Sunday, November 13, 2011

Italy is not Syria!

The Italians are cheering the ouster of Berlusconi as if they had toppled a dictator.  Hey!  In case they didn't know it, Italy is a democracy and if Berlusconi lasted so long in power it was because the Italians repeatedly voted him into power.  So, at the end of the day they have nobody else to blame but themselves.  And not so much for voting Berlusconi in time and again, but for living way above their means.  Now the time of reckoning has arrived and it won't be pretty.  Maybe the situation will be less dire than in Greece but that is not saying a lot.  For many years, politicians believed that countries did not have to abide by the laws of money (mainly that you cannot spend forever more than you take in).  Now, all of Europe (and soon the USA) is waking up to a harsh reality.  But, hell, it was good while it lasted!

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Sunday, November 06, 2011

Global Manufacturing

In the past the main considerations to select an offshore location for manufacturing were the availability of skilled / unskilled labor at low cost, the proximity to the final markets or rest of the supply chain, etc.
Today, that we are beginning to suffer the effects of global climatic disruption another consideration is suddenly the most important of them all: the vulnerability of the place to floods and other catastrophes.
Honda and several other companies are today in serious trouble because they selected Thailand as a manufacturing hub.  When they made their decisions to set shop there, they certainly didn't consider that the global weather was changing drastically and thus that their complete investment in that country could be lost or made worthless.  It was a rude awakening.
Now all other companies need to wake up and consider violent weather as one of the most important (if not the most important) consideration before establishing operations in a certain place.
As Bob Dylan said: the times they are a-changin.

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Business Leaders

I have read the biographies or auto-biographies of many business leaderes such as Jack Welch, Ray Kroc, Sam Walton, Thomas J. Watson Jr., Thomas J. Watson Sr., Alfred P. Sloan, Tony Hsieh, William C. Durant, Lee Iacocca, Robert Noyce, Chester Carlson, Gordon Bethune, Lou Gerstner, etc., etc.  From most of them I obtain tons of ideas that I many times steal shamelessly and apply in my corporate position.
However, even before begining to read Steve Job's biography I knew this time it was going to be different.  And it was.  His biography is as, or maybe even more, interesting than any of the others, BUT the takeaway is very meager because the others were outstanding business leaders but not geniuses.  Steve, on the other hand was a GENIUS like the business world had never seen and will (probably) never see again.
The only (sort of) exception I've ever encountered is precisely one of Steve's business heroes: Edwin Land.  His most comprenhensive biography is not surprisingly titled: Insisting on the Impossible.  And yes, I have to concede Land achieved the impossible one or two times but he doesn't even come close to Steve.

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Alarm Clock Radios

Have you ever wondered why electronic alarm clocks have to go on for 59 minutes or even more when they go on?  Today I was pleasantly sleeping in a hotel in South America when at 5:10 in the morning the alarm clock in the empty room next door went on and it ruined my plans to sleep until late.  Yes, I had to call the front desk so that somebody come running to the ninth floor and disconnect the alarm clock from the wall outlet (if not, the same thing will happen next day again).
So, are these 59 minutes what the average person needs to wake up?  I'm puzzled because it takes me at the most five seconds to be fully awake and if I designed an alarm clock for my own use it will only emit a sound for three seconds and that would be it.
But well, I guess we are all different.


Greece will NEVER Pay Back

What has been going on for almost two years with Greece is quite absurd.  You don't need to be an economist or a head of state (actually these "qualifications" seem to obscure understanding) to realize they will NEVER pay back what they owe.  Not in five years, not in ten, not ever.  So what is this game the European leaders are playing?  It is actually quite irresponsible.  What they are doing, it seems, is to make sure the bubble doesn't burst while they are in power.  But let me tell you, the bubble will burst and the more time it takes us to accept reality the bigger the blow-up will finally be.  Here is my advice (and, yes, I'm no economist or head of state): let Greece declare bankruptcy and leave the euro zone.

And yes, if Greece drags Italy, Spain and Portugal with it, let it be so.  Long term it will even benefit all these countries.  Today, I understand, Spain is more expensive than Germany!  Let Spain go back to the peseta and make it again the (cheap) tourist paradise it once was.

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Saturday, November 05, 2011

Worst Technology CEO Ever

Ever since he took over the reins at Apple, I had always considered Gil Amelio as the "worst technology CEO ever".  So I was not entirely surprised that Steve Job's had almost exactly the same opinion of him.  In his biography by Mr. Isaacson we find this: "I said this guy is the worst CEO I've ever seen, I think if you needed a license to be a CEO he wouldn't get one."

And yes, Amelio is on a league by himself and even when competing with Carly Fiorina and Leo Apotheker he seems to come way up "in front".

Sure, outside of the technology industry probably nobody can "top" Rich Wagoner as the "worst CEO in the history of capitalism."  He probably destroyed more wealth than any other businessperson ever.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2011

How the Mighty Fall

Leo Apotheker is arguably the worst CEO of the 21st Century (so far).  He was some sort of a corporate terrorist that systematically destroyed the value of HP.  His strategic mistakes were of such magnitude that, really, it is difficult to believe somebody could be so incompetent.

In essence his mistake was trying to convert HP into something it couldn't be.

To better visualize it, here is a sport's simile:

Apotheker managed a Baseball team and when he was hired to manage a Soccer team he thought: the only game I know how to play is Baseball, so I'll make this Soccer team play Baseball.  No matter how brilliant a CEO is (and certainly Apotheker was one of the dullest) this transition is impossible.

For a CEO to try what Apotheker did at HP requires boundless arrogance plus a high dose of stupidity and the result is always the same: a corporate catastrophe.

The antidote to the above foolishness is the book How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins.  All CEOs recruited from the outside should read this book.  The CEO does NOT have a blank slate to build a strategy.  They need to understand what the people in the company they lead are capable of and then plan accordingly.

Another example of this foolishness is Kodak.  The external CEO, Antonio Perez, decided to abandon its moribund film business and compete head on with Cannon, Sony and Samsung in digital photography.  And then, since he came from HP, made the more asinine decision of competing with HP in printers.  Again, this is equivalent to a water polo team manager deciding that they will now play professional football.  It will never work.

Apotheker was fired before the damage to HP was irreversible.  Kodak was not as lucky.  If Kodak is not bought soon by another company, it will inevitably continue on the road to bankruptcy and liquidation.