 UTC

Once upon a time – i.e., eons ago – one of us had a summer internship that mainly involved playing golf with the boss, who appreciated the company of a college kid with a single-digit handicap. Not much work got done, but it didn’t seem to matter, particularly to the boss. The other one of us (the one whose handicap is so obscene it can’t be printed in a family publication) once had a summer job that revolved around asking, “Would you like your eggs bagged separately?” It was boring, sure, but the hours were great if hitting the pool is your kind of thing.

As the song goes, “Those were the days, my friends. We thought they’d never end….”

Well, they did. They really, really did. Today, due to economic conditions that need no explanation, most college grads have to fight and claw for entry-level jobs in their chosen fields, and many, perhaps as many as 25 percent, aren’t even able to get a well-shined shoe in the door.

Mr. Biden, here’s the truth about private equity

Jack and Suzy Welch
May 30, 2012 17:41 UTC

Time was you worked in private equity and people just sort of shrugged when you mentioned it. You were in finance sort of; you invested in companies, you made deals. Whatever.

Now, you’re in private equity, and well, hello. You’re a heroic job creator – or no, wait, you take pleasure in firing people. You’re a savvy executive who knows how to grow the economy – or get outta here, you’re a vulture capitalist with leadership skills, as Vice-President Joe Biden recently put it, that are no better than a plumber’s.

Hello, indeed, and with all due respect to the vice-president, and certainly with no offense intended toward plumbers, we have a question.

JPMorgan: Jamie Dimon and the horse he fell off

Jack and Suzy Welch
May 24, 2012 12:30 UTC

If there’s one person you probably don’t envy right now, it’s Jamie Dimon.

In the past week, the JPMorgan CEO has been summoned to testify before Congress and learned that his company is facing investigations by an alphabet soup of federal agencies, from the CFTC to the FBI to the SEC. He’s also had to spend a lot of time in the middle of a media feeding frenzy, offering mea culpas and referring to himself and members of his team as “stupid,” “sloppy” and “dead wrong.”

In short, Jamie Dimon has been knocked off the large, white horse he rode through the financial crisis.

Now, echoing the general consensus, nothing illegal appears to have occurred in the course of JPMorgan’s $2 billion-plus trading loss. No taxpayer money was involved, and the investigations, it seems, are largely pro-regulation, political grandstanding with a dose of schadenfreude thrown in. At least so far, nothing has happened that’s actually going to seriously damage the bank’s long-term value to shareholders. It’s just that – well, it’s just that JPMorgan made a mistake.

The Wal-Mart mess: Everybody does it (and we don’t mean bribery)

Jack and Suzy Welch
May 1, 2012 20:53 UTC

“Ignore him, he’s a whack job.”

“She’s just bitter she didn’t get promoted.”

“He’s been shooting his mouth off for years – and it’s always nothing.”

Those lines sound familiar? If you work in business, they probably do – it’s how people talk about whistleblowers. Shocking? It’s just the truth. Even though whistleblowers may have a noble reputation in the media, gracing magazine covers and prime-time TV spots, when they surface within a company, management almost always brushes them off with a discrediting back story or a little piece of history that explains away all their annoying accusations. And here’s why that happens: In the vast majority of cases, whistleblowers are, to some degree, crazy or vengeful or both.

Until, one terrible, awful day when, speaking out of vengefulness or ethical earnestness, the whistleblower also happens to be telling the truth. And then, well, you get a crisis like the one Wal-Mart finds itself tangled in today.

Today vs. GMA: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Jack and Suzy Welch
Apr 27, 2012 12:06 UTC

Pick any hot topic over the past decade or two – tax policy, Social Security, nuclear power, American Idol, you name it – and if you put a dozen people in a room, you’d get a cacophony of opinions.

But ask those same people, “So, what morning show do you watch?” and you’d just as likely get one big chorus back, saying, “Today, of course!”

The Today Show’s ratings domination is legendary.

Actually, make that “was” legendary. During the week of Apr. 9, the program drew 13,000 fewer viewers than its longtime (and formerly distant) rival Good Morning America. The loss, as was so gaspingly reported, broke Today’s epic 852-week winning streak.

Romney vs. Obama: Leadership and the enemies list

Jack and Suzy Welch
Apr 11, 2012 16:52 UTC

Remember that incompetent boss you used to have? He was a good guy and all, but he just couldn’t make decisions or prioritize. Perhaps worst of all, he tried to make everyone happy, resulting in almost everyone being angry or confused or both. And remember how long it took management to move him out – and how aggravating that was?

Of course, at the time, you sort of understood why the Bigs had promoted the guy in the first place, and why they held out hope for so long. He’d been a superstar salesman. Best the company had seen in ages. But in the end, it turned out that all the things that made him great as an individual performer made him lousy as a people manager.

It happens all the time at work. A brilliant engineer promoted to run R&D. A gifted reporter elevated to editor. A cutting-edge scientist made head of the lab. First cheers. Then, after a bit, confusion about organizational direction, mixed signals about values, hurt feelings left and right and, eventually, chaos.

Goldman and the culture-killing lesson being ignored

Jack and Suzy Welch
Mar 23, 2012 12:08 UTC

In the great, collective gasp that followed Greg Smith’s blistering public resignation from Goldman Sachs, one reaction struck us as particularly prophetic. It was a comment from James Gorman, CEO of Morgan Stanley. Don’t exploit Goldman’s woes, he said a few days after Smith’s letter ran in the New York Times: “There but for the grace of God go us.”

Some took Gorman’s remark as an admission of sorts – as if he were saying, “Hey, Smith’s criticisms could’ve been leveled at any firm on Wall Street.” Others took Gorman at his word when he explained that he meant all companies are vulnerable to a disgruntled employee who joins forces with a simpatico media outlet.

But we have a third interpretation that, to our minds, is far scarier than either of those takes. The Greg Smith case is a harsh reminder that most companies don’t face up to one of the most immutable rules of business: Your soft culture matters as much as your hard numbers, and if your company’s culture is to mean anything, you have to hang – publicly – those in your midst who would destroy it. It’s a grim image, we know. But the fact is, creating a healthy, high-integrity organizational culture is not puppies and rainbows. And yet for some reason, too many leaders think a company’s values can be relegated to a five-minute conversation between HR and a new employee. Or they think culture is about picking which words – do we “honor” our customers or “respect” them? — to engrave on a plaque in the lobby. What nonsense.

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